DALN in the Classroom: “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus”

Check out the guest blog from Michael Blancato below and make sure to check out his panel at CCCC’s if you’re attending this year!


As the fall 2016 semester at Ohio State begins to wind down, I find myself reflecting on a remarkable teaching opportunity presented to me this term. This semester I had the privilege of teaching “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus,” a second-year writing course offered once in the fall and once in the spring. Like other second-year writing courses, “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” allows OSU students to fulfill their Writing and Communication General Education requirement. Unlike other second-year writing courses, “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” encourages students to hone their writing and communication skills by engaging community members in the Columbus area in conversations about literacy practices.

At the heart of this course are the interviews that students collect throughout the semester. These interviews focus on topics related to the literacy practices of black community members in Columbus – how these community members define literacy and how they use literacy in their day-to-day lives. The class focuses on black community members because these are individuals whose voices are sometimes underrepresented or mischaracterized in conversations about literacy. The guiding philosophy behind this course is that in collecting stories and insights from black Columbus community members through interviews, students are able to develop a richer understanding of literacy as well as amplify the voices of interview participants whose perspectives are not always well-represented.

One way students amplify the voices of the community members is by posting interviews with black Columbus community members to the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN). These interviews represent community members’ stories and perspectives about literacy in their own words. By collecting and publishing these interviews, students contribute to a growing repository of information about the literacy practices of black community members in Columbus. Anyone interested in viewing interviews from this semester and previous semesters of the course should visit the DALN website and use the search term “blackcolumbus.”

At the end of the semester, community members, faculty, and students gather for the “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus Sharing Night Event.” This event is a celebration of the community members who make the course possible. Additionally, this event is an opportunity for students enrolled in the class to showcase their work and explain how their ideas regarding literacy have evolved throughout the semester. In my course, students constructed multimedia presentations related to the literacy practices of veterans, workers at Saint Stephen’s Community House, STEM students, and visual artists. These student presentations synthesized interviews collected throughout the semester to present accounts of how literacy remains a powerful lens through which to understand the contributions black Columbus community members make to local and global cultures.

For those of you planning on attending the 2017 CCCC Convention in Portland, I will be discussing the writing pedagogy behind my version of the “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” course in greater detail on Saturday, March 18 from 12:15-1:30 p.m. at Oregon Convention Center D140. I am also happy to chat with anyone interested about the course via e-mail. I can be reached at blancato.1@osu.edu.