Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wildfires and Digital Storytelling

As I tried to read the chapter on "Digital Storytelling, Libraries and Community" from the book Libraries 2.0 and Beyond (Courtney, 2007), my mind persisted on drifting to a wonderful example of digital storytelling I assisted with. While working as a Technology Paraprofessional at Merrill Middle School in Denver, CO, part of my job was to assist in the 8th grade "Advanced Technology" class, where students learned to take digital photos and movies, and turn them into music videos using Apple's iMovie. During my second year there, wildfires had swept through the mountain foothills less than an hour from Denver, leaving the beautiful landscape barren and desolate. One science teacher found out that there was grant money available to pay for students to come help re-seed portions devastated by the fire, and she arranged to take nearly the entire 8th grade on this trip. Our tech students brought along digital video and still cameras to record the event. Then they brought their recordings back to school, and in teams of two, created music videos. Then the class voted on the best video, which was then shown to the science teacher and her classes. The fun, hard work, and ultimate transformation of the hillsides on which the students worked were well-documented by these efforts, and I have seldom been prouder of where I've worked. Unfortunately, because of copyright restrictions, we could not allow copies to leave the school, for the students had used popular music from their own collections.
In addition to the re-seeding project, our tech students spent the year taking pictures and video of sporting events, assemblies, classrooms, clubs, staff, employees, and all other aspects of the school. They worked in teams of 3-4 to organize it all into a year-end music video. I watched them putting it together and, not being part of the MTV-watching crowd, was impressed by their work but indifferent to its value. But when the video was played at a year-end assembly for the 8th graders, I saw students and teachers alike with tears in their eyes. It seemed to draw everyone present into a sense of community, of a realization that they were ending a shared journey. When the 12-minute video ended, everyone applauded heartily, and we heard over and over again afterward from students, teachers and staff how much they appreciated it. Even now, almost four-and-a-half years later, just thinking about it moves me deeply.
As the technology for making such presentation has dropped in price and become easier to use, it offers us an opportunity to each tell stories that are meaningful to us. But to what end? Radio and television were once heralded as tools that would benefit all humankind. While they do occasionally inform and educate, these media spend far more time and effort in making money than making the world a better place to live. The Internet has followed suit, though recent changes in the ways people publish are helping put some power back into the hands of individuals. How will we use this power, these tools? To empower, or merely entertain? To help the needy, or hype nonsense? To speak truth to power, or sell tired platitudes? To foster community, or fight change? Our answers and actions matter, more than we may ever know ...

1 comment:

Mary Alice Ball said...

You always ask such good questions, Todd. Important ones to contemplate. We have such passive ideas about education - I love to hear of students actively creating things.