Model Project: Fourth Course Syllabus, ‘Storytelling and Civic Engagement.”


Meets 2-3:15 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday EDUC 138


Instructor: Jim Sheeler

Office: Armory 203A

Office phone: 303-492-1059

Cell Phone: 303-868-2386

Office Hours: Monday and Thursday: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. or by appointment (I’m extremely flexible and will find time for you)



“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

-Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”

(quoted by Jacqui Banaszynski, “Telling True Stories”)


OVERVIEW: Some of the best stories hide in the shadows. They huddle in nursing homes and trailer parks. They tumble through the minds of underprivileged elementary school students and the people who guide their tiny hands. They hide behind language barriers and developmental disabilities. In many cases, the best stories are the ones we’ve never heard, the ones that impart an everyday wisdom. This class will shine a light into the places where stories often disappear, and give you a chance to keep them alive.



The course has two classrooms: the primary lecture class on campus, and the wider classroom of Frasier Meadows Retirement Community, where you will immerse yourselves in the stories and lives of residents and staff. Students will examine issues around aging, mortality and eldercare – along with many other topics - through the people living the issues. You will also venture behind the scenes to see the inner workings – both economic and emotional – of one of the largest and oldest non-profit retirement communities in the city.

As the class unfolds, we will evaluate past media coverage of issues surrounding seniors and focus on a variety of story structures in an attempt to find the most compelling way to bring the untold stories to light.

Along with instruction on traditional narrative written structure, the course will include instruction on video and audio editing, slideshows and other multimedia approaches. You will also evaluate your own work from a personal perspective, creating video diaries that will accompany the stories, and further the conversation.

Since the class combines students from all sequences of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, we will share strengths and skills to make each story stronger – often working in teams. Then, as a class, we will work with a separate group of student web designers from the “digital newsroom” class, providing content for a public website that will showcase the work, the stories, and the lessons of the entire semester.



The first three Thursday classes will be held at Frasier Meadows Retirement Community, 350 Ponca Place, Boulder. I will provide maps and other logistical information on the first day of class. You will receive identification badges that will allow you into Frasier Meadows to observe and interview residents and staff on your own time.

Please remember to remain professional and respectful of the residents – they are allowing us into their homes, and their lives. Some stories might be initially difficult to tell, but in the end I know they will be rewarding on many levels. We will discuss a number of procedures that must be followed, but please always feel free to see me with any concerns.



To develop civic knowledge through

* an understanding of the social, economic, cultural, historical and political context

* analysis of the needs and motivations of key stakeholders

* building coalitions to develop ideas

* reflection on the connections between service, advocacy and research


To hone civic skills by

* using communication skills to build a democratic society

* working effectively as a team

* evaluating the pros and cons of alternative courses of action


To reinforce civic values through

* examination of personal motivations and how they affect one’s own active citizenship

* consideration and accommodation of new or opposing viewpoints

* responding to others with empathy, impartiality and inclusiveness

* accepting responsibility to be a citizen in society


To acquire and practice multimedia storytelling skills

* developing interview skills

* identifying elements critical to telling compelling stories

* hands-on experience with audio/visual equipment and editing software

* understanding the role of web structure for multimedia presentations



•Assignments must be e-mailed to me BEFORE class on the due date (yes, that means that if class starts at 2 p.m., the story is late at 2:01 p.m.). I will provide special e-mail instructions on how to transfer large files. Any work turned in past deadline will drop one letter grade per day (so if the story is due Thursday and you turn it in on Saturday, the best grade you could receive is a C). I am happy (as are most editors) to accept stories early. Students who turn in assignments at least one class period BEFORE the due date will have a chance to make changes I’ve suggested, and will very likely receive a higher grade.


Assignment #1: Written oral history/profile.

400-800 words

Assignment #2: A story that tackles an issue or concern specific to seniors in written, audio or video form.

Written: 1,000-1,400 words.

Video 3-5 minutes

Audio slideshow, 3-5 minutes

Assignment #3: A story idea cultivated from the first two stories – along with class input – that will work as a key element of the final website. Written, audio or video form.

Written story, 1,000-1,600 words

Video 5-7 minutes

Audio slideshow 5-7 minutes


Personal reflection/video diaries:

Students will be required to record video diaries answering a number of questions about lessons learned before, during and after each story. These are a crucial part of the project, and the overall assignment grade depends on honest, critical reflection.


•Specific instructions detailing each assignment and video diaries will be distributed at the time of the assignment.



•“Old Friends” by Tracy Kidder (the book is out of print, but I will provide you with a copy that is yours to keep on the first day of class)

•Various multimedia stories, magazine and newspaper articles will also be assigned throughout the semester, primarily as web links.


Readings should be completed before each class.  Readings are mandatory and will be discussed at length. I will pick students at random to comment on readings, and your class participation grade will suffer if you haven’t read the assignment. The best way to learn how to write is to read.




10% Assignment 1 with video diary

30% Assignment 2 with video diary

40% Assignment 3 with video diary

20% Class participation


•To receive full credit for the class participation grade, you must attend class, initiate discussions, ask questions and do the reading. Various in-class exercises and homework assignments will also be factored into the class participation grade.


Student Honor Code:  All CU students are responsible for

knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution.

Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic

dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior.  All

incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council

(; 303-725-2273). Students who are found to be in violation

of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions

from me as your instructor and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited

to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). Other information on the

Honor Code can be found at  and at


Observances:  Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to reasonably and fairly deal with all students who, because of

religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or

required attendance.  In this class, please notify me at least two weeks in advance of the conflict to request special accommodation, such as a make-up exam or altered deadline.


Classroom behavior: Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Students who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. As your instructor I have the professional responsibility to treat all students with understanding, dignity and respect.  Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, culture, religion, politics, sexual orientation, gender variance, and nationalities.  Please advise me if you ever have concerns or particular needs on this front.


Students with disabilitieswho qualify for academic accommodations must provide a letter from Disability Services (DS) and discuss specific needs with me, preferably during the first two weeks of class.  DS determines accommodations based on documented disabilities.  (303-492-8671, Willard 322,


Discrimination and Harassment:  Any student who believes he or she has been the subject of discrimination or harassment based upon race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harrassment (ODH) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of

Judicial Affairs at 303-492-5550.  For more info:





Aug. 25

•Introduction to stories that can change the lives of your readers, and your own.Assignments due Sept: 1: Six word memoirs related to age and aging.

Read “Old Friends,” The Last Place, pages 1-97


Aug. 27

•Meet at Frasier Meadows, general tour and overview

•Tips for interaction with seniors


Sept. 1

•Discuss “Old Friends” reading

•Discuss elements of story

DUE: 6-word Memoirs

DUE: “Old Friends”, The Last Place


Sept. 3

•Meet at Frasier Meadows, tour independent living

Assignment due Sept. 8: read “Old Friends,” Winter, pages 101-218

Assignment due Sept. 10: spend at least two hours at Frasier Meadows looking for story ideas


Sept. 8

•Discuss “Old Friends”, Winter

•Developing Characters, Interviewing skills

DUE:“Old Friends,” Winter


Sept. 10

Discuss story ideas

Assignment due Sept. 15: “Old Friends,” Spring, pages 221-244; Lou and Joe, pages 247-352 (Finish the book)

DUE: Story ideas for oral history


Sept. 15

•Discuss “Old Friends”

•Workshop on VoiceThread and creating critical reflection video diaries

DUE: Finish “Old Friends”


Sept. 17

•Workshop stories

DUE: Assignment #1

Critical reflection video diary #1


Sept. 22

•Elements of audio/visual storytelling

•Guest Speaker via Skype, Todd Heisler, New York Times


Sept. 24

•Audacity/Garageband tutorial


Oct. 1

•Soundslides/Ethics and best use of slideshows


Oct. 6

•Guest Speaker Dave Underwood – storyboards                    


Oct. 8

•Final Cut Pro/imovie video editing tutorial


Oct. 13

•Audio/video editing continued


Oct. 15

•Guest Speaker Zac Barr, Colorado Public Radio


Oct. 20

•Story workshop

DUE: Story #2


Oct. 22

•Story workshop

DUE: Critical reflection video diaries


Oct. 27

•Brainstorm final project

DUE: Five story ideas


Oct. 29

•Evaluating projects similar to ours through journalism history via multimedia and traditional narrative


Nov. 3

•Stories from the shadows that foster social change

•Guest Speaker, Chris Barge, Boulder Community Foundation


Nov. 5

•Storytelling and social media/What works on the web


Nov. 10

•Evaluate storyboards

DUE: Storyboard of final assignment


Nov. 12

•Meet with web design team


Nov. 17

•Read/Watch/discuss final assignment

DUE:Final story


Nov. 19

•Read/Watch/discuss final assignment

DUE:Critical reflection video diaries


Nov. 24-26

Thanksgiving Break


Dec. 1 

•Spreading the word: involving the community in the project

•Using social networking to spur involvement


Dec. 3

•Assembling the final package

DUE:Final assignment rewrites


Dec. 8

•Meet with web design team


Dec. 10

•Lessons learned

•Evaluating the progression of critical reflection video diaries


FINAL EXAM:Meet at Frasier Meadowsto share the stories.