History and Development
Elizabeth Preston and Gene Leisz introduced digital storytelling to much of the campus in a 3-day intensive workshop for faculty and staff, held over spring break 2009. Workshop attendees were invited to make digital stories for personal or professional use. Combining both of these goals, workshop attendee and creative writing instructor Emily Krusack made a digital story of a short section of her novel-in-progress. That project sparked an idea for Elizabeth: why not have students create digital stories using literature? That would be a good way to introduce students to the technology before they began writing their own material. Elizabeth and Emily made plans to teach a one-week, two credit digital storytelling course during winter term, with Gene Leisz introducing the technologies used in creating the digital stories.
“Selling” the course
Though both Emily and Elizabeth teach in the English department, after meeting with the chair of the English Department, Jack Bushnell, it was determined that the course fit more naturally under an “interdisciplinary studies” heading. After contacting Margaret Cassidy, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Curriculum, Emily and Elizabeth received permission to proceed with the paperwork required to have a new course approved. By the time the Winterim schedule was published in October, IDIS 351: Digital Storytelling was “on the books” for the first time.
Emily and Elizabeth carefully chose short works of literature that would appeal to students with not only English but also history, sociology, and journalism majors, knowing that the multimedia, interactive nature of the course would attract students from still other disciplines. The goals of the course aligned with three of the five university learning goals: creative and critical thinking, effective communication, and respect for diversity among peoples (due both to group work requirements and the cross cultural nature of the readings).
Advertising the course was a challenge because it required introducing both the new course and the new concept of digital storytelling. (Notably, four instructors asked to audit the course.) Emily and Elizabeth created attractive, colorful flyers which they posted in every academic building, and they used university list-serves to contact majors/minors in approximately fifteen different programs.
Students created two digital stories within a five day period. In the first two days, students worked in groups of three to edit a provided short work of literature and create their first digital story. The each day offered lessons on various technologies, broken up into “basic” and “advanced,” alternating with periods of lab time in which students could explore the program on their own as it related to their stories. Students were introduced first to Audacity, then to Movie Maker, then to basic functions of PowerPoint in order to make that first digital story, due in the afternoon of the second day. The final three days of the course were committed to students’ original digital stories. The class conducted story circles and learned the following programs: advanced Windows Movie Maker and PowerPoint, Photoshop, and Windows Photo Story. As the week progressed, students had increased lab time, with Emily and Elizabeth meeting individually with students as needed. Students could work at their own pace, choosing to focus on story, images, or audio in the order they preferred. Regular check-ins from the instructors and quick deadlines kept everyone on pace.
Responses from the students were extremely positive, with students stating that they had learned a fun and useful new skill which they planned to use often in the future. Moreover, the students’ digital stories—both the “introductory” stories based on a short reading and their individual digital stories—were of exceptionally high quality, with over 90% of the final digital stories showing average to above-average mastery of all five of the technologies taught: Audacity, Windows Movie Maker, PowerPoint, Photoshop, and Windows Photo Story.
Emily’s and Elizabeth’s comments:
This class was the first one we have ever taught where we had to urge students to take a lunch break. It was an excellent course: focused, intense, and student motivated. We would do it again in a heartbeat!
Submitted by Gene Leisz
Collaborators: Elizabeth Preston, English, UW-Eau Claire
Emily Krusack, English, UW-Eau Claire