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Addy O'Rourke poses for a photograph in Baker Student Center with the ears she earned after completing a semester with the Disney College Program in the Fall of 2022.

Storytelling class encourages innovative learning

Some classes at Ohio University like to bring in just a touch of magic beyond the regular class elements of readings and pop quizzes.

Storytelling, Technology and Digital Media in Theme Parks, also known as COMS 4023, focuses on the importance of storytelling and how it can be seen in theme parks, and more specifically, Disney and Universal. 

According to the Ohio University website, “Special emphasis is placed on the integration of different forms of media into one cohesive immersive environment.” 

However, the class does have a bit of a twist. At the end of the semester, students travel to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to better apply the concepts learned in class to the real world.

Students are tasked with assignments ranging from creating their own park and roller coaster to giving mini-presentations on the trip to better explain certain rides. This trip and the course are sure to leave magical memories that will last a lifetime. 

Beth Novak, interim dean of the Honors Tutorial College, teaches the class along with John Bowditch. She originally had the idea of creating the course after having an interesting conversation with a student about how storytelling fits into the parks when she visited them in 2011. 

“I was struck by the fact that our conversation was very much about the storytelling and the techniques they were using, and we’re having these really deep conversations around something that most people look at as amusement,” she said.

Novak said, that unlike other classes that include a travel experience, this class holds a regular Fall Semester schedule meeting twice a week. She said the class focuses a lot on projects and uses the things students learn in class to apply to making their attractions. 

Something she enjoys about the trip is being able to apply the things taught in class to theme parks in real life. 

“The trip really takes the class and makes it all come full circle, so you really understand it,” she said. “I think the other thing, too, is we warn the students they will not look at these things the same way anymore. You’re going to notice so much more detail that might make you love it more, but you’re also going to notice some of the cracks and things that are wrong.”

She said applications for the course in the fall are now open to students wanting to apply. 

Juliana Colant, a senior studying journalism, said she enjoyed learning more about the work that goes into making theme parks with elements of storytelling and being able to experience Disney firsthand having learned that knowledge was very informative. 

Colant said the class revolved around readings and quizzes as well as projects for students to better understand storytelling and apply their knowledge to real-life theme park situations. 

She said her favorite part of the class and the trip was being surrounded by great people. 

“I feel really fortunate that our group grew really close,” she said. “We would always include each other in our plans, and we were always willing to try new things, so it was really fun to be in such an exciting and immersive place with a really fun group of people, too.” 

Sedric Granger, a senior studying journalism, said he has always been a fan of roller coasters and enjoyed understanding the science and storytelling behind the rides he rode. 

“When I joined the class, I was excited for the opportunity to get to try out some new roller coasters that I haven’t done before,” he said. “With this one, I got to get to my 100th coaster.”

He said during a normal day at the parks, everyone would wake up early and ride rides together and afterward discuss how these rides fit into what they learned about. Then, toward the beginning of the afternoon, students would have more time to explore. 

Granger said it was a great opportunity, and he feels fortunate for the friendships he built during his time in the class. 

“The vibes were just so amazing because you’re here with a couple of your really close friends who you’ve gotten to build friendships with, and it’s during December, so it’s such a perfect time,” he said. “It’s kind of cold (and) really snowy in Athens, but it's a perfect opportunity to go to sunny Florida and have an opportunity to go to these parks and go and see things that we’ve learned.” 


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