Success, Struggles with Digital Storytelling

The post I would like to share today is about how smoothly everything went with our digital storytelling project (see my first and second posts about the project).  I’d like to say how wonderfully productive the day was, and how prepared I was for anything that might happen.

I can’t do that.

There were good things. Just about every single one of my students (that’s about 80) now have their images and narration layered into iMovie for their digital story. They worked hard; they helped each other. I was zooming around the room, offering on-the-spot help and tutorials, asking them to explain what they were doing.

But, the struggle was with going online to use FreeplayMusic to download some soundtrack music. It’s a longer story, but we ran out of IP addresses, and more than two-thirds of the classes were unable to connect, leaving their digital stories without music. And here, I did this whole lesson around choosing a piece of music that is emotionally connected to the tone of your digital story. Lack of music is now a huge gap in their stories.

And, I was frustrated because I had no back-up plan. I didn’t have time to download a bunch of songs onto a flash drive, and I wouldn’t have had time to run around dumping the folder onto laptops.  And it would have gone against the grain of what I had told them — the choosing of their music is personal and emotional, etc. I was flustered and for kids who were done and left with little to do, I had then play around with ComicLife and PhotoBooth. I had no plan for them, and I was still working with others on their digital stories (I did recruit some helpers.)

Our tech person was able to show me how to delete old IP addresses from the server (and a fix is coming, with an upgrade to our network in April), and I thought that would be fine for my last class. But we ran into the same problems, until the very end of the class, when a student suggested we just click on the wireless icon and reset the connection. Doh. That worked, but it was too late. Class was over.

I had hoped to be done, but it seems like I need another class period to get this last step completed. I am proud of the work they are doing and I am amazed at how resilient they were in the face of difficulties. They were frustrated, but they shrugged it off – quicker than I could. I guess technology fails regularly enough in their lives that they accept it as a possibility.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t digital stories created. Some of the kids who were on the Internet were able to complete their projects. A sampler of some of them is at the top of this post.

Peace (in the digital age),

Reflections on Digital Storytelling with Teachers

(Note: a wordle of comments from teachers on what they enjoyed from the workshop)

Saturday morning, in my school library, there were about 25 of us wrapping our minds around digital storytelling at an event called Digging into Digital Storytelling and we were doing it in a very concrete way: by playing with the technology and discussing the implications for the classroom. This is the second annual conference that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Technology Team has hosted (last year, we presented a Technology Across the Curriculum event) and we kept true to our values in the National Writing Project:

  • Teachers were teaching teachers
  • Writing was the heart of what we were doing
  • Sharing and reflection were built into the day
  • Activities were designed for participation

The day began with an overview of digital storytelling, allowing us to conceptualize the role of student as composer of multimedia stories. This was an audience of folks completely new to the field but who were interested in learning more about how to engage their students with media production and digital stories. (One teacher admitted she had never even heard the term “digital storytelling” prior to the event).

I shared out information about the Collaborative ABC Movie Project from a few years back, shared some student movies from our Memory Object project, and then two of my technology team members — Mary and Tina — shared movies, too. Tina showed a wonderful story about a local place that holds a place in her heart and Mary showed a story in which her students talked about a water table experiment they had done.

Then, with a quick step-by-step tutorial of Photostory, they dug in.

I had asked them to consider bringing their own flash drives with images to tell their own story, and most did. Within minutes, they were composing. Some were stories of places; others were stories of people. One created a movie based on a poem of love that she had written for her partner and selected images. A few worked on ideas that their students might work on.

It was wonderful to watch and they were very engaged in what they were doing. Just like students, when you give them the time and scaffolding to succeed.

Our plan was to transition halfway through the day to explore Voicethread, but everyone was so immersed in Photostory that it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. So, we suggested that they keep working on Photostory and then, for the last 30 minutes, I would walk them through Voicethread. They all agreed, and appreciated the flexibility of the workshop to accommodate what they were doing. I can’t stand it when a workshop presenter has no clue what the audience is up to, so I try to stay tuned in with where people are and what they need to keep learning.

The final reflections — we called it a Ticket to Leave — were overwhelmingly positive, with folks noting that the time to play and explore was crucial for them as they think about how they can bring the concept back to the classroom.

Here are some of the ways they hope to move the concept into the classroom:

* Using Photostory for fluency project
*I see a lot of promise for September, especially with public speaking class
* I will use this in World Civilization and Integrated Vocational Skills classes
* You sparked collaboration with other teachers and learners — an idea I might develop through either blogs with students/or possibly voicethread
* Using this with my fourth graders who are trying to remember parts of essay writing
* Remediation project of an argumentative essay
* I hope to use digital storytelling for a long-term science experiment in mummification
* Introduce the idea to my juniors and seniors as a possible tool for use on their research presentations on topics ranging from Buddhism to Heien Japan to Medeival art in Europe

One thing I wish we had done with them: create a gallery walk of all of the movies they were working on so that participants could see what each had been doing during the time together. I realized later that they were most likely interested in each other’s work and we had not provided them an official glimpse into their efforts.

One more note: Almost everyone agreed that Photostory was easy to use and most admitted their struggle now was not with the technology but with their technology coordinators. Since Photostory is a downloaded program (free from Microsoft), they would have to go through hurdles to get it on desktops or into their system, and I could sense most would at least pursue the request but for how far? When we grapple with access to technology, it is often as much about the equipment as it is the help from the so-called experts who really see themselves as gatekeepers. If you are a technology coordinator, give the teachers the keys to the closet, please. Most don’t want to rock the boat and will give up on an idea if it means coming into conflict with the technology coordinator. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Peace (in reflection),

Student reflection on digital story project

As our digital story project wound down last week (and as I slowly watch them for assessment), I had my students take a quick online survey (using Google Docs) to get some feedback about the project. This was the first time I have done this digital story (using narrative paragraph writing about a memory object) and I wondered what their perceptions were about the creative work they had accomplished.

Here are the results:

My reactions: the results show that there was a high level of interest and engagement in this project (something I saw clearly in the classroom), that many students prefer working within the realm of multimedia, that the end product brought them satisfaction, and that some of them are now making movies and digital stories on their own.

In fact, in parent teacher conferences last week, a number of parents remarked on the positive remarks students were giving and how many of the kids were going home to make their own digital stories on the home computer. I love how the skills from school can transfer to home because it shows that the learning has meaning and value for them.

I also had a box for advice to me on how to improve this project. Most talked about wanting to make their own music and not have to choose from PhotoStory (yeah, I understand). Others said they could have used more class time. A few suggested longer stories next time. But this one comment hit my heart because it shows the power of the story this student told (and it was powerful):

To have to memory be happy not sad. When I was recording I had to keep from crying. It was hard. When I listened to the final story, I was crying.

Peace (in reflection),

Writing Processes of Digital Storytelling

Here is the workshop that I co-presented at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting a few weeks ago in San Antonio. I had a wonderful co-facilitator in Pen Campbell and the discussions were just wonderful, even in a large cavernous room with about 50 people.

Our focus was on the writing element of digital stories, but we also had long discussion on the elements of digital stories. I’ve included the podcasts of the session, if you are interested, and the website that was the heart of this session is a collaboration between NWP and Pearson Foundation that Pen and I were part of. You can view the website (still in beta) here. This presentation is also now part of my own collection of workshops around writing and technology.

Also, the short video examples that we shared are not in this presentation. Sorry.

(go to presentation)

Listen to the Podcast of the workshop:

Peace (in sharing),