For the past three years our Year 8 students have engaged in a cultural studies unit, called ‘Life: Cultural Contexts: Personal Stories and Poetry’. The primary assessment task is the creation of a digital story. Ensuring students develop multimodal skills (Walsh, 2010) is an important component for 21st century learners (Dockter, Haug & Lewis, 2010; Dreon, 2011), and an essential requirement of the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, n.d.).
Although the overall unit structure, content, and assessment task has remained the same each year, the emphasis has changed slightly, primarily as an attempt to ensure students achieve success. With the introduction of new technologies, both teachers and students struggle to understand what they are to produce, so each yearly review has resulted in changes to resources and task requirements.
Initially students were asked to write a personal story that reflected their place in a specific cultural group, with the definition of ‘cultural’ broadened to encompass groups such as sporting clubs and musical ensembles. While engaging with one’s own story can be empowering (Dockter, et. al., 2010), our students’ youth resulted in many presentations about sportsmanship or mateship, with little depth or emotional connection.
The following year we focused on the idea of a personal narrative that espoused a value or belief, de-emphasising culture, although students continued to read My Girragundji by Meme McDonald and Boor Pryor (1998). These digital stories lacked a strong narrative structure, because students focused on the value, resulting in more didactic stories, which were usually less engaging for readers (Barack, 2012).
This year we tried to ensure they had a clear grasp of narrative structure, and that they included not only a value or belief, but also an understanding of empathy. We also encouraged them to be more imaginative, rather than to write personal anecdotes which tended to be mundane and clichéd. By all accounts, this year’s stories were the best so far.
Regardless of focus, the paramount aim is to teach students about effective storytelling. Point-of-view and emotional engagement (Dreon, 2011) are the most important and the most difficult elements to convey.
Throughout the years there have been issues with technology. Initially, few students attempted a voiceover, and many did not consider copyright concerns. There were also questions about the technology students chose. Book Creator (2014) was an option which essentially created a linear e-Book which didn’t encourage the development of mood or emotion.
Although students are quite clever with iMovie, Keynote and other programs more appropriate for this task, all have strengths and weaknesses. Students need to have the range of functionality pointed out, so they can make an informed choice. This means teachers must be up-to-date, and unfortunately that is not always so.
I attempted to create a digital production capable of being reproduced by students, using easily accessible programs: Movie Maker, Audacity, Art Rage, and a Creative Commons Image search. I took photographs and videos on the iPad. I was fortunate enough to have a family member who could play piano and one who contributed the line drawings. One of my library assistants provided valuable help with the voice-over files. so it is very much a collaboration.
Although I am able to access all the Year 8 classes sporadically, I cannot attend every single lesson for all six classes for the duration of the eight-week unit. By creating this digital story (Game Face) and some related teaching resources, I hope to supply a range of tools to assist students with their own digital stories. It is important to remember the actual three minute presentation is only part of the help needed. Students must be shown how to use the tools, and must be guided through the process. Individual students have different levels of expertise (Kingsley, 2007) and different access to technology, so teachers must deal with students individually.
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McDonald, M & Pryor, B (1998) My Girragundji, Allen & Unwin, Melbourne.
Red Jumper Ltd. (2014). Book Creator. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/book-creator-for-ipad-create/id442378070?mt=8.
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