ESOC 300—Digital Storytelling and Culture

ESOC 300—Digital Storytelling and Culture

ESOC 300 is a digital storytelling course, and served as my first attempt for me at incorporating the monomyth into online course design.  While the professor and I were in the planning phases of this course design, we began to talk through how we were going to incorporate the hero’s journey.  At first, we thought that taking them on this journey but not telling the student. Courses naturally go through many of the phases included in the monomyth since students accept the call to adventure when they choose to take the course, go through trials and tribulations as they struggle with the content or study for a test, and then hopefully come out triumphant at the end of the course full of new information and ready to take on new adventures.

In this case, we decided to incorporate the hero’s journey in two ways.  First, the course was broken up into 3 units. The first unit was the Call to Adventure, the second unit was Crossing the Threshold, and the third was The Return.  This model simplifies the monomyth into those 3 main categories. Each unit contains things that would fit into that portion of the monomyth. The second way that the hero’s journey was incorporated was in Unit 2 where the students were taught about Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.  They were also asked to incorporate the journey into a digital story that they create.

Initially, I wanted to use the hero’s journey because the goal of the digital storytelling course I was working on was to tell a quality digital story. The stories that have stood the test of time have used the hero’s journey. What I found was that students got excited about it because they have grown up with this journey and could easily relate.

Three Acts = Three Course Modules

As mentioned previously, the course is split into 3 modules and each of those modules takes the students through phases of the journey. Module 1 is Departure, Module 2 is Initiation, and Module 3 is Return. You may be wondering where the rest of the journey is. For this course, it worked best to simplify the process and go through these 3 main stages.

You may be wondering how do I incorporate the hero’s journey without sacrificing my content? For this course each module has a final project. That project is themed to be able to cover both the content and the journey. We also went back and forth on how transparent to make the journey. So rather than teach the journey, use your content to take them on the journey.

Module 1: Departure

The first phase that we used was departure which focuses on setting out on your own. There is a lot of self-discovery in this phase. The first module project was a short audio story called where I am from. It forced the students to think about what has happened in their lives to shape them into the person that they are today.

Module 2: Initiation

The Initiation phase in the journey is in the middle of the action for the hero. While most of us will never fight an actual dragon, we do still go through struggles in our lives. To help the students find the hero’s journey in everyday life this module had a final project of interviewing someone about their work experience and finding the hero’s journey in that work life.

Module 3: Return

Once the hero has fought their battles, they are ready to return home. This phase sums up the journey and brings their journey to an end. For this module the project does the same. They must take their interview and find the hero’s journey in it and create a short digital story based on that journey.

Digital Badging

This course uses badging in a unique way. All of the badges are named for the hero’s journey, but you earn badges for citizenship rather than work. The badges are designed for students to get involved helping each other and making the course better. For every 10 badges they earn the student will receive an extra point on their final grade.


Summing up my work with my faculty member, the content was ready and we were excited to see how students would react. The first week comes and everyone is excited except for one student. They express that they have never had a hero in their life and don’t believe in heroes. With some quick thinking a solution is found with the concept of the anti-hero. The student can still follow the journey, but will be identifying with different aspects than the other students. Problem solved and even more depth added to the process!

Surprisingly, there were very few challenges with developing and facilitating the course – the subject matter lent itself to this format, and the students bought into the structure of the course immediately. I will admit it took some creativity to stick to the theme for the entire course. One of the largest challenges was figuring out how to get started with the process of mapping the hero’s journey to the class. I had to produce a multitude of ideas for the faculty member to wrap her mind around before she was able to settle on a format that utilized the theme creatively throughout the course.

Based on this approach, we encourage you to reflect on the following questions:

  • How might you incorporate narrative or the Hero’s Journey in your course design? How would you apply it at the assignment, module or course level?
  • What are some of the benefits of using narrative structure or the Hero’s Journey in your course?
  • What are some technological tools that could be used to support narrative in the design of your online course?
Cathy Russell
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