If academic institutions were to provide and teach students to use just one tool to integrate all their knowledge, experiences, and values, what should it be (and why)?
Beata Jones, Ph.D. is a Professor of Professional Practice in the Business Information Systems and Supply Chain Management Department at Texas Christian University, a Neely Distinguished Teacher, Honors Faculty Partner, and Graduate eLearning Fellow to the National Collegiate Honors Council Board of Directors.
She joined Digication Scholars Conversation to talk about how digital storytelling can have a powerful effect on a student’s life, even beyond their academic career.
The Power of Digital Storytelling
Storytelling is a powerful tool that the most effective leaders from both past and present use to connect, communicate, and effect impactful change. Leaders such as Martin Luther King, M.K. Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, have all used the power of narratives and storytelling to move millions of hearts and minds.
The digital age has only amplified the effect that stories can have, and this is becoming more widely recognized in higher education, along with the impact that this can have on students, institutions, and even society at large.
In the Digication Scholars Conversation, Beata Jones emphasized how beneficial it was for students to have the means and the guidance to be able to tell their story better through their ePortfolios, not just for learning assessment, but to help them reflect and integrate their experiences in a way that’s useful for external audiences as well.
That said, students have not always been given the opportunity to tell their respective stories in such a focused way, so there are challenges to look out for:
Identity, Storytelling, and ePortfolio
The stories that individuals construct for themselves can have a significant effect on their life and on the people around them. In an academic setting, this can be used to integrate and extract more value from their learning experiences, as well as better understand how they relate to these (and vice-versa). However, it hasn’t always been clear how students could do this in the most effective way.
"It's extraordinary… often… when institutions embark on these efforts… they may not realize how little students previously have had the opportunity to tell their stories — they haven't been asked, certainly not in school!" Beata remarked.
If no one asks students these questions or guides them in any meaningful way, how can they cohesively construct and tell their unique, respective stories?
Beata noticed this and went to work toward trying to create a systemic shift in how their program would use ePortfolios to integrate digital storytelling, starting with helping students appreciate the value that they could derive from it to facilitating an academic environment and framework with the tools and best practices that would enable them to craft their stories well.
"There was just this huge shift from simply checking off of outcomes boxes to really celebrating the student experience and for institutions to recognize that the more they know about their students, the better that they can serve them while they are at their institution and the closer relationships that they will maintain with them after graduation whichI think helps whole communities thrive," she said. "I thought that this was critical to add storytelling and using the technology to its full potential. [The] web is about connections. So, using everything that's out there and bringing it to the ePortfolio, using the richness of tools that are available to demonstrate our story."
How to Integrate Storytelling Effectively
When asked about providing guidance, coaching, or best practices, Beata highlighted several practices and concepts and referred to her paper in the International Journal of ePortfolio.
The Digital Storytelling with ePortfolios paper includes helpful guidelines [on] how to tell stories, digitally, with design in mind. There is also an evaluation rubric that provides additional guidelines.
“It all comes to guidance. You need to spend time with students, and you need to tell them why it's important. What's the benefit of their putting the effort [in] to tell the story digitally and doing it well.”
Effective scaffolding may also include appropriate templates, along with guidance for customization and modeled expectations. "There was an exemplar portfolio that was kind of a meta portfolio about how to do digital storytelling with the portfolios and we had an assessment rubric that was providing guidance," Beata explains.
Beyond visual examples, appropriate instructions and explanations should also be provided to convey the importance of factors like context-specific criteria, hyperlinks, artifacts purposefully created for the portfolio, and the like.
What have been the results of Beata’s work?
Students began creating great-looking portfolios with rich, meaningful content, constantly raising the bar on what can be done with ePortfolio technology when strong pedagogy is in place. At TCU students were celebrating what they were learning, paying it forward to other students by providing peer mentorship, and inspiring other institutions to follow and recognize the importance of storytelling and personal branding.
Want to hear more from Beata Jones on how she led the integration of digital storytelling, personal branding, and identity for students, and how teachers can produce more of a positive impact on their student’s academic experiences through ePortfolios? — listen to the full episode here.
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