An international school educator rekindles a passion for exploration in her students and herself.

GUEST COLUMN | by Stephanie Mathews

After starting the British School Jakarta, with an Apple one-to-one student laptop program, I wondered how I would manage to keep up with the technological demands.

After I met my year 7 class, it was clear these 11 year olds were already light years ahead of me in their understanding of all things technical: apps, platforms, collaboration tools and creating multimedia resources.

When approaching our ‘Inanimate Alice: Digital Storytelling Unit’, my ‘wonder’ increased to a slight panic: how could I ever ‘teach’ these pupils anything new?

Luckily, my school’s Technology Coaches were on hand to help out. They worked with me during the initial stages of my planning and suggested ways we could support students in both studying Digital Stories and creating their own.

I’m excited about teaching the unit again; no longer fearing the unknown, simply waiting for the inspiration and creativity technology once again evokes.

Though initially, I taught traditional methods of story study: analysis of character, plot, sentence structure and vocabulary, the change to a digital medium allowed for new knowledge. For example, analysis of meaning presented through mise en scène (arrangement of scenery and stage props), audio and visual media design.

Before I knew it, I had A-Level analysis terms being used in a Key Stage 3 class!

The change to multimedia storytelling revealed new opportunities to deepen student understanding of the original analysis skills.

They were able to decipher the application of pathetic fallacy via color and props; they were able to detect the subtle change in non-diegetic and diegetic sounds to indicate fear; they were able to appreciate the impact of a long-angle camera shot to depict the vastness of Alice’s unknown setting and emotion.

Studying through a Digital mode also amplified students’ emotional engagement with the plot.

The most exciting opportunity technology offered was for students to apply their newfound knowledge by creating their own Digital Stories.

No Worries

As a ‘non-tech-savvy-teacher’ this section initially worried me, but I learned that I don’t need to have all the answers: students were happy to explore their own choices in the technology they used. This exploration was greatly enhanced and supported in class with assistance from our Tech Coaches.

We wanted the learning to be as authentic as possible, so their Digital Stories focused on students’ Jakartan experiences; some took inspiration from the stories of pupils at Sekolah Bisa! – a micro school established by a BSJ CAS project with the goal of changing the fate of children from local kampungs (villages).

Students recorded their own footage and interviews as they, some for the first time, began to truly consider the disparity of their lives from those in their country and broader communities.

As part of our school’s Digital Citizenship Program, students were taught about usage rights and encouraged to film as much of their own material as possible. The English Department also teamed up with the Computer Science Department so that students could share footage and learn how to upload their videos to YouTube.

The staff collaboration across these departments was also a new experience that the technological input provided.

Leaders, Collaborators, Independent Learners

Through completing their Digital Storytelling, students became leaders, collaborators and independent learners. Some lessons, I would see them for all of a minute whilst they quickly detailed their ‘filming schedule’ then disappeared around the school to create.

Students had a flexible choice of tools and technologies and were empowered to recognize and utilize their strengths as they applied their media knowledge to a real-world dimension by creating and presenting their own disrupted childhoods or those from Sekolah Bisa!

The Digital Stories unit really showed me the benefits a technology rich environment. I could never have imagined the outcomes as they were and so I learnt the power of putting students in control: it reaps learning opportunities you can’t design.

Essentially, technology transformed my role as an educator, moving me away from the forefront of learning to simply the starting point. This learning community — created by students’ independence and engagement — enabled them to deepen their understanding of storytelling and digital skills as they provided each other support, guidance and critique.

Skills and Tools They’ll Use

Yet, more importantly, students developed transferable skills they need in the real world with the tools they will also need to use.

Moving forward, our Tech Coaches are already trialing out and researching new, more modern and innovative tools students can use in their own Digital Story creations next year.

In particular, we want to develop students’ understanding and use of digital sound and hope to team up with the music department in their creations.

I’m excited about teaching the unit again; no longer fearing the unknown, simply waiting for the inspiration and creativity technology once again evokes.

Stephanie Mathews is assistant faculty leader at the British School Jakarta in Indonesia. She has been a literacy coordinator, taught English and has her Master of Arts in Education and Leadership, as well as Google Educator Level 2 certification. Contact her through LinkedIn.