In Lecturer of English and Cultural Studies Ryan Marnane’s Introduction to Literary Studies course the stories leap from the page–in some cases literally. Students study a wide range of media, from novels to graphic novels to podcasts, to explore different ways of writing, analyzing and understanding stories. By utilizing the university’s Data Visualization Lab, they even engage in immersive digital experiences that aid them in investigating the cutting edge of storytelling.
Through intensive analysis, introspection and discussion, the students hone their skills as discerning readers, critical thinkers, and thoughtful writers. They also improve their information literacy and become more savvy consumers of media. “As a result of experimenting with interpretive frameworks and theoretical approaches to the study of literature,” says Marnane, “what we’re doing here as a learning community is igniting and fostering a deeper sense of confidence, curiosity, and enthusiasm for reading, analyzing, and engaging with narrative forms across mediums.”
“I definitely enjoyed the class,” says Cara Plumaker ’25. “I feel like I’ve really improved my overall writing skills and I’m more in touch with what’s going on around me.”
Bringing learning into the future
A part of Bryant’s nationally recognized Gateway program for first year students, Introduction to Literary Studies helps students build a foundation for success in college and beyond. By reading and writing about the elements of literature, journalism and other creative practices, they develop key critical analysis and communication skills.
"These are all stories. Whether you're reading it or watching it or listening to it, it's all about telling stories. They do it in different ways but they're doing the same thing."
In Marnane’s course they also learn to differentiate the techniques and approaches of various forms of fiction and nonfiction narratives. From novelist Octavia Butler's “Parable of the Sower” to National Public Radio’s S-Town podcast to Richard McGuire’s graphic novel “Here” to Elizabeth Rush's nonfiction work “Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore,” they explore how different kinds of media impact an audiences’ experience and understanding of information.
“Literary studies is a dynamic, ever-changing discipline, and as technology evolves, so too will our engagements with the means of narrative production, reception, and the study thereof,” says Marnane. “There’s a reason why digital audiobooks remain the fastest growing industry in American publishing, and I assure it’s not because of their aesthetic qualities alone. By studying a variety of mediums, students learn to identify and engage with the interconnectedness of narrative forms, advancements in technology, and the cultural and political landscapes in which texts are both produced and experienced.”
For first-year college students, it can be an eye-opening experience. “Since we can compare the same concepts through different mediums, it helped us understand they can be explored in different ways and how you can gain different bits of information and perspectives,” notes Plumaker.
"These are all stories," agrees Amira Raimer '25. "Whether you're reading it or watching it or listening to it, it's all about telling stories. They do it in different ways but they're doing the same thing."
You really feel like you’re there 100%. We read about this and talked about it, but to actually feel like you‘re there is just crazy and gets you thinking.”
The class culminates with the exploration of immersive digital narratives such as "Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek," a New York Times multimedia feature by reporter John Branch, and The Guardian’s "Firestorm: The story of the bushfire at Dunalley." Taking advantage of the university’s Data Visualization Lab, which is equipped with virtual reality headsets and controllers that enable fully immersive experiences such as 360-degree video and synthetic digital environments, the students examined a new frontier in narrative and familiarized themselves with a new technology.
“Exposure to, experience with, and conceptual understanding of advancements in digital technology–both its problems and possibilities–provide students with an opportunity to build some innovative and interdisciplinary bridges between various sciences, humanities, and business dimensions of their undergraduate experience,” says Marnane.
For Justin Mucci ’25, who explored a simulation of Greenland’s melting ice caps, it was a breathtaking experience that led him to engage with, and think about, things in a different way. “You really feel like you’re there 100%. We read about this and talked about it, but to actually feel like you‘re there is just crazy and gets you thinking,” he says. “It makes you realize that so few people have had this experience, especially as a student, and how amazing it is to be part of it.”
“Doing the assignments, you realize you’re reflecting on yourself and your past experiences, as well as the things you’re studying and what they talk about.”
Exploring new ideas
Marnane’s class is high energy and highly interactive. “One of the greatest aims of the course is that students find themselves in critical, constructive, and joyful interdisciplinary collaboration with one another, a collaboration that culminates in an appreciation of the possibilities of thinking and community as well as a greater recognition of the responsibilities of living a thoughtful existence,” he explains.
That level of engagement leads to deeper understanding and introspection. “Doing the assignments, you realize you’re reflecting on yourself and your past experiences, as well as the things you’re studying and what they talk about,” says Mucci. “This was a class that really keeps your attention–I was always excited to come to class.”
Through their course material, the class also explored important global issues, including social inequality and climate change. Eliana Ochieng ’25 says it was a valuable opportunity to prepare for the future. “I think it's extremely important that we were able to bring the real world into the course because that's what we're going to be contributing to, either positively or negatively, when we graduate,” she says. “So it’s important that we educate ourselves now and begin to form our understanding of the important issue in the world–and the issues that are important to us.”