Journalism & Creative Writing
In their own voices
Denby Weller
Department of Media & Communications
Julia Prendergast
Department of Media & Communications

A collaboration between the Journalism and Creative Writing disciplines, ‘In their own voices’ is a text-to-voice project that culminates in a spoken-word event, Tell Me - Audio Stories, for students.
Adapting their own assignments into podcasts using Adobe Audition, students will follow the emerging global practice that sees authors at publications like The New Yorker read their own features and short stories for an audience of listeners.
Tell Me - Audio Stories will take a hybrid format, enabling the inclusion of offshore students who wish to have their podcasts played to a live audience, as well as local students who wish to do a live reading of their work.
Resources
Shareable teaching and learning resources for this project coming soon!

Problem 
How to encourage students to generate and share text-based storytelling outputs as audio stories and thereby promote the dissemination of multimedia, portfolio-ready exemplars to a wider audience?  
In Journalism units (such as Specialist Reporting) and Creative Writing units (such as Prose Poetics), students worked towards the completion of a text-based long-read. These assignments, ranging from 1500 - 5000 words, were ideal for single-episode podcast production and live readings. Students were prompted to make a podcast-style recording of their final work and submit it as an mp3 file, along with the text-based version of the assignment.  

Project Overview 
‘In Their Own Voices’ is a collaboration between the Journalism and Creative Writing disciplines. Students were provided with guidance to build skills as an emerging audio storytelling practitioner, adapting their assignments into podcasts using Adobe Audition, producing outputs that replicate the work of authors at publications like The New Yorker, who read their own features and short stories for an audience of listeners. Offshore students had equitable access to Audition and students were instructed in the use of a range of audio recording devices, including mobile apps, to allow full participation regardless of access to campus recording spaces.  
As a text-to-voice project, ‘In their own voices’ culminates in a spoken-word event – ‘Tell Me’. In November 2022, ‘Tell Me’ took a hybrid format, including live readings and podcasts – we played an opening collage (one or two lines from a range of audio storytelling artefacts), followed by longer extracts from exemplar student outputs. We contacted all offshore international students enrolled in Creative Writing or Journalism Majors, personally, offering them the opportunity to contribute their podcasts to be played on the night.  
As an emerging practice in literary as well as news publications, long-read podcasts offer authors the unique opportunity to read work in their own voices. Importantly, the practice strips back the performative and interpretive layer that comes between author and listener when an audio work is voiced by an actor. Not only are we able to include a wider audience when we voice our own works, we achieve a degree of intimacy and authenticity in the representation of the work and return to the traditions of oral storytelling.  

Emergent Outcomes (outcomes of the project) 
While the audio storytelling project was strategically embedded in our units, to ensure student participation, the project was aimed inclusively at students across the the School of Social Sciences, Film, Media and Education (SoSSFME), and beyond. We presented a compilation of extracts from a selection of podcasts in “real time”, at the live event. The ‘Tell Me’ event included PhD and Masters students, as well as undergraduate students outside of SoSSFME, including an international student from Health Sciences and representation from the university-wide poetry club. We also had students from Melbourne, Monash and La Trobe Universities, a Year 12 graduate who hopes to undertake a Creative Writing Major at Swinburne, next year, and emerging writers undertaking studies in other disciplines (invited as guests by Swinburne students). Perhaps most pertinently, we had uptake from international students, outside of SoSSFME, for both the audio storytelling components and the live readings.   
The student-centred nature of this project, and the relevance of this project for international students, is illustrated by the in-person presence of international students, students from other universities, and emerging industry practitioners. ‘Tell Me’ provides equitable participation in events for a wide range of students and emerging practitioners.  

Digital Literacy Outcomes (staff / student engagement with digital literacies)  
Using Adobe Audition, students gained valuable experience working with professional editing software to adapt their own work for a multiplatform delivery. Multiplatform delivery is a key feature of modern, converged newsrooms and contemporary storytelling platforms such as The New Yorker. Our aim was to facilitate opportunities for students to develop skills in creating this kind of content, and building skills that are in increasing demand among graduates.  
Students made critical choices in the construction of their audio recordings, responding to the conventions of audio programming and other theoretical considerations. In the instruction module, they were invited to experiment with sound effects and music, and to approach the audio artefact as a creative work, not merely another avenue of publication. Students were encouraged to reflectively engage in questions of voice and ownership as they recorded their work, broadening their critical literacy.  

Key learnings (personal shifts in teaching, approaches etc) 
A key finding from the Journalism units was that students did not participate in the audio recordings of their writing work, as it was not an assessment item. This aligns with observations made by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Pascale Quester, at a recent Town Hall (SoSSFME) gathering – that students seem to have a transactional approach to their study at Swinburne – that is to say, unless it’s worth marks, they won’t do it. In final classes in Journalism offerings, tutors were able to have a friendly conversation with students about the lack of engagement with the project. Students reported that:  
•  They saw value in learning the skills of audio recording, but this value did not extend to creating their own audio artefact. 
•  They reported a higher-than-expected level of engagement with the learning materials to do with audio recordings, but said they had stopped short of doing their own recordings because they were too busy with assessable work.  
•  They were enthusiastic about the idea of the task being assessable in future units, saying that marking something as an assessment item indicates to them that it’s an important feature of a unit.  
•  They preferentially dedicate time to assessment items because they feel that the University has clearly indicated the importance of these tasks (and conversely, has indicated the unimportance of non-assessed tasks). This challenged the notion that students ‘can’t be bothered’ to do non-assessment tasks and will inform unit design for coming deliveries. 
Another key finding was that international offshore students were concerned about the quality of their written English. While they expressed gratitude to us for reaching out, they also indicated their reluctance, on the basis of their concerns about quality and expression. We offered offshore students additional assistance with Adobe Audition but, upon reflection, if we’d had more time, it would have been ideal to build in time for iterative feedback about the content, to bolster the confidence of offshore students. We provided this mentoring to a local international student who was very keen to be involved, who benefited from feedback, and brought the audio storytelling project of completion.  

Impact (data from surveys, student feedback, reflections) 
At the ‘Tell Me’ (Spoken Word) event, students asked if academic staff can extend this project, making the full audio podcasts available to all participants, and beyond. This request is under consideration by academic staff, who are in-conversation with Peter Marcato about airing these outputs as a ‘Tell Me’ series, via Swinburne Radio.  
Student Feedback (International Student: Health Sciences): 
The Adobe storytelling Project was extremely unique. I loved the concept as well as recording my voice using Adobe Audition. The whole ‘Tell me’ event was magnificent and I thank you for inviting me to it.  
Select student feedback (Writing): 
The ‘Tell-me’ event was a great way to develop networks with people that share my passion for writing. (Written feedback) 
There were many different voices shown in the [In Their Own Voices] project that were similar in emotions but were told with varying tones. I loved that contrast. (Written feedback) 
[In Their Own Voices] is exactly what I have been searching for. Thank you. (Verbal feedback) 

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