CFRU Puts Academia on the Air

Students to produce radio documentaries

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Kelly Jones

Looking for a new way for your students to present their class projects? How about getting them to design a radio documentary about their work – one that might even air on the campus radio station?

Under a pilot project this semester at CFRU, several students will use radio to study and discuss history and social or environmental change.

Kelly Jones, the station’s academic radio assistant, says she hopes other students and faculty members will consider what she considers an overlooked medium for learning about numerous topics and airing the results to distant ears.

The project is funded by a $20,000 grant last month from the Community Radio Fund of Canada. The station will also use the funding to develop a media literacy workshop for high school students and to run a summer radio camp for children and teens.

It’s intended to turn campus research into radio. Peter Bradley, the station’s manager, says the medium offers an alternative to a traditional essay or class presentation.

More generally, he says, the new initiative might spur other campus researchers to look at using radio to share their work and ideas. “There’s increasing pressure on academics to take down some of these barriers between the public and the academic side of things. This could serve as an experiment for doing that.”

Jones will work with faculty members this semester to help students produce mini-documentaries for their course. She’ll discuss topics such as developing stories and scriptwriting. Students will receive broadcast training at the station, located in the University Centre.

Students might ultimately present their work on a CFRU program, she says.

“Radio is pedagogically useful. They have to have listening skills, different writing skills for scripting. They have to make some kind of argument using audio clips.”

Only a few classes are involved this semester, including the first-year seminar course “On Being Canadian,” taught by history professor Catherine Carstairs.

Working in small groups, her students will produce radio documentaries on topics in contemporary politics, including First Nations issues, climate change, gun control and post-secondary tuition.

Students will conduct interviews for broadcast this spring, using equipment at CFRU and from the College of Arts media centre.

Carstairs decided to pursue radio rather than assign a more customary essay. “Because it’s a public audience, I’m hoping their attention to detail will be greater than it would be in an essay where only the professor reads it. This is something they’re putting out there.”

She knows this project will take students into new territory. “When I asked students how many listen to non-music radio, not one put up their hand.”

A CBC Radio fan, Carstairs learned about the academic radio grant during a visit to the station last fall. She was being interviewed by an off-campus group for a radio documentary on water fluoridation. “I like storytelling, and that’s something I think radio does a really good job at.”

Prof. Helen Hambly, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD), also has students working with CFRU.

A couple of students will complete radio mini-docs for a major assignment in her course “Communication for Social and Environmental Change.” Others are working on video projects.

Says Hambly, “They will benefit from working with Kelly to storyboard and script their program, record and edit it.”

Another student in a qualitative methods course works with campus radio for her master’s thesis on engaging rural women in community radio in Bangladesh.

Hambly studies rural radio in SEDRD’s capacity and development extension program. She co-ordinates the Snowden Media Lab there, which equipped CFRU in 2006 for radio production and training.

A member of the board for Journalists for Human Rights, she’s interested in helping U of G members work with community or campus radio stations in Africa under international exchanges.

Jones, a PhD student in philosophy, was formerly the community outreach co-ordinator for CFRU and a member of its board. She has volunteered at the station for two years and now hosts and produces an evening program called Pioneer Radio.

Note: In another venture that turns campus research into radio, Kelly Jones will work with the Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge (SPARK) program in the Office of Research on a half-hour show called Research Radio. Jones will train SPARK participants how to develop radio stories from their interviews with faculty members for U of G’s Research Magazine and other publications.