- School/institution: HOC Lab Politecnico di Milano (Italy)
- Title of the practice: Policultura
- Country: Italy
- Source: Di Blas, N., Paolini, P., & Sabiescu, A. (2010). Collective digital storytelling at school as a whole-class interaction. In Proceedings of the 9th international Conference on interaction Design and Children (pp. 11-19). ACM.
- Age of children: 4-10 years old
Main characteristics of the practice
The article (Di Blas et al., 2010) analyzes the learning benefits of the practice PoliCultura, a competition for schools, organized each year by Politecnico di Milano (Italy).
The competition requires whole classes to create a multimedia digital story about a subject of their own choice. Some specific topics (like local cultural heritage) are sometimes suggested, but in most cases schools show a high degree of independence, selecting a large variety of subjects. Interactivity comes in two ways: in the process of cooperative story authoring, using a web-based tool, and interactivity in playing the story.
General goal of the practice and specific objectives
The aim of the article is capturing teacher’s opinion about learning benefits of the digital collective storytelling experience.
Two dimensions have been used to measure the learning impact:
- Cognitive level (knowledge and intellectual skills)
- Affective level (feelings, values, motivation towards learning activities)
One important aspect to assess regards the comparison between educational benefits fostered by digital storytelling activities and regular teaching activities.
There is no information about specific aspects of time organization of the activity with the kids since every school made its own story following its own criterion.
There is no information about specific aspects of spatial organization of the activity with the kids since every school made its own story following its own criterion.
Description of procedures and methodology
Although the competition is open for classes at all levels, in the analyzed paper they highlight some of the results of its implementation in kindergarten (4-5 years of age) and primary schools (6-10 years of age).
In the school year 2008-2009, 211 pre-school and primary school classes initially registered for the competition, with 97 completing the narrative on time for taking part in it. The estimate participation could be about 2,900 pupils (between 4 and 10 years of age), involved with their teachers in developing digital storytelling.
The assessment of the benefits and the didactic impact was made through interviews, direct observations, and online surveys to teachers.
The process of collectively creating a story revolved around 5 main steps:
- theme selection,
- creation of the editorial plan, i.e. the set of main topics and their sub-topics
- creation of the multimedia pieces of content (texts, audios, slideshows…),
- the assemblage of all the pieces to see how the work is going
- after a reasonable check, the final publishing.
Countless variations of individual and collaboration patterns are possible along these steps. Though being presented sequentially, these steps are rarely accomplished in a strict sequence. Based on data resulting from online surveys, interviews, and experience of directly observing selected cases, the paper identified a series of patterns of individual vs. collaborative involvement, and how these converge in making the narrative advance. Collaboration can occur either at the level of a small working group, or at classroom level. From the observation, collaborative work at the classroom level is required at some points in the story creation process, related either with decision-making or with ensuring consistency.
Deciding on the theme and the design of the editorial plan are a classroom-based collaboration steps, for example, and after these are decided, work is usually split between groups (under the teacher’s supervision). A third step is the accomplishment of texts writing: at this point, collective validation from the whole class is necessary, and some parts may be redone for ensuring consistency.
The theme selection must be something involving, some way or another, the whole class. Many schools choose to tackle a school outing, others start from a school activity (like a social project or a research, others select a school subject and others make up a fiction. In all these cases the approach is: let us find something that all students share, know and care about.
The editorial plan creation means dividing the main theme into a set of relevant parts. The surveys reveal that this activity is usually managed by the teacher, who discusses with the students in class and divides them into subgroups in charge of a specific “chapter”
When creating multimedia content students have to write texts in view of their audio consumption. Texts must be short (around 120 words is the best length), self-consistent (i.e. without references to other parts of the narrative – like “this” or “as we said before”) and with simple syntax. Audio recording and the creation of the visual communication elements are two important moments, which support development of technical skills.
A fourth step, after the allocation of the images, with the same goal of ensuring consistency and avoiding overlapping. As regards the slideshow creation, children prove very resourceful, combing the web, taking their own pictures, or scanning their own drawings
Finally, a global vision of the overall narrative is mandatory after audios are recorded, images gathered and everything is uploaded using the data-entry tool. The whole story is checked for consistency and communication strength. Changes are made and eventually, the final version is ready for publishing.
- The authoring is made possible by 1001storia: an authoring-delivery kit developed by the Politecnico di Milano.
- Digital playing tools: Playing can be done via web, offline via a CD-rom (families like to have their own CD) and via iPod (as a series of podcast episodes).
The 1001storia authoring tool is a web service accessible for free to registered users. There is no particular technical pre-requisite for using the tool, which is also very easy to use and intuitive.
1001storia supports the creation of multimedia presentations (lasting on average 20-30 minutes). The 1001stories toolkit is based upon an engine that supports three main features: Data Entry, Preview and Generator.
Drawing material, books.
Description of the final product
Some relevant data from observation and online surveys to teachers:
- negative comments or attitudes towards the digital storytelling experience were almost absent. However, the fact that participation is on a purely voluntary basis is a factor to consider: we can assume that teachers who decided to take part in PoliCultura are in principle open to the idea of integrating technology-based, engaging experiences in their curriculum, although they may be not fully aware of what this implies. Given the voluntary basis of participation in the project, we cannot conclude that for “all teachers” the introduction of technology at school would be as successful as it is for those involved in this case.
- Still, data show that engaging classes in interactive storytelling is something that teachers appreciate, especially considering the range of learning benefits it brings.
Some comments from teachers:
- “The experience thoroughly engaged my pupils and allowed them to refine many technical abilities as well as group work.”
- “The collaborative climate improved, motivation increased as well as active participation.”
- “Augmentation of class group cohesion.”
- “In a rather problematic class from a relational point of view, this activity has developed the capacity to work in a team. Moreover, students got involved in the subject matter” (i.e. of the narrative).
- “Engagement, also for students generally Little motivated.”
- “Major involvement, especially from those students that usually do not stand out in class.”
- “Every child has been valorized in his natural gifts: speaking, drawing, researching and they naturally coordinated in small groups.”
Direct observations (in a few schools) and interviews with teachers tell us also that the experience is highly motivating for the children.
It is also relevant to notice that the three benefits related to the curriculum have received high appreciation:
- Increased interest for the subject-matter dealt with in the story;
- In-depth understanding;
- retention of what has been learned while building the story.
The study also outlines that, at first sight, they can create the false impression that interactive storytelling alone can foster such benefits, while qualitative analysis, (based also on data from observations and interviews), reveals that it is the teacher who, capitalizing on the engagement and fun generated by story authoring, can transform a digital storytelling activity into an effective learning experience.
Children acquired an improvement in several skills and competences like teachers outlined in their surveys.
- Communication abilities: textual and visual communication, as well as consistency between the two. Writing a synthetic good text, suitable for becoming an audio narrative (possibly for a podcast), selecting relevant pictures and properly pairing them with the audio: this was implied by the authoring activity.
- Content organization: this is the ability to structure the narrative in a coherent and effective fashion, paying attention to semantic relations between the different parts so that a consistent communication product is achieved.
For both of these two benefits, we observed that the influence of the teacher was felt, especially for the younger pupils. The intrusiveness of teachers was stronger for the organization of content (i.e. structuring the narrative) and less for content production.
In terms of media literacy, this experience brought about development of expected skills: starting applications, creating files and moving them around, selecting pictures, writing text, etc., but also less obvious skills, such as audio recording and saving as MP3 files, or scanning drawings in order to obtain JPEG pictures, all required steps in developing the narrative.
There is an educational benefit directly related to the collective nature of the authoring: improving the ability and the attitude for group work. Pupils had to learn how to work in a group, how to be responsible for something and at the same time to integrate their work with other children’s work, how to meet deadlines, etc. This was hard in several cases, but it did work in most cases and generated in the pupils a great feeling of accomplishment.
How children took part in the practice
Children were active creators and participate in the whole process of story creation.
The article mentions that there was not unusual the community at large to be involved: parents (who volunteer to pay for CD-ROM production), the school principal and in some cases the town major and the population. They mention further means of involvement: for example, a survey showed that 36% of the young authors of “Milan during roman times” took their parents to visit the Archeological Museum of Milano after the story elaboration.
Strengths and critical points of the practice
The main fortress of the practice is the great number of pupils participating, which can be a great source of data for future investigation on the final product (story) elaborated.
It is also important to stress is that engagement is generated by a collective (at class level), not individual authoring of a story: the awareness of the class as a cooperating group is thus dramatically increased.
As a critical point, they stand out the fact that the great majority of teachers (above 60%) with classes of pupils above 7-8 years of age did not possess media literacy abilities, and in most cases, they did not even acquire them. They were provided with online instructions, based on which the teachers organized the work; hence in many cases, pupils acquired digital literacy skills on their own. Teachers of younger pupils, instead, needed to be more confident with technology, otherwise, the authoring would have been impossible for 4-6 years old kids.
How the practice fostered children inclusion
Qualitative observations in the article point that the teamwork and the feeling of self-accomplishment have generated additional benefits:
- Inclusion: it was often the case that pupils for some reasons marginalized or with diverse needs were highly motivated to participate and able to integrate their work with that of the other children. The collective storytelling activities helped them feel more integrated with the whole class, and increased self-confidence.
- Reinforced cohesion: in several cases, we were told that the class became more “cohesive”, relationships and bonds among pupils were strengthened and in some cases, even the relationships with teachers improved.
- Long-lasting effect: the two above positive effects spawned from collective storytelling to other school activities, and lasted for a sizable period of time (often up the end of the school year).
INCLUDED – Digital Storytelling for Inclusion