digital storytelling, fall 2020 (#storyf20)

Course Information

  • COM 472 OL1, 41750, MWF 1:25 – 2:15
  • Office: Bronstein Annex 202
  • Office Hours: Thursday, 12:00 – 2:00 and by appointment, via Zoom
  • Email: wwolff [at] sju [dot] edu
  • Pronouns: He/Him/His
  • https://williamwolff.orgcourses/ds-fall-2020/

Course Description

In COM 472 Digital Storytelling, students will build on a successful Digital Storytelling project created in Fall 2018, Start Talking SJU, by completing a semester-long class-wide social media impact campaign about how a particular social justice-related issue/challenge/concern is understood by individual members of the SJU university community. Our goals are to empower, raise awareness, and hopefully start a dialogue that could lead to change.

Start Talking SJU is a social media impact campaign that encourages members of the Saint Joseph’s University community to engage each other by discussing difficult, yet important topics, that are vital for a healthy, open, inclusive campus. The first three topics were, in Fall 2018, Belonging and Mental Health, and in Fall 2019, Attacked. These topics were selected by students and, in this section, we will be selecting a new topic.

The project is inspired by two CNN interactive digital stories produced by Jacque Smith and her team, “The First Time I Realized I was Black” and “25 Influential American Muslims.” Though these stories contain videos and some written content, our project will also include an Instagram campaign and extended text (perhaps with portraits), as well as additional online and print modes of communication as determined by the class.

The COVID-19 pandemic and having class online will create unique challenges for this semester’s installation of Start Talking SJU!. But, those challenges will also create opportunities for us to think in new ways about the possibilities for this project, how material can be obtained and presented in times of social distancing, and the kinds of subjects that can be considered for the topic. We’re going to be rethinking everything this semester and I think that is awesome.

To make the online meetings as personal as possible, the class will be broken into two cohorts. Sometimes the full class will meet. Sometimes only Cohort 1 will meet. Sometimes only Cohort 2 will meet. See the course calendar for the breakdowns.

In order to complete the work, the class as a whole will determine

  • the subject of the project
  • what needs to be researched to better understand the project
  • which members of the university community will be interviewed
  • how the interviews will be conducted
  • the aesthetics of the web page the videos will appear on
  • the aesthetics of the videos
  • and other important components.

Throughout the process of completing their work, students will learn theories and techniques associated with narrative storytelling, open-ended interviewing, and listening, as well as build on and hone the audio, video, and photography skills learned in prior Communication Studies courses.

Specifically, students will complete the following:

  • a Collaborative Social Media Impact Campaign (including associated work and reflections) (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • an Impact Assessment Report with Policy Recommendations for SJU (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • Reading Responses (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 2, 4, 5)
  • a Story of Learning (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 4, 5)

We will have at least one required individual conference this semester. We will also have students who created Start Talking SJU join us for a conversation about their experiences with the project.

Should any portion of class confuse/concern/trouble you, or if you have questions about any of the assignments, readings, or anything else, please do not hesitate to contact me. There is no shame in seeking extra help; it will only benefit your overall experience in the class. The material we cover in this course is complex and therefore requires your attendance. It is very easy to get behind if you miss classes. Please be present and ready to contribute.

Practicing Self Care

Please take care of yourself.  College is about more than classes and homework. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep, and taking some time to relax away from work. These choices have the potential to help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

As a college student, you may sometimes experience problems with your mental health that interfere with academic experiences and negatively impact daily life. Too often there is a negative stigma associated with experiencing distress and seeking assistance. That should not be the case. All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is almost always helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is here to help: call 610-660-1090 and/or visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty, or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

And if the situation is life threatening, call the police:

  • SJU Police: 610-660-1111
  • Off campus: 911

COVID-19 Statement

Practicing self care is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. The university has a detailed COVID-19 website and a Health and Safety Plan (.pdf), which, among other things, details mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing requirements. Though our class is meeting online, you will be in spaces where wearing masks and social distancing are required. I cannot overstate how important it is to engage in safe social practices during the pandemic. Your health and the health of those with whom you come in contact are at risk if you do not.

Students who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should call the Office of Public Safety and Security at 610-660-1111. This initiates a protocol which will include connection with the Student Health Center, necessary testing and isolation. The University has identified spaces for students who need to isolate or quarantine.

My commitment to you is to be open, flexible, and understanding during these uncertain times, especially as we are all adapting to new and unfamiliar learning spaces, practices, and environments. I ask the same openness, flexibility, and understanding from each of you and with how you treat and interact with one another in and out of classroom spaces. Our shared humanity, caring, and empathy will help us get through this as a community of learners and human beings.

Course Learning Objectives

This course embodies the Saint Joseph’s University mission to “prepare students for personal excellence, professional success, and engaged citizenship” and “model [a] lifelong commitment to thinking critically, making ethical decisions, pursuing social justice.” It is informed by several Core Objectives created by the Communication Studies department, as well as the importance of Reflection advocated by the Office for Mission and Identity.

Objective 1: Storytelling
Students will understand the principles and practices of effective storytelling and be able to create media objects that effectively apply storytelling principles and techniques for desired rhetorical, aesthetic, and communication goals.

Objective 2: Community Engagement
Students will expand their understanding and appreciation of the importance of being an actively engaged community member, particularly in terms of the importance of engaged research, interviewing, listening, and storytelling.

Objective 3: Collaboration
Students will develop their ability to work collaboratively in a variety of in- and out-of-class activities and settings.

Objective 4: Risk-taking
Students will know what it feels like to step out of their comfort zones and take risks with their approaches to and understanding of the course activities and other course objectives.

Objective 5: Reflection
Students will develop their understanding of the important role of reflection during the reading and communication process.

Texts, Software, and Materials

There are no books required for this course. However, please make sure you have access to the following:

  • A 1TB external hard drive (suggested, but not required)
  • Access to photo and video editing software
  • A computer with internet and web access
  • SJU email


Grades are determined on the basis of a Story of Learning, presented in the form of a GoogleDoc, which incorporates statements about your learning, links to work completed throughout the course, important moments of reflection about the course, and social media tweeted, blogged, or other media that you have sent out in to the internets throughout the semester. Students will present their Story of Learning at the midterm and at the end of the semester. In each case, each student will assess their own performance according to a predetermined grading criteria using their own work as evidence to justify a possible grade. At the midterm, we will meet in individual conferences to discuss your self-assessment and make plans for the rest of the semester.

A note on in-class discussions: Contribution to in-class discussion is expected in this class. That is, I expect all students in all class meetings to contribute thoughtful insights into the texts and the ideas discussed in class. Each member of our community of learning needs to be actively engaged in the learning process. Each student is here to contribute to the exchange of ideas. Ask questions. Be curious. As a student in this course you will create your own communal context for learning by engaging in conversations with others. As such, being prepared to participate in discussions and activities is paramount. This entails having read, annotated, and thought about the required materials carefully before class starts. The more you as students shape the conversations by engaging with each other, validating each other’s ideas, pushing each other, and asking each other questions without my prompting, the more this class will feel like a community and not just another class. No grade will be assigned for in-class participation; however, if your participation is lacking, it could seriously impact the Collaboration section of your Story of Learning. There may be times when the class meets in an online space rather than in the classroom. You’ll be notified ahead of time if this is the case.

A note on collaboration. All design is collaborative, as we will see in this class. Though our projects will be completed individually, we will be leaning on each other throughout our design processes for ideas, help, and feedback. I, too, will be learning from you, as you uncover new design tips and techniques found online. You are expected to be collegial, professional, thoughtful, mindful, polite, and open-minded in all of your interactions in the course, especially when visiting with clients. Significant moments that show a lack of collegiality, etc., can result the a reduction in your grade.

A note about grades: Grades in the A-range are those that show the student working at levels significantly higher than what is expected. Grades at the B-level are those that show the student working at levels at or just above what is expected. Grades at the C-level and below are those that show the student working at levels below what is expected.

All major assignments must be completed to pass the course. It is better to complete an assignment late then not to complete it at all. 


Given the unpredictability of the semester and the myriad of personal circumstances, it is inequitable to maintain a conventional attendance policy. I will note who is present during our synchronous and individual meeting sessions, but attendance will not factor into any grade. Rather, in your Story of Learning you will discuss your Engagement and Presence, including any disruption to your attendance. Engagement and presences can refer to but is not limited to:

  • Preparation: reviewing readings and material before class
  • Focus: avoiding distractions during synchronous and asynchronous activities
  • Asking questions: in both synchronous and asynchronous forms
  • Specificity: referring to specific ideas from readings and discussions
  • Synchronous presence: verbally and nonverbally engaged during synchronous activities

However, as this course is highly interactive with complex coding discussed nearly every meeting, your success is absolutely tethered to your presence and participation. The course will move quickly, and each successive meeting will build upon the concepts of the previous. Missing a class or individual meetings with Bill puts you at a serious disadvantage in terms of the larger semester arc. Please come to class and your individual meetings on time, prepared, having completed the assigned readings and assignments, and ready to contribute to class discussions, to listen seriously and respectfully to the thoughts of others, and to participate in all in-class activities.

Your primary responsibility is to be in class and fully present, and to contact me if you have or if you will need to miss class.

Please note that if you choose to miss class and/or individual meetings—that is, if there are no extenuating circumstances causing you to miss class—I will not be available outside of office hours and open coding times to re-teach the missed material.

Portions of this policy are borrowed from Mark Sample.

A Note on Academic Technology

Because this is an upper-level course, you are expected to be familiar with the department’s approach to using digital technologies: experiment, take risks, and play.

However, as much as technology makes life easier, at times it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, slow internet connection, etc.). Plan accordingly: “the computer ate my homework” or “the internet was down” are not reasons to forgo doing the assigned work. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, and back up frequently, especially at first to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your work.

That being said, I will never mark down or refuse to accept a project because of difficulty using academic technology. The software and applications we use are a means to complete the work, not the work itself. The software is often new and sometimes still has bugs. I am aware of this and am aware that problems can happen. If you run into trouble, let me know as soon as possible so I can help you work through it. There is no reason to sit for hours getting more and more frustrated. Send me an email with as detailed a description of your problem as possible and we’ll figure out what is going on.

If you are having trouble getting a project completed on time (for whatever reason) please let me know about your delays as soon as possible. It is better to complete an assignment late then to not complete it at all, and I am more than happy to work with you so you can compete the best project you can.

Universal Learning

I am committed to the principle of universal learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, civility, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to universal learning.

Any student with particular learning needs should contact the Student Success Center at 610-660-1041. The Center is located in Bellarmine Hall. The staff is available to answer questions regarding accommodations or assist you in your pursuit of accommodations. Then you and I can work out the details of any accommodations needed for this course.

Students with Disabilities

Requests for Accommodations: Reasonable academic accommodations may be provided to students who submit appropriate documentation of their disability. Students are encouraged to contact Dr. Christine Mecke in the Office of Student Disability Services, Bellarmine, B-10, at; or at 610.660.1774 (voice), or 610.660.1620 (TTY), for assistance with this issue. The university also provides an appeal/grievance procedure regarding requested or offered reasonable accommodations through Dr. Mecke’s office. More information:

Grievance Procedures for Students with Disabilities, Appeal Process: The Office of Student Disability Services will seek to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified students with disabilities. However, there may be times when a disagreement as to what is considered a reasonable accommodation will occur between the student and the University. The student has a right to file a grievance for complaints regarding a requested or offered reasonable accommodation on the basis of a disability under Section 504 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and University policies. If you have any questions regarding the appeals process, please contact Dr. Christine Mecke, Director Student Disability Services – Bellarmine – Room G10 –

For further information regarding accommodations, please see:

Digital and Zoom Etiquette

Many of the assignments throughout the semester will require participation in online spaces. Students should work to preserve the same atmosphere of respect and consideration that occurs in the classroom. Disagreements may arise and consensus is not always possible (indeed disagreements are productive). However, name calling, bullying, harassing, shaming, flaming, trolling, etc. is antithetical to the goals of this course and decent humanity.

Specific Zoom etiquette will be determined by the class and will be posted to this space.


Writing center: You will write in this class. If you are particularly concerned about your writing or think you might benefit from extra support, the Saint Joseph’s University Writing Center is free to all members of the SJU community. The undergraduate and graduate student writers who make up the staff can assist you in any stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to organizing and developing your ideas, to citing sources to proofreading. They work with students from across the university on a variety of assignments and individual and group projects: lab reports, business policy papers, poems, essays, research papers, dissertations, resumes, and personal statements for graduate school applications, among many others. You name it; they’ve helped writers write it. Both appointments and drop-in sessions are available. The main Writing Center is located in 162 Merion Hall. The Center also has a satellite location in the Post Learning Commons (room 128). Students enrolled in graduate and PLS courses may take advantage of online tutorials, which are offered any time the Writing Center is open. For more information, including hours of operation and instructions on how to make an appointment, please visit the SJU Writing Center website at

Digital Media Zone (DMZ): All DMZ computers were updated and/or replaced during Summer 2018, so things should be running much more smoothly than in the past.

AV Gear Rentals: Students can check out digital still cameras, video cameras, tripods, and other technology in the in the Communication Studies Gear Room, located on the second floor of Bronstein Hall. See the AV Gear Checkout Policies on the Communication Studies web page.

Academic Honesty: Please familiarize yourself with the University’s Academic Honesty Policy.

Firearms Policy

According to the Human Resources section of the SJU website and the SJU Student Handbook (updated, 2018),

The carrying, or presence, of a firearm is not permitted on University property, including, but not limited to, one’s vehicle, office, residence or locker, except when the firearm is carried by a deputized law enforcement officer and/or agent who is conducting official business on University property.

The University policy concerning the prohibition against the carrying, and presence, of firearms on campus, is intended to conform to applicable statutes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Such statutes define firearms as any pistol, revolver, shotgun, or any weapon which is capable of firing a projectile.

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