Beyond Twitter and clickbait headlines

Multimedia Storytelling brings community stories to life through service-learning

If there is something that can get lost in a tweeting world, it’s storytelling.

Behind 280-character messages and clickbait headlines lie the deeper, richer narratives of people, places, policies, and impacts.

Communication 308: Multimedia Storytelling is an undergraduate course offered by Loyola’s communication department that teaches students to apply the latest media tools to the timeless art of sharing stories. Students in the course study ethical journalism and storytelling tactics. They also learn the practical skills of recording and editing techniques that they need to launch their stories in various formats, such as podcasts, online photo essays, and multimedia websites.

What makes Multimedia Storytelling stand out, however, is its foundation in service-learning, said Nguyên Khôi Nguyen, the digital media lecturer who has taught the course for two years.

Statue of a child being raised up by an adult Guilford Elementary School

Each semester, Nguyen coordinates with the Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ) to identify a community partner for student projects. Partners have included the Govanstowne Farmers’ Market as well as community groups that advocate for recommendations made by the Kirwan Commission, an initiative to develop reforms for Maryland public schools.

“Loyola is really special because of CCSJ, and without them, this iteration of the class wouldn’t be possible,” said Nguyen, noting that Loyola was proactive in teaching him how to instruct a service-learning course. CCSJ conducts a series of workshops to train faculty in this singular, collaborative pedagogy.

Multimedia Storytelling students meet with their community partner early in the semester to review the client’s needs and the students’ course requirements. Together they create a contract detailing the project; everyone involved signs the contract. When the course concludes, CCSJ both archives the content pieces created by students and shares them with the community partners so that they can use the materials for their marketing needs.

A component of the class talks about fake news and media literacy in the polarized landscape we find ourselves in today. The best way to combat that, especially with this class, is that the students aren’t siloed in the Loyola bubble. They reach out to the community and do neighborhood walks with their community partners.
A storefront with a boarded up window Rowhouses A teddy bear taped to a streetlight

Nguyen saw the impact of these hands-on connections when the students worked on a project focused on the Kirwan Commission. Students’ detailed work reflected their collaboration with the community. Their videos seamlessly edited together emotional soundbites from parent advocates with images of the Maryland State House and speeches by lawmakers. Meanwhile, their multimedia website projects told compelling stories of communities that were striving to improve their schools.

The students began by thinking that maybe the public education system was corrupt and there was no positive way forward, but through their work they saw local community members who really care about children, and they found a real grassroots effort to improve education.

Although Nguyen teaches technical skills that will be valuable in students’ communication careers, he believes that the most important thing the course affords them is a chance for the students to get to know the community well.

By connecting with the community, Nguyen explained, students appreciate that Baltimore isn’t just an idea or a headline, but “a real place with real human beings.”