Storytelling workshop with international collaboration sends powerful messages

Educators In the News

The act of collaboration or working with others as a team applies to many aspects of life and certainly the work that we as storytellers and educators do with our students and colleagues. The reasons for collaborating vary from using resources to sharing ideas, which can result in wonderful and unexpected outcomes.

An international partnership that started in 2011 between the UW-River Falls Stage & Screen Arts Department and the RheinMain University Media Conception & Production Program in Wiesbaden, Germany has resulted in a variety of amazing opportunities for students and faculty over the years, including a live interactive television show, collaborative video production projects, and travel abroad experiences in teaching and learning.

As part of the Erasmus Plus International Program 2018/2019, a series of workshops were offered on each campus led by faculty and staff from the partner university that included a visual storytelling workshop last spring. Because scheduling is always a challenge, plans are made months in advance to coordinate travel, facilities, and related logistics and conversations about content begin far before the actual event. The plans for this storytelling workshop offered ideas that complimented concepts many students had learned previously in classes but with fresh international perspectives along with newly introduced software and technical skills, however prior to the workshop the project’s subject was still undecided.

As the date for the storytelling workshop approached, by chance I found out about another campus storytelling event when I received an invitation from UWRF Student Involvement to participate and promote Mental Health Awareness week with the non-profit storytelling organization Dear World, who “connects creators and communities to help people learn important things about each other” which happened to be the same week of our workshop.

Upon further investigation I discovered that the Dear World events use still photography to document stories shared by participants that are gathered and curated for keynote speaking presentations, which seemed to be a perfect compliment to our visual storytelling workshop. Dialogue was started in hopes of yet another collaborative endeavor.

The result was our students were invited to participate and document visual Dear World stories that were edited into short documentary videos and screened for the public event. The experience not only used the storytelling skills students learned in the workshop but offered an amazing experience by gathering compelling stories of tragedy, turmoil and triumph that couldn’t have been planned any better.

Erik L. Johnson
Associate Professor of Stage & Screen Arts
University of Wisconsin-River Falls