A new course offered by Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC) is teaching students how to use audio technology to record and edit sounds ethically and rhetorically, and to help make change in the world by assembling and circulating stories.
The course, titled Soundwriting and Rhetoric, ran for the first time during the fall 2018 semester and was taken by students from a variety of disciplines and levels, including Professional Writing majors, Media and Information majors, and graduate students.
The idea for the course came from Jackie Rhodes, Professor and Interim Chair of WRAC, and Danielle DeVoss, Professor, Associate Chair, and Director of Graduate Programs for WRAC. They passed their idea to Assistant Professor Benjamin Lauren, a musician who has experience in music and sound writing, and he developed the course.
The value of this class is to give students firsthand experience working with and learning from sound, and some of the rhetorical and ethical ways that we can use sound to tell stories.Dr. Benjamin Lauren
Soundwriting and Rhetoric ran for the first time as a special topics course last semester and will soon be offered once a year as a three-credit elective through the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures.
Utilizing New Technologies
Throughout the semester, students in the class studied sound recording and editing principals in conjunction with real-life practice.
“Writing is more than words on a page,” Lauren said. “The value of this class is to give students firsthand experience working with and learning from sound, and some of the rhetorical and ethical ways that we can use sound to tell stories.”
For one of the four projects, the class met in the Digital Scholarship Lab, located in MSU’s Main Library, where they worked closely with Digital Scholarship Librarian Andy Boyles Petersen. The students learned how to use the library’s 360° camera, a Garmin VIRB, and edit footage using software offered by the lab.
For this project, students had to choose a location on campus, visually record it with a 360° camera, and then narrate the scene to potential MSU students or to individuals interested in visiting campus. To do this work, students had to design audio soundscapes, and write and record a script to tell the historical story of this place on campus, as well as what it represents to the people that use the space. Then, students had to edit the sound they recorded, mix the multiple tracks together, and master the composition to best tell the story.
This class added another skill to my jack-of-all-trades repertoire that PW has helped me develop.Allison Bertram, PW Alumna
“I wanted the students to choose the spots and use the project as an opportunity to talk about an area of campus that they might love or a place that other people might love,” Lauren said. “I want students to enter the classroom feeling like this is an opportunity for them to learn how to tell stories with sound in ways that can help make a difference in people’s lives and in the world.”
At the end of the project, the students presented their 360° videos in the Digital Scholarship Lab’s 360-degree immersive visualization room, which is the only room of its kind at a university within the United States.
Ethical Learning and Listening
In addition to this project, the course invited multiple speakers who utilize sound in their work. Students discussed the relationship between sound and culture with Shewonda Leger and ethical approaches to interviewing with Erin Schaefer, both of whom are Ph.D. candidates studying Rhetoric and Writing at MSU. Additionally, they discussed accessibility and the importance of captioning from Sean Zdenek, Associate Professor of Technical and Professional Writing at the University of Delaware.
“Beyond learning the basics of sound editing, we studied the rhetoric and implications of using certain types of sound,” said Allison Bertram, a recent Professional Writing graduate. “I quickly realized that this will help if I end up working with a company that produces podcasts, videos, and more. This class added another skill to my jack-of-all-trades repertoire that PW has helped me develop.”
Now that podcasting has become immensely popular and video has become integral in storytelling online, this course will be beneficial to learn how to go about sound editing in an ethical way.
“The class is a good opportunity for socially and culturally engaged students to use sound as a way to advocate for communities and causes that they care about,” Lauren said. “It can bring attention to something that we may be overlooking…and that there are often ethical concerns to working with communities and we need to enter those spaces deliberately, intentionally, and with care at the center of thinking.”