Environmental history class produces radio show
This year, students in Associate Professor Jennifer Tucker’s course, Seeing the Bigger Picture: Integrating Visual Methods and Environmental History, had the opportunity to share what they learned in an unusual format. They produced an hour-long radio show, which debuted on WESU 88.1 FM on Memorial Day. It will air again on the station this summer and can be heard on wesufm.org or on SoundCloud.
The course introduces students to the main milestones in the visual history of environmentalism and environmental science, from the 18th century to the recent past. The class explores the power and limits of visual representations, addressing how images of nature have changed as well as how the nature of images has been transformed over the past 250 years, according to Tucker, who is also an associate professor of Environmental Studies, Associate Professor of Social Sciences, and Associate Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The students received training in radio storytelling from Rosie Dawson, a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Tucker and Dawson first met two years ago, when Tucker contributed an essay to a BBC series Dawson was producing titled “Five Photographs That (You Didn’t Know) Changed Everything”. After completing the project, Tucker invited Dawson to visit Wesleyan and help his class develop a radio show about environmental policy in Middletown and beyond, featuring the writings and voices of the students. Dawson’s visit was made possible with the financial support of a Davis Foundation Fellowship through the Wesleyan’s Center for Pedagogical Innovation and the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life.
For Tucker, writing for radio was an entirely different kind of writing than she had done in the past, and, she said, “I thought it would be a fun experience to share with my students, a learning opportunity to discover some tips for public writing and communication on the subjects they are looking for.
The radio show was an optional project for the class, and all the students contributed to it in different ways. Some wrote reports and conducted interviews, others read, found music or did background research.
“As students refined their research for wider audiences through radio formats, they learned new ways to write and consider the potential impact of their research,” Tucker said. “They worked collaboratively on the project, which fostered teamwork. And they researched the stories of Middletown and Wesley in relation to the themes of the course.
The finished product is an hour-long program consisting of interviews, conversations and short and long audio essays. It includes stories about the environmental history of the Connecticut River and the Middletown Braces Factory; interviews with Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion, Professor of Science in Society, and Michelle Murphy, who delivered the annual Diane Weiss ’80 Memorial Lecture in March; a conversation with a member of a group that plants and nurtures trees in Middletown; and a lighthearted look at the hit show “Planet Earth,” among other content.
Class member Abby Shneyder ’17, who was president of WESU, also provided essential background guidance and hands-on support for the project, in addition to conducting one of the interviews on the program. She oversaw the final production of the program and augmented the material with music and effects carefully chosen by the students.
“What probably surprised me the most about this project was how quickly everything fell into place. With Rosie’s help, most of the material used in the final program was produced in less than a week! With such a wealth of material and such interest in environmental conversation, we were able to collect a lot of really great audio very quickly,” Shneyder said. “Working alongside Rosie has been an absolute pleasure. Also, how many students can say they have worked side by side with a senior producer for BBC Radio? ? I think it’s safe to say that we were all lucky enough to be part of this experience.
Dawson consulted with students on their essays, helped edit and “put together” the curriculum, provided examples of radio shows to listen to and critique, and discussed with the class the challenges and opportunities of broadcasting. today. She found it “rewarding and enlightening” to work with a group of students who mostly had little experience with media and radio production, and to “see how their passion for their subject matter motivated them to learn new ways to communicate it. .”
“Communicating complicated ideas to non-academic audiences can be a real challenge for students and faculty members whose writing and speaking are often necessarily theoretical and technical,” Dawson said. “Learning translation skills is vital for people who want to communicate beyond the academy. Radio is the ideal medium for this.
She noted that at Wesleyan “it strikes me that students have more freedom to explore whatever field they choose” compared to universities in the UK. “The fact that they could take time in a course to do it – without the pressure of assessment – was part of the reason for its success.”
While at Wesleyan, Dawson also gave two presentations to faculty members on the academy’s engagement with the media and on the journalistic challenges of communicating religion in the British context.