Have you ever been sitting in a dark theater, enthralled at the story unfolding on the big screen? Watching in rapt attention, wondering how it will all end? At pre-planned points throughout the scene, you suddenly gasp while sucking in all the air around you and then just a few minutes later, you’re curious whether the tears in your eyes will ever stop? From the script, to the music, to the actors’ portrayal of a character so relatable, you cannot help but connect with the movie in such a way that you feel it was your life story they were telling. At the end, you are amazed that another individual was able to so perfectly retell such a compelling scenario that the impact stays with you long after the movie has ended. Your next question is how? And the short answer is storyboarding. Television series, movies, and even books all go through the process of storyboarding.
The practice of storyboarding was developed by Walt Disney Studios during the early 1930s. Storyboarding allowed animators to plan out the sequencing required to tell a compelling story in a coherent manner. Animators used storyboarding to guide viewers in connecting with various characters and drawing them into their reality by reaching their emotions through dialogue and music. This process allowed animators to see the gaps in the story telling and identify scenarios that would not maintain viewers’ attention because of the stretch between reality and fantasy. Storyboarding provided an opportunity for animators to plan every step of a viewers’ experience. They knew when they wanted the gasps, the smiles, and the tears. To best tell the story they believed in, animators planned and guided the audience through a relatable experience.
In no other industry is storyboarding more important than in higher education. Every new program is an institution’s opportunity to design a story that positively impacts students’ lives. Effective storyboarding during the curriculum design process guides students through the content, addresses potential challenges or obstacles, and promotes efficient progression that allows students to achieve their academic goals. Some institutions complete this process better than others, but each step is equally important. There are four main steps institutions should follow when adapting storyboarding to the curriculum design process:
- Visualization: Storyboarding allows an initial idea to be visualized in a comprehensive way. We love hearing about great ideas or new academic programs, but sometimes our excitement overshadows the components needed to deliver relevant content. Storyboarding in the curriculum design process allows an opportunity for faculty, staff, and advisory councils to identify the outcomes, content, activities, assessments, and supports that students need to be successful. The process provides an opportunity to brainstorm areas that could present challenges and where supplemental resources or support could improve students’ achievement of the outcomes.
- Empathy: Storyboarding provides an opportunity to put the intended audience, or in this case student population, first. It is not enough to just design a curriculum that leads to a specific job or fulfills a workforce need. Effective curriculum design focuses on putting yourself in students’ shoes. By understanding the obstacles students face outside of the academic environment that influences their performance, institutions can address these issues during the design process to better encourage student success. Sometimes it is not enough that students understand the importance of the degree earned and the increased opportunities they will have in the future. When students are struggling to maintain a healthy work and life balance while going back and completing a degree, additional resources such as 24/7 tutoring access, skill-building supplemental materials, or regular contact go a long way in motivating them to continue making progress.
- Engagement: Even in a traditional college environment, going back to school for busy working adults can feel isolating. Students may be trying to change career paths and feel disconnected from a curriculum that may not relate to their immediate world. Students returning to school to fulfill an academic goal may feel like they are alone in the difficulties they face. During the curriculum design process, it is important to not only focus on student and faculty interaction, but maximize the interaction students have with the curriculum content and their peers. Humans generally thrive best when they are able to identify with others who have shared their same experiences or have shared goals.
- Success: Storyboarding allows institutions to plan for the type and level of success that results from the programs offered. Animators pre-planned the emotions they wanted to invoke in their audience. They needed to identify whether they wanted movie-goers to feel satisfied, happy, perplexed, or sad—they designed the impact of the story. Institutions essentially are tasked with the same objectives when developing curriculum. The institution identifies the outcomes and the characteristics they expect their graduates to exhibit as a result of the academic program. For some programs, job placement may be important, therefore, students need to gain not only the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful on the job, but also need the skills related to resume-building and interviewing to drive a successful result.
Many institutions likely follow a process very similar to the approach described, but there is always room for improvement. We are tasked with the responsibility to demonstrate student outcomes, prove academic value, and support students’ dreams. We can design the impact of our academic programs and continue to more effectively support students if we focus on the basics by using animators’ tool of storyboarding.
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” ~ A. Maslow
What are other industries’ tools your institution uses to more effectively serve students?