University of Utah students find a new voice through Marriott Library’s ‘U and You’ project

Story and slideshow by JESSICA ANDERSON LEE

Listen as Larry Anderson is interviewed by Anthony Sams about his college experiences.

The University of Utah’s digital scholarship lab, located in the Marriott Library, hopes to give students a more personalized experience by introducing a project called the “U and You.”

The project began in the fall of 2011, with a purpose of interviewing students via video camera about their experiences, whether positive or negative, while attending the U. The videos will then become uploaded onto a social networking website such as Facebook or WordPress for students to access based on similar areas of study, interests and experiences.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because the project is still in its early stages, the media outlets and funding have yet to be set in stone. The project was started with funding from the MUSE (My U Signature Experience) program at the U and the library has matched this contribution.

While accessing these websites, students can give each other feedback with open-ended conversation.

“If someone is watching a video they can (immediately) say, ‘Oh yeah I didn’t know about the withdrawal policy either,’” said Emma Zink, MUSE intern for the “U and You” digital story-telling project.

This gives students an opportunity to interact among themselves and the interviewees, which helps students to support each other rather than just watching the videos.

Zink said another benefit of the project is that students can contribute their individual stories and reflect on their “growth and development within higher education.”

“Historically you had to rely on ASUU (Associated Students of the University of Utah), (where) students are represented but they don’t get their actual individual voice out there, so this provides a means to do that,” Zink said.

Samantha Anderson, a U student studying health promotion and education who was interviewed for the project said, “I think that the ‘U and You’ video is a great idea. The best aspect is just giving students the opportunity to tell their story that would otherwise go unheard. And that it can be anyone from any degree or background. There are no limits.”

Zink also expressed that students all too often discount the stories of other “typical” college students when in fact they can have very interesting backgrounds and can inspire others with the difficulties and challenges they have overcome.

Aside from social networking and student involvement there have been instances of information that could eventually initiate a change in university policy.

Zink shared one example of this information exchange. In the first interview with Larry Anderson, a nontraditional student who retired from the military, it was discovered he had had difficulties with the U’s withdrawal policy. Anderson thought he had dropped a class, but he actually hadn’t. Zink believes this situation could have been avoided if he had gone through the orientation process.

Zink stated that just as the Internet has made news much more accessible, this online project may also hasten policy changes.

If administrators are hearing “common patterns, through the videos, they have no choice but to change things. They don’t have to wait on polls or ASUU to get the student voice. Change can be immediate, making the university that much more efficient, dynamic and evolve allot more quickly,” Zink said.

As each interview takes place, students are asked a series of questions formed by a group of University of Utah faculty. These questions change each semester to receive new information and accompany the changes students face as they move closer toward graduation.

A few examples of questions asked are: “What role does education play in your life?” and “Who has been the biggest influence in your life?”

Interviews are done once a semester until the student graduates. Once the process has been completed each interviewee receives a DVD containing each of the video interviews they have completed.

Anderson, the student who is being interviewed for “U and You,” believes this process is helpful. “I learn a lot from re-listening, re-reading, and reflecting on what I’ve said. I also believe that other students will benefit as well,” she said.

Anthony Sams, project manager of the Digital Scholarship Lab, believes another asset of the program is the connection that can be formed between professors and students.

Professors can track the educational development of a student who is headed toward graduate school using an “automatic assessment” rather than relying solely on tests such as the Graduate Record Examinations.

Many students are aware of the project’s value, but Sams hopes that others learn of its importance, too. For example, faculty and staff could be informed through FYI News, an electronic newsletter, and Continuum, the magazine of the University of Utah.