Throughout the course of the semester and beyond, I worked to analyze student reflections, multiple layers of course feedback, and continuing scholarship regarding digital storytelling and audio-visual composing. I continue to tweak the assignments to make them meaningful for students and community members. In the following paragraphs, I share some strategies for teachers interested in applying a similar approach.
Preparing students and community partners in this type of digital storytelling work is essential to making the project worthwhile for both parties. Of course, this process includes meeting with community stakeholders beforehand and speaking about plans and expectations. Further, it involves careful consideration on the part of the instructor to balance both technical and rhetorical skillsets needed to create a digital story. Introducing the assignment early on in the semester helped to mitigate issues of rhetorical preparation for students in this introductory course. Because students visited the farm early in the semester, we were able to then connect their personal experiences to our readings on rural literacies and lectures about how to be rhetorically effective and affective across modes and media. Additionally, the parsing out of the process over the semester provided students with an opportunity to consider other forms of composing (audio and visual) before combining the two in their video assignment. They were also eased into the technical knowledge needed to edit with professional video editing software. For example, students worked on editing together a personally driven audio story prior to the digital story, which provided the chance to work in audio-editing software. That project required they edit only with sound, before combining the rhetorical and technical skillsets needed to edit video, thus scaffolding the video editing process.
However, the video editing process still proved to be overwhelming and difficult for most students in the course, as they had to sift through digital artifacts to tell a story and gain the technical expertise to produce a final product. In my experiences teaching audio-visual composing, I have found that a brief tutorial, such as Adobe Premiere Basics (see below), is necessary to share with students as a whole class, but one-on-one time inside and outside of class is the best way for students to learn how to use an advanced editing program like Adobe Premiere. In addition to the large amount of class time I devoted to open lab time in this course, I also ended up holding open lab hours, during which I was present in the video editing lab outside of class time.
There are resources regarding assessing digital stories in educational contexts that focus on the process of creation and the end product (Barrett, 2006; Ohler, 2008; Sharma, 2013). However, because the rubrics center on narrative-driven projects, they did not apply completely in the context of this assignment. Therefore, the rubric attached on the Assignment Sheet was developed according to specific goals aligned with this digital story – that is, I wanted students to create a media artifact that was meaningful to them and to the Metzgers and also to connect with the community. Although developing a technological skill-set was also an important course goal, telling an appropriate story was paramount. Also supported in the assessment process of this project is the valuing of process over product (Halbritter, 2013). This course and its culminating video assignment are designed to provide students with entry-level digital composing skills, and so the assessment of the digital storytelling project reflects this goal. In this course, I want students to begin to envision themselves as creators of media, and I want to provide them with a base-level skillset they can build on in the future. Towards the end of the semester, I often share this video by Ira Glass, producer of This American Life, to remind students that storytelling is a craft. I also make sure they understand that my assessment of their digital stories reflects this idea.
As illustrated in policies surrounding assessment of the digital storytelling project described in this webtext, feminist pedagogy is central to the development and execution of the project. Value was placed on students’ reflections and meaningful content over technical prowess. Such work provided students in this course with an opportunity to experience the power of impactful storytelling and gain a firmer grasp of how to be rhetorically effective in digital environments. As the student reflections and interviews illustrate, despite feeling overwhelmed by technical aspects of the projects, students enjoyed the chance to create stories that would live on outside the context of the course and the university. I believe this work of engaging with the community creates a chance for students to learn about digital composing and their own identities and agency as citizens.