Writing and Multimedia Production as Service Learning

Students often learn about others’ lives and problems by reading the second-hand reports of experts. In Writing 340, students engage in active learning about others by listening to them directly. And, in doing so, they become the stewards of their stories.Starting in Fall 2007, Stephanie Bower and John Murray, professors of writing in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, teamed up to focus their two sections of Writing 340 on a single semester-long project. Small teams of students join with local community service organizations, learning and writing about the challenges those organizations face. The students then make short videos promoting the organizations and their goals. The result: writing and multimedia production as service learning.

The student writers face two ethical questions: “Am I being fair to the people I am representing?” and “How do I understand a social problem by listening to, capturing, and re-telling another human being’s story?” The faculty members saw other challenges: They wanted students to balance the emotional and rational dimensions of their stories and to produce videos with the same rigor expected in good prose writing. They also needed access to video training, equipment, and software.

Edward O’Neill, senior consultant for Learning Design and Technology, provided Bower and Murray with a three-fold solution to the challenges of finding equipment, integrating training and support, and improving the resulting projects:

  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), using the technology that students carry with them (e.g., mobile phones with HD video-recording capability)
  • Integrating technical visual communication skills throughout the course instead of adding a training period
  • Combining video making with course activities such as discussion and reflection.