Sharing a story enables reflecting, connecting, and confidence-building. Even in technical courses, students can pause to find purpose in themselves and in their education. Asking students to share stories celebrates the rich experiences they bring to their own learning and our shared learning journey in the classroom.
Giving students time to practice crafting stories about themselves is a gift that we can offer, even in a technical engineering course. If engineering education is intended to allow students to become both technically exceptional and engaged citizens, we must nurture all aspects of their learning. Learning must include elements related to self-directedness, passion-finding, leadership, and communication, among others. Enabling students to craft stories to learn about themselves, to connect to their classmates and instructors, and to confidently describe their talents is invaluable to their development.
For all of these reasons, students practiced creating stories about themselves in two very technical courses:
In both classes, I began class with a story day, telling students a vulnerable story about myself when I was an undergraduate. My aim was to develop rapport and trust with the students, and model how to tell a story as well as the importance of the various components of a riveting story.
Prior to the career fair, students then developed at least two stories.
The stories were submitted in written form or in video form (just using a phone to record).
NOTE: While it is possible (and fun!) to incorporate storytelling into technical courses, these ideas could easily be adapted for use in workshops or for other environments.
During development of the story, students used a handout to be sure they were including important aspects of an appealing story: hook, context, transformation, and sticky details.
My story was used as the model story to teach these various story components via a classroom discussion. Students pulled the pieces from my story to discover the building of my story based on those four basic components, then got to work on their own. Students worked alone and also in pairs to try out ideas, connect with others, and build confidence in their own story.
I provided written feedback to their submitted stories, all prior to the career fair, so that they could learn from their experiences to be able to intentionally develop their narrative as they sought internships or full-time jobs.
As a result of this intervention, I felt more connected to my students and felt like I got to know this cohort better than others. I didn’t have to convince students; I believe that by being vulnerable and sharing my story, I built a psychologically safe classroom where students could be free to share their stories. I gave them the equivalent of one class period divided into two portions to prepare their stories.
I loved celebrating and validating the experiences that we all bring to the classroom, connecting to passionate and brilliant young people, and inspiring students to learn and grow in more ways than one.
In the future, I wish to dedicate additional class time per story to give students the ability to practice their more fully developed stories with a peer or a small group of peers. I may create a framework for peer feedback to provide students the opportunity to practice providing helpful and empathetic feedback. On my end, I may provide audio/video feedback to speed up the feedback process.