Student Produced Audio Narratives (SPAN)

Erin Kraal
Associate Professor
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Need: Introductory geoscience courses play an important role in recruiting more, and more diverse, students into the STEM workforce. However, teaching these courses can be challenging for a variety of reasons. We conducted a pilot study to determine if a pedagogical technique called Student-Produced Audio Narrative (SPAN) would engage students while addressing the realities of introductory geoscience teaching in different institutional settings. Guiding Question: We hypothesized that including a Student-Produced Audio Narrative (SPAN) assignment in the course would impact students’ personal connection to geoscience content. A SPAN assignment is an engaging, flexible, and accessible assignment where students generate and tell stories with simple audio recording and editing techniques. These can be short-term to semester-long scaffolded assignments, complete in laboratory or lecture settings, and range in formats from a radio call-in show to outdoor journey across a landscape. Employing a mixed-method approach, we researched how SPAN assignments in introductory courses impact students’ sense of engagement in their geoscience courses. The pilot also evaluated implementation viability in realistic introductory-level geoscience courses that capture the diversity of student experiences. Specifically, it examined how instructors would implement SPAN assignments in a variety of introductory geoscience courses, using various course topics (e.g. traditional introductory geology, environmental, oceanography, etc), course structures (e.g. seminar, lecture, lab), and settings (2YCC, PIU, and R1).Outcomes: The 2 year pilot included 8 regional institutions and SPAN assignments were successfully implemented over 3 semesters. Faculty experience, as monitored through workshop evaluations and teaching logs, indicated it was an accessible pedagogical technique for a wide variety of courses, institutions, and instructors. Student data included quantitative and qualitative measurements. This included a validated pre/post survey of student perceptions of their learning environment and a subset of semi-structured interviews. Survey data showed that students experienced positive changes in the areas of personal relevance, sense of curricular innovation, and future intentions to study science. The student interview data revealed that the increased views of personal relevance and curricular innovation came from the creativity of this assignment format, as well as the flexibility instructors provided to students for completing their story and resulting audio file.Broader Impacts: This research provides evidence-based data that assignments like SPAN can increase students’ sense of relevance, engagement, and future intentions to study science. This outcome is related to their sense of agency, specifically as applied to their ability to be creative and flexible in a science course. Ultimately, over 1000 students experienced the SPAN activity as a part of their introductory geoscience course. Nearly all of the students were non-STEM majors. And almost half of the courses were in 2YCC settings. Six instructors, including 2YCC, temporary, and part-time faculty, became part of a professional learning community, including mentoring, networking, and opportunities to attend and present at conferences.


Laura Guertin, Penn State Brandywine, Media, PA; George Sirrakos, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA; Ari Epstein, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA