The word “lab” might make you think of a stark white room with glassware holding mysterious bubbling substances, petri dishes, and racks of protective eyewear. But this lab, housed on the SFS campus in the heart of the Middle School, is a completely different kind of space. Equipped for study, experiential learning, and student experimentation: this is VoiceLab.
VoiceLab started in the 2018-2019 school year for Grade 8 students as a joint effort between SFS teachers Steven Church, Bryan Coogan, and Mathew Gibault. They set out to give kids new opportunities to experiment with digital storytelling and design, employing web media, video editing, and sound engineering.
The key to VoiceLab is that everything is generated by students: story concepts, video and audio recordings, graphics and animation. This content is edited together to create podcasts, videos, webpages and more. “We always like to put it back on the students, put them at the forefront,” explains Bryan.
VoiceLab got started as a collaboration with Inspire Citizens (IC), an independent educational consulting organization SFS has engaged for several projects involving curriculum and mission work, as discussed earlier in this issue. This long-standing partnership, along with in-house teacher expertise and enthusiasm, has generated several impactful initiatives. VoiceLab is one of the many outcomes of the partnership, with students not only learning new technical skills but also being challenged to step outside of the comfort zone of the SFS campus, and out into the community. Building bridges and telling authentic stories is all about inspiring students to be more compassionate, and to be more accepting of others. This is central to the work of IC: “How is this going to make [each student] a better person?”
A key component of the growth of VoiceLab was a conference attended by Bryan and Steven, along with a handful of Grade 7 students, at the International School of Beijing in 2018. The sessions at the ISB Journalism Conference, “Community Media for Change,” were hosted and run by teachers and students, as directed by Inspire Citizens. Those meetings were a catalyst for the program at SFS. “The kids catapulted us, they taught us a lot,” Steven explained. Buoyed by the experience in Beijing, Bryan, Steven and Mathew decided to bring the program to SFS and make it specific to students here. “We ordered some gear, and then we had two different donations from parents specifically for media,” says Bryan. The generosity of SFS families was integral to making VoiceLab a reality. “That’s how we were able to get the equipment.”
After a year of developing the program at SFS, VoiceLab expanded both locally and globally. The Global Youth Media Conference was hosted at SFS in 2019. Students and teachers from schools in Dubai, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and more came to SFS; in all, more than 100 attendees converged in Seoul for two days of sessions. “We had professionals from the field come in,” Steven explains. Podcasters Aaron Henkin and Wendel Patrick, hosts of “Out of The Blocks” based in Baltimore, Maryland, were keynote speakers. Their podcast is an immersive experience, creating soundscapes and narratives highlighting individual people, stories, and locations.
Inspired by this model, SFS students worked with Henkin and Partick, collaborating with Inspire Citizens, to create “Into the Gu,” a series exploring the districts or “gu” around SFS. This series included interviews with local people, asking them questions based on cards developed by the Out of the Blocks team, designed to get beyond polite conversation and to the heart of someone’s story. Questions include, “What did you want to be when you were a kid?” and “What do you want to be remembered as?” All of these pieces are available on the VoiceLab website, and were featured by Out of the Blocks on their podcast.
How does a program based on “getting out there” and developing relationships cope in a pandemic? “COVID-19 has taken its toll,” says Steven. “We just can’t do what we used to do.” But the team is optimistic. “The passion and the fun is still there,” continues Steven. “The next chapter of VoiceLab will be great. Out of misery, positives are waiting on the other side - these kids have their own stories to tell about COVID-19, they’ve been silenced for too long. Once the masks are gone, we will hear them.”
VoiceLab content is best experienced first hand. Visit the VoiceLab website to browse student projects.
- The Banner