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SCOM432 The Craft of Storytelling

A seminar-based paper that explores the requirements for the core skill necessary for the communication of science and natural history - telling a story.

This comprehensive paper focuses on the craft, commerce and culture of storytelling as the cornerstone of effective science communication, whether writing for traditional mediums such as publishing outlets and film or more unconventional venues. In addition to exploring practical wisdom on the tools of the trade, we will examine theoretical issues on the scientific study of narrative, including evolutionary, cognitive and neurobiological approaches. Along the way, we may have occasional online Q&As and conversations with professional "sciencetellers", who regularly weave stories into their work.

Paper title The Craft of Storytelling
Paper code SCOM432
Subject Science Communication
EFTS 0.1667
Points 20 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,365.11
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $2,812.40

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NHFC 402, SCOM 402
Limited to
MSciComm, PGDipSciComm, PGCertSciComm, MAppSci, PGDipAppSci, PGCertAppSci
Normally available only by distance. Students intending to take this paper on campus should enrol for SCOM 402 instead.

This paper is available only for those students enrolled in a programme of study with an endorsement in Creative Nonfiction Writing

Teaching staff
Assoc Prof Jesse Bering
Paper Structure

Weekly Readings and Discussion
Each week will feature a selection of assigned readings, listening and/orviewing exercises. All students in SCOM 432 are expected to have read, watched and listened to these materials by the onsetof each Tuesday class and throughout the week to have engaged in criticalonline discussion (on Blackboard > "Discussion Board - Distance StudentsOnly Forum") about this content with the instructor and other distance students.

Seminars (approx 60 min) focus primarily on the science of storytelling andnarrative, drawing from an interdisciplinary mix of empirical approaches,including anthropology, psychology and neurobiological research and theory.We will explore how the mind makes meaning and the key elements ofnarrative that make a story memorable, persuasive and transformative.

For those who cannot watch live, the seminars will be uploaded to Blackboardafter each class and made available for you to watch at your convenience.

A range of assignments is designed to develop the student's narrative storytelling skills in the field of science communication.

Teaching Arrangements
One weekly 1-hour livestreamed lecture (also available for download) with discussion. In addition all students in SCOM 432 are expected to have read, watched and listened to assigned media materials by the onset of each class and throughout the week to have engaged in criticalonline discussion on Blackboard about this content with the instructor and other distance students.
Recommended texts:
  • Olson, R. (2015). Houston, we have a narrative: Why science needs story.University of Chicago Press.
  • Curran-Bernard, S. (2015). Documentary storytelling: Creative nonfiction onscreen. Focal Press.
  • Coyne, S. (2012). The story grid: What good editors know.
  • Herman, D. (2013). Storytelling and the sciences of mind. MIT press.
Course outline
The course outline is advised at the beginning of the semester.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Environmental literacy, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students will develop competency in the following areas:
  • Learn the key elements of an effective story, their theoretical underpinnings and how to infuse narrative into the practice of science communication
  • Participate actively in narrative activities (individually and in collaboration) that model effective science communication in the workplace
  • Understand how to apply technical information and knowledge for avariety of public audiences using the tools of storytelling
  • Practise the unique qualities of professional science communication, including conciseness, readability, clarity, accuracy, honesty, avoiding wordiness or ambiguity, previewing, objectivity, unbiased analysing,summarising, coherence and transitional devices
  • Understand the standards for legitimate interpretations of researchdata within scientific communities and know the ethics of the nonfictionnarrative practitioner
  • Revise and edit effectively in all assignments, including informal media (such as emails to the instructor)
  • Receive critical feedback on creative work positively and in theconstructive spirit in which it was intended
  • Develop professional work habits, including those necessary foreffective collaboration and cooperation with other students, instructorsand potential colleagues

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First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system