Digital Storytelling: The Evolution of Publishing Fiction on a Mobile Device (TOCCON 2010)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010At O’Reilly Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference in New York was the session Digital Storytelling: The Evolution of Publishing Fiction on a Mobile Device by Geoffrey Young (StopWatch Media).

Mobile phones know where you are, what time it is, are communications devices and are fully programmable.
Starting question: Given these features, what story can you tell?

The Carrier is the first transmedia graphic novel as an iPhone app. In it’s “print” form, the novel would consist of 680 panels, 35 chapters — about 120 pages if printed out. Really it’s just images on a screen. But given the transmedia way it is told — in real time over 10 days — the story is a lot more.

Landscape mode of The Carrier iPhone appBecause mobile phones know what time it is, stories can be revealed over time. Depending on the time of day that reading begins, readers begin the story in a different way. This puts the storyteller in control. In real time the story pushes out messages.

The authors have created a lot of fictional sites — alternate reality game-like. They also created merchandise in Cafe Press that they linked to, which readers could buy. Messages were pushed to iPhone readers using Urban Airship (first 250,000 messages sent a free!) Geoff considered using SMS for messaging, but that option was too expensive (the author pays for the messages, not the reader).

This was an interesting presentation, given the transmedia features and story extras we built into Kontax.

New Media Literacies, Student Generated Content, and the YouTube Aesthetic (ED-MEDIA 2008)

ED-MEDIA 2008 paper: New Media Literacies, Student Generated Content, and the YouTube Aesthetic.

Abstract: The proliferation of content generation and sharing through Web 2.0 tools has created what Henry Jenkins refers to as new media literacies. We explore the application of new media literacies through digital media creation with eighth graders. This pilot project promotes online video capabilities in conjunction with the time-honored practice of adolescents reading classic and young adult literature. Through the project’s curriculum design and pedagogical apparatus, student-generated digital stories illustrate that complex thinking and learning and the YouTube aesthetic do not need to be mutually exclusive. We provide the theoretical foundations for our work as well as preliminary analysis of student-generated products. We will introduce a revised scaffolding process that incorporates a series of rubrics (based on Henry Jenkins framework on new media literacies and Biggs and Collis SOLO taxonomy) to facilitate evidence of complex thinking in the students’ next round of video products.

In-class project and at-home work. Only four students involved.

Benefits to learners:

  • Improved critical research skills
  • Discussed and appreciated copyright issues

This study related to the student skills gap — identified in the 2007 Horizon Report — “between understanding how to use tools for media creation and how to create meaningful content. Although new tools make it increasingly easy to produce multimedia works, students lack essential skills in composition, storytelling, and design.”

Complexities of student-created video:

  • Creativity vs appropriateness (tensions with popular culture: adult teachers and teenage learners have different views on appropriateness)
  • Levels of scaffolding? Modeling? Too much and the learners simply repeat what is given back to them
  • Distributed expertise: change in traditional teacher role
  • Copyright and IP issues: need to appropriately cite and sourced material

A lesson learned was that students lacked many of the basic skills needed for the project:

  • Computer skills
  • Reference skills
  • Downloading skills
  • Flip video skills
  • Video editing skills

Future directions for the project:

  • Provide learners with a tech pack: camera, tripod, USB drive, headphones — one convenient toolkit
  • Pilot with entire class

Authors: Hiller Spires, Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, NCSU, USA; Gwynn Morris, Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, NCSU, USA

Digital storytelling for Africa

My presentation at eLearning Africa was Digital storytelling for Africa: Case study of an international digital media project. I spoke about the the Digital Hero Book Project and also touched on a project that aimed to improve cross-cultural awareness in participating teens from the USA and South Africa. The teens used blogs and camera phones to document cultural aspects of their lives.

Presenters at eLearning Africa 2008

My session: Kaspars Kapenieks (presenter), me, Dr Paula Uimonen (chairperson) and Gaston Donnat Bappa, ICT enthusiast and Cameroonian chief (presenter).

The main hall at eLearning Africa 2008

The main hall, where we presented. It wasn’t this full when we presented, unfortunately 😦

Discussion with Prof Daniel Schwartz

Today I met with Prof Daniel Schwartz of Stanford University’s School of Education to talk about ways to improve school maths and science skills using technology. The meeting was in preparation for my new role as Communications & Analytical Skills Development Fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation (SF). Our discussion covered much ground across a number of topics. The key points were as follows:

When asked What tools exist that help to improve maths and science skills, which teach analytical skills that learners can apply to the whole of their lives?, Dan answered, “I don’t know.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t good approaches and software that fit this bill, but that on the whole, we’re not there yet. As he explained, the task is big and complicated and no one solution stands out as a clear winner. Much research and exploration still need to be done.

Teachers are stressed, overworked and underpaid. This isn’t just a South African phenomenon, but a global issue. Any tool to improve maths and science must make teachers’ jobs easier, not harder. Dan said that many worthy curricula, projects and teaching approaches are great at teaching a subject, but they rely on either really good teachers or very excited/animated/energetic teachers. Approaches such as exploratory inquiry are valuable for learners, but require a lot of work on the part of teachers. Is it realistic to expect that from all teachers across the board?

Role of a foundation
An important question for the SF is whether its goal is to raise the median score of all school learners in maths and science, or to facilitate the surfacing of bright kids who’ll become mathematicians and scientists? Each goal requires different approaches. For large-scale change, any solution must be aligned with the national or provincial curriculum. It also mustn’t rely on champion teachers. It must work for your average teacher in an average classroom setting.

Creating buzz
An important aspect of improving maths and science skills is to simply create interest in these subjects among learners. The SF already does this through its Hip2b² initiative. Some educational projects don’t “move the needle” for widespread change. They might only work in a particular context, such as one school, and with the help of a lot of outside support, but they raise awareness, create interest, show what’s possible. They become a beacon, attracting interest and generating energy for similar projects. Eventually enough momentum is generated.

Dan suggested that the use of video in education has much potential, and has hitherto not been fully explored. Educational videos are good for getting across the facts, but actually getting learners to create video – using, e.g. iMovie, Windows MovieMaker or KiNO – not only mitigates against the risk of passive consumption of information, but actively engages youth. I have seen this in digital storytelling workshops, how learners who would normally not be interested in school work are suddenly engaged by the process of digital media creation. This has been formally proven by the WestEd study of Streetside Stories. While video doesn’t teach reasoning, it can teach scientific inquiry. For this reason it is probably better suited to developing science than maths skills. “The key,” says Dan, “is to have a driving question for the creation of videos, e.g. Why does the moon rotate around the earth?” This anchors the learners, focussing their efforts. Unchecked, these efforts might only develop creativity (nothing wrong with that, but we need to keep coming back to maths and science skills). Lastly, developing video falls squarely within the realm of communications skills, which the SF wants to develop. Based on this and the work done in the last year on the Digital Hero Book Project, digital media production will be strongly considered in the Communications & Analytical Skills Development focus area.

Teachable agents
One of Dan’s research areas is software-based teachable agents (TA), based on the premise that one learns by teaching. Learners teach their TA and then assess its knowledge by asking it questions or by getting it to solve problems. “The TA uses artificial intelligence techniques to generate answers based on what it was taught. Depending on the TA’s answer, students can revise their agents’ knowledge (and their own). TAs do not replace real students. But, they do provide unique opportunities to optimize learning-by-teaching interactions.” (from the to-be-published Pedagogical Agents for Learning by Teaching: Teachable Agents.) More on this here soon.

Already, interesting software, approaches and off-the-shelf curricula, available as proprietary or open content, exist. But there is room to continue work in this space. It’s important to first define a target audience, its demographic and the intended educational goal – moving the needle or pushing the boundaries through focussed research – as part of developing a strategy for communications and analytical skills development in South Africa.