Every culture tells stories. Whether it was Indigenous peoples sharing human origin stories or bards in ancient Greece sharing epics by music and song, storytelling has always been entrenched in the human experience. In the world of academia, the power of narrative is exceptional; as an effective way of communication, storytelling has proven its ability to bring people together and make us more empathetic.

Cave painting from Magura cave showing hunting and dancing scenes

Cave painting from Magura cave

CUOL students are no strangers to the distance challenges that come with online classes. By bringing in a story (or an allegory, or a personal anecdote), you can add a unique, personal touch to an assignment and narrow the distant feeling online students are often susceptible to.

Here are some ways stories add value to academic work.

Stories as shortcuts: Stories can be an excellent vehicle to support an argument and can serve as shortcuts to understanding and solving problems and moral dilemmas.

Egyptian painting showing woman and man harvesting crops with hieropglyphics around them. It shows a happy fruitful afterlife.

A wall-painting from a tomb a depicting the deceased and his wife a blissfully harvesting their fields in the afterlife. c. 1200 BCE.

Stories as portals to emotions: Stories are one of the few ways in academia where students take advantage of the emotional force of narratives. Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher and professor of law and ethics, argues that the great Greek thinker, Aristotle, believed in the cultural and emotional value of storytelling. Simply put, stories have the power to illuminate societal values, human relationships and ultimately our understanding of ourselves.

Stories as shared experiences: There are few better ways to share basic experiences and values as storytelling. Using personal stories, especially in forums like discussion board posts, can bridge the emotional gap and bring students together via shared experiences.

Detail of a baroque painting showing females in greek draperies lounging and talking

Simon Vouet – Parnassus or Apollo and the Muses, Detail

Stories as a means to explore emotional and moral experiences: It can be more challenging to talk about events in your own life than it is to discuss events that take place in a story. It’s much easier to talk about a passage in a book or film than it is to expose our deepest feelings, isn’t it? But these personal stories have much more impact.

Stories as therapy: Whether you’re sharing a story on a discussion board or you are using stories to explore something personal, the idea of telling one’s own story has been highly regarded as a therapeutic practice.

Stories as promoting cross-cultural understanding: It is no surprise that stories have been found to have great potential for encouraging multicultural understanding. They can highlight cultural differences in a way that presents them as exciting and worth exploring, while emphasizing the fundamental human similarities underneath the surface differences.

By Bianca Chan, BJ 2017 (Carleton)

For more articles, see CUOL’s story archive.