University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD) Professor David Syring is sparking his student's scholarly potential through digital storytelling. In an effort to promote engagement in innovative ways, Syring is expanding on traditional formats to include digital storytelling that inspires robust student participation and creates compelling evidence of the benefits of community-partnered research and teaching.
In 2012, Syring and Associate Professor Mitra Emad co-founded UMD’s Participatory Media Lab (PML), which supports students and faculty seeking digital and participatory tools for social and cultural research. This often means creating multimedia communications about their work. The PML’s first student-led production, Northern Roots: Growing Food in the Western Lake Superior Region, highlighted regional food production.
The project culminated in a community premier at the local theater, Zinema 2, where the film played to a packed house that included many of its stars -- regional farmers. “It was great to see how fired up the students were about the community-engaged aspect of it, and how the farmers were moved to see themselves on the big screen,” said Syring. Syring has since used that success as a model for multimedia projects that document fieldwork in Ecuador, providing students with opportunities to work with indigenous Ecuadorian Saraguro people on participatory photography and film.
Syring continues to find new applications for digital tools. He partnered with GIS Specialist Micaella Penning of UMD’s Geospatial Analysis Center to design the Twin Ports Community Plant Story Map. Students in Syring’s Ethnobotany course use the map’s online interface to pin locations of regionally and historically significant plants. They create entries with information about the plants to share with the community.
“Students are incredibly enthusiastic about the community engagement possible with this type of digital storytelling,” said Syring. “It’s a great complement to traditional forms of written research.” The map grows each year as more students -- and community members -- create online portraits of local plants.