I recently met with the Head and Assistant-Head of English here at St Andrew’s College and chatted with them about a new Level 3 (Yr13) English Standard they taught called Digital Narratives (AS.91477). Both were very enthusiastic about the engagement from students and how technology had contributed to the teaching and learning during this assignment. The brief for students was to:
Create a fluent and coherent visual text which develops, sustains and structures ideas using visual and verbal language
Here is an example of a submitted assignment entitled Revolution:
The big focus for students was demonstrating the skill of developing an idea, from there they could have a wide degree of choice in terms of:
- How they chose to present the visual component of the assessment (Powerpoint, Prezi, Movie, Photoshop images etc)
- What content they used as the basis of their ideas (the film they had studied in class or something completely different)
One of the driving questions behind this was expressed by Ms Coote:
How can we assess this standard beyond just the English curriculum? If there is something in another subject that students would be interested in creating a visual presentation for, then why not use that?
Being a new standard, along with the wide possibilities inherent in the student choice, there was a degree of apprehension by both Ms Coote and Ms Yuill Proctor over how best to support the students with the necessary technology skill sets required. What became quickly apparent was that being the teacher did not make you an ‘expert’ in all the various technologies, and in fact, this was probably an unrealistic approach anyway. As Ms Yuill Proctor said:
It would have been redundant to teach ourselves how to use Photoshop since not all students would choose to use this tool in their presentation, so it was more effective to be able to point students to where they could get the help they needed … in many cases it was technology (such as http://www.youtube.com) that was best at teaching the students how to use the technology of their choice.
A number of recommended tools and links on how to use them were provided to the students as a starting point, such as guidelines for visual essays, the free and open source products like image editors Gimp or Inkscape, sound mixer/editor Audacity and freely available images and sounds at Wikimedia Commons. This highlights that the teacher still plays a central role in the classroom providing guidance around the appropriate tools and facilitating discussions with the students in the form of feedback, encouraging the class to evaluate and discern the reliability and usefulness of what they find on the internet.
Student using Prezi to present their Digital Narrative (click here if embedded Prezi does not work):
What came through from both teachers during our discussion was there was no need for the teacher to be the expert in the technology, rather by guiding students towards various options and encouraging them to ask discerning questions and collaborate with their peers, then they would be able to learn the necessary skills themselves to complete the assessment. By using tutorials available online through sites such as YouTube, it was the equivalent of bringing experts into the classroom to teach particular skill-sets. Many of these tutorials and exemplars of work were posted on the class Moodle site to enable students easy access to them.
Student Documentary on Freestyle Football:
Another pleasing aspect of the assessment was the high levels of student engagement – evidenced by the effort in the final productions, but also the amount of out-of-class discussion happening at home. This was not the case initially, however, as students thought this ‘was not really English’ because of the choice in technologies and content material that was made available to them. Once they comprehended the focus was on the skill in developing structured ideas, they realised the choice of presentation formats would actually work in their favour.
Student Digital Essay on Tsotsi
- Student choice around technologies and content for the assessment increased engagement in the teaching and learning.
- Students collaborated to find the best tools and tutorials for their presentations
- Cross-curricular links were made, with students using content from classes as diverse as Agriculture, Geography and Media Studies
- Teachers recognised they did not need to be the experts in every piece of technology used by students
- Using online tutorials was the equivalent of bringing experts into the classroom to facilitate the teaching and learning