MT Engage week hosts literacy experience event

Photo and story by Ashley Perham

As part of MT Engage week, Middle Tennessee State University hosted Connecting Through Story: An Exploration of Literacy Experiences. The two-day event allowed students to get hands-on experiences with primary research by interviewing each other about their literacy practices.

Tuesday, Jakob Lewis of WPLN presented a workshop on audio storytelling and interviewing principles. Lewis is the founder of Vox Familia and the creator of the Neighbors podcast.

After the workshop, students had a chance to interview each other at makeshift recording booths about their own literacy experiences. The interview sessions continued on Wednesday.

The event was connected to first-year writing courses, said Kate Pantelides, director of general education English.

She said that one of the first writing projects students do is to analyze their own experiences with learning to read and write.

“Usually we ask students to sort of get a sense of themselves and their own literacy practices,” Pantelides said. “Meaning how did they learn how to read and write, what were those experiences like, [and] how did they shape their current understanding of themselves as readers and writers.”

Pantelides said one focus of the 1010 class, Literacy for Life, is primary research. She said the event gives students an opportunity to practice engaging in primary research.

“By interviewing others about their literacy practices, again those early experiences with reading and writing,” Pantelides said, “they get a sense of how their own literacy is in line with or differs from their colleagues.”

Pantelides said it had been interesting to hear the students interview each other.

“As soon as they actually start talking, you can hear them relax and they get engaged in what their interviewee is saying,” she said. “It’s neat to see that sort of change in orientation towards research.”

Students said they enjoyed the interviews.

Shady Marzouk said the project made him reflect on where he started his literacy journey.

“I liked seeing just everybody else’s perspective on reading and writing on how they came up in school and what inspired them to actually like reading,” said Soheb Ahmad.

Pantelides said there were about 75 people at the workshop and 30-50 students who participated in the interviews the first day.

The recordings will be put into a digital archive with students’ consent.

“We’re excited about the possibility of having this archive for future students and faculty to be able to learn more about our students’ attitudes toward and past experiences with literacy,” said Julie Myatt, director of MT Engage and associate professor of English.

While this is the first year of the event, it was started as a sister event to the spring semester Celebration of Student Writing.

“It’s looking at research practices but sort of at a different point,” Pantelides said. “So the Celebration of Student Writing in the spring looks at completed research projects. This is mid-semester and allows students to engage in primary research.”

Pantelides hopes the event will be an annual one.

The event was a collaboration between MT Engage, the Department of English, the MTSU Writing Center and the Albert Gore Research Center. Eric Detweiler, Dr. Erica Cirillo-McCarthy, Katie Musick, and Jacob Castle were also involved in organizing the event alongside Pantelides and Myatt.

“We have a lot of different offerings this week all across campus just trying to get students excited about what they’re learning in their classes [and to] help them recognize connections between their coursework and their professional and personal goals,” Myatt said.

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