Digital Storytelling and the Ethics of Civic Engagement

30 May 2017

How can we (as students, faculty, and staff) make sense of the rapid pace of legislative action and change? And how can we see the ramifications (potential and real) of national decisions at the local or community level? These were questions that Adrienne Falcon and I talked about in the wake of the 2016 election and in the context of this Spring’s Ethics of Civic Engagement course. Building on the preliminary conversations Adrienne and I had about reflective writing in digital media, Adrienne decided to integrate a digital storytelling assignment into her course to begin to address the questions above.

What did the digital storytelling assignment entail?

Adrienne, Iris Jastram, Danya Lebow, Kristin Partlo, and I discussed some of the areas and issues that could best illuminate the local/national connection. Some work (such as CUNY DH grad student’s work on the proposed NEH budget cuts) inspired the selection of different programs (NEA, NEH, Planned Parenthood) that students would analyze. Students would collect data about each program (with help from Adrienne and the librarians), analyze and decide on the argument they wanted to convey, and then plot their datapoints on a map with contextual information. Since this was a small group project, students could divide the data and the work putting together the narrative sections as they saw fit and combine them into one presentation.

After consideration, Adrienne and I selected StorymapJS as the tool for this assignment. A number of factors went into this choice: StorymapJS has an easy to navigate interface similar to slideshow programs; good balance between design features and ease of use; and the resulting maps are easily embeddable. We also decided that the maps would live on individual webpages on the class Edublogs site, which would give each student group additional space to provide contextual and explanatory information for their map.

The structure of the assignment was adapted from a mapping assignment created by Brian Croxall. What Adrienne and I both found compelling in Brian’s assignment was that the analytical and technical requirements were paired with a reflective writing requirement at the end of the assignment. In the reflection, students were asked to assess what they learned in terms of content, technical skills, and how the assignment influenced their thinking about their chosen topics.

How does one integrate a digital storytelling assignment into a course?

This assignment spanned 3 weeks: research in the first week, learning about the StorymapJS platform in the second week with ongoing research, and compiling the maps in the third week. Iris and Kristin visited the class to go over how to find appropriate data and information. I visited in week 2 to talk about how to navigate the StorymapJS interface and strategies for creating digital narrative maps. In week 3, students finished and presented on their maps, and completed the reflective writing requirement. Adrienne and I were in contact throughout the assignment, and met at the end to debrief on the student reflections which will help us both refine how we support and structure this assignment for future use and seed future conversations around ePortfolio assignments for CCCE students.