Today, my students turned in their Digital Storytelling projects. I set the bar high for them and they more than delivered. I first learned about Digital Storytelling while at a Learning Conference at the American School in London. It was an amazing presentation and demonstration, presented by Leah Treesh.
My overall goal with this project is:
- To help students to learn how to research topics, develop a topic focus, and to present material in a coherent, logical way to their peers.
- Teach students to learn to read both text and imagery as it relates to historical topics (my pet concept as I’m a trained archaeologist).
- To help students develop their research skills, especially to recognize and utilize reliable and informative sources (be they written in a book, an academic journal, a magazine, and/or an online blog).
- To have students employ and exercise multiple senses and activities to promote understanding and retention of material. In ‘regular english,’ having them use visual, audio, and tactile skills in production they are more likely to remember what they learn.
- To help students focus, hone, and develop their own time-management skills. This was a project that was intensive and most students were working 100% of class time and then working about 20 minutes in the evening. It required planning ahead and managing their workload. Waiting until the last minute would result in a timely investment at the very end.
- To have my students push the envelope and challenge themselves not only with new material, but new tools.
I posted my lesson plan and project objectives at the beginning of the week. You can read up on that here: “Digital Story-Telling Lesson Plan.” Here were the written instructions that I distributed to the students:
I also developed a thorough rubric that emphasized the fact that the video productions were not about the “razzle dazzle” but the content. The students were given the rubric in advance.
We then went to a prepared library orientation where students were shown how to use our school’s resources for finding books and journal articles. Our librarian did an amazing job and the students were given an introduction on how to find useful information.
Our entire focus this last week in class (and as homework) has been working on the project – we have all been either in the library or the computer lab. Students picked their own topics of interest and then developed their topics. We hit some bumps in the road, but ultimately came up with an amazing product.
From some of the input I got from colleagues, here were some of the problems that I anticipated and tried to plan for as much as possible.
- Having to teach students a ton of new software and then play tech-support monkey. I can honestly say that software instruction and tech support was far more limited than I anticipated. I tried to pre-empt this as much as possible with my “Troubleshooting Suggestions.” Whenever a student asked me a question, I asked if they had tried one of the first few suggestions – most of the time they replied “no” and went to work on the list. They were, 90% of the time, able to solve their own problems and thus developed some self-reliant skills. Not to say that there weren’t any tech issues, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed and found that if I had several students with the same problem (e.g. how do I upload to YouTube), I could show one and then they would teach their classmates.
- Uneven access to resources – would all students have access to computers and internet outside of school. I tried to make as much time as possible for students to work in the classroom. Most of them still had to do some work outside of the class. However, due to the nature of my school, all of my students had internet and computer access outside of school. Still, I realize that this is not the reality for many educators.
- Some students will wait until the last minute and thus won’t complete it on time. Since this may require that they access software or information unevenly available (e.g. a program at school vs. one at home and vice versa). This requires a lot of time management skills that many teenagers do not have. This is a real concern as teenagers are just learning this skill. However, like adults sometimes they have to learn the hard way and suffer some consequences. My students know that there is a 10 point grade penalty for all late assignments. I had about 10-15% of students who did not have their projects completed on time. If they had a reasonable explanation/excuse then they were granted an extension. However, if it was a time-management issue they had to take the penalty. What I did was plan in a 10 point extra credit assignment. If they watched a classmates video (posted on our classblog) and meaningfully commented, they could earn up to 10 points. This rewards those who followed the instructions, managed their time, and completed their work in a timely manner but also provided a safety net for those who struggled so that they can make-up their missed points.
- There will be technical difficulties and some students won’t be able to solve them. This is always the reality be it making a PowerPoint slide or a video production. We didn’t have a lot of true technical difficulties – most of them were simple errors (like storing pictures in the wrong folder). Sometimes, students needed to do more research on how to use their elected program (PowerPoint seemed to be especially a struggle when it came to saving it as a movie). Even I can’t learn all of the tech elements of every program to teach them effectively. If a student waited until the last minute, this hit them harder.
In addition to planned hiccups, there are also unplanned problems that I had to deal with:
- A few parents were uncomfortable with their child having a public video on YouTube. Many parents are reasonably concerned about their child’s public presence on media. I had a few parents that expressed concern and I made allowances for their child to put their video on a flash drive and show their video without it being shared.
- The power went out at 9am. Yep, power outage. Fortunately, it didn’t last very long. However, it reset all of the servers. So in my first period class we started about 20 minutes late. Fortunately, our tech team was on the ball and made a point to reactivate my YouTube access right away.Teamwork!
- Not all students have video capable bandwidth. This actually surprised me quite a bit. I assumed that everyone would be able to upload a small video from home, but I had a few students (about 2 or 3) that were unable to upload videos from home to either YouTube or our shared DropBox. I had them bring it on a flash drive to school where I uploaded it to YouTube (students cannot access YouTube at our campus).
- Sometimes YouTube is a jerk. If the server is heavy or busy, videos can take a long time to upload and process errors can occur. A few students had videos that were seemingly ‘stuck’ in ‘processing’ mode on YouTube. When they messaged me, the problem was generally solved by having the student repeat the process.
The next time that I do this project (and yes, there will be a next time) there are definitely some things that I will do differently. Likewise, I assume that there are some things that my students will do differently. Overall, the successes far outweighed the fall-backs. Also, I set the bar really high for my students and they not only hit it – they jumped over it. I was so impressed with their presentations; they were well researched, thoughtful, creative, and professional. Several of them told me that they felt proud that they had accomplished something meaningful – that they had challenged themselves and met it head on. I’m going to include a few examples here (but keep in mind, there were so many amazing examples that it’s hard to pick a few). Of course, not 100% of the students were thrilled by this – some I’m sure will be happier when we do our ‘standard’ research paper in a few weeks (or perhaps they will nostalgically look back on this project).