Digital Storytelling: Audio Stories in the Classroom

Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind. 

—Tiffanie Wen, The Atlantic Monthly; Apr. 16, 2015

Since 1989 – Smile Jamaica; KRCL 90.9FM; Saturdays 4-7 PM

Robert Nelson:

  • 27 Year Veteran of Reggae Radio and the Smile Jamaica Program on Community Radio station 90.9FM KRCL
  • Academic approach to an ethnic music music program
  • History B.A. and Academic Librarian for 20+ years; personal library of over 200 books on Reggae/Rasta religion “Encyclopedic knowledge of Reggae Music and History”
  • Roots & Culture expression – through music – on Jamaican culture and Rastafari religion (unique to Community/Public radio)
  • Knowledge shared through oral stories during the radio “air checks”: Reggae History Lessons

Reggae History Lesson: Jamaican folk saying, “Rat a cut Bottle”; 9 sec.

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Reggae History Lesson: Jamaican folk saying – Rat a cut Bottle
  • Value Added listening experience: human element you don’t get on Itunes, Pandora or Satellite radio
  • Stories enhance the “secret history” behind the music: Active as opposed to passive listening experience
  • Nearly 3 decades  in broadcast communication translates as an “elder” passing on “wisdom” to the younger generation

Jamaican saying, “New broom sweeps clean, but old broom knows the corners!”


Smile Jamaica’s Podcasting/Social Media

  • Smile Jamaica – Digital Archives at
  • SmileJ_KRCL – Twitter
  • – multi-media blog with Reggae History Lessons, soundbytes, sound effects, photos/captions, youtube
  • (I boycott Facebook because of their privacy policies)

Podcasts are Saving NPR (Wired; June 2015)

Along with some steps to reduce costs and develop new strategies, the Internet is helping to save the radio star.

NPR president and CEO Jarl Mohn told the AP that podcasts are attracting younger listeners to the network, but not because it’s altering its message—just its medium.

“We don’t have to change the essence of who we are to get a younger audience. We just need to tell great stories,” Mohn told the AP.

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NPR’s Ira Glass. Brilliant storyteller

How Stories can enhance teaching students in the Classroom:

  1. On-demand talk radio, interviews, and audio storytelling is on the rise:
  • smart phones allow for immediate “consumption” of media
  • cars with Wi Fi
  • Podcasting/media streaming services  come standard in the stereo package now

Why do Audio Stories Captivate? (Atlantic; Apr. 2015)

A good story’s a good story from the brain’s perspective, whether it’s audio or video or text.

2. College age Students listen to online Radio in large numbers

Edison Report on Online Radio Listening

Weekly Online Radio Listeners:

  • 12 – 24 year olds – 64%
  • 25 – 54 year olds – 37%

3. Stories enhance arousal in students’ emotional connections to other media they read (i.e. textbook chapters, assigned readings, Course Reserve articles)

From the Atlantic article: 

“What we have found in our research is that people require some sort of stressor, some sort of arousal response in the brain to have this type of narrative transportation where we begin to share the emotions of the characters in a story,” Zak says. “It makes sense that we need some sufficient reason to have that response. Our brain is trying to save resources and energy and having this arousal response is costly. Therefore we only want to give attention to something when it matters, when there’s something going on.”

4. Oral connection to textual information – a story can embellish course readings. Stimulates thought to conjure an image to fit the story

University of North Carolina School of Education: Oral History and Student Learning 

Through oral history, students can reinforce their knowledge of the historical content presented in the Standard Course of Study by hearing about historical events…

They can also extend their knowledge of history beyond what’s in their textbooks. Through oral history, students can learn about the everyday people who don’t appear in history books, uncover the ways in which major historical events reshaped their own communities, and document history that is too new to appear in books, recording events that are still unfolding.

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Glasses of milk: How you coax a snake out from under your stove in rural Australia

5. Stories convey knowledge and experience that students expect in their Professors/Instructors – build trust in your authority. Hold their attention

“Digital Storytelling: Augmenting Student Engagement and Success in Diverse Learning Environments” – Ejournal of Public Affairs (

Traditional writing assignments were transformed to digital stories in order to increase student engagement, critical reflection, and media literacy, while still maintaining an overall emphasis on critical thinking and analysis, always important in the social sciences.

Overall, the assignments were well-received by students, and both professors felt the assignments realized all of the learning objectives. 


  • Increase in literacy skills
  • High level of student enthusiasm and satisfaction
  • Data indicates that the assignments were useful in generating early student engagement with political science and international relations majors and should be viewed as a possible tool to promote long-term student success and retention across diverse learning environments.

6. It’s the oldest form of teaching. 

Why Storytelling in the Classroom Matters (; July 2014)

Storytelling is the oldest form of teaching. It bonded the early human communities, giving children the answers to the biggest questions of creation, life, and the afterlife. Stories define us, shape us, control us, and make us. Not every human culture in the world is literate, but every single culture tells stories.

Epic of Gilgamesh – The original story. Sumerians told this story before someone wrote it into clay cuneiform tablets

One thought on “Digital Storytelling: Audio Stories in the Classroom”

  1. Really nice, Robert . . . this is useful information for us as we work with children/young people on the Navajo Nation . . . thanks!

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