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New app will help students tell their stories in preparation for life after college

woman with a cell phone
Andrea Piaquadia photo.

Boise State’s Storyboard Initiative helps students understand and articulate the value of their collegiate experiences beyond the classroom through projects that focus on reflection and storytelling. That can be a daunting task given the length and intensity of a college career.

“So many students get to the end of their Boise State experience, they go on to the job market, or they’re writing a graduate school application, and they have no sense of what they’ve done,” said Kelly Myers, an associate professor in the Department of English, interim associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and facilitator of the Storyboard Initiative.

A new Storyboard app – created on campus with student input – will help. The app allows students to collect “artifacts” throughout their time at Boise State – videos of presentations they’ve made and links to papers they’ve written. It will offer writing prompts, including: How old will you be in 50 years? What will the world look like? How will you be contributing? What major did you choose? and more.

The goal is to have a first version available by fall 2020.

Grassroots creativity and collaboration

The idea for the app grew out of the Storyboard Initiative faculty team.

Last summer, team member Brian Wiley, an associate professor in the Department of Art, Design and Visual Studies, began talking about creating a journal for students with colleagues Amanda Ashley, the urban studies program coordinator and School of Public Service faculty director, and Emily Wakild, a professor of history, environmental studies and the environmental studies program coordinator.

“As we started to look at how it was going to be used, and where students are currently in their experience, it started to make a lot of sense to build some tool that would help connect students to this process of reflective practice, or storyboarding,” Wiley said.

Around the same time, Myers was reading the book “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” by Joseph E. Aoun. It sparked the idea for an app.

The Storyboard Initiative team took the idea to the Office of Information Technology (OIT) and Phil Merrell, a web application developer and a graduate of Boise State’s philosophy program.

“Some programs have straight-ahead stories and others are more difficult for students to articulate how their major, their coursework, prepares them for a professional job,” said Merrell. “The idea is the app will allow students to collect and save images, videos, documents and then it prompts them to think about what they learned.”

Wiley used the storyboard app project as an assignment for his senior graphic design students. Student teams worked on different aspects of the app and created mockups for the OIT developers to follow. Storyboard faculty and OIT staff visited the class regularly to describe the goals of the app and inspire students to buy into the idea, “but they were already engaged because they have agency in how the thing will turn out,” Wiley said. “As a student, how often do you have a hand in making something that other students will use?”

“One of the goals of the app is so that students know they have a lot of skills, especially soft skills,” said Lanh Russell, a recent graphic design graduate who was in Wiley’s class. “For some it could be to learn, ‘I had these skills all along’ and be able to articulate that to someone.”

Russell said “it was amazing to work with other departments” on the storyboard as an assignment in class. “It was extremely real-world,” she said. She would have liked to use such an app as a student, she added, “to have an invisible mentor.”

App is a stepping stone

The new app is timely.

Every student at Boise State takes a Finishing Foundations course close to graduation. The course provides students with a capstone opportunity to display and reflect on their college experience. The course recently adopted a reflection component that will benefit from the new app.

“If you’ve been reflecting and collecting the whole time, you’ll have lots of material to draw upon to write a really thoughtful and detailed reflection that is a stepping stone toward your interviews and your applications,” said Myers.

The app project may inspire future projects.

“If we can build this out further, we’re talking with Wiley about having a common workspace where his design students would have scheduled times they would be working alongside our developers,” said Troy Haan, OIT director of application development. “That back-and-forth discussion would contribute to their success in the future. And then for my own student employees, to have them working with a design team and learning from that experience, too. I’d like to have everything we do [in OIT] go through a group like this – getting student eyes on it. Adding this piece to the team will be huge.”

Read more about the development of the Storyboard app and the many groups on campus that supported the project.