Using multimedia to ignite creative fire and create knowledge

by Mr. Sheehy

One of the growing jargon terms I hear out there (and thus less and less effective a term it becomes . . .) is “digital storytelling.” While a bit generic and all-encompassing a term, the basic idea is using the computer to tell a story. Once teachers then step back and see many of our forms for what they are, we might find that heaps of our assignments are really, at root, story-telling assignments. Essays, for example, are closely related to stories, in that the writer leads the reader on a journey, but one where plot is less important than idea. Such a form can then be a wonderful tool for students to express ideas in media other than the written word (though the best projects will encompass that as well).

Alan Levine is a bit of a name in educational technology, and he recently put together a cool list about digital story-telling tools called, “The Fifty Tools.” They’re 50 tools you can find on the web that you can use to tell a story digitally.

And the programs don’t have to be high tech in production, either. With the wonder of web resources, you don’t even need a camera. For a recent conference in Rapid City put on by the chamber of commerce, I put together a little story for part of a presentation on Web2.0 tools, using Power Point and photos released under a creative commons license and shared at Flickr (though I used my favorite FlickrCC search engine to find them).

It’s a simple concept, but it opens up the opportunities for creative expression, which of course, in turn opens up opportunities for construction of knowledge. Plus, kids love this stuff. I’ve shared before the ridiculously amazing project one of my students assembled last year following Romeo and Juliet. The assignment required students to pick select lines from the text and retell the story, capturing the emotional narrative through their selected pictures. This student seized the opportunity to use a skill he has developed on his own. Most of the kids used power point to assemble their projects (and received A’s for their efforts), but I didn’t put a top on the box and invited kids to wow me. So far, that has seemed to be a key element – building a bottom on the box so kids know what is expected for a decent grade, but opening it up for those creative kids to express themselves in ways I don’t foresee.

And then I show kids the great stuff and they get inspired to produce their own amazing products (can’t underestimate that competitive drive). It’s not much different strategy-wise than teachers have been doing for decades when they assign projects (my mom, who teaches middle school, has been the project queen since I was in elementary school) – it’s just a different medium.

I don’t know how many times I’ll convince kids to produce products that wow me, but I’m going to keep trying until I always fail miserably. The way I figure, they like learning about new tools too, and when these tools enable them to create something others can see, they’re likely to experience that charge that is the creative thrill. I just have to craft the project carefully enough that they create for themselves knowledge of our current curriculum standard, even if, to them, it happens accidentally.