Thursday, 8 October 2015

Reflecting on the digital story

image: jane challinor

Over the summer I have been working with colleagues at UIB on a paper outlining our adventures with digital storytelling. We reached a conclusion that whilst as a learning activity it had value in promoting collaboration and an awareness of open educational practices as well as developing digital skills, there are caveats about its use for developing reflective skills, particularly with students at the beginning of their university studies.

What we found, in broad terms is that more mature students are better at reflecting (that is they reflect more deeply). This has led me to conclude that as an activity designed to promote reflectivity - and especially as a reflective assessment tool - it is perhaps best left until the final year.

For me this was also borne out by the large number of first year students who failed to submit the digital story at the first (and even 2nd) attempt. This could just be a consequence of having a large number of student last year (ie we were just more likely to have students who had unrelated problems that prevented them from submitting) but in reality the module had the highest number of referred and non-submitting students across the course (around 10%) whereas in the past it has had the lowest incidence of non-submission and referral.

Well - I may be jumping the gun in putting this all down to the mode of final assessment, and it is certainly the case that the final year students all submitted and all passed - most at a high level, but it has certainly given me pause for thought.

Indeed I have already decided to change the mode of assessment for the first year module this year, reverting to a group research project which has worked well in the past. I will though run the same assessment for the final years.

Ok - but what did the first year students think? I am going to be giving a guest session on the second year research module later in the year and I have decided to use the digital storytelling project as my theme. I have therefore asked the students themselves to provide me with feedback on their experience of the final assessment last academic year - and I will feedback to them the findings of that survey.

So here's a sneak preview. I have had 52 responses so far out of a cohort of 126 (41%). Of these 90% are female (this reflects the makeup of the cohort) and 70% are aged 18-24.
23% are over 35 years old.

In creating their digital story, 70% used Prezi, 24% Powerpoint (12 students) and 6% another online tool - Knovio.  As a result of their experience, 75% said they are likely to use the same or another online tool in future for presentations and collaborative tasks. Just 28% (14 students) said they would only use PowerPoint going forward (suggesting that 2 students have tried online platforms and decided to revert to PowerPoint).

What did they get out of the experience?
78% thought it fun
57% thought it was technically challenging
85% said it had helped them to improve their reflective skills
82% said it had helped them improve their digital skills
80% thought it had given them confidence to create content on line
86% thought it relevant to their studies
but just 47% thought it relevant to their future career - and only 44% would mention this as a skill on their CV

Comments from the students expand a little on these results:

Positive and constructive feedback:

a. I feel like the digital story assignment was not quite challenging enough. It seemed to be more of an easy and fun task to complete . 

b. On reflection I should of challenged myself more. Been more adventures

c. I really enjoyed this assignment and it boosted my self confidence. I was very proud at what I had achieved and how much I had progressed.

d. I found the digital story difficult and daunting to begin with, but eventually enjoyed creating my story and proud that I did so.

e. Digital story was something I had usually done in the medium of film. I'm really glad we had this assignment as it opened my eyes to more digital platforms. I also think this would be a fantastic tool to use with certain more tech minded service users

f. It was very enjoyable, relevant to my studies, and gave you chance to create a bit of fun into studies rather than essays, it gave you a breather from the heavy work. Before I came to your lesson I did not know about Prezi but I will certainly use it again,

g. Enjoyable task however, talking in the video was a little tasking, a lot of preparation is needed for someone who lacks in confidence

Negative feedback:
h. I think that it was completely pointless and irrelevant to our course. I don't know why we needed to do it personally, and I think that it should be scraped for the new people starting the course.

i. I just thought the story telling was irrelevant to what we needed to do most people didn't want to do it I perfer the other tasks this one was just too much

On the whole, the student response is a lot more positive than I had anticipated. Interestingly the two final, highly negative comments came from students in the 18-24 year old group. These were the only two completely negative responses, and even one of these (i) felt that her digital and reflective skills had improved as a result of the task. The more positive comments (c-f) came from the over 35's.

I do now have some regret about abandoning the reflective digital story this year. However, the use of digital tools to present the outcomes of research will form a large part of the final group project that they are engaged in this year. Hopefully, this will preserve the "fun" and creative elements of the assessment task as well as continuing to develop confidence in creating online content.

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