Digital Storytelling and Blended Learning

Expanding 21st-Century Literacy Skills Using Digital Storytelling

Two Sides, One Coin

March 4, 2012 by · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Teacher collaboration day reminded me that every teacher has a different computer literate skill set and comfort level. After all is said and done, without the collaboration of the Technology Services, support from the Administration, proper technology training and funding, teachers are destined to their own fate. “If I think it’s too hard, then I just won’t do it.”

When teachers tell me that they have to become experts in technology, I doubt they will use the tools in their classrooms. We will never know more than our students about how to operate technology. We may know how to use the technology after a class or two, but our students are the expert users and we have to be willing to empower them by asking them to share what they know about the technology.

About a month again I assigned a digital storytelling project for students. I decided to allow them to do the project as a take home project because most of the computers the students own are better than the schools 7 year old computers in my classroom. I gave them instructions on the project, due dates and deadlines. I asked what computers students had at home and what software they had. I gave them a few online alternatives. I told them what software they could use; instructed them on story length, image choices. We talked abut everything including technology before they went off for break.

Much to my surprise,they came back with complete stories–180 stories by students, self-instructed and composed. Great stories full of authenticity.

The moral of the story: You don’t have to be a tech expert–Your students already are.


Are the Lights On?

December 5, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Today, December 1, over 250,000 homes and businesses are without electricity. Schools in the area are closed due to dangerously high winds knocking out power lines, downing trees and scattering debris in the streets.  Obviously, this blended learning class gets the day off, assignments extended until electricity is restored. So it’s a good to grab an archaic pen and paper and write.

It’s been a few weeks of being inundated with quarter semester grades, writing countless college recommendation letters for students, grading assignments and projects while adjusting to this online world.  I have been meaning to get back to this blog and tell you about what happened on the last Teacher Collaboration Day. But the time has eluded me.

Unfortunately the training on the LMS that I am using was cancelled and replaced with yet another LMS pilot training with more bells and test score evaluation whistles.  I wandered over to Mrs. Omae, the school librarian, information technology specialist and administrator agreed to give me some time to review some of the nuances of the program I may have not yet been aware of.

I logged in as we talked about this LMS attempts to mimic Facebook and how students were interacting with the extended learning day. She agreed that students are learning more and that teachers who are using the LMS told her that they are ahead of the curriculum schedule.  I am one of those teachers with an extended day and on target if not ahead of the syllabus.

This resource has actually given students an opportunity to interact with me after school, successfully and unsuccessfully. Successfully they are able to ask questions about the assignment. I am sometimes unsuccessful at getting back to them as quickly as they imagine. They imagine that I am on the computer 24/7, at their beck and call to communicate with them.  I find myself repeating my official office hours to them and try extending myself inches at a time.

(Written Dec. 5th) I guess this lack of electricity has proven that acts of God can affect even the best plans. School is finally open today after five days, outages only affecting less than half the homes originally affected. Some of the students still do not have power or Internet. As much as we rely on the tools, what happens when they are broken?

I am dreadfully behind now.

But I persist the best I can. Now the blending begins. Anybody have a book?



It’s Not So Easy To Teach a Dog New Tricks

October 16, 2011 by · 6 Comments · Uncategorized

The other day a student asked me how to make a folder on the computer. I asked her if she had a Mac or PC. Innocently, she replied, “I have a computer.” We have just completed our sixth week of school and up to now many of our assignments have been rudimentary. She has only had to log in to the LMS and navigate to the appropriate discussion, type her answer in the proper box and hit send. Looks a lot like Facebook. So it has been easy for me to scaffold this experience with one they are already familiar with. There is even an app now, which makes access easier for her to use her iPhone. All she had to do is get her boyfriend to install the app. So why did I assume she knew how to make a folder, or that she knew the difference between a Mac or PC?

Most high school students have few options when it comes to their classes and schedules. ROP Photography is an elective class that also fulfills the Visual Arts graduation requirement. Some students are asking me when did this class become blended? Although I took a pretty complete survey of these students, many of these students did not take a survey of me.

Many heard through the grapevine that computers are used and that I teach digital photography in a fun and interesting way. But this new blended learning twist has added a new dimension. For some this is a new annoyance as we go through the bumps of coordinating between school computer storage space and the way we did it before and their home computers. A few students who are taking my class for a second time have complained that this is so much harder than last year.

Recently, I used an online test service ( to test their understanding of some of the fundamental of camera functions. A week prior to the online test, I placed a chapter of “Chasing the Light,” by photographer and friend, Ibarionex Perello in the LMS and asked students to download the PDF and read it. I asked each student to submit a question to the online discussion. In the discussion section, they could see the questions of other students. I asked student to read all of the questions in the discussion to avoid duplication. I gave students twenty-four hours to read and pose a discussion question. When all was said and done I had 36 questions from 5 different classes. I thought this would be a great way to have students interact with the material, create their own exam and save a few trees in the process.

During my in-class interaction I reviewed the questions students posted to see how much they had actually knew. I added these questions to the online test service and the next day, asked students to take the test during the next class time. The service allowed me to scramble the test questions and I added 9 additional test questions to each group to make up for the weaker questions some students asked.

I was astonished that most students took an entire class period to finish their online test. Since the questions were short, multiple choice and one essay, I estimated one minute per question. Using the online test service allowed me to analyze the test results and provided me with a chart of what questions, most students missed and or answered correctly. The average test score was 70%. It became clear what I needed to review with students in our next face-to-face meeting. Now I see which areas need clarification.

In our face-to-face meeting, I reviewed the test with class turning it into a “Jeopardy” meets “Family Feud” game. I broke the class into four teams and reviewed the questions with students. I helped teams score points and gave every participating student an opportunity to score for their team. Every student played, every student won.

I asked the second year students if this review helped them relearn the material. Many of them said they even had fun. My student who didn’t know how to make a folder, thought it easy to get through the online test.

I dance between the traditional with non-traditional, online with face-to-face. I am finding out that it is easy to teach old dog new tricks. Even if the old dog is me.

Digital Storytelling FAQ | Q/A

October 4, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Participate in this live and interactive webinar streaming from the Flintridge
Retreat Center in Pasadena.

This event will be a Beta Test for our future on-line blended learning

We will share digital stories and answer all of your questions in an informal
video chat.

Special FAQ and Q / A Webinar on Digital Stories
Sunday, October 16th, 2011
11:00 AM Pacific / 2:00 PM Eastern Time

* Webinar login details will be provided with your registration confirmation

Webinar Registration Form

Tightrope or Balancing Act?

September 28, 2011 by · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Yesterday I missed the staff meeting after school. It was a meeting to introduce a data & assessment management called Illuminateed. I missed the meeting because I was wading through the deep trench of three different online programs: one program to record attendance, an online grade book  to record grades and the online learning management system I have been using with students to enhance their learning experience. Crazy. Three different browser windows open, none of them working together and an obligation to meet the first few days of grade reporting so the 20 day notices can go out to caution parents about who may be failing.

I asked the Tech Czar a few days ago if there was a way to incorporate these programs. Perhaps the excel report generated by the LMS could possibly export to the grade book and was met by a blank stare. I think he was thinking that it was one more thing I had added to his plate. Perhaps, my timing was off. After all he was getting a computer hooked up to a projector and the internet to share Illuminateed at the staff meeting I would eventually miss.

Oh well.

Talk Amongst Yourself, Please

September 18, 2011 by · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

With an average of thirty-six students per class, the challenge is to get as many students to participate in a meaningful discussion. The reality is that in a class this size, it would take the entire fifty-seven minute period for every student’s voice to be heard.

How do you get the quiet kid who sits in the back of the classroom to contribute their voice? How do you get the loud, agitated kid to become engaged in a meaningful conversation?  How do you get students to understand that this is their learning community and that they can discuss with each other as much as they do with me?

This week I added an online discussion to student’s blended learning experience. It was the 10th anniversary of the tragic destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City. I thought a moment of silence was necessary to pay our respects to the thousands of lives lost and a discussion was necessary.  I posted the discussion in our face-to-face meeting and presented an article by columnist Chris Hedges entitled “A Decade After 9/11, We Are What We Loathe.” Chris Hedges talks about his 9/11 experiences in vivid detail and the accompanying photo of the “Falling Man” is equally compelling and thought provoking.

I soon realized that ten years ago, most to the students were between four and eight years old. Had would these students connect with this discussion? In our face-to-face interaction I asked students if they had any questions regarding the reading or the discussion. A few students asked about grammar, length and grades. I assured students that I was interested in their participation, sense of community and there was no limit or length to their discussion. I gave them a few minutes during class to respond; however they had a week. I encouraged students to respond at home or our library, the IRC (Information Resource Center).

Our Learning Management System resembles a social network site like Facebook. I was curious to see how the discussion would emerge. Would students use the discussion to talk about 9/11 with each other or would they only write me in an essay-like format? I have a Facebook account that I have used to post art gallery openings, local jobs, interesting information about student accomplishments or photo equipment sales. This is the place where I know I can get the immediate attention of most of my students and where they will post, within minutes, an immediate response. I have seen students discuss photos, questions about the assignment, homework and these responses are like a chain letter—many students commenting to one another about one another’s comments.

Interesting enough, I was surprised that most of the students in the LMS did not react this way. Most of the responses seemed insightful, authentic, even though some students echoed the responses of others. I was surprised that they did not directly reference or make an obvious connection with their peers.

I have been thinking about their reactions to this discussion. I think they did create a sense of community because of the discussion about 9/11 and the photographs.  Every student responded, gave this subject attention and their words did not vaporize into the classroom air.

And the quiet kid, who sits in the corner, had something to say, as did the loud kid who is always joking around. They had something important to share that is now a thread in an online discussion that we can read and reflect on.


I Can’t Believe You Said That

September 11, 2011 by · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

When was the last time you read the technology agreement that your school put in your mailbox on the first day of school? Did you read the fine print and really understand what you were signing? More importantly, you were probably more anxious to use the Internet, get access to the network or use your new email address. Many of us have done it. Like others before you, you just wanted to use the technology, piece of software, online program. So you said “yes” to the promise of access. Be it written in simple language or more complex legalize, we continued to think it was safe to use because we did not meet any devastating consequence.

My students are interacting with me using an online Learning Management System that mimics Facebook.  This is the online space where they will find their assignments, discussions and where they will be able to chat with each other and me during their blended learning experience.  The high school calls this their “safe space.” Because the space mimics Facebook, the space is teen friendly and the students have been navigating around with ease.

Every year they sign a technology agreement, along with their parents that give them permission to use the computers in the classrooms and the library, called the IRC (information resource center). The technology agreement also covers the use of the Learning Management System at school and at home.

This week I was exploring around, trying to understand how to use the system with my blended/hybrid learning class. I clicked on the “reports” button that revealed an option where I could see all of the deleted and non-deleted content that my students had entered over the course of the semester. Next to the reports tab was the “Suspicious Activity” tab. This tab revealed all of the entries, deleted or not, that were of a suspicious nature.  Apparently student entries are filtered through a lexicon of selected words.

Amongst the student entries, words like slaughter, murder, kill and bomb.  There were more obviously offensive, derogatory words as well, referring to homosexuals and curse words, like the “F” word and the “N” word.  These entries were made in the portion of the LMS called “chats” and some were made in the “dialogue” section. These sections are for students to chat with each other and with me about assignments, their interest and concerns about the class work.

I was surprised that some students would write on this very public forum, offensive comments to each other, even in fun. Some of the statements gave me an inside view on the naïveté of teenagers. When I discussed the responsibility of their use, what it means to sign the technology agreement, many students were shocked and felt as if their “rights” had been violated. The conversation shifted to feelings of deception. This LMS looks like Facebook, a place where they construct their own space, where they could say what they believe they have the freedom to say. They were already so comfortable in an online environment, that they didn’t realize that this was a monitored, school site with filters. They were surprised that all of their entries were non-destructive. They asked incredulously, if Facebook had the same “rules.”

Interesting observation; even though students have this deep connection with technology, they still don’t understand the rules of citizenship they must observe in this virtual space. As educators, should we help them understand what their role, rights and responsibility is in this space? Should we teach them censorship or have them challenge the right to public speech?

In these spaces should we also have a conversation about digital citizenship in the same way we discuss classroom citizenship in real classroom spaces? This is a growing part of our “new” education as online instructors.  Their connection to what is right and wrong, what is “allowed” is still not clear to them.  What is our responsibility?

Sometimes, it is not clear to me.


Is This Allowed?

September 3, 2011 by · 11 Comments · Uncategorized

Today I experimented with Google Voice, student discussion and cellphones . Cellphone are not allowed in the classroom of most high schools. In the high school where I teach, cell phones are confiscated by teacher, administrators and the dean of students if they are out. The new dean of students tells students that three offenses will find their cell phones in the vault for an entire semester. Most teachers associate cell phones with cheating or a major distraction.

Today, however, I decided to encourage students to use their precious cell phones to communicate their ideas after a small group discussion during class. I instructed the students to form small groups after I assigned them numbers. I gave them the topic: is photography an art or science? I asked them to  do as much research as they felt was necessary using Google search or Wiki, discuss the topic and come up with a concensus. Once they formulated their ideas I told them to decide on who had the best calling plan and text me their thoughts in 160 characters or less. I allowed them fifteen minutes to discuss, formulate their ideas, and decide who would text.  I monitored their progress and when they had all contributed to the text, I rolled down the screen and turned on the projector. I spent the rest of the period reading off their answers and asking them to tell me what they talked about in their small groups. Somehow only the light of the projector and their answers on the board aided their openness in the discussion.

What a cool exercise. Students were totally engaged and excited to share their answers by cell.  I have had this discussion in past classes with little participation. Today, student participation and engagement neared 100%. Students who rarely participate asked if they could text me their thoughts away from the group.  The funniest thing that happened was a student who ask me, “is this allowed?”


All on Board?

September 2, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Ironically, today was the second day of my blended learning photography class at La Canada High School.  I am trying to build a hybrid class with persistent on-line interaction using a LMS (Learning Management System) for tracking assignments and delivering content.

My frustration started early this morning . It is hard to deliver a demo or initiate an instruction when computers crash.  As so often is the case with public school today, we are using antiquated PC’s with only 512mb ram. Most of the students have better, faster computers at home.

Although we have been encouraged to use the LMS to enhance our classroom instruction, the technology administrator have not completely comply. When the technology administrators do not completely install the LMS or allowed students the permissions to interact, then it is a one way conversation.

Students want to interact, comment, chat, tweet and game. This is how they learn. Using technology is the way to keep them interested, engaged and when it doesn’t work t is a real drag for them and for me.

Hoping it works tomorrow or I will have to invent something new!

Hello world!

July 15, 2011 by · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Today’s students need to develop 21st-century literacy skills that include digital, visual, textual, and technological proficiencies.

Digital storytelling can be used as an instructional tool to increase information literacy, writing, and computer technology skills. However, educators are using digital storytelling to innovate ways of engaging student learning in many various areas.

This blog makes an attempt to understand how students are engaging in their technology experience. I also want to hear from other educators and exchange ideas about their technology experiences and uses of digital storytelling in the classroom.

How does technology engage students in their learning experience? When educators using digital storytelling to enhance their instruction? Is the classroom the only place where students can learn? How are students engaged in their own learning experience through face to face interactions, online collaborations or a combination of online and face to face meetings?

I am hoping to gather information in discussion about pedagogies and ways to incorporate digital storytelling into the instructional design of public school curriculum.