Consider how engagement with digital literature can be joint, collaborative and framed around making meaning.
Digital stories are most assuredly collaborative, as they require the combination of a number of creators’ talents to produce an effective product. It’s useful to view the concept of ‘joint’ engagement as a teaching and learning process between teacher and student. It’s crucial that students understand the implications of copyright, have knowledge of the best digital creation tools and the way to use them, and awareness of the time needed to create the presentation. It seems almost too obvious to talk about making meaning. Without purpose and clear guidelines, students struggle to comprehend the task and its creation process (Tackvic, 2012). Meaning must be evident in the task outline, in the decision-making process, and the reflection on success. If these three elements are addressed, schools would be a lot closer to providing proof that technology is being embedded appropriately throughout the curriculum.
As I work on my own digital story, it is clear that such a process is entirely collaborative. The fact that digital stories require a range of elements, including images and sound, as well as the text, means that creators must rely on others’ talents as well as their own. Unless students are especially gifted (or totally self-confident) in writing, illustrating and composing, they will need to seek out the pictures or the music from other sources, which brings in a range of implications for teachers and learners, and the need to establish exactly what it is being assessed. In an ideal collaborative situation, students work together in groups, each individual bringing for his or her own talents, with combined efforts synthesising the production through editing and evaluation.
The joint element can refer to the two way street between teacher and learner. There needs to be clear guidelines for students so they know what they are trying to accomplish. The Australian Curriculum recognises the need to explicitly teach ICTs (Acara, n.d.), and yet many teachers expect students to deal with the technological aspects of tasks without much help. Instructions need to encompass some examples of digital tools, and directions as to how to use them. Teachers can also use this activity as a way to educate students about copyright infringement and its implications (James, 2009). Vigilance is necessary as it is increasingly evident that it’s quite easy to ignore these concerns and pilfer any and all material from the Internet without reproach. An important partnership of trust exists between the joint venture: Teachers make it clear that there is zero tolerance on the issue, and students understand they must make every effort to abide by these complicated and almost incomprehensible laws.
Making meaning allows students to dabble and experiment with creativity and play. Creating a digital story involves many skills, and students need time to immerse themselves fully in the production, and often meaning is a slow process, where not all problems are solved early, quickly or simply. It’s quite easy to put together a linear and literal visual representation of a narrative (that’s mine at the moment), but developing symbolic or metaphorical elements require sophisticated thought and high quality technology. Students need time to build their understanding and their meaning.
I understand that people see digital stories as a way to cover several different facets of the new Australian Curriculum. But I worry that not enough pre-planning is being done, that teachers are not attempting the task they actually set for their students, thereby having no real understanding of what they are asking, and I am conscious that no one digital tool does everything a student requires–well not easily anyway. I find lots of programs suitable for younger students, but as they move into high school, the choices are reduced, the frustrations multiply, and the stakes rise.
I know I sound negative and critical, but for every one high school student who produces a high quality emotive digital story, which demonstrates our hopes that he or she has really engaged meaningfully with the task, there are a dozen others who struggled and felt inadequate, or who flailed because poor advice was given and who handed in something that was sub-par. It’s effective development of collaboration, the joint partnership between teacher and learner, and making meaning that can improve the quality of work and the engagement in learning.
Curriculum, A. Information and Communication Technology capability. ACARA Retrieved 27 September 2014 from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/GeneralCapabilities/information-and-communication-technology-capability/introduction/introduction.
James, C., Davis, K., Flores, A., Francis, J. M., Perringill, L., Rundle, M., & Gardner, H. (2009). Young People, Ethics and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the GoodPlay Project. Cambridge: Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Tackvic, C. (2012). Digital Storytelling: Using Technology to Spark Creativity. The Educational Forum, 76(4), 426-429.