Digital Story-Telling: The Final Make

The Context: Every spring semester the Office for International Affairs (OIA) hosts a showcase called Global Expo.  Global Expo is a 3 hour block of time on a Friday afternoon in mid-April when all students who participated in the Preview experience present their final projects in a poster show-like event.  (Preview is a semester-long 2 credit course which includes a travel component over spring break).

Traditionally, students make posters that are based on research papers.  How research questions and papers are handled are dependent on the Preview instructor, but most Preview instructors give students a topic to investigate.

The Thing That Got Me Thinking: Posters are great, but are they relevant?  When was the last time I was asked to make a poster? Elementary school?  What other resources are at our disposal that we might use to display our findings?  Of those, which would give students an opportunity to develop new skills? Which might help students engage more with the host culture? Which would help student reflect more deeply? Work together? Which methods would be most engaging to our target audience?  What is my comfort level with this idea?  Do I have enough time to figure it out?  How can these  support my efforts of making the global relevant to my students? (What do they already use to connect to the world?) How do I encourage inquiry?  Ultimately, how do I enable students to tell their stories and be excited about it?

That stream of consciousness was something I have continuously come back to as I attempted to reflect on the progress of my students, and while I know there are things I will ultimately improve upon, I am very proud of my students.

The Make: Instead of assigning a poster project, I assigned my students to create a digital story. What made me assign a digital story instead of the much easier to grade/assign poster? Well, in  my opinion, the skills one gains undertaking a digital story project are more relevant in the 21st century and the reflective process one undergoes is deeper.  I also believe that a digital story offers the creator different ways to express themselves creatively and is more likely to appeal to our target audience of students and administrators.

The Course:  My Preview course explored cosmopolitanism as an identity of Barcelona.  We explored cosmopolitanism through the lenses of gender, politics, geography, history, and even futbol (the European kind, obviously).  As we explored each of these lenses we looked at topics of inclusion/exclusion, cross-cultural communication, and our social identities that impact the way we perceive the world.  Classes were held once a week on Fridays for 2 hours.  Each class contained no more than a 30 minute lecture and always contained an experiential component such as a scavenger hunt, which complemented the topic of the week, and a 30-40 minute debrief that began in small groups and ended with group share.

I designed the class with such a large dedication to the experiential component because it was important to me and the class objectives that students interact with the material and “chew” on it.  The experiential component made the content “real” to them, helped them to begin problem solving, and allowed them to begin learning the reflection process in a safe environment.

Every week, students had a journal assignment about the previous week’s experiential component.  The journal prompts asked students to “dig deeper” than they did in class and cite their readings to identify how they formed or changed their opinions about that week’s topic.  This process in particular, helped my students to practice citing sources and begin incorporating analytical reflection into their work, something they would ultimately have to do for the digital story.

As we dug deeper into the current events of Barcelona, students began to identify pieces of Barcelona’s cosmopolitanism culture that they wanted to explore more deeply.  About a month before we traveled, I assigned the final project..

I broken down the project into steps with various due dates for two reasons.  One, I wanted students to move through this process in a particular sequence  to reflect on their experience in pictures, words, and with one another.  Two, even though my students are first-year college students, I noticed that creative freedom scares them.  Therefore, because I was giving them full range to choose their topic and full creative license to explore “what” they wanted, I wanted to support them with a clear scaffolded process of “how.”

The Process: The week after assigning the project, I set aside class-time for students to form groups (no larger than 3) and begin discussing their research questions.  This research question would be the basis for their digital story.  They chose topics from a comparison of men’s and women’s futbol, to the medical system in Catalunya, which they submitted the following week.

Next, students created annotated bibliographies.  These are a bit unique because instead of just doing web-based research, students were also asked to look into museums they could visit in-country that would progress their topic,  identify people that we would be meeting with that might be helpful to interview (and draft interview questions), and look into examples of digital stories.

Then, the students and I traveled to Barcelona.  I felt like such a proud facilitator of learning!  Students took to Barcelona with a sense of ease, curiosity, and excitement.  They interviewed our tour guides about tourism, asked insightful questions of our lecturers,  visited museums and took notes, and even went to a women’s futbol game and interviewed players! I’d like to believe that the foundation of cultural competencies and history that we paved before leaving, along with the clear plan students developed for their projects, was a key reason for the overwhelming success my students experienced.

One of the main tasks for students in-country was to gather photos, videos, and quotes.  I encouraged students to innovate by utilizing applications such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and #hashtags (#PreviewtheWorld) that they are already familiar with, but in a different way.  We even went so  far as to create an Instagram account (@aupreviewbarcelona) for our in-country time because my students informed me that #hashtags were out and @people was in.  This acted as a common place that people could house photos and share their experience.

Upon our return, students got started on their written narratives that would become their voice-over.  We went through two drafts of these narratives after doing peers revisions.  Anyone who wanted my feedback as well, was welcome to set-up a meeting with me.  They turned in two drafts to me via Canvas and they had to show that they made revisions based on feedback in the second script.  Simultaneously, students uploaded their photos into a google folder in the order which they planned to use them in their digital stories.

The photo/video sharing was an interesting step.  I envisioned students uploading everything to into a google folder and sharing photos but in reality, students are not very comfortable with google applications, and instead preferred to utilize WhatsApp to ask for specific photos that they needed from one another.  WhatsApp was an application that I introduced to them pre-departure as a way to communicate with one another.  I made a group chat with all 26 of us we shared plans, suggestions for places to eat, and things to do.  It was also a handy way to adjust meeting times and communicate with them all, because students do not always check email.  The other handy aspect was that the students would often forget I was in the group and I would learn things that are helpful to know that I might not otherwise be aware of.

Next, students took their narratives and recorded their voice overs.  Again, submissions were made on Canvas.  Finally, with scripts written, photos/videos sequenced and voice-overs complete, all that remained was to put it all together using software like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker.  Students were free to work with whatever applications they were comfortable with, but I made sure that I informed them that the library computers had the Windows Movie Maker software, should they need it.

The Global Expo: On April 13th, from 3 to 5 pm, my students came together with about 400 other first-year students to share their experiences abroad.  Here are some of my favourites.

The Reflection: My goal for this course was to help students develop new skills, cross-cultural competencies, and learn to tell their stories in a creative and engaging way.

Community Engagement – Students endeavor to have a solid foundation of knowledge about the country before travel, so that they are global citizens instead of tourists.  They do this by reading news articles, thinking critically, and relating the Catalan experience to similar movements occurring in the U.S. or home context.

While in-country, students engage with locals by exercising their Spanish language skills, engaging in experiences that are not just for the visitor. These interactions make the students the “outsiders” in a different way (than they may be used to) and put them in a unique position where difference is salient to them.

Equity – Ensure that students are included and feel confident about entering a new culture by fostering group dynamics pre-departure.  The experiential component of the course has a group dynamic aspect.  Until final groups are formed, I purposely mix groups to help students experience different perspectives and become familiar with one another.

During sharing opportunities, I always begin with small group discussion.  This helps students to get the ideas flowing and leads to more productive conversations.  Furthermore, I also use videos and experiential activities as a form of differentiated learning.  This way, students hear the information in different ways and are not always being talked at or forced to read.

In terms of technology, I worked with our Academic Technology Services to become aware of what tools are available to students on library computers in case students do not have computers or internet access at home.  I also tried to meet students where they were by encouraging the use of applications with which they were already familiar but then challenging them to use these applications differently.  I also introduced them to additional applications like WhatsApp, Stop, Breath & Think, and CityMapper.  These apps have a range of uses from communication to mental health maintenance, to travel.

Hard Skills – Not a single student in the class had previously made a digital story.  They worked together to think critically about a topic, problem solve and troubleshoot issues, work as a team, and creatively present their story.

They also learned how to use a map ( I know shocking!).  Most had never used a paper map before and since data usage abroad can be expensive, most students could not use their phones.  So, the first day we had a map reading challenge and each day we had placed to go, a different student took charge of navigating the metro and city to get us from point A to point B.


We also practiced Spanish language skills.  Not every student had prior Spanish language skills and so we had mini-Spanish lessons, which helped then navigate La Boqueria and many incorporated into their final projects (accent and all!).


The Conclusion: Overall, as a first pass, I am very proud and excited how my students and I worked together.  I was really impressed by the projects students produced and when students ASK to have an additional class to take the opportunity to view one another’s pieces, you know that they are proud and excited about what they created.

With permission, I would like to use some of these projects on our website and in informational sessions about the program to impart on board members, who are thinking of making cuts to the program, just how impactful and transformative this experience is for students.

If I were to conduct this project again, I would reconsider the structure of the project.  One thing we discussed in class was about giving students more control over their process and perhaps by giving them so much freedom over the topic and so little over the process, I took something away from their experience.

I would also go over the Rubric for Digital Story-telling with them more explicitly, do a mini-lesson on digital stories, show them more examples, and maybe even ask them to critique digital stories based on the rubric to aid in a deeper more thorough understanding of the potential of digital stories.

Finally, I would create a digital toolbox for students.  This toolbox would utilize google sites and would contain a page of digital story examples, tools for digital story-telling, and a page where students could add resources they find or already use that could be helpful.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this make and any feedback you might have!



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