Make history to learn history

On Friday we made a list of some topics that we all thought were important, or themes that keep popping up in our readings. Among them were the ideas of creating/building, engaging students, and creating a sense of ownership over knowledge. In my last blog post I talked about T. Mills Kelly’s work, which I very much enjoyed. He presented examples of instruction that are radically different from the way that education is approached in the traditional classroom. Among them was the idea of creating digital narratives, and even creating fake narratives. As I said in my last post I think the idea of creating fake history is amazing because of how much actual history you would have to learn in order to create a false one. In addition it would be engaging and challenging. For this week I am trying to find research that talks about how creating digital narratives (fake or otherwise) can affect learning, motivation, engagement, and the sense of ownership. In doing this research I have found several academic studies and have tried to find innovative examples of what people are doing in their classrooms.

In Digital Storytelling as web passport to success in the 21st Century (Malita, Martin 2010) the authors define digital story telling (DST) as “the practice of combining narrative with digital content, including images, sound and video.” (3061) As one of its benefits to education the authors state that: “storytelling and learning are inextricably intertwined because the process of composing a story is also a process of meaning-making. Through storytelling, students are asked to reflect on what they know, to examine their (often unquestioned) assumptions, and –  through a cyclical process of revision –  to record their “cognitive development in process” and to provide students’ thinking.” (3061)

In Digital Storytelling: a meaningful technology-integrated approach for engaged student learning (Sadik, 2008) the author also begins by talking about the power and importance of storytelling and quotes The Digital Storytelling Association’s (2002)  description of DST as “[a] modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling. Throughout history, storytelling has been used to share knowledge, wisdom, and values. Stories have taken many different forms. Stories have been adapted to each successive medium that has emerged, from the circle of the campfire to the silver screen, and now the computer. ” (490) In a study with students aged 13-15  on a range of subjects being taught with DST as an instructional method Sadik says that “Regarding the effectiveness of digital storytelling, interview data suggested that digital storytelling enriched the classroom learning environment, the curriculum, and student learning experiences by providing an open-ended, creative and motivating productive tool in the classroom. In addition, teachers perceived students to be motivated and excited to use the computer, digital camera, the Internet and Photo Story to develop their stories, particularly in connection with real world problems.”(502) He goes on to say that “The findings from the analysis of students-produced stories suggest that students were encouraged to think more deeply about the meaning of the topic or story and personalize their experience and also clarify what they knew about the topic before and during the process of developing and communicating their stories.”  Sadik’s study shows that digital storytelling can positively affect motivation, engagement, creating a sense of ownership, and creating authentic learning.

Another study I read is Digital storytelling for enhancing student academic achievement, critical thinking, and learning motivation: A year long study (Ting, Yang, Chi & Wu, 2011). In a study of 10th grade students in Taiwan learning  English  the authors found that “When students create their own digital stories, they gather evidence to support the plot, empathizing with similar difficulties which they may face in their daily life, and project these problems onto characters in the story.”(342) This process allows the students to relate the material to their own lives, which is engaging, motivating, and personally relevant. The paper goes on to say that “DST provided students with a meaningful authentic scenario related to their personal experiences, wherein a dynamic and interactive process of creating and publishing digital stories aroused the students’ motivation in a rich multimedia classroom.”(349) The overall results of the study were that “after 20 weeks of DST instruction senior high school students demonstrated significant improvement in English proficiency, critical thinking, and learning motivation.” (350)

These studies demonstrate that using DST as part of an instructional method can be more beneficial to students that “traditional” classroom methods. One school that is using this method is The Urban School of San Francisco. ” High school students at the Urban School of San Francisco conduct and film interviews with Bay Area Holocaust survivors in their homes. Students then transcribe each 2-plus hour interview, create hundreds of movie files associated with each transcript, and then post the full-text, full-video interviews on this public website as a service to a world-wide audience interested in Holocaust studies.” describes the program as ” perhaps the best student-created oral history project in the country.” This kind of project promotes authentic learning through discovery, interaction with the community, and creation of new historical objects.

As an undergraduate I studied Radio Television and Film at the University of Texas. In my third year I took a class called East Austin Stories. In the class we were tasked to each make a short documentary about someone or something in a particular part of east Austin. I made three. I found the process of seeking out interesting characters, digging for information, and then presenting it incredibly thrilling. I went on to help put all of the videos on the web, and participated in setting up many screenings. I’ve included a link to the website at the bottom of this post. If you look at it you will see that over 100 documentaries were made. Together they document some small but detailed pieces of Austin history that might otherwise go unnoticed. I was involved with the project for nearly 5 years and I have never heard students talk more enthusiastically about a class or take more pride in their work. I believe that to actively engage students through the process of creation not only helps their learning experience but also contributes positively to our body of historical knowledge.

History is nothing but a collection of stories. It contains dates, locations, and a narrative that is largely subject to the biases/perspective/whims of the teller. Without the re-telling of stories we have no history. If that is the case, it seems logical that early on history students should learn to tell stories. This will not only afford a vast collection of perceptions on events that are often voiced only through a funnel of “legitimate” sources, but also enable history students to take an active role in what T. Mills Kelly calls “making history.” The “making” of history provides students with motivation, is engaging, and conveys a sense of ownership that is necessary for an authentic learning experience


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