Developing that critical ability

In an increasingly complex, fragmented and interconnected world, how do we know what is “true”? Can we believe what we find online at all, or should we rather take up a severely critical attitude to sources until their trustworthiness has been proven? Furthermore, how do we teach our students to exert the necessary caution when evaluating sources?

Being able to take a critical stance to what appears to be credible is a matter of both maturity as well as being able to question what we see. Thus, it is pivotal that teachers discuss credibility of sources with students on a continuous basis. For example, is it OK to use Wikipedia as a source of information? Research has shown that teachers and students display varying attitudes to the use of Wikipedia; teachers being more sceptical, whereas students find this source to be both easy to use and informative (Blikstad-Balas & Høgenes, 2014). Clearly, students are more pragmatic in their attitudes, while teachers question the quality and credibility of Wikipedia, and many teachers omit to draw attention to and explicitly discuss this source of information.

In a similar vein, Frønes and Narvhus (2012) discuss reading literacy and students’ ability to critically assess the adequacy and credibility of online resources, emphasizing the importance of work aimed at increasing this ability in the classroom. Young learners lack the background experience of adults, and tend to be more naïve to what they perceive to constitute reliable sources (number of “likes”, clicks, etc.). It is thus essential that teachers encourage students to always ask questions and compare sources. It may be OK to use Wikipedia as an easy-to-use starting point for locating information, but what do other independent sources say? And which sources can we trust? For instance, can sources be affected by special interests – do they aim to influence us out of particular commercial or social interests? How many sources do we need to check before we can confirm the reliability of data with reasonable certainty?

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I never cease asking those important questions!

Developing young learners’ ability to critically assess credibility is a process; it requires that teachers revisit the topic at regular intervals and always encourage students to be above all inquisitive. Information posted on the internet may be manipulated – pictures can lie – and authors and sites may provide information out of self-interest. Also trustworthy sites can be hacked and manipulated, and this poses even more stringent demands on students’ ability to compare and contrast sources.

Developing a critical stance towards sources takes time; it is not something which is achieved by addressing such issues once or twice in class. But why not utilize such matters as an excellent opportunity for facilitating authentic conversations in the target language in the ESL classroom? Sociocultural theories of learning promote conversation as the medium for all learning (Thornbury & Slade, 2006, p. 2), for examining values, attitudes and beliefs. In short – let’s keep talking about it.

References
Blikstad-Balas, M., & Høgenes, T. (2014). Wikipedias inntog på kildelista – holdninger blant lærere og elever til Wikipedia i en skolekontekst. Acta Didactica Norge, 8(1), 1-17.

Frønes, T. S., & Narvhus, E. K. (2012). Egnet og troverdig? Elevers kildevurdering på nett. In T. E. Hauge & A. Lund (Eds.), Små skritt eller store sprang. Om digitale tilstander i skolen (pp. 58-84). Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk.

Missie. Hello, I’m Dusty and you should be petting me. Downloaded 9 May 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/missie-graham/4596407942/

Thornbury, S., & Slade, D. (2006). Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Delayed gratification pays off

This article by Håvard Tjora discusses inter alia the negative effects of children’s lacking abilities to delay gratification and how this can impact behaviour in the digital classroom – definitely interesting reading! Tjora describes how the presence of apps, games and social media in the classroom tend to interrupt teaching and learning – simply by being infinitely more attractive than “English vocabulary, the feudal system and algebra”.

Furthermore, research has shown that lacking ability (or willingness?) to delay gratification adversely impacts both academic results, job opportunities and health, emphasizing the need for learning self-regulation.

9563908_c1ccd68c21_zSelf-regulation, willpower and resisting temptation? Wow, that’s kinda hard, if you ask me!

In light of the fact that many adults seem to lack this skill altogether, spending much time on e.g. FaceBook during an ordinary workday, it might not be an altogether easy task to teach pupils the benefits of postponing rewards until the task at hand has been done. How teachers are to manage temptations and distractions in the classroom and teach pupils to stay focused definitely requires reflection and insight into the human psyche. New technologies and opportunities ought to make us more efficient, but in many cases the opposite seems to be the case.

References
Lai, Ryanne. Temptation. Downloaded 2 May 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/laihiu/9563908/

Tjora, H. (2 May 2016) Konsentrasjonsøvelse. In Dagbladet Magasinet

Capturing the essence of it

How can teachers succeed in providing sufficient, precise and motivating feedback to students – adapted to the needs of every individual? LK06 emphasizes assessment for learning (AfL) as important in helping learners achieve their goals by offering more precise guidance on how to improve (Krumsvik, 2009, pp. 244-245). Adapted education entails giving students opportunities to work with a subject at the right level, enabling them to experience feelings of mastering (Swensen, 2014, p. 120). In lieu of possessing superhuman capabilities, and faced with the task of providing high-quality feedback to 25 – 30 students on a continuous basis, one might ask whether this is achievable at all?

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There are no easy answers to this question. However, research on the use of screen capture technology in assessment, including such solutions as Screencast-O-Matic and JING, presents some interesting findings. Mathisen (2012) discusses how video feedback may increase the efficiency of assessment while at the same time simplifying the process, resulting in high-quality and precise feedback to university students’ written work. Several studies confirm that both teachers and students “express that the quality and precision of feedback sessions increases, and the feedback content is regarded as being meaningful and providing a distinct starting point for change and improvement” (op. cit., p. 107).

How can video feedback contribute to improve the quality of assessment in the EFL classroom? Screen capture technology refers to programmes that allow users to record movements on the screen while also recording via microphone at the same time, and files are compressed and thus easy to distribute to others (Mathisen, 2012, p. 101). In other words, the English teacher may use screen dumps as the basis for providing both written as well as simultaneous oral feedback to individual students. This is nothing if not flexible: Students may view the feedback at home, they may stop and rewind the file, and they can play if over and over again, if so required. Such detailed and to-the-point feedback would be particularly relevant for assessing and commenting upon grammar and vocabulary, as the teacher can highlight text units and use a cursor and her/his voice to explain the specific points addressed. The same method can also be used to point out and discuss the structure of the text (on both the global as well as the local level), and to comment upon the contents of written works. In many respects video feedback resembles face-to-face meetings; one might even be tempted to refer to this method as “download your own personal tutor, at your own convenience”.

What, if any, possible drawbacks are there? Mathisen (2012, p. 109) raises the question of whether this form of response is equally suited to all learning styles, and that “no feedback systems works for everyone” (op. cit., p. 111). Familiarizing oneself with screen capture technology and learning to use this might also be experienced as time-consuming (albeit overall rewarding), as discussed inter alia in this blog post by aclassroomblog.

However, the benefits of utilizing screen capture technology in the ESL classroom far outweigh any inconveniences. There are especially two factors that contribute to my positive attitude and willingness to try out video feedback, if the opportunity should arise. The first is that students, according to Mathisen, report a closer relationship with their teacher through the use of this technology; that they have a sense of being ”seen” (Mathisen, 2012, p. 109). This will contribute to the overall motivation of students. The second factor is that I can customize and adapt every assessment session to the individual learning needs of every student, without being rushed off my feet.

According to a recent doctoral thesis, students are reported to ”not follow up written feedback because they perceive it to be too negative and vague” (Burner, 2015, p. 61). Whether it’s about language, contents, or structure – the use of screen capture technology enables students to benefit from precise, in-depth and comprehensive assessment addressing individual learning requirements. Me, I’d be more than willing to be downloaded to a screen near you.

References

Burner, T. (2015). Formative assessment of writing in English as a foreign language. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 1-23. doi:10.1080/00313831.2015.1066430

Krimmel, Micki. Creative Commons Man. Downloaded 12 April 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/redcarpet/266592978/

Krumsvik, R. J. (2009). Ein ny digital didaktikk. In H. Otnes (Ed.), Å være digital i alle fag (pp. 227-254). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Mathisen, P. (2012). Video Feedback in Higher Education – A Contribution to Improving the Quality of Written Feedback. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, Vol 7, 2012, nr. 02, 97-116. Retrieved from https://www.idunn.no/eBook?marketplaceId=2000&languageId=1&method=getIssuePDFVersionFromProduct&productLogicalTitle=dk/2012/02/pdf

Swensen, H. (2014). Omvendt undervisning og tilpasset opplæring. In T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen, & L. Øgrim (Eds.), Digital praksis i skolen (pp. 120-134). Oslo Gyldendal Akademisk.

The keyboard is mightier than the sword

Stoddard (2014) raises the the question of whether the new media have in fact contributed to a less democratic society, functioning as a technological mouthpiece for the Powers That Be rather than for citizens in general. The question is relevant indeed and might be said to espouse the same train of thought addressed in one of my previous blog posts, Public involvement in social media – are we merely pawns on a capitalist chessboard?

Whereas my earlier blog post focused on capitalist interests and the necessity of analysing what or who these are and how they impact us, Goddard asks whether media education, especially in the US, is lagging behind in preparing students for a life of active citizenship. He makes several valid points relating to the empowerment of young learners, emphasizing the necessity of developing critical literacy, i.e., being able to critically analyse all media texts in context in order to understand their nature. In short, it’s about being able to take a peek behind the curtains and learn how to utilize the new media to influence and persuade others while working for equality and social justice (Stoddard, 2014, p. 5).

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A wee bit sceptical about who’s really pulling the strings? You bet I am. I favour a true demoCATcy, you know!

To achieve this, students must be taught how to communicate efficiently and how to make the best possible use of the various media. The basic skills in the subject of English (and other subjects) outlined in the Norwegian national curriculum (LK06) include digital skills. Emphasizing inter alia “being able to use a varied selection of digital tools, media and resources to assist in language learning, to communicate in English […]” (Utdanningsdirektoratet), the Norwegian curriculum might appear to be more in sync with a rapidly evolving digital world than what is the case in the US.

The right to pick up the pen (sorry – keyboard!) to influence public opinion constitutes one of the cornerstones of any democracy. Teaching our students how to utilize the implements available to them to exert their full rights as citizens – that’s what empowerment is all about.

References
Stoddard, J. (2014). The Need for Media Education in Democratic Education. Democracy and Education, 22 (1), Article 4.

Utdanningsdirektoratet. The National Curriculum for Knowledge Promotion (LK06) – English subject curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.udir.no/kl06/eng1-03/Hele/Grunnleggende_ferdigheter/?lplang=eng

Photo: Private – my beloved little black panther, Dina. Rest in peace.

Clinging onto control won’t get you nowhere

Success is not about being in control at all times; be it as the teacher in the classroom or elsewhere. Success is generally not something you achieve on your own; it depends on joint efforts and on being able to acknowledge one’s own shortcomings in certain arenas and seek assistance. This also applies to the teacher’s role in the classroom.

Beyer Log and Øgrim (2014) discuss the continuously evolving role of the teacher in light of the new digital school environment and related requirements and aims, and how teachers might feel uncertain and even threatened by students that are more digitally competent than themselves (pp. 108-109). Yielding a degree of control is a matter of trust, of being honest enough to recognize that at times others (including students) are more skilled in technical matters.

Of course, if a teacher is to implement a new solution in the classroom, she or he has to get acquainted with the basics; it never hurts to review the user manual and the FAQs in advance. But is it necessary to be an expert on all digital platforms in use in the classroom at all times? Of course not – there’s always help to be had. If you’re honest about your own skills, and there are digitally competent students in class who can contribute, one shouldn’t hesitate to employ them as assistants.

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” (Steve Maraboli, “Life, the Truth and Being Free”).

The willingness to help and support one another is basically human (and should always be supported!), and involving the “IT wizards” will allow them to demonstrate their competence and shine in the classroom. There’s nothing to feel threatened about – the worst one can do is to present oneself as always being in control, as an “oracle”, as students will expose you faster than the speed of light. Yielding control in some areas is about empowering others, it’s about complementing each other and succeeding as a team.

In the game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”, one of the options available for contestants is to phone a friend. If  teachers are willing to place that call, it’s likely that they will find that they have many friends in the classroom – and without losing face.

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References
Beyer Log, I., & Øgrim, L. (2014). Wiki i klasserommet – læreren uten kontroll? In T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen, & L. Øgrim (Eds.), Digital praksis i skolen (pp. 107-119). Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

Frankieleon. I’m kind of busy. Downloaded 14 March 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/5542351756/

 

We’re together online, but we die alone

I literally choked on a piece of my Saturday pizza while reading this article in Dagbladet Magasinet. The article tells the story of 14-year-old Annie, who tragically died as a consequence of the so-called “choking game”. This is the first known death of this kind in Norway. Teachers, investigators and parents blame social media, especially YouTube, for the distribution and increasing popularity of this potentially lethal game, which is intended to produce a euphoric high. According to the article, there are hundreds of thousands of videos depicting teenagers “strangling” themselves or peers available online.

The term digital competence incorporates an interpretative side in addition to the development of mere technical skills, i.e. knowledge of and attitudes towards use of technology in society (Giæver, Johannesen, & Øgrim, 2014, p. 12). The disastrous case mentioned above stresses the importance of being able to critically interpret and openly discuss phenomena distributed to young people especially via social media. Teenagers are easily influenced by what they perceive as exciting and popular, including such practices as the choking game.

In Norway, several schools have warned their students about the danger inherent in this game, and with good results. In the US, a number of schools are ambivalent about discussing this, as they fear that students will then somehow be inspired to try it out themselves. But will hushing up this phenomenon prevent teenagers from experimenting?

The internet is an unrivalled source of information for young learners, in a negative as well as in a positive sense. However much one might want to – in light of such tragic stories as this one – educators and parents cannot deny teenagers access to an internet offering inter alia easy-to-understand recipes of how to make bombs or various forums discussing the least painful method of suicide. What we can do, however, is to continuously discuss and examine the various mechanisms that regulate behaviour on the internet, the social media included. Youngsters need to know that people tend to exaggerate, misrepresent and outright lie online. We tend to present a polished façade to others; to stand out as more perfect, exciting and accomplished than we really are. Many, both adults as well as teenagers, never cease to chase those all-important “likes” and build their self-concept on the basis of these. And, sadly, young people become involved in thrill-seeking behaviour like the choking game.

This game has been around for a long time, and many have experimented with it. Due to the distribution via social media, more and more teenagers are exposed to what they perceive as exciting and something that “everybody’s doing”. This highlights the importance of supporting the development of interpretative skills and a critical attitude to the way certain phenomena are presented online. Young people, who are often susceptible to peer pressure, need to be taught to be discerning and how to rely primarily on their own common sense.

According to the article in Dagbladet Magasinet, social media has contributed not only to distributing the choking game, but also to making it more dangerous. Now, children do not need to be together in the same room to show each other what they’re up to, as they are together online. They die utterly alone, however.

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References

Angela Marie Henriette. Good bye – One moment in time. Downloaded 6 March 2016. Online image. Retrieved from   https://www.flickr.com/photos/mara_earthlight/8270990477/

Fjellberg, Anders (5 March 2016). Annie ble bare 14 år. In Dagbladet Magasinet (pp. 10-19).

Giæver, T. H., Johannesen, M., & Øgrim, L. (2014). Digitale verktøy i skolen – ferdigheter, kompetanse, dannelse? In T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen, & L. Øgrim (Eds.), Digital praksis i skolen (pp. 10-23). Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS.

Our shrinking world

We are living in the globalization era, and the vast diversity of digital media available to us entails that we can interact with each other regardless of what part of the world we call home. This requires more of us than simply being able to connect; we must develop what UNESCO terms intercultural competences – including the ability to “decipher other cultures in fair and meaningful ways” (UNESCO, 2013, p. 4). Developing digital competence constitutes an essential part of developing intercultural competences, which everyone needs in a continuously shrinking world.

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Schools serve as an important arena in this respect, and teaching methods can benefit greatly from all the media and online spaces available for intercultural encounters. UNESCO highlights virtual meetings as important steps in developing intercultural competences, i.e. interaction “with cultural “others” with a view to bridging differences, defusing conflicts and setting the foundations for peaceful coexistence” (op. cit., p. 6). Thus, the importance of facilitating authentic meetings with young people from other cultures cannot be underestimated in the classroom. Language skills and communicative competence are also essential, particularly English, the lingua franca on the internet.

With such a well-kitted digital toolbox available to teachers and students today, it would be interesting to learn more about what kind of intercultural projects other master’s students have implemented in their classrooms? How have you and your students connected with other parts of the world with the purpose of developing digital, intercultural and language competences? In other words, how have you contributed to internationalization of schooling?

References
Carmody, Courtney. He’s got the whole world in his hands. Downloaded 29 February 2016. Online image. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/calamity_photography/4745146362/

UNESCO. (2013). Intercultural Competences: Conceptual and Operational Framework. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002197/219768e.pdf

Public involvement in social media – are we merely pawns on a capitalist chessboard?

Last week’s lecture in EDU 3084 concerning the various connections, mechanisms and interests that regulate various social media and websites was thought-provoking indeed. Hofkirchner (2014, p. 74) envisions a common that is accessible for us all, on the basis of a “good society”. He has to admit, though, that “the conditions for a transformation into a good society is [sic] not imminent”. What does this entail for students and the way in which teachers can contribute to increasing their overall digital competence?

It may be that I am too sceptical about social media and the way in which they utilize and benefit from patrons and the “crumbs” they leave behind to generate advertising-based revenue.

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openclipart.org

It is no longer a question of whether Big Brother watches you, it is rather about Big Brother watches you and would like to present you with this incredible offer, targeting you and only you, and valid for a short period only.

If I am to be pragmatic, major players like FaceBook, Instagram, etc. are merely buttering their bread, as we all do (a somewhat thicker and fatter layer than what most of us can afford, admittedly). Business is business. If I were to venture into a state of borderline paranoia, I might see users of social media as nothing but hapless pawns being moved around on a chessboard controlled by greedy, cynical and incredibly crafty capitalist interests.

The internet, with all its offerings, is wild, amazing, cruel, informative, stimulating and tremendously alluring. There is no room for naiveté. Teachers can never fully protect their students from being exploited or from acting too gullibly in various digital arenas. Teachers cannot make choices on behalf of others. What we can do, however, is to inform students of the mechanisms and players that regulate social media, and of their stated and ulterior motives and strategies. We need to discuss potential pitfalls and emphasize the importance of developing an analytical and sceptical approach to online behaviour and choices. We need to empower future generations of internet users.

However much they might be inclined to think otherwise, students must be made fully aware of what Hofkirchner (2014, p. 82) refers to as “[…] (the rich-get-richer mechanisms) inherent in capitalist economies”. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. In the end, it is all basically about who benefits; about whose hands are moving the chess pieces around.

The miscellaneous online arenas might be referred to as “commons”. It is up to us all to decide whether we are satisfied with grazing on these commons as disinterested and witless sheep, or whether we must adopt a severely sceptical (and healthy?) approach to what is actually going on behind the scenes.

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openclipart.org


Reference

Hofkirchner, W. (2014). The Commons from a Critical Social Systems Perspective. RECERCA. Revista de pensament i anàlisi, 14, 73-92. Retrieved from  doi:http://doi.org/10.6035/Recerca14.4

Are they really from Mars? Apples, tattoos and the fall of man

This blog post by Ronja really got me thinking about the way technology has altered our day-to-day lives and ways of communicating. I started pondering on gender differences as well, and on how these can be utilized in the design of teaching practices that motivate and appeal to both boys and girls in the classroom. Assuming, of course, that there are gender differences pertaining to the use of technology?

Let me start by attempting to analyse myself and my attitudes towards technology in general. I find the various programmes and solutions to be practical and highly useful. However, I embrace digital technologies only as a means to an end, i.e., if I need to learn something to achieve a specific purpose, I’ll do it. I’ve been working in the private sector for several years, and I’ve been a super user of several applications, webmaster and problem-solver for my co-workers. Embarking on my studies last autumn, I instantly started using EndNote. The reason for this? The use of EndNote will A) ensure consistent citation, and B) save time that I can spend otherwise fruitfully engaged, i.e. with my nose in a book. It’s a useful application indeed, but that’s all.

My Better Half, on the other hand, has a totally different view of technology. In addition to serving as my always helpful and obliging ITSD (IT Support Department), he is crazy about apples. There are scarcely any appliances or technological solutions in our home that do not have names beginning with an “i”: iMac, iTunes, iPhone, iWeb, iMovie – you name it. For him, there’s no truly satisfying TGIF moment unless MacWorld or another iMagazine constitutes part of the deal. Friday nights are often spent reading about cables, chargers, new apps, new programmes and other iStuff. He knows I’m not of the same inclination, however. When he’s out shopping for iProducts, he humbly asks for solutions with a high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), as he’s well aware of the fact that I will only learn whatever (preferably not too complicated) iFunctions I need to know in order to use the iApplications to a stated purpose. Pure female logic. Sometimes, men really do appear to be from Mars, with their love of iThingies etc. I, on the other hand, am generally spending my time off otherwise fruitfully engaged, i.e., solving crossword puzzles.

How do these deliberations tie in with tattoos, you might ask? Well, I must admit that I have a couple of tattoos on my back, depicting two of my beloved cats. Tacky, some might say, but there it is. I view my skin as a canvas that will bear testimony to the passions in my life (provided that they are discreet, of course). My Better Half is a totally different matter. According to him, his skin is a pristine and virginal piece of art that will remain so from cradle to grave. No ink will ever be allowed to penetrate his conservative hide. Unless it is an Apple, of course. Then he might consider it. Well, only time will tell whether deeply rooted principles will ever yield to male iPassion.

Nevertheless, on the basis of these musings and lessons learned throughout life, I have adopted the view that technology has a wider appeal for people of the masculine persuasion than for us women. Normann (2012) asks whether the access to digital tools may improve the general motivation of boys. If so, go for it! If tactile activities serve to motivate boys and enable them to benefit from their acquired digital skills, let’s put technology to fruitful use in the classroom. As a means to end, that is, not as an end in itself.

In the Book of Genesis, woman was the one tempting man with the offer of an apple. The sinful woman has ever since been blamed for everything that is wrong with the world; wars, pestilence and iProblems included. Now, the roles seem to have been reversed. Personally, I will only take a bite of the apple when I deem it necessary in order to achieve specific goals. Apart from that, I’ll probably spend the rest of my life running away from that damned fruit.

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openclipart.org                                                                  

Reference
Normann, A. (2012). Det var en gang ei jente som ikke ville snakke engelsk – bruken av digital storytelling i språkopplæringa. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 185-197). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk

The stories that resonate with us

I love literature, and always have. According to Birketveit and Williams (2013, p. 7), “literary texts […] open up imaginative perspectives, interrogate values and assumptions, and lead to enhanced understanding of global cultures and differences”. Reading stories, but also producing stories and sharing them with an audience, allow pupils to create stories that resonate. “When a story resonates, it tends to stick with us long after we hear it” (Ohler, 2008, p. 23).

Digital stories combine images and narrated soundtracks to create a story, often enhanced by video clips, background music and special effects (Kajder, Bull, & Albaugh, 2005). Anita Normann (2012) discusses the benefits of using digital storytelling in the ESL classroom, including the success story of Julie, the girl who did not want to speak English in front of others. As digital storytelling allows for alternative ways of working with and presenting stories, it serves as an excellent tool for adapting learning methods to the individual needs of students. In this case, Julie could record and edit her own soundtrack and practice her English intonation before the final product was published. Acquiring a feeling of mastering spoken English, Julie even chose to give a PowerPoint presentation in front of the class, exhibiting impressive progress!

Normann (2012) outlines how reading and discussing literary texts may serve as an excellent starting point for students in developing their own digital stories. Reading this, I immediately started envisioning potential interdisciplinary projects involving literature in the ESL classroom and digital storytelling – my imagination just kept on churning. One of these ideas is summarized below.

The reading list for the course EDU 3083 Text and Culture in the Classroom contains a number of excellent contemporary texts for young readers, including the moving story of Alem in the novel Refugee Boy (Zephaniah, 2001). Reading and discussing this book (recommended for 16-18-year-olds), maybe in combination with the fantastic, wordless book The Arrival (Tan, 2007), might provide the basis for digital stories addressing the theme of immigration and the individual stories of refugees – topics high on the public agenda all across Europe today. Preparations might even include pupils interviewing refugees settled in their local community in English, or inviting refugees into the classroom to share their experiences. As many refugees speak English well, this would facilitate authentic and more spontaneous conversation in English – complementing the students’ narrative soundtracks that are prepared and rehearsed in advance. Follow-up work might include blogs, collaborative writing / essays, class debates on the topic of immigration and refugees, etc.

Well, this was just one of several ideas that kept popping up as I was reading about the versatility of digital storytelling. Such a multi-text, multimodal project would not only involve working with the competence aims of the national curriculum for English (communication, language learning, culture, society and literature, compound digital texts), it would also enable pupils to process and reflect upon the experiences of others, supporting the development of empathy and intercultural competence and understanding. Projects that revolve around personal stories told by other (in lowercase letters) fellow human beings will truly interrogate prejudice and assumptions about “the Other”.

Normann and Kopreitan (2012) characterize the work of preparing scripts for digital stories as a work method whereby pupils process subject matter and make it their own. They emphasize that a good story will affect both the author and the audience, enabling them to recognize and identify with the persons whose stories they are telling. The authors also underline the fact that the essence of storytelling is to create feelings of closeness (op. cit., p. 209).

Well said, in my opinion. Allowing pupils to create stories that stimulate empathy and identification with others go way beyond addressing stated competence aims. It helps them grow and develop in relation to their fellow human beings, and to make sense of the (often senseless) world in which they live. Storytelling is about creating and sharing narratives that resonate with us. To put it simply, it is about being human.

References
Birketveit, A., & Williams, G. (2013). Literature for the English Classroom. Theory into Practice. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.

Kajder, S., Bull, G., & Albaugh, S. (2005). Constructing Digital Stories. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(5), 40-42.

Normann, A. (2012). Det var en gang ei jente som ikke ville snakke engelsk – bruken av digital storytelling i språkopplæringa. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 185-197). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk.

Normann, A., & Kopreitan, A. O. (2012). Digitale fortellinger fra andre verdenskrig – om å lære om historien gjennom å fortelle egne historier. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 199-211). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk.

Ohler, J. B. (2008). Defining and discussing digital storytelling. In J. B. Ohler (Ed.), Digital Storytelling in the Classroom (pp. 21-38). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Tan, S. (2007). The Arrival. London: Hodder Childrens’ Books.

Zephaniah, B. (2001). Refugee Boy. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.