Using Storytelling to Share Research in a Time of Mistrust

This is the second in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2017, and their projects. This one was submitted by Franny Gaede.

For the 2017 Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute, our group will look at how storytelling techniques, specifically those used in journalism and folklore studies, can be used to help combat anti-intellectualism faced by scholars and reporters. This idea came from discussion about current information culture (i.e.: “alternative facts” and “fake news”), how scholarly research has been mis- or underrepresented in news media, and how “bad science” and retractions have promoted public distrust of scholarship.

Man reading a newspaper in a doorway

Institutions of higher education are often characterized as bastions of liberalism, which in a politically charged environment will hinder academics’ ability to communicate effectively with the public. This perceived politicization affects the research output of colleges and universities and the ability of the news media to cover research-based stories as they compete for the attention and confidence of their audience. Democratization of information has exacerbated this to some extent. The reduction or elimination of gatekeepers has enabled scholars to engage in disseminating their research but has also contributed to the spread of misinformation and made evaluating information far more difficult.

Scholars have also expressed concerns about sharing their work widely for fear that it will be misinterpreted (see The Heartland Institute’s 500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares, featuring a number of scientists who later came out protesting their inclusion on the list suggesting their research had been misinterpreted)1, 2 or targeted for grant revocation (see HR 5155, proposed legislation prohibiting the NEH from funding the Popular Romance Project and similar projects.) Still other scholars show a lack of interest in sharing their work with the public as  they report believing the people who need access to their work – other researchers – already do; this, in turn, can help reinforce the idea among the general public that these researchers are elitists locked in their ivory tower.

We intend to approach this problem from the perspectives of educators, folklorists, journalists, librarians, and researchers. Our proposed solutions will involve the use of personal narratives to help make real people the face of the issue at hand and help add empathy to discussions about research and scholarly output. We’ll focus on supporting researchers, librarians, and other involved parties who use or want to use popular/populist platforms like blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and podcasts and offer primers on different methods for evaluating impact.

Our goal with this approach is, as stated in the Call for Proposals, “build bridges with constituencies that normally don’t feel connected to universities, and who may even feel antipathy to them.” We would like to engage these constituencies using storytelling techniques borrowed from journalism and folklore and ideas gleaned from popular “edutainment” and popular science entities, including I Fucking Love Science, lol my thesis, TED Talks, and the VlogBrothers’ Crash Course series. We also want to look at entities engaged in repackaging complex topics, such as eLife Digests, Vox, News in Slow, and Thing Explainer to consider how plain-speaking in scholarship can encourage engagement.

The team includes scholars engaged in research on fairy tales, digital humanities, social justice, sex education, experiential learning, digital storytelling, scholarly communication, and diversity in news, among other research interests. We hold positions ranging from tenure-track faculty to blogger to full-time librarian to alt-ac scholar, having worked in newsrooms, classrooms, and libraries. Between our collective interests and our collective experience, we have the necessary perspective to productively engage in our proposed topic at TriangleSCI and successfully produce the toolkit outlined below.

Newspaper stand in the snow

Team Members

Franny Gaede. Scholarly Communication Librarian at Butler University, liaison librarian for the Department of Modern Languages, the Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, Honors, Global and Historical Studies, and First Year Seminar. My particular research interest is social justice and open access and I work mostly with faculty and undergrads. I feel strongly that accessibility to research ought to include accommodations, access, and readability. You should not need a PhD in a subject to be able to read about it! In addition to my deep interest in scholarly communication, I am an amateur designer with many feelings about fonts, a keen observer of the tech industry, and a five-time participant in National Novel Writing Month.

Jeana Jorgensen. Alt-ac scholar (currently a lecturer at UC Berkeley; home base is adjuncting at Butler University). I research gender and sexuality in fairy tales, narrative folklore more generally, digital humanities, dance, body art, queer and feminist theory, and the history and cultural reception of sex education. My college courses span folklore, anthropology, and gender studies, focusing on teaching students to identify the intersections of cultural context, narrative, and identities. I also blog at Patheos.com and Conditionally Accepted, and have guest blogged widely, contributing to my mission of scholarly outreach.

Ashley Rosener. Grand Valley State University liaison librarian for the School of Social Work, the School of Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration, and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy. I work with both undergraduate and graduate students and regularly provide instruction, both in the classroom setting and through workshops for students and faculty/staff. I work with students and faculty one-on-one, helping them find reliable sources for their assignments and research. I also maintain the library collections (books, journals, films, databases, etc.) for my liaison areas. I bring to this group my expertise as a liaison librarian alongside a passion for and engagement in scholarly communications issues.

Teresa Schultz. Teresa Auch Schultz is the scholarly communications and copyright librarian at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she advocates for open access of scholarly articles and other work among the UNR community. Previously, Teresa worked as a reporter for local newspapers in Indiana for 10 years. Teresa is interested in new forms of scholarly communication, such as open access, and how research can be made accessible to everyone, not just academia in the Western Anglo world. Her background as both a scholarly communications librarian and journalist will help contribute a knowledge of how researchers work and what motivates them and how that fits with traditional storytelling methods used by journalists to communicate to the public.

Jessica Sparks. Jessica Sparks is a former political reporter from Indiana who transplanted to the South. With a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in digital storytelling, she has served in several roles for news organizations. In 2013, Sparks was part of the first cohort of the International Center for Journalists “Back to the Newsroom” fellowship, where she worked for the Wall Street Journal. Her research areas include journalism, gender issues, diversity in news and newsrooms, and social media. At Savannah State University, Sparks teaches undergraduate mass communications courses focusing on writing, news reporting, research methods, and basic design principles.

Amanda Starkel. Information Commons and eLearning Librarian, Butler University. As Information Commons and eLearning Librarian, I manage the students and staff who run our service point in the library. Our program is focused on experiential learning and includes assessed student learning objectives and peer teaching.  I also maintain traditional liaison responsibilities such as instruction, assessment, collection management, and outreach. Before Butler, I served as Interim Director and Instruction Librarian at Defiance College. My expertise is in user services and information literacy instruction, but I excel at thinking creatively to solve problems and offer broad academic experience to this group.

Output

Our intended output is a toolkit that will include the following items:

  • Breakdown of different storytelling genres, including classical folklore genres and pop culture examples to help users harness generic associations and aid them in making certain points or reaching specific demographics
  • Advice for researchers on building pre-made video news releases, interactive infographics, and podcasts, including guidance on using humor, emotion, and personal narratives to encourage understanding, empathy, and sharing (i.e.: how to go viral)
  • Unbranded, editable Creative Commons-licensed templates to be used on social media to share research

[ Photos by Thong Vo and Matt Popovich used under Unsplash free license.]