Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Education students explore digital storytellingBy Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
Stories have been told for many years. They are a way to pass along history and folklore, provide entertainment or give information. Two Oakland University professors are helping student-teachers use digital stories to inform future employers of their skills.
Ledong Li, assistant professor of education, explains that digital storytelling is a modern form of an older tradition. The students use technical resources to create a compilation of their experiences. Using photos, music and spoken word, the students create thought-provoking, moving stories about what they have learned and why they want to become a teacher. The digital storytelling deters from the traditional portfolio while providing the teachers with a new skill set they can apply in the classroom.
“Digital storytelling truly personalizes the future teachers. Each of the stories is uniquely different,” said Pamela Morehead, visiting assistant professor of education. “And creating a digital story allows them to show their 21st century skills, which are important to employers.”
Li and Morehead designed a six-week workshop held monthly on Saturday mornings for 3-5 hours. The 20 students who participated learned about digital storytelling, and created storyboards, flow charts and conceptual maps to form the story.
“We provided the framework for the students but we weren’t prescriptive,” said Morehead. “We left the project open ended.”
The students used images, graphics and music to evoke emotion. The videos were created and students were able to put them on Web sites to share with others.
“Throughout the whole process, the students reflect on their own lives and what they have learned,” said Li. “They work so hard while in school that they usually don’t focus on what they have learned.”
Mary Merza participated in the workshop because she has an interest in technology in education. She decided to tell the story of what she has learned about teaching from Oakland University.
“Once someone watches it, they really learn a lot about us and what we are able to bring to the classroom,” said Merza. “This is something I’ll not only use myself, but also something I would use in the classroom.”
Merza said the DVD she created is three-and-a-half minutes long, but in that short period of time she is able to show creativity, her technical skills, provide her educational background and do it all in a way that is unique and compelling.
Robert Tonti, a master’s degree student, had already dabbled with software for producing short movies, but this workshop was a way for him to learn a new application, work on a Mac and actually put the portfolio together. Having worked in the hospitality industry for nearly 20 years, owned his own restaurant for 10 years and served as a Montessori teacher, Tonti wanted to use his story to tell why he wanted to become a teacher and what his previous life experience added to his education.
“I decided to do sort of a lifespan synopsis of my experiences,” said Tonti. “I wanted to explain what I have to offer because my experience, I thought, would be a key ingredient.”
Tonti will be student teaching at Algonquin Middle School in the fall and will pursue teaching options beginning in the winter.
“This digital storytelling piece is a great addition to an interview,” said Tonti. “It allows the interviewer to really get to know me and my experience.”
Tonti said the facilitators, Morehead and Li, were helpful and supportive throughout the workshop.
Morehead and Li are both interested in education and technology. While serving on the Technology Advisory Committee together, they decided to research the idea of digital storytelling and present it to students. When the pair received a grant from the School of Education and Human Services for equipment, they decided to move forward with producing a workshop.
“When we first started researching this idea, there wasn’t much out there of digital storytelling in terms of future teachers,” said Morehead. “We really had to write our own plan.”
Upon completion of the workshop, Li and Morehead held a public presentation on the workshop, displaying the students’ work and garnering support from those who hire educators. All were surprised with the diversity and creativity the students presented in their finished products.
“We were moved — to tears in some cases,” said Li. “This really tells us a lot about the trust we have in our students. We can allow them to be more free in the projects and use more creativity in the classroom.”
The process was a learning one for everyone involved. Li and Morehead were learning more about digital storytelling and future teachers, while the students were learning about the process from Morehead and Li and also from each other.
“The students helped each other through the process,” said Morehead. “They looked at us more as facilitators rather than directors and that was meaningful.”
Since the workshop, many students and faculty members have expressed an interest in learning more about digital storytelling for portfolios and also for use in the classroom as part of lesson plans.
“With digital storytelling, Oakland is on the forefront in terms of teacher preparation,” said Morehead.
Morehead and Li plan to follow the students who participated in the workshop and study the results of the digital storytelling portfolio. They would also like to integrate digital storytelling into some classes to provide all students the opportunity to try it.
To view the student-produced, digital stories, visit the Digital Storytelling Project Web site. For more information on Oakland University’s education program, visit the School of Education and Human Services Web site or call (248) 370-3050.