How do we express knowledge in a digital society?
Whilst today's students consume large amounts of audiovisual information on a daily basis (through social media, streaming services, online newspapers, etc.), they do not generally learn to produce such content themselves. In today's digital society, digital tools should be included as a natural part of our education processes, and used to strengthen and improve learning. The recent advancement of widely available technology for making and viewing digital information (particularly smartphones) has created new learning opportunities that should be explored and developed. NMBU is doing just that with the new project: 'With heads and hearts into the future: The potential of digital storytelling for teaching and learning across various academic disciplines'.
Digital literacy is an important focus at NMBU. The university aims for all of its students to graduate with a mastering of basic digital tools, equipped to actively use these tools for research and academic dissemination, and to assert themselves in the digital societies in which they live and work.
What exactly is digital storytelling?
Digital stories are short, personal documentaries composed of still images and/or video and audio recordings, text and/or animations. They can be produced with basic film-making technology and finished using simple editing tools, and by people with no prior knowledge of photography, drama, film-making, etc.
The basic philosophy behind digital storytelling is to give everyone the opportunity to express themselves audiovisually, supporting democracy by allowing students more participation in their digital societies as producers as well as consumers.
“I see a great potential in using storytelling methods used in filmmaking to communicate academic content in innovative ways" says Karen Winther, Senior Advisor in NMBU's Study Administration and Project Leader. "Audiovisual stories are a powerful tool for engaging audiences emotionally - I am looking forward to explore further how we can use it in an academic setting to create better learning and reach broader audiences.“
Why ‘heads and hearts’?
Whilst personal, emotional perspectives are generally removed from academic settings, subjective, even emotive narratives are important components of learning – if something touches the subject at a personal level, it is less easily forgotten.
This project thus seeks to find a balance between heart and head, combining academic thinking and analysis with subjective expression to create a deeper learning process, both for the producer and the consumer. After producing or viewing a digital story, subjects may be left with both academic knowledge and experience of an emotionally stimulating narrative.
Why is digital storytelling useful for students?
- It teaches students to express their ideas and opinions in alternative, perhaps more effective formats than written text
- It recognizes that we now live in a digital society with multiple forms of communication with a reach beyond that of the written word
- It address an increasing pressure for academics to learn to how communicate outside of the ‘ivory tower’ of the academic arena
- It requires students to learn how to filter information and identify and focus on the important messages in their work
- It requires students to reflect on the relationship between objective and subjective facts and interpretations
In 2016, John McNeish, professor at NMBU’s Department of Environment and Development Studies (Noragric), received funding for the project ‘Digital Storytelling as a Tool to Explore the Relationship Between Energy and Society’, related to university’s Master's program in International Environment Studies. The decision to use digital narrative as both an assessment and learning method in the study course Energy and Society (EDS349) was the result of three years of previous experimentation in a former course focused on environmental policy and governance.
"Students were tired of written exams and essay writing and interested to explore other ways of expressing their knowledge and insights" states McNeish. "The project emphasized the learning value of the ‘circle’ approach, where students share and comment on each other’s stories in a structured, peer-to-peer process. We are all passionate about our own stories about the world, because they are part of us. In addition to learning new technical dissemination skills, the production of digital-stories also created a new focus for academic argument and focused discussion".
What does this project hope to achieve?
The planned results of the project include:
- The production of short films/documentaries (2-5 minutes in duration) that are suitable for disseminating via social media, and that can be used in the higher education sector.
- Increased digital skills in NMBU students
- The further development of digital storytelling as a learning method in various disciplines
- The further exploration of the use of dramatic techniques and presentation skills in teaching and learning
- In practice-based teaching, the goal is for students to use digital storytelling to process, disseminate and deeper reflect on their studies and/or fieldwork abroad
A digital story will be produced on the method itself: how to make an effective digital story with academic content. In addition, a conference will be held by NMBU at the end of 2020, to which other institutions will be invited to share experiences in this field.
“I strongly believe that learning and creativity are stimulated through activities that capture a good balance between 'the head and the heart'. After working with digital stories for many years, I experience the ‘story circle’ as an excellent arena for peer-peer learning and the final stories as expressions for passion, creativity and a modern form for academic communication. We still have much to learn about digital stories in an academic setting. This project will help us on our way" says Mike Moulton, Head of NMBU Learning Centre and Project Collaborator.
Who is in the project?
The project is headed by the NMBU Learning Centre (Karen Winther and Mike Moulten) and conducted through the following study courses at three faculties at NMBU:
Energy and Society (EDS349) - Faculty of Landscape and Society
(Collaborator: John-Andrew McNeish)
Teaching Practice (PPRA300) - Faculty of Science and Technology
(Collaborator: Erling Krogh)
Protein Chemistry (KJB310) - Faculty of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science
(Collaborator: Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad)
The project will be conducted in partnership with Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, through which staff and students at several Tanzanian secondary schools will be trained in digital story techniques.