Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Students Find their Digital Voices

Kelli Lewko, Communication Media teacher and teacher librarian at F.W. Johnson Collegiate, starts the final class of the semester by calling for volunteer students to “go first” for their final summative oral presentation, a call that teachers know is often followed by dead silence. Not today, however.  A hand quickly goes up and the presentations begin, though these are not your typical “stand at the front, cue card in hand, reading a prepared statement” type of presentations--nor is this a typical summative.

“Most of the students would not want to stand at the front and read,” she tells me, “and since these are semester end summative presentations, many would feel intimidated.” She notes that many of her students find presenting a source of great stress and anxiety.

Instead, Kelli has designed the summative presentation as not simply the last hurdle of the semester-- a portion of a summative tacked onto the end to get students to show up. Rather, the presentations are truly a culmination, a final demonstration of all the skills the students developed during the semester and a personal exploration of each student’s learning.


“This summative project,” she explains, “is really about all the processes of creating an effective multimedia form of communication about a subject in which all students can make personal connections.” She goes on to explain how the end result was not nearly as important as the process the students had to go through to get there.

To illustrate, some background information on the project is needed. During the year, Kelli guided her students through a number of communication technologies (image creation, audio editing, motion animation, web, to name a few). As a summative, Kelli wanted to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in all modules covered, but she didn't want students to rehash their earlier creations.

"I wanted them to create something new using the skills they learned. I wanted a real world task, but I also wanted it to be something students connected to personally,” she says. What Kelli came up with is a great example of what happens when the interests of students intersects with engaging technology and solid pedagogy.


“One school goal, and my personal goal as the teacher librarian, is to find many resources involving First Nation and Métis content for the Library and to share with teachers. I got the inspiration for the project while searching content on the Treaty Commissioners website. I combined the content there with a Photoshop coin creation assignment I found online. Add in some online multimedia tools, and we had all we needed to make personalized and interactive Treaty Medals.”

She invited Elder Dixon to the class to speak about Treaty Medals, about their historical significance and their design elements. She decided that the students would research individual treaties online, design a corresponding Treaty medal with Photoshop, and then make the medals interactive with websites Thinklink.com and Mural.ly. The interactive elements would communicate the students’ research about a particular Treaty, as well as their personal design rationale of their medals.  

Kelli backward planned the summative to touch on the key learning outcomes of the course, connecting each one to particular tasks and steps in the Treaty medals research and creation process. She describes the process as “an inquiry project that goes full circle: starting from activating prior knowledge, leading to research and planning, then to object creation and finally back to the planning and research.” In this way, the final presentations became a metacognitive and multimedia rationale of the research, design and learning process.


Considering all levels of her learners, Kelli incorporated tasks that provided scaffolds for students needing extra supports, while providing more autonomy for students comfortable with technology and research skills. The difference in ability did not worry her, and, in fact, she says, “It was great that many of the students were able to help out one another with the technology, especially on some of the more complex Photoshop steps. Also, the technology we used has a lot built in collaboration features that allow for feedback and formative assessment throughout the process.”

When the students presented on the last day of class, they projected an image of their Treaty Medal, then, as they hovered their mouse icon over particular “hot spots” in the image, the audience would hear the student’s voice explaining their design rationale (symbolic significance of a image element, for example), view a video or see an image or text that showcased their research.


Below are a few of the student creations (some voices removed for privacy)

When asked about why she thought this project was successful, Kelli explained that the project required much more than technology and research skills: “The process required students to create personal connections to the Treaties they were working on. I think it was a combination of hearing Elder Dixon speak, researching the Treaty kits, and then creating personal symbols for the medals—all of this helped students connect personally to the content being explored. And of course the technology was new and engaging, but it was a means to an end, not the primary focus.”

“One student,” Kelli tells me, “said, ‘Now I know what Treaties are!’” I asked her why she thought that it took this kind of assignment to really get students to understand Treaties, even though Treaty education is embedded in our curriculum.

“I think that after doing the research and the physical creations, it was their own voices and words speaking back them out of the medals. They hear themselves and, maybe, it makes it easier to see themselves as Treaty people. Hearing your own voice this way is a powerful thing.”

If you would like to hear Kelli describe the project in more detail, including the feedback, scaffolds and assessment strategies, she will be sharing her experience online in an upcoming Google+ hangout. Email cory.antonini@rbe.sk.ca for an invite. 

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