Story+ Shifts to Remote Research Model

Sarah Rogers
Monday, May 11, 2020
Amanda Starling Gould and Jules Odendahl-James
Story+ co-directors Amanda Starling Gould (left) and Jules Odendahl-James. Photo by Jennifer R. Zhou.

On March 30, 2020, when Duke University announced that it would cancel onsite programming during Summer Session I due to COVID-19, Story+ co-directors Amanda Starling Gould and Jules Odendahl-James had already been planning ways to shift the program online for weeks. 

Jules and I started brainstorming - Plan A, B, C, D, X, Z - as soon as the university announced the campus closing for the rest of the spring semester,” Gould explained.

“We were committed to maintain the program’s practices and experience even if students had to participate remotely,” Odendahl-James added.

Story+ is a six-week summer program offered by the Franklin Humanities Institute and Bass Connections, with support from Duke University Libraries. It is funded by Together Duke, the university strategic plan, as part of a core commitment to provide transformational educational experiences for students. 

In Story+, teams of undergraduate students collaborate on interdisciplinary humanities research projects under the guidance of a project sponsor and graduate student mentor. Another important component of the program is storytelling for public audiences; as part of their research projects, students have created websites, exhibits, podcasts, short documentaries, and curricula.

During a typical summer, Story+ begins with a two-day boot camp in which students learn humanities research methods and skills like archive protocols, digital storytelling, information management, and audio and video production. They join together with their teams for the remainder of the intensive six-week program. Teams refine project questions, delegate responsibilities, decide on the modes and methods of their research, and collaboratively present their project at a culminating symposium for a public audience.

Students at a white board
 Story+ student researchers Naomi Lilly (center) and Brennen Neeley (right) map out concepts relating to their project on a white board during the summer of 2018. Team will continue to collaborate closely in the program's remote model. "Although communication processes and team management systems have gone online," Odendahl-James wrote, "the attention to detail, the getting lost in thought in pursuit of a question, the interrogation of an idea by a collaborative group are even more important when communicating across the miles." Photo by Eric Barstow.

Under Duke University’s COVID-19 policies, this kind of site-based research would no longer be possible during the program dates. So, co-directors Odendahl-James and Gould decided to develop a remote version of Story+.

“What we are planning is experimental, but deliberate,” Gould wrote. Instead of translating our traditional Story+ structure from in-person to on-line, the goal is to redesign the program, to offer an innovative interdisciplinary research experience that feels as if it were meant to be online all along.”

Among the biggest adjustments to the program was the decision to reduce the undergraduate students’ expected time commitment, in order to create more flexibility and to accommodate challenges telecommunicating from home. However, Gould emphasized that the structure of the program remains the same: graduate student mentors will provide teams the same level of support, program co-directors will lead online learning sessions and hold regular “office hours,” and staff from the library and other university centers will be available for consultation. And the boot camp has been redesigned as a boot camp and resource portal, incorporating asynchronous as well as synchronous learning experiences.

“The goal is to maintain, as much as possible, a focus on process, depth, and taking one’s time to let research evolve. These are values at the core of Story+,” wrote Odendahl-James.

Some project sponsors chose to postpone until the following summer, but most agreed to try out the remote approach. Story+ also picked up some new projects, including a comparative study of the 1918 flu and COVID-19 in Durham and a digital ethnomusicology project on DJs in quarantine.

Gould is looking forward to piloting a redesigned version of Story+ with the same research and learning objectives: “It is a privilege to be developing new research modes and methodologies with such an impressive and accomplished group of Story+ researchers, community partners, and expert colleagues!”