Meeting the challenge of creating a fun, effective Storytelling class in an online distance learning environment.


Published: June 13, 2013 by Beth Wrenn-Estes

Dr. Joni Richards Bodart developed the original syllabus for the Storytelling Class (LIBR 281) and then she and an amazing graduate student Annie Woodall built the first course site. I continued to work with Annie to tweak the course site for another semester and began teaching the course spring semester of 2010.

Storytelling is a very personal experience for the teller and for the audience. In storytelling there are two goals one is to understand the history of storytelling and the other is to be able to perform at a basic level by the end of the semester. We study storytelling technique and history (including all of the different types of stories that can be told) researching different types of storytellers. Students watch many online performances of storytellers of all ages and in from many different cultures throughout the semester and are encouraged to attend storytelling festivals in their area if they can.

As we all do with our courses I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how to develop better teaching techniques for all of my classes but Storytelling and the unit on Story Hour that is a part of LIBR 260A- -Children’s Programming and Services. I research what others are doing in similar classes and incorporate techniques and strategies that enhance teaching performance. What best practices can be implemented to insure that the students come away with what they need to know in order to become a storyteller or to excel at creating exceptional story hours and then delivering them to their respective audiences? Some in the field think oral storytelling more complicated than those that do story hours with babies or toddlers. One of the basic differences is that in oral storytelling you are not reading to the audience and in a story hour you are. I use the same philosophy for both on a fundamental level. For example one of the best techniques for either is watching, imitating and assimilating what is relevant to your storytelling personality from other more experienced storytellers. I demonstrate many parts of a story hour by creating videos showing me doing them. In oral storytelling I tap into the pool of world-class storytellers and call on past members of the class to allow me to continue to share their work to subsequent classes.

It is in the actual student performances where the art of storytelling develops. I give step-by-step guidance early in the semester to help each student get started and then constructive peer and instructor evaluations are used as part of the performances so see ways of improving their next performance (students create three performances during the semester).

First and foremost the class does not demand that students buy expensive cameras and the class size would diminish if we did add that requirement. Instead I ask them to consider certain pros and cons to using the camera that is built in to their laptop. I ask if they have access to a better camera and maybe a tripod. Can someone help them with the filming? What are the pros and cons of using built in camera over a hand-held? I have had students use their laptop camera successfully and also several students have found a way to use their libraries video camera and have someone help them to film. Bottom line though is that the performance has to have good sound, lighting and show the performers image especially any appendage they will be using during their performances (arms, hands, feet, etc.)

As the instructor I am constantly giving feedback and listening carefully to comments made by the rest of the class. Storytelling is a very personal experience for the teller and for the audience. Every student comes with a fear of performing in front of others and even though we are not face-to-face in the sense of being all in the same place physically I create this in-person performance atmosphere by having three synchronous Collaborate sessions. Every person in the class must attends and show their performance video. All students bond through the performances and knowing that each of them has to be this process. They share thoughts, ideas and their nervousness through discussion threads, online room discussions and sharing their work as it develops (if they want).

In order to make sure we have as few technical problems as possible students practice then film their performance using video then load to YouTube, Vimeo or BlipTV and as a precautionary step our Collaborate Assistant not only plays through Web tour in D2L but posts the link address in the scroll chat for those that want to open the video in another browser window. Everyone watches the video and makes comments either through the scroll chat or “live” using the microphone after the video has played. In addition each student completes a written evaluation that is sent to me as the Instructor and to the performer.

At this year’s Faculty Institute I came away with so many new ideas I want to incorporate into classes and for storytelling I could see how Panopto could be used to really improve my lectures not only in Storytelling but in every class. I also want to start using audio evaluation. I have experimented with playing the performance and talking over it so that they student can see what I am referring to. The SOTES from students in 281 and 260A have given me so many other ideas to incorporate and I have made many tweaks and changes over the past two semesters.

In conclusion I believe that our Storytelling class is creative, unique and gives librarians the basic skills they need to do storytelling as well as a sound historical foundation on the importance of story and the place that story has in every culture.

I included a few videos from my students for you to watch here as well as one of me.


Shelby Harras telling the story The Myth of Lleu Llaw Gyffes

B Hernandez telling the story The Magic Coin

Teresa Wetzel telling the story Master and Man


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