A Womb of Words

“We begin with a concept of some kind of basic awareness, some kind of basic ability to “know” or “sense” or “recognize” that something is happening. This is a fundamental theoretical and experiential given. We do not know scientifically what the ultimate nature if awareness is, but is our starting point.”

C.T.Tart

My world is filled with words. My words and words of others.

My language,  mixed with foreign sounds which have become part of my world.

Words make my world. Will the limits of my words limit my world?

If so, then there are boundaries to shift. New borders to establish. Rain, rain don't go awayDifferent worlds to explore. And new words to exploit.

This is my second posting on a digital story which is in process. Just as the rain brings smiles and frowns, so too does this entry.

Crossing boundaries requires braveness.

The Womb of Words

The stage had been set (A Journey of Stories & Roles) and it was time for the curtains to rise.

Context: Intermediate level of English

Number of students: 20 in each class, all with same L1

My students are accustomed to pair work and group work but were certainly not prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of them. In groups of 5 they had to individually select an image which they liked. Any image that appealed to them. Then, they had to negotiate and collaborate on their decision, for only one image was going to be used for the task.

The next step was to explain how they were to proceed: by logging onto Edmodo, I had created small, colour-coded groups (students were given a coloured coded cardboard to choose a colour for their group). I wrote the code for each colour on the board and students joined their new small group.

After uploading their selected image, one student had to begin the story. The others were to use the reply button in Edmodo and continue the story.

The first border to cross was that students were not accustomed to writing a group story without discussing it beforehand. Their experience was to sit together, talk about it in L1 and then one student would write it in L2 (English) while they others looked on or perhaps drew some pictures to go along with their story. This was a radical change. An entirely new world where they had to sit on their own, read what the other members of the group were writing and then add their own continuation of the story.

Challenges: to develop a story on one’s own – and in another language. Secondly, what thread/s would emerge? Would there be one story or multiple layers of a story? And if there are multiple layers to a story, is there a core to the story? How many worlds can co-exist within one story and will it make meaning to the reader?

Although I had reassured students that I was there should there be any questions, no questions were asked. I had told students to focus on the story – we would edit and proofread later. From some groups there were giggles and shrieks of laughter while others frowned as they looked silently into their screens. Shadows of uncertainty were present. I too wondered,  as I watched them engaged and forgetful of time.

What will emerge from a womb of words, where meanings struggle to link plot and characters? Where layers of stories compete to have the loudest voice?

Literacy and Technology

“Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.”

A.Koestler

Let us consider one last hypothesis related to soles of teachers and learners (A Journey of Stories & Roles) To teach signifies to give instruction. To learn signifies to gain knowledge. To give is an active verb and to gain a passive verb. These concepts of activity and passivity also determine roles in a very subtle way. The shift in concept. i.e. that learners do not only “gain” but also “give” (i.e. learners do not only “gain” but also active) in a lesson may be relatively new to learners. Relatively because they have already been exposed to a more communicative approach of teaching by their foreign teachers.

Communicative classes are supposedly open and flexible – an outsider would be able to percieve and understand the tasks in which the learners are involved: pair work with information gaps and transfer exercises as language is a vehicle for communication, groups work to stress the importance of interaction with others through language.

The communicative approach tends to be polychronic, but lessons and classrooms survive on the balance between a polychronic and monochronic atmosphere. If too much is done during the same lesson, e.g. too many activities and games, the learner will not able to cope with the accelerated pace – there will be no time given to digest and appropriate the information.

This lesson moved from a polychronic to a monochronic pace, where learners had to work on their own. However, with the tasks they were asked to do, further shifts were taking place, namely the emphasis of autonomy and creativity – and collaboration through digital media.

I have already stated how digital technologies in education open more opportunities for students who may not be particularly academically gifted (nor interested in becoming academic.) Using digital literacies is more inclusive for such learners. Cummins, Brown and Sayers (2007) argue that:

“the major problem in promoting an expanded range of literacy competencies for all students resides in the tension between inquiry-based and transmission-based orientations to pedagogy. As discussed in Chapter 2, inquiry-based orientations (both social constructivist and transformative) aim to support students in constructing curriculum-related knowledge, whereas transmission-based orientations focus on enabling students to internalize the content of the curriculum. Transmission orientations to pedagogy pre- dominate in low-income schools as a result of the pressure on teachers to ensure that their students pass the high-stakes tests that dominate the curriculum. Thus, the pedagogical focus in these schools is considerably more narrow than in more affluent schools, and this pedagogical divide extends to the ways in which technology is used in these two school contexts.” (2007:93)

By opening doors and creating bridges for my students, they are being given the opportunity to learn, explore and use digital literacies to their advantage. They are given the opportunity to create and to think critically (i.e. as they read previous contributions to the story, they need to think about how their contribution will aid the unfolding of the plot and construction of the characters).

Rorabaugh points out how:

“In his article “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology” (2008), Chris Dede draws a distinction between classical perceptions of knowledge and the approach to knowledge underpinning Web 2.0 activity. Our culture is shifting, Dede argues, not just from valuing the opinions of experts to the participatory culture of YouTube or Facebook, but from understanding knowledge as fixed and linear to a concentration on how knowledge is socially constructed. Dede writes that “the contrasts between Classical knowledge and Web 2.0 knowledge are continua rather than dichotomies . . . Still, an emerging shift to new types and ways of ‘knowing’ is apparent and has important implications for learning and education.””

Indeed there are shifts. Morever, there are challenges for those involved and participating in these shifts. One of the challenges within education is the assessment factor, particularly in regard to qualitatitive assessment and digital learning.

Miyazoe and Anderson (2010), in their study on the simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, state that:

“One of the difficulties that has yet to be addressed concerns assessment issues in collaborative learning, namely how we evaluate the process and the final products of collaborative work such as wiki productions. (…) to evaluate collaborative artifacts, at least three elements should be considered: 1) achievement as a group process in contrast to work of other groups; 2) the individual’s share in the group’s achievement; and 3) achievement of the individual before and after the group work.”

Collaborative work has often been a problematic area for teachers to assess. Nevertheless, it is something that language teachers often must do as there is individual work, pair work and group work in their classes. By using a digital platform such as Edmodo, the teacher has clear access to who contributes, how much is contributed and the quality of the contribution – in this particular case, both in terms of language use and story building.

In regard to the first and and third issues raised, the process has not yet ended and students will still have thresholds to cross.

A world of words, a womb of challenges and shifts in tormoil, will soon unfold.

References:

Cummins, J., Brown, K., Sayers, D. (2007) Literacy, Technology, and Diversity 

Miyazoe, T, Anderson, T. (2010) Learning Outcomes and Students’ Perceptions of Online Writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and a wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, System, Volume 38, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 185–199

Rorabaugh, P. (2012)  Digital Culture and Shifting Epistemology

Digital Stories are Part of Today’s Educational Ecosytem

Education has different purposes depending on the point in time. One may regard education as civil training for individuals to fit in well in their social environment, as a process to perform the necessary tasks for a society to keep on producing and sustaining itself, or, as process for individuals to find their true potential while giving them the building blocks of knowledge of their cultural heritage.

Creativity and innovation are essential for any society to progress. Despite the rows and rows of bookshelves claiming the secrets to achieving creativity and innovation, they are often illusive in the learning process. What constitutes creativity? What constitutes innovation? Broad questions which one can only attempt to answer in regard to a specific context.

My current context is language teaching. Having taught writing skills for many years within the fields of business studies, medical ethics, EAP and ELT, it is no surprise that digital storytelling is a special field of interest to me.

Sharda (2010) explains how “Stories have been used as educational medium since prehistoric times as they encapsulate four crucial aspects of human communication: information, knowledge, context, and emotions (Norman, 1993). Embedding stories as digital media, i.e., digital storytelling, is therefore not only desirable, but almost essential for producing engaging e-learning content.”

Storytelling has often had the purpose of sharing values and beliefs to others. There are emotions in stories and with digital media, these can be creatively articulated. In addition to  individualisation, there is ownership – truly motivating for learners.  Furthermore, “digital stories give students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation—telling a story that highlights specific characteristics or events—a key part of establishing their identity, a process that for many is an important aspect of the college years.” (Digital Storytelling)

 Storytelling as a tool for learning is not restricted to language learners either. Tendero (2006) has researched storytelling in teacher training programmes, “Digital storytelling efficiently facilitates efforts to capture classroom moments for preservice teachers to reflect upon and revise practice, as well as to develop a teaching consciousness. What I have experienced is not just videotaping and critiquing one’s attempts at teaching. What I have experienced is a chance for preservice teachers to view, reflect, compose, and imagine versions of the teaching “self.” These discoveries are focused on some new possibilities for creating narratives about one’s own practice.”

There is wonder and learning in stories. And there are different purposes as well. Robin summarizes 3 main purposes:

There are many different types of digital stories, but it is possible to categorize the major types into the following three major groups: 1) personal narratives – stories that contain accounts of significant incidents in one’s life; 2) historical documentaries – stories that examine dramatic events that help us understand the past, and 3) stories designed to inform or instruct the viewer on a particular concept or practice.” 

Robin goes further to explain how digital storytelling meets the different demands of todays’ learning ecosystem:

Digital Storytelling by students provides a strong foundation in many different types of literacy, such as information literacy, visual literacy, technology literacy, and media literacy. Summarizing the work of several researchers in this field, Brown, Bryan and Brown (2005) have labeled these multiple skills that are aligned with technology as “Twenty-first Century Literacy,” which they describe as the combination of:

Digital Literacy – the ability to communicate with an ever-expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and seek help;

Global Literacy - the capacity to read, interpret, respond, and contextualize messages from a global perspective

Technology Literacy - the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance;

Visual Literacy - the ability to understand, produce and communicate through visual images;

Information Literacy - the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information.”

All these characteristics are embedded in digital storytelling. On the one hand, introducing digital storytelling may make new demands on educators; on the other hand, it is necessary that the curriculum is flexible and allows space for educators and students to engage in digital storytelling.

How do you engage in digital storytelling?

References:

Digital Storytelling - published by Educause

Robin, B.R. – The Educational uses of Digital Storytelling

Sharda, N. (2010) Using Digital Storytelling for Creative and Innovative e-Learning

Tendero, A. (2006). Facing versions of the self: The effects of digital storytelling on English education. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 6(2). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol6/iss2/languagearts/article2.cfm

Further suggestions:

Storytelling – It’s News!

Corridors of Stories

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. 

C.S.Lewis

There are whispers in corridors. Wanderings and wonderings. There are twists and bends. The unexpected, the predicted, the wonderous.

So too in learning. Yet knowledge is not something transferrable; it is not a commodity which can be absorbed. Knowledge as a commodity can only be exchanged – and this process  does not include learning. Learning is a solitary process, it is up to the individual to learn or not.

When it comes to digital literacies and engaging students in their learning process, I am a strong believer and practioner of digital story telling. Each student has the space to focus on his/her story, on what is valid, on what is valuable  to him/herself and transferable to others, thus starting a conversation which may lead to further corridors of discovery and reflection.

Stories do not happen in a vacumm. There are contexts, hidden meanings, weavings of significance and questionings.

Traditional school literacies have relied on printed text to transfer concepts. However, by blending multi-digital literacies (e.g. images, animation, music etc) and popular culture which engages learners (e.g. cartoons/comics), the learning process is centred on the learner. It is their creation, their process, their product.

A photostory, for example,  can demonstrate the

transformative power of reflecting on one’s own autobiography, the compilation of a person’s stories, in both words and images, to make sense of the often blurred mirror that simultaneously absorbs language learning and reflects identity construction.” (Skinner & Hagood 2008

When Law and Kickmeier discuss Digital Educational Games, they touch upon a feature which is equally ingrained in storytelling:

In a DEG, adaptive and interactive digital storytelling serves two essential purposes: First, it strongly supports a personalized learning experience by adapting the game’s story to individual preferences and by providing the possibility of explorative learning processes.”

and:

The major strengths of DEGs include [12] a high level of intrinsic motivation to play and to proceed in the game; clear goals and rules; a meaningful yet rich and appealing learning context; an engaging storyline with random elements of surprise; immediate feedback; a high level of interactivity, challenge and competition.”

In every class, there are elements of competition among the peers and though one may not necessarily immediately  perceive the competitive element in storytelling, it is there when learners share and read each others stories; there will be whispers, smiles and giggles; there will nodding in confirmation with the shared points of references and there will be that cutting edge to see who produced the best digital product with the least linguistic mistakes as well. Additionally, storytelling expresses the Individualization of learning experiences, adaptation to personal aims, needs, abilities thus giving learners a more enhanced sense of achievement.

In the field of education, there has been a strong emphasis on individualization and differentiation regarding students’ learning process. There has also been the positive

influence of Adrian Holliday’s work and the voiced concern of linguistic imperialism in the field of English Language Teaching. Canagarajah (1999) defends that it is necessary to “develop a grounded theory, in other words, a thinking on language, culture, and pedagogy that is motivated by the lived reality and everyday experience of periphery subjects.”

Echoing Canagarajah, Phillipson (1992) is clear when he explains that:

“The belief that ELT is non-political serves to disconnect culture from structure.  It assumes that educational concerns can be divorced from social, political, and economic realities.  It exonerates the experts who hold the belief from concerning themselves with these dimensions.  It encourages a technical approach to ELT, divorced even from wider educational issues. “

One last feature I would like to point out is the relationship between oral, written, photographic and digital media. For many students who come from less privileged backgrounds, it is through the focus on their interests, their stories that their voices are shared. Digital storytelling is an inclusive approach when introduced in the classroom.

Voice. The power of having a voice, the power of sharing one’s voice.

We are living in times beyond preparing students to perform diligently in an industrial age.

Education is no longer a process to shackle youth to their social condition.

Storytelling is empowering.

What whispers do you heed in digital storytelling?


References:

Canagarajah, A.S. 1999 , Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching, OUP

Holliday, A.  1994, Appropriate Methodology and Social Context, CUP

Law, E.L-C & M.Rust-Kickmeier, 80 Days: Immersive Digital Educational games with Adaptive Storytelling, 

Skinner, E.N. & M.C.Hagood, 2008, Developing Literate Identities with English Language Learners Through Digital Storytelling

Phillipson, R. 1992, Linguistic Imperialism, OUP