Storytellers can transform the world. They inform, persuade, entertain, and inspire us to take action. Digital storytellers use technology to improve the quality of their work and amplify its impact.
Digital storytellers include youth, although often they create digital stories independent of school. In school, most youth only consume digital stories and resources. We need to transition from consumption to creation of digital content, from students as consumers to students as creators of digital content. When students create digital content that they value, they are much more likely to be engaged. With greater engagement, they commit themselves more fully to learning so their learning is deeper and more enduring.
Over a year ago, my colleagues and I in the York County School Division in Virginia began looking for tools and platforms to help support students as creators of digital content. Although our teachers and students extensively use Discovery Education resources, when we started our search we did not know that Discovery Education already planned additional steps to support students as creators of digital content.
Our participation in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools led to a partnership between our school division and Discovery Education focused on students as creators of digital content. The League of Innovative Schools is a national coalition of 32 school districts committed to collaborating with top researchers, providers of breakthrough technologies (including Discovery Education), and one another in demonstrating, evaluating, and scaling up innovations that deliver better results for students.
After exchanging ideas with Discovery Education Vice President Andy Schaeffer (@AndySchaefferDE) at a Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools event, we submitted a request for collaboration to Discovery Education. Here is an excerpt from the request for collaboration:
We invite Discovery Education to collaborate with the York County School Division in the transformation of learning. By supporting students as they create new content using the vast digital resources of Discovery Education, we can engage our students in rigorous work that allows them to transform the world.
We want to emphasize student use of digital resources, rather than teacher use. We will move from students being consumers of digital resources to students being creators of digital resources.
By relying on our bring-your-own technology initiative, our private cloud infrastructure, and our virtual learning opportunities, our students will take the use of DE resources to a whole new level. Students will use their own smart phones, tablets, netbooks, and other devices at school and outside of school to create digital resources . . . Students will access the resources of our private cloud anytime, anywhere, and from any device with internet connectivity in order to create and use videos. Whether they are working in traditional brick-and-mortar settings, virtual courses, or blended environments, students will use digital resources to transform the world.
Our dream is that DE will be a digital hangout for our young people—a place where they play, learn, create, problem-solve, and inspire. We wonder about the possibilities.
· Would it be possible for students to create video mashups and post them within DE? The mashups could combine editable videos from the DE digital library as well as student-created videos. The mashups could incorporate green screen technology.
· Would it be possible to create channels within DE? Perhaps students, schools, and school divisions could create their own DE channels through which they could publish videos for the global DE community. The videos posted on a channel could address a variety of topics or they could be special-interest channels. For example, our students might create a channel that features videos regarding local historical sites such as the Yorktown battlefields, the Jamestown settlement, or Colonial Williamsburg.
· Would it be possible to further attract students to DE as a digital hangout by allowing students to earn recognition from their peers in the DE community based on the quality of their postings? For example, users could “like” postings by students and the number of likes could be prominently displayed next to the video link. Students might also earn social media points within the community based on the number of their postings, the number of views of their work, and the number of times their work is liked.
Within weeks of receiving our request for collaboration, a team from Discovery Education, including Vice-President Alex Morrison (@AlexMorrisonDE), visited York County to discuss potential collaboration. We learned that Discovery Education developers had already outlined the conceptual parameters of a space within Discovery Education for students to post original digital content mashed up with editable Discovery Education resources.
Last June, our division won a grant from the Department of Defense Education Agency to support leveraging technology for student achievement. Using grant funds, we entered into a three-year contract with Discovery Education. Discovery Education committed to providing professional development relating to students as creators of digital content while also enhancing opportunities for students to post original content, including editable content, within the Discovery Education community. We committed to provide feedback to Discovery Education on its new platform while it was in Beta phase.
The Discovery Education development team moved quickly. Within months they created the core of the Beta version of the emerging platform. They assigned a temporary name (Board Builder) for the Beta version, noting that the official name would be announced later. Last month, they conducted a focus group with our teachers regarding the Beta version.
3. Students create a board within Discovery Education and upload digital resources, including the video mashup, to the Board. Teachers then approve the board for viewing by a broader audience.
The Discovery Education-York County School Division partnership is yielding valuable information to Discovery Education during the beta phase of Board Builder. Shelley Santora-Jones, the manager of the Board Builder development team, explained, “We want to know whether the teachers are running into any challenges. We also want to know what features they find particularly valuable and what additional features they would find useful.” For example, we told Discovery Education staff that because of our BYOT initiative, we particularly valued Board Builder’s ability to accept files in different video formats, such as .mov, .avi, .swf and .mp4.
The questions our teachers asked also provided insight to Santora-Jones regarding the perspective of users. For example, teachers asked “Can you embed a link to one Board to another Board?” and “Can you import a photo as a background for a Board?”
Teachers can engage students in creating and sharing original digital content without Discovery Education. However, by using Board Builder within Discovery Education, students will have access to thousands of editable video and audio clips within DE while creating video mashups. Students will also have access to a global audience of more than two million subscribers in the DE learning community.
In the proactive spirit of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, we are proud to play a small part in Discovery Education’s ongoing work to support the concept of students as creators of digital content. As we collaborate with Discovery Education, we continue to create our story of the power of collaboration afforded by the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. Given students’ passion for creating digital content, the story is likely to have a happy ending involving students’ deep, enduring mastery of the content and skills of our curriculum.