University of Oxford photo by Michael Strawser
Dr. Michael G. Strawser, an assistant professor in Bellarmine University's School of Communication, spent early July in England on a faculty research trip to explore narrative as an instructional strategy at the University of Oxford.
Strawser was this year's recipient of the Joseph and Maureen McGowan Prize for Faculty Development, which allows a Bellarmine faculty member to spend a week at Oxford's Harris Manchester College Summer Research Institute to pursue their research interests using the college’s library resources. The prize is named for Bellarmine's third president and his wife.
"I enjoyed the opportunity to unplug and be contemplative," he said. "Oxford is designed for maximum focus."
While he arrived at Oxford intending to base his research on work by The Inklings -- a literary discussion group at Oxford in the 1930s and 1940s whose members included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien -- his research soon took him in another direction.
"Instead of seeing the power of story and narrative prominently displayed from The Inklings themselves, I found more evidence from those writing to
Lewis and Tolkien about how their stories -- "The Hobbit" and "Chronicles of Narnia," specifically -- impacted them in their moments of despair," said Strawser. "These stories provided hope in a time of chaos."
Strawser plans to incorporate more narrative and fiction into his communication courses.
"I am a firm believer in the power of story," he said. "I have started to integrate more novels into my classes to help students discuss current events through the lens of fiction. This helps them escape, and I believe it helps them dialogue with more civility. This week at Oxford was helpful because it provided additional evidence of how story provides hope and creates an escape from moments that can seem like we will be unable to survive."
While the academic highlight of his trip was was visiting the Tolkien exhibit at the Bodleian Library to see original sketches, he's also happy he made time to see the World Cup match where England beat Colombia in penalty kicks; he watched at The King’s Arms, a destination for Oxford students destination that claims to be the area's oldest pub, at 411 years old.
Strawser intends to continue writing about his Oxford experience on his website