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Building a Community of Practice around Digital Storytelling

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I gave this talk at CLAC 2009, held at Occidental College

I gave this talk at CLAC 2009, held at Occidental College


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  • Today’s talk WILL be about digital storytelling as we’ve approached it at Swarthmore. And if you are interested primarily in finding out more about digital storytelling, there will be something here for you. But my theme will be as much or more about how we’ve approached a user education project within the framework of a community of practice, and I will argue why I feel that this is an essential concept if we are to have a transformative impact with technology.
  • The process that we follow involves scriptwriting, recording a voice over, with a possibility to add other soundtrack material, such as music or sound effects. Finally, digitized still images and video clips are laid over the the audio tracks. While the result is a video, it really is a genre unto itself, much the way that a poem and a short story are different, even though they are both printed text.
  • Our inspiration is drawn from the Center for Digital Storytelling, Berkeley CA. They conduct workshops, but also offer the Digital Storytelling Cookbook under a creative commons license, for those who want to start a grassroots effort in D.S.
  • The introductory experience for most members of our community of practice is a three-day workshop offered on our campus during summer and winter break periods. Registration is open to all faculty and staff. In our first year, 40 people have taken this workshop.
  • “ Training” Even if you don’t consider it a bad word, you might concede that is loaded with connotations of a particular instructional model. The informed pass along information to the uninformed. The expert demonstrates, and the beginners mimic. At its worst, we’ve probably all sat through something that computer training that was: excessively didactic, vocational, task-oriented, commodified.
  • And that’s just the potential problem for the learner. We technologists are often aggravated by the t-word, and the frustrations of getting the users to 1) SIGN UP, 2) SHOW UP, and 3) USE WHAT THEY LEARNED.
  • But we keep on offering computer training because we know we should. After all, the old saw goes...if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.
  • Teach him to fish, he’ll....
  • Because it surely isn’t just about showing him the rudiments of using a rod, reel, and tackle, then sending him on his way.
  • And that brings us to our discussion of communities of practice, which emphasizes the role that social relationships play in learning.
  • [CoP’s also often allow for varying levels of legitimate participation....] This requires, of course, that there has to be a group to return to over time—which is, I think, the crux of my ambivalence about training as a model of learning.
  • Think of how of we constantly poll each other about each others experiences on the listserv and at this conference. And then we report back to each other on results, archive the results, and refer back to past results. We record our experiences with various products and services in the vendor database. These are all classic behaviors of a community of practice.
  • The workshops themselves draw people into the community, both by providing framework for digital storytelling as a practice, but also by facilitating a positive, sharing environment. A two-hour story circle allows people to outline their stories and receive feedback. The process of sharing stories at the outset invests the group in each others’ success and encourages them to continue the process of helping each other throughout the more technical aspects of the workshop.
  • The very first workshop we did (June 2008) included myself, an academic technologist, and the director of the LRC. Media Services staff participated in workshop support. Since that time, other ITS staff have participated in the workshops, allowing them an avenue to build peer relationships—and friendships—in a setting where they are off the hook to be the technical experts.
  • We ran two cohorts through the workshop process over January break this year (2009), and another in May. At each screening, we invite past and potential future participants, friends and family to attend. CDS instructors report never having seen audiences of our size show up for the final screenings at other sites. In addition, we held a faculty luncheon in February 2008, where three faculty presented their stories to their peers. And in March 2009, 17 storytellers contributed their works to a “Swarthmore Storytellers” screening that was open to the entire community. One of our storytellers spoke briefly at the start of the screening to explain the process and encourage audience members to participate. And another important way that we share the work is to archive it for future participants.
  • There not only need to be new opportunities to engage in practice as people are learning a skill. There needs to be a stable and ongoing community that supports and facilitates it. For instance, if a faculty member goes on leave for a year, will they still be able to do digital storytelling when they return? If there are not opportunities to re-engage, even casually, past participants will drop out. Think of it like learning a new language. If you don’t have somebody you can speak with, you won’t retain it. 11 assignments in Modern Languages this year. Another in History. We also invited one of our Trico colleagues, the Language Learning Center director at Haverford to participate, and she recently invited several of us at Swarthmore to a show-and-tell session on her campus, where her faculty demonstrated digital storytelling projects that they had done with students this semester. Course redesign for an Education course on Literacies and for an English creative writing course on writing about nature. (The latter included assistance with lesson plans, evaluation rubrics, and the creation of a proof-of-concept digital story as a response to one of the class assignments.) Off-campus study office is piloting a re-entry exercise for students returning to campus from semesters away. Grantwriter created a video to support a grant proposal for a student media media project, and sold his colleagues on the possibilities at a department meeting. Our Scott Arboretum creates digital stories as education pieces for their web site. A couple faculty members who are friends, but took the workshop separately, have reserved supported worktime in our Media Center to create new digital stories this summer. Possibility of doing facilitator training , which the CDS also offers. CDS has also approached us about being a host site for a future instance of their digital storytelling training.
  • Staff-student learning partnerships. The staff are non-exempt staff, mostly from dining services and environmental services. Teams of two get together and decide to learn things for which they share interests: photography, gardening, making web pages, music, etc. At the suggestion of storyteller and knitting enthusiast Diane Anderson, Two students and three staff members made digital stories over the course of the semester. College policy does not allow Environmental Services and Dining Services staff to attend our workshops...limited to three hours weekly for L4L activities, so I facilitated the process in smaller chunks over 9 weeks, with modifications from the CDS process.
  • The pilot project produced a thorough report that also serves as a proposal for future learning 4 life storytellers about how to go about conducting such a project. In the summer, learning for Life changes because of the absence of students. Three students, including Gina, will help me to facilitate staff digital stories, starting next week. One of the things I especially look forward is the screening for their colleagues. I expect faculty and staff from the Digital Storytelling Alumni CoP will also show up, which will definitely impress the staff participants--a rare opportunity for them to have the faculty listen to them.
  • [find brokers] In the context of a CoP, a broker is a person who is a member of other CoP’s, or has an ability to slide between CoP’s to build connections between them. In the Learning4Life example, Diane and I acted as brokers to extend the CoP into the context of L4L, which is itself a well-defined CoP.
  • Transcript

    • 1. building a community of practice around digital storytelling
      • Eric Behrens
      • Associate CITO, Swarthmore College
      • [email_address]
    • 2. what is digital storytelling ?
    • 3. Digital storytelling uses personal digital technology to combine a number of media into a coherent narrative. — Jason Ohler, Digital Storytelling in the Curriculum
    • 4. http://www.storycenter.org
    • 5. Many individuals and communities have used the term " digital storytelling " to describe a wide variety of new media production practices. What best describes our approach is its emphasis on personal voice and facilitative teaching methods. Many of the stories made in our workshops are directly connected to the images collected in life's journey. But our primary concern is encouraging thoughtful and emotionally direct writing . — Joe Lambert, Center for Digital Storytelling
    • 6. combined media personal voice facilitative teaching direct writing
    • 7. 1 4 40 3-day workshops participants year
    • 8. the t-word
    • 9. training
    • 10. 1. get them to sign up 2. get them to show up 3. get them to use what they learned hard harder wow, that’s hard Frustrations for technology trainers
    • 11.  
    • 12.  
    • 13. If we are really so concerned with his nourishment, maybe we’d better think about how we teach the man to fish.
    • 14. COMMUNITIES of PRACTICE
    • 15. Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. — Etienne Wenger
    • 16. Beginners pick up on a group’s practices through interaction with peers and more experienced members. Meaning is made through sharing of collective experience. Allowance for varying levels of legitimate participation; with increased participation, one learns more. Attributes of CoP’s
    • 17. CLAC is a thriving community of practice
    • 18. developing our community of practice
    • 19. workshops are just the starting point
    • 20. academic technologies staff are participants
    • 21. share our work
    • 22.  
    • 23. support ongoing work and new explorations
    • 24. case: learning 4 life
    • 25. “ Because the sessions utilized so many ITS resources, participants seemed to become more comfortable in these spaces and going to ITS employees for resources.  Learning the names of everyone in Beardsley made the space seem less foreign and more open to all members of the community.” — Gina Grubb ’10, Learning 4 Life
    • 26.  
    • 27. advice for other digital storytelling CoP’s recruit, retain, keep a waiting list faculty like workshopping with staff, and vice versa some people don’t see themselves as storytellers careful scheduling essential to participation be an educator-participant, not a trainer find brokers
    • 28. thank you for listening to our story .