by Zanetta Hardy
This session looks at the various permutations of digital storytelling and how institutions of higher education across the country incorporate this technology into the academic experience. The popularity of podcasting, a medium that can integrate audio, video and text, has exploded over the past few years. Our readings focus not only on their successful adoption into the curriculum but also on some of the caveats and controversies that surround their use. As the Carnegie Mellon white paper shows, whether it’s podcasting, screencasting or an interactive slideshow, each is, after all, merely a tool whose success relies on its alignment with instructional goals.
In class we’ll try out several web applications that make it easy to create, share and collaborate on digital multimedia narratives and as always, work on our wiki and classroom project.
In this week’s discussion pieces, the digital storytelling piece was extremely interesting, especially as a potential pedagogical tool in language instruction. I found particularly significant the combination of virtually limitless creativity – as images, sounds and video are integrated into a cohesive whole – with the development on the student’s part of evaluative critical skills regarding online content. What truly made me jump out of my chair was the notion that the students’ could express themselves in the own voices, not just words. It seems obvious that grading a digital storytelling assignment is difficult precisely because of the artistic content. Nevertheless, if we as language instructors could use this technology here at UConn, and not necessarily limit its use to the more advanced classes, I firmly believe that it would be a benefit to our students and very interesting to keep in our archives (though on a much smaller scale, akin to what NPR is doing with their StoryCorps). The only thing I did not agree with was the need to open digital storytelling to shared content: if it is an authentically artistic endeavor, then opening it up to change might bother the producer of the piece.
Brock Read’s piece re-iterated one of my major concerns regarding the use of Podcasts in class: the elimination of any need for class time at all. I see the peril that in-class lectures/lessons might become obsolete, a “dead time” which both student and instructor might use more efficiently. A semester’s worth of lectures available for downloading would, I believe, lead inevitably to a drastic reduction in attendance and kill all class discussion IF the material were not supplementary in nature. This, however, would logically entail more work – hence a possible opposition – on the instructor’s part. The suggestion of taking attendance is also untenable with larger class, e.g. my ILCS 101 which has 100 students. Lastly, I was not at all convinced by Jackson’s statement that students cannot endure to sit through an hour long class but “want to gather information on their own terms and spend their class time in discussion.” The first half of the statement seems widely exaggerated and the second, for any instructor who has asked a question in class and heard crickets in response, rings of gross generalization.
Finally, I felt the enthusiasm of the iPod Course Design piece, especially with its emphasis on the use of Podcasts in language teaching at Elmira and Middlebury, was perfectly counterbalanced by the healthy dose of cynicism regarding Podcasts in the McCloskey article.
Live long and prosper.
Many of the articles included in today’s session emphasized the characteristics of iPods. Carie Windham, for instance, reminds us that “the iPod is small, it’s mobile, and it stores everything from songs and podcasts to photos and games”, while in another article the Ipod and its related set of technologies were described as “bringing a freshness, spontaneity, and engagement to learning experiences that we haven’t seen in a while.” Other articles stressed the importance of related programs and technologies such as digital storytelling,course casting and screencasting. While I agree with the general content of these articles and, in particular, with the general call for implementing the usage of technologies in our classrooms (so that we can finally speak our student’s “language”), I have to say that I am not completely sure that certain kind of technologies or programs could really be useful. I am in complete agreement with the conclusions’ section of Carie Windham’s article and, in particular, with all the benefits podcasting technology offers students (the ability to access course content 24/7, the chance to make their learning mobile, the creativity factor, the ease of access, the possibility to get “intimate” with course material, the possibility to showcase their projects to the rest of the community, the opportunity to review course material anytime they want, the chance to learn new technical skills). Nonetheless, I believe that certain kind of technologies may help students only at a superficial level, and might end up damaging the instructor and ultimately compromise the students’ learning experience. I do not want to sound too defensive, but I think that screencasting (or the usage of screenshots) and digital storytelling could be a great help for students, but I do not share the same feelings about coursecasting. Even though I agree with one of the people interviewed by Brock Read, Professor Jackson, who described his “speaking style as blitzkrieg speed and his student as voracious consumers of technology”, I have to admit that I am not in favor of broadcasting entire lessons or lectures for the students’ benefit. Why? Well, first of all, because I really do not believe that if you put everything online the students will still be coming to class. Secondly, because while screencasting offers them extra material or extra knowledge, and is in no way a substitute of the classroom experience, coursecasting is, in fact, a real alternative to waking up early, coming to class, prepare the readings, participate in the class discussions, etc. In the end it could almost be unfair for the students actually coming to class. Additionally, while screencasting and digital storytelling create products that are pre-organized and predetermined, coursecasting wants to be the replica of something unique (a lesson or a lecture) that happens that way only in a specific moment in time and with the help of other factors that are virtually unaccountable for. In other words, to me screencasting is like cinema, while coursecasting is like recording a theatre piece. One loses the spark and it’s simply not the same thing. Although, I am afraid that students will still prefer coursecasting rather than coming to class.