Students, Digital Storytelling and Place-Based Learning

This year’s Discovering Community Summer Institute was held at the Vermont Folklife Center from July 18 - July 21. The purpose of our Summer Institute is to introduce educators to the methods of ethnographic field research and the techniques of documentary media-making and digital storytelling as a means to facilitate meaningful student involvement with the communities in which they live.

The first day of the Institute was dedicated to learning about how ethnographic inquiry--or community-based research--can be applied to student projects in a variety of ways. VFC Co-Executive Director, Greg Sharrow, discussed the art and techniques of interviewing, concluding with a model interview with a local educator, Bruce Perlow. During the second day, educators went out into the community as participant-observer teams to literally discover the extraordinary character of everyday life. The third day was an introduction to video, audio, and photography as documentary media, after which media teams spread out to pre-selected field sites to gather footage to use for their own documentaries and digital stories. This year, one team visited Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, and the other team visited Boundbrook Farm in Vergennes. The final day was dedicated to learning how to produce a digital story or documentary: reviewing footage, finding the story, and editing a short piece. The second half of the day was spent brainstorming classroom applications with support from VFC faculty: Kathleen Haughey, Myles David Jewell, and Greg Sharrow.

These four days were filled with enthusiasm and joy, and we look forward to supporting the educators this fall as they undertake Discovering Community projects with their students. Reflecting on the Institute, one educator wrote "The institute demonstrated how powerful ethnography can be in connecting people to each other and their communities . . . It’s a way of uncovering the richness in all of us. Observing the world around us, paying attention to the issues and stories that exist all around us will help my students observe with more intention and purpose. Every time we go anywhere, I want to treat it like field research."

Our Discovering Community Education Program is made possible through the generosity of our supporters, including the Bay and Paul Foundations, The Victoria and Courtney Buffum Family Foundation, and the Vermont Community Foundation.