Radio Stories in a FIG Course Syllabus

Professor Erica Halverson (FIG Course: L&S 106)

Representing Self Through Media: A Personal Journey Through This American Life

Course Description & Goals:

The overarching goal of this class is to understand the relationship between identity and story. Theorists from a variety of fields, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, performance arts, and media studies, have described the tight link between the stories we tell about our lives and the identities we take on. We will explore this relationship both theoretically and practically. Over the course of the semester, we will read from many of these disciplines in order to develop a working understanding of identity, literacy, and representation. Along the way, we’ll do some writing on these topics, A LOT of discussing, and hopefully some pushing back.

On the practical side, we’ll test our growing knowledge of the core concepts of the course (identity, literacy, and representation) through a semester-long project I call, “A personal journey through This American Life.This American Life is Ira Glass’ award winning, long running radio show on National Public Radio. We’ll learn more about it, but briefly, the website describes their show this way:

One of our problems from the start has been that when we try to describe This American Life in a sentence or two, it just sounds awful. For instance: each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. That doesn’t sound like something we’d want to listen to on the radio, and it’s our show. So usually we just say what we’re not. We’re not a news show or a talk show or a call-in show. We’re not really formatted like other radio shows at all. Instead, we do these stories that are like movies for radio. There are people in dramatic situations. Things happen to them. There are funny moments and emotional moments and—hopefully—moments where the people in the story say interesting, surprising things about it all. It has to be surprising. It has to be fun.

Each of you will be responsible for creating a This American Life-style radio story. You can work with someone or alone, though you will have to work with others to create your “show”—several stories put together based on a common theme. This process will be heavily scaffolded throughout the semester, so don’t worry if any (or all) of the aspects of producing a smart, interesting piece of radio seems overwhelming to you!

One of the great benefits of being in a FIG is that your three courses should work together toward the development of more sophisticated, interdisciplinary understandings of core concepts. My job is to help bring the courses (and the ideas) together. In creating your radio piece, you will be drawing on themes from your cultural anthropology course—specifically, I’m interested in whether and how the broad issues of culture and cultural communities are connected to your personal experiences. You will also draw heavily from what you learn in your radio production course. In fact, your final project for the two classes are the same (so they better be good!) It’s my hope that you will bring the content from cultural anthropology and the process from radio production to the creation of a piece of radio that expresses your understanding of self for a public audience.

As I said before, we will explore three core concepts over the course of the semester:

Identity: What do we mean by the term “identity”? How has it been defined in various fields? How can we operationalize the idea so that you can use it in creating your pieces? We’ll focus on identity in the first third of the course.

Literacy: What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century? Specifically, what are “the new literacies”? What does it mean to think about reading and writing not just in terms of text but in terms of the various media we interact with every day?

Representation: What is a representation? Why is representation significant in our understanding of identity and literacy? What are the key features of a “good” representation?


Required Texts:

There is one required text for the course: Côté, J. E. & Levine, C. G. (2002). Identity formation, agency, and culture: A social psychological synthesis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

All other course readings are currently available on the course website. If there is enough interest, I will create a printed course packet that will be available for purchase.


Course Requirements:

Attendance & Participation: Class attendance is required; a considerable amount of information will be covered during class time that cannot be found in the course readings. In addition, since much of this class will include different group discussions, work, and activities, your presence and contribution in this group is crucial.

Post-Class Reflection: Over the course of this term, you will complete three reflections, 1-2 pages in length. You should make one entry for each big topic from the course (identity, literacy, representation). They can be posted on the class website any time, but the closer in proximity you write them to the completion of an activity or topic, the better off you will be. You have the option of either initiating a discussion thread or responding to someone else’s thread. The reflections will be graded based on completion and the depth of your thinking. The best way to prepare for these writing exercises is to complete assigned readings before class and participate in the classroom discussions.

Representing the Other Assignment: Due in class the week of 9/14. I’ll explain in class on 9/9.

This American Life Project: There will be several project milestones you’ll need to meet over the course of the semester. I will describe them briefly here, but we’ll also talk about each milestone as it approaches:

What do you want your story to be about? – This will be the first chance you get to think through what you want your piece to be about. While I am not expecting a profound, finished piece of writing, the more in-depth you are able to describe your idea, the better feedback you’ll get from me and the sooner you’ll be able to see who is interested in similar ideas. Due 9/22 by 5pm.

Pitch – Everyone will be expected to “pitch” or sell their story idea to the class and to a small panel of experts. You will prepare a short oral presentation (you can use visual and/or aural aids if you choose). Due in class the week of 10/12.

Interview questions & outline – You should draft a list of questions you will ask the people you are planning to interview. It may help at this point to create a basic outline of what you envision for the overall structure the story. This should include ideas about music, who you want to interview (and why), and what other sound might be included. If you’re working with a partner, this should be completed together. Due 10/28 by 5pm.

Story board progress – Once you’ve completed your interviews, collected sound, and found music, you’ll need to assemble a story board that describes how all of this work will be put together into a complete story. You should have a general idea of timing as well (e.g. how many seconds/minutes for each piece of audio you want to use). This should be submitted with your theme group and you should also include how the pieces will come together. Due 11/23 by 5pm.

Final piece – Your final audio file will be due to me on the day of our scheduled “final exam”: Due on 12/22. However, this will not be the end of our journey. I plan to create podcasts of your work and find outlets for sharing them, both via the web and on the radio. I would also like to host a few nights of listening parties for you to invite friends and family to hear & discuss your work. I think it would be best if we did this after the holidays so that we can pick days/nights and times that work for the most people. More on this as we get to know each other. You will not be “graded” on these public sharing opportunities, but it’s my experience that the pride of creating a piece of work that people you know (and don’t know) can appreciate and enjoy is worth more than a letter.


Assessment: Grading breakdown consists of the following:


Points toward final grade

Attendance & participation


Post-class reflections


Representing the other


Project (50 points total)

Story idea


Script outline

Story board

Final piece







Total possible points


Special Accommodation: I intend to fully include persons with disabilities in this course. If you need any special accommodations in the curriculum, instruction, or assessments of this course, please contact me so that I can enable you to fully participate. I will do my best to maintain the confidentiality of the information you share with us. Contact the McBurney Disability Resource Center for more information on resources and policies (

Academic Misconduct and Plagiarism: I expect all students to maintain the highest standards of academic honesty throughout the course. Anyone involved in dishonest academic behavior will receive a failing grade and will be reported to the Dean of Students. See the Student Handbook or for further information on academic misconduct.