To the Breeders’ Cup and Beyond: How University of Louisville Students are Putting their Digital Storytelling Skills to Work

Dr. Karen Freberg, an Associate Professor of Strategic Communications at the University of Louisville, poses with two of her communications students at the 2018 Breeders’ Cup.

As an associate professor of strategic communications at the University of Louisville, Dr. Karen Freberg is a big believer in the power of experiential learning.

“Theory is great,” she says, “but I like to do projects where students can apply what they’ve learned — and where there are real roadblocks to overcome.”

So when the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, a series of thoroughbred horse races, was going to be held at Churchill Downs and her class was offered the opportunity to work with the organizers, she was all in. “It was a perfect alignment,” she says. “The Louisville community has always supported us by working with our classes and providing internships, but this event gave our students a unique perspective they wouldn’t normally get.”

Early in 2018, Karen’s public relations and crisis communications class began working with the Breeders’ Cup team to develop a social media strategy and marketing communications for the race. And when she attended an Adobe Creative Campus collaboration event soon after, she felt inspired to push her students even further.

“I saw how prominently other educators were using video in all kinds of classes, from English to rhetoric to the sciences,” she says. She knew the Breeders’ Cup project would give her students the chance to build digital literacy, storytelling, and communication skills with video. “I wanted to make sure my students would go beyond writing reports about the event,” she says. “I wanted them to bring in visual storytelling and the human element, and video could add that extra layer to the experience.”

Finding the perfect video app

Karen was trying to determine which video editing tool to use when Adobe released Adobe Premiere Rush. “I thought, ‘This is perfect — this is exactly the tool I need,’” she says.

Her 16 students were a mix of undergraduates and graduate students, and some weren’t communication majors, so not everyone had video editing experience. Karen tried Rush herself and discovered that “it wasn’t intimidating at all.” She introduced Premiere Rush by walking them through the app in one class session. She showed them the Adobe tutorials and the videos she’d created, and then they were ready to experiment with Premiere Rush on their own.

“Some of my students knew how to use Adobe Spark Video, which is really simple, and others had used Adobe Premiere Pro,” she says. “We all found Rush to be more mobile-friendly and great for creating social media content on the go.” The students easily turned the footage they’d captured at the Breeders’ Cup into videos for their marketing strategy presentations.

“They were able to quickly test Rush out and get started,” she says. “I was a big believer that Rush would be the perfect platform to tell their stories, and to reflect the students’ experiences of the Breeders’ Cup for their audiences.”

Karen emphasizes the ability for her students to create across devices. “Rush is perfect for embracing the new wave of mobile storytelling,” she says. “It reduces the barrier for entry to video editing, so it’s easy to create content and think differently about how to tell engaging stories.”

Going beyond digital literacy

Karen says she believes that digital skills are fundamental to her students’ future success. “They can’t just be digitally literate,” she says. “They need to be digitally fluent.”

One digitally fluent student contacted Karen almost immediately after graduation to talk about the job market. Karen thought the recent graduate in PR communication wanted to discuss strategies for finding a job, but it turns out she was well beyond that stage. “She’d gotten four job offers flat out,” says Kren with a laugh. “Everything from healthcare companies to marketing agencies to corporate branding roles. She just needed my help with negotiating strategies.”

After the student accepted an offer and began working, she told Karen that she was asked to give her new team members biweekly updates on what was happening in digital and influencer marketing. “It just shows that digital literacy is so valuable,” says Karen. “I’ve had a lot of students realize that their digital skills are a big game-changer.”

Evolving the curriculum to incorporate video skills

Since her class had such a positive experience with Rush, Karen plans to incorporate video into all her future classes. She’s excited about what her students were able to achieve by putting their digital skills into practice for the Breeders’ Cup. “They got to work with real clients, and they have real-world projects they can show to potential employers to showcase how they made an impact.”

She says it’s essential for educators to embrace digital fluency and let students apply what they’re learning outside of the classroom. That way, “you can teach lessons that students can’t learn from a typical textbook.”

Recognition for innovation in teaching

Karen’s passion for fostering digital literacy and video storytelling skills in the classroom did not go unnoticed by the University of Louisville. In the spring of 2019, she was recognized by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences with an Innovative Teaching Award, her first award from the university. Karen says she plans to introduce Premiere Rush to students in her course next semester, and she hopes her positive experience and her success in driving student outcomes will inspire other faculty to do the same.

See what other educators have done to build digital literacy through video and audio.