Experiences and Criticisms
Edited By Matteo Stocchetti
While the importance of the role of storytelling can hardly be overestimated, the impact of digitalization on this role is more ambivalent. In this second book-length publication of the programme Media and Education in the Digital Age – MEDA, the authors take a critical stance towards the alleged emancipative affordances of digital storytelling in education. The collection is inspired by the effort of making professional educators aware of the risks of the digital turn in educational storytelling but also of the opportunities and the conditions for critical engagements. Based on their research and field experience, fifteen scholars discuss in nine chapters these risks and opportunities, providing ideas, evidence, references and inspiration to educators and researchers.
From Storytelling to Storymaking to Create Academic Contents. Creative Industries Through the Perspective of Students
Abstract The new technologies and specially the possibilities offered by the internet, multiply the capabilities to write and to tell stories, to create them collectively, to redesign them, to cite them, to amplify them, to link them, to comment them, et cetera. Having available a multitude of resources not only for being storytellers but for accessing to diverse information and contents, changes the possibilities and conditions in which storytelling is generated in comparison with before internet and prompts us to focus on the importance of storymaking abilities in the classroom. In a context where storytelling can be performed without spatial or temporal constraints and where algorithms like Narrative Science’s natural language generation programme1 can write original stories by drawing down content from big data sources, the act of writing and of sharing ideas by using words is still essential to participate in the construction of our societies. Written communication is especially important in academic contexts because it is through texts that contents are created. Aimed to improve the abilities and skills of pupils to generate contents, we designed and applied an experience which consisted of using storymaking as a context for learning, by giving students of the last year of the Advertising and Public Relations Degree at the University of Vigo a role in the building of the contents delivered in the course “Advertising and Cultural Industries”. Students co-created a collective book named Cultural/Creative Industries in an Environment in which the Physical and the Virtual Merge (2016).2 During the four months ← 147 | 148 → of the course, we applied an action research framework3 similar to the one we developed to identify and to assess the consequences of using privative software in the classroom (Gómez-Diago, 2004), which consisted on collecting impressions in the classroom through direct observation and interaction and in the elaboration of an open question which was asked to the thirty eight students at the end of the course. The outcomes obtained were very positive. Firstly, students could build their knowledge by delving further into the topics in which they were more interested. Secondly, as a result of their work, they could obtain not only explicit or conceptual knowledge but also procedural or tacit knowledge.
From Storytelling to Storymaking. From Story-Receivers to Story-Participants
Storytelling can be performed through different media and with different purposes. Nowadays, thanks to the unlimited possibilities at our disposal for communicating, we can develop, share and co-create storytelling on a multitude of online platforms. Even with the penetration of the internet, according to Internet World Statistics (2016), at 46.1 percent, and without forgetting that in the 21st century, there are countries in which some topics are impossible or very difficult to discuss, the facilities available for storytelling permit citizens to generate and to share ideas collectively. Therefore, it is logical to think that the freedom to engage in storytelling contributes to create more plural and dynamic societies, at least in the sense that before the internet, only few sectors of society, that is, people with a powerful status, could address storytelling to a wide audience.
After Gutenberg invented the print, the possibilities for storytelling – as well as for receiving new ideas – were extended, making the circulation of ideas easier. By using print, Martin Luther spread the ideas of the Bible, which, due to the fact that they were not available in languages other than Latin, had been modified and used by the Catholic Church to abuse the people.
Storytelling evolves with the technologies available and their uses. The telegraph and the telephone were created to allow people to communicate with each other, to enable dialogue. When mass media appeared, they were rapidly adopted as a tool with which governments transmitted their ideas to the audience, the masses, especially during periods of war. The model of communication represented by mass media is understood as transmission, and what is of importance to the transmitters is to get the audience to think what they want or about the ← 148 | 149 → things they want. These technologies base the construction of communication on the monologue.
The capacity to storytelling is historically not only linked to the development of technologies but to the roles of citizens in society, to the capacity of power. Benkler (2006) differentiates societies in this way based on the facilities for storytelling:
Among the Reds and the Blues, everyone is busy all day, and no one tells stories except in the evening. In the evening, in both of these societies, everyone gathers in a big tent, and there is one designated storyteller who sits in front of the audience and tells stories. It is not that no one is allowed to tell stories elsewhere. However, in these societies, given the time constraints people face, if anyone were to sit down in the shade in the middle of the day and start to tell a story, no one else would stop to listen. Among the Reds, the storyteller is a hereditary position, and he or she alone decides which stories to tell. Among the Blues, the storyteller is elected every night by simple majority vote. Every member of the community is eligible to offer him- or herself as that night’s storyteller, and every member is eligible to vote.
Cyberspace does not eliminate the social differences between citizens but allows users to communicate among themselves and to cooperate through networks of various purposes where they can dialogue and create stories collectively. Some of these networks have as their main purpose to motivate communication between users, but there are also social networks which turn the interests of users into collective actions expressed, for example, through the creation of platforms oriented to share products and services. One such network is Uber,4 which allows users and car owners to connect; another example is Peerby,5 which is oriented to allow users to share time and to borrow the things they need from people in their neighbourhood. As we found out in another study, further examples are crowdfunding platforms, which integrate several carefully designed features that generate credibility, trust and engagement in the users, (Gómez-Diago, 2015) allowing creators to obtain funding from the citizens who support their projects with small donations.
Thanks to the internet, people can contribute to storymaking as “story participants”. This term refers to the important fact that we cannot only create stories and participate in the building of ideas and concepts collectively, but we have also access to an unlimited range of content and experiences generated in any part of the world, which enables us to discover issues of interest and to specialise on them. This is altering our perspectives and enriching our cultures, which are no longer ← 149 | 150 → as dependent on our physical environment as they used to be. We can join – and create – networks defined by our interests.
Storytelling in cyberspace can be defined not only through the physical or virtual platforms where it emerges (such as social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), but also by taking into account the several applications that users assign to this practice. There are a multitude of motivations behind storytelling. In this way, Kang et al. (2014: 2397) identified the benefits of using communication networks to prevent adolescents from being bullied. There are also a multitude of online platforms where users share experiences related to an infinite range of topics, such as medical problems or sports advice.
Storytelling/Storymaking in Research: Studying Social Life and Generating Academic Contents
Davis (2002: 3–19) highlights a resurgence of interest in narrative as a social act and a form of explanation, on storytelling as a social process for investigation, and on the narrative constitution of identity. According to him, the storytelling process is a social transaction which engages people in a communicative relationship. Through identification and co-creation, the storyteller and reader/listener create an affective bond and a sense of solidarity. Davis point outs that narrative can be a focus of research in at least two ways:
(1) As an object of inquiry and explanation, as researchers study how stories are socially produced and function to mediate action and to form identities;
(2) As a method of studying social life. Researchers gather and observe narratives as a window through which other aspects of world can be accessed.
We consider these two approaches in fact rather similar because in both cases the stories are understood as a method of studying social life. This type of investigation is very common in communication research, where there are a multitude of studies, usually underpinned both in the realisation of content analysis and on derivations such as framing analysis, as well as other perspectives such as critical analysis.
According to Mayring (2014: 18), content analysis has a long history; the first efforts to analyse communication in a systematic manner were made centuries ago. Its first definitions place its origin as quantitative research for an objective and systematic description of the manifest content of communication (Berelson, 1952: 18). Moretti et al. (cited in Young and Lee, 2014: 15) understand content analysis as a method to classify written or oral materials in categories with similar meanings. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, it was used as a method ← 150 | 151 → for the analysis of news articles. The method was developed in the 1930s because mass media such as radio and newspapers were gaining in importance. Apart from content analysis, researchers also apply critical analysis to document and, in some cases, to denunciate how some topics are socially constructed and represented through mass media. This line of research is, in a broad sense, derived from the perspective of the Frankfurt School,6 developed among others by Adorno (1903–1969) and Horkheimer (1895–1973). Critical research is defined as the one discipline intended to study the role of mass media in the society.
According to Gerbner (1983: 355) message-making and storytelling capabilities provide the basic humanising and evolutionary process of our species. Telling a story always requires making sense of observations and the interpretation of facts. Used in this sense, storytelling works as an epistemological tool: deriving a philosophical thought or a scientific conclusion is nothing else but storytelling. Heissenbüttel (in Mentzer & Sonnenschein, 2007, p. 62. Cited in Nyffenegger, 2009: 4), and Benmayor, 2008: 189) conceptualise digital storytelling and theorising as an active learning process that engages the cultural assets, experiences and funds of knowledge that students bring to the classroom.
We used storytelling and, specially, storymaking as an environment in which to perform the learning process of students and to combat some of the problems detected by Nyffenegger (2009: 3) and experienced by pupils when writing: (1) they are not aware that writing competence can be achieved by practice and exercise, applying techniques like brainstorming, mind mapping or sketching; (2) they ignore the close ties between reading and writing skills, overlooking what they can learn from reading and how reading can improve their writing; and (3) they do not consider writing as a process with many steps and as a knowledge-generating act. They rather see it as knowledge-telling in a linear process and expect their very first draft to be the final result.
We were also interested in letting students contribute to producing academic work by providing them some guidance. In this way, Kalogeras (2014: 30) explains that storytelling works at the intersection of the emotional and the epistemological aspects of learning, bridging story and theory, intellect and affect. As emotions are reclaimed cognitively, they enable students to write themselves into existing discourses and to contribute personal perspectives to an academic community. ← 151 | 152 →
In research, storytelling or narrative can also be understood as a manner of writing and rewriting and generating academic contents and contexts. Nowadays, social research is mostly based on the presentation of data which does not provide a new perspective or a new idea, but confirms a hypothesis. Gunkel (2015) alerts to the problem of having a social science which solely presents data at a moment when there are algorithms which permit us to obtain them and to present them with ease.
Aimed to motivate the students’ capacity to take part in their learning process, and taking advantage of the fact that they have resources available on the internet for studying any topic of their interest, we designed an experience which consisted of creating a collective book whereby pupils could investigate and represent in their chapters the main characteristics and situation of creative industries.
Creating a Collective Book
The task of elaborating this publication allowed us to develop a context in which students could not passively engage with content in class. They built their contents by reading articles and/or books, by watching documentaries and interviews, by listening to podcasts and/or by attending conferences. Students became the architects of their learning process. In this manner, they needed to research, to read, and to immerse themselves into the topics they had chosen to build the chapters which constitute the collective book. Each of the included forty-four texts is a story individually created by a student, who followed the guidelines and the suggestions provided. The texts were revised, edited and grouped into eight parts that include most of the topics discussed in the classroom, and also point to some mainstream issues related to creative industries:
(1) McLuhan’s ideas for analysing cultural industries
(2) Intellectual property, creative commons licenses, free software
(3) Culture economy and innovation, new models of funding
(4) Evolution and trends in the creation and consumption of cultural products
(5) Identifying tools and models for creation
(6) Reflecting on the role of journalism
(7) Redefining the music industry
(8) Identifying examples of advertising communication which generate new business models
The forty-four texts refer to almost all the elements involved in the development of creative industries. The diversity of themes and perspectives turns this collective volume into a practical resource for providing specific knowledge of new ways ← 152 | 153 → and approaches to the study of creative industries. Thus, the chapters focus on identifying specific tools that could be used by cultural industries, such as software and applications, on providing analytical perspectives regarding how cultural industries face the financial crisis, on identifying the advantages of the internet with regard to the development of a specific cultural industry, on identifying and explaining theoretical approaches such as those developed by Marshall McLuhan.
On the first day of class, having been introduced to the meanings of cultural industries, the students were asked to write down on a piece of paper the topics in which they were most interested in this area of study. Their ideas referred to five main categories:
(1) graphic design
(2) video games
Afterwards, in order to assess their overall ideas and impressions regarding the state of cultural industries, we conducted an open discussion. In the course of the dialogue with the students, it became evident that the majority of them did not grasp certain concepts of high importance in communication studies, such as free software, open source, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, or creative commons licenses.
When students reach their senior year of academic study, it is very hard to change the concepts and ideas they were trained to utilise. In this final course, most of the students are tired, and they carry an anxiety generated by the desire to enter the workplace, mixed with the fear of not finding employment in these difficult times.
Most of the pupils were 21 years old. Being conscious of the challenge of motivating a group of students to introduce new concepts into their approach, as well as that of motivating them to read in languages other from Spanish or Galician – an activity that they were not accustomed to – we designed a method oriented to make students the protagonists of the learning process.
Instead of giving them lectures based on understanding communication as a transmission process and intended to have them copy it, the purpose was to motivate them to integrate concepts and ideas into their vocabulary. The aim was to provide the students with an overall approach to how the introduction of the ← 153 | 154 → internet has changed the situation of the cultural industries. This was done, for example, by explaining the perspectives of some of the most relevant authorities, analysing examples of new business models, testing virtual applications related to cultural industries and critically analysing reports provided by governmental institutions.
The adoption of new concepts, approaches and ideas by students was the objective of these dialogic sessions. They were allowed and encouraged to participate by commenting on ideas exposed, and by formulating questions.
To motivate students into further reading and immersing themselves into topics of their interest, we created a website where the contents exposed in the classroom were published in chronological order. This website also permitted us to engage three students who could not attend most of the sessions due to work commitments.
The students were asked to write a text of three to five pages’ length. Writing gave the students an opportunity to structure their thinking and to identify their areas of interest or a possible lack of knowledge, among other things. Even if students are accustomed to storytelling with their friends and colleagues through social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, the features of these virtual platforms, focused on the use of short texts, do not motivate students to train the practice of writing about a theme at a length of several pages. And, as stated above, for taking part in the construction of society, writing abilities still are important.
The students had to choose one of the topics presented in class and to develop it further. In order to help them, they were provided with support via website and e-mail individually, helping them to structure their proposals and supplying them with several references to texts and videos related to the subjects developed in class published in journals, blogs, magazines and such.
Some formal and structural guidelines were stated to allow the students to prepare their texts. The formal specifications established a maximum text length of five pages written on one side, as well as the use of Times New Roman font, type size 12 and line spacing 1.5. Moreover, the students were required to include a title, an abstract, some subtitles, a conclusion and a references section, in which they were required to cite at least three sources of different types so as to base their chapters on different types of sources such as raw data, theoretical articles, reports and so forth.
The pupils could focus their efforts on a particular cultural industry, such as the publishing industry, the film industry or the music industry, but they could also concentrate on practices and activities influencing the landscape of cultural industries such as file sharing. Moreover, they were encouraged to link their cultural ← 154 | 155 → industry of interest to one of the concepts or practices which are influencing this type of industry, such as network economy, cultural policies, cyberspace, copyright, creative commons, licenses, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing or virtual worlds. They were also encouraged to apply in their chapters the theoretical perspectives provided by authors explained and discussed in class, such as Marshall McLuhan, Yochai Benkler or Manuel Castells.
Finally, we provided the students with resources on specific topics such as new technologies applied to fashion, new ways of managing online communication, virtual museums, online journalism, digital print trends, games industry, virtual worlds, cinema etc. These resources were shared via the website created for the course and via email when the students demanded it or when we perceived that they needed it.
Evaluating the Chapters
We gave the students two weeks to deliver their first document. We corrected any misleading use of terms and made suggestions in order to change the structure of the writing, among other things. As the chapters were freely created, it was possible to evaluate various dimensions, going further than making orthographical corrections.
Most of the students did not use references correctly. Instead of including a reference section, they added a section named bibliography, in which they included sources not cited in their texts. In addition, some students cited sources but did not go further; they did not provide the quotations with a context by developing them, by explaining their agreement or their disagreement. In the course of reading the documents, it became evident that the students had difficulties to cite in a proper way and, more importantly, did not understand the meaning and the importance of the citation. In some cases, they mentioned the author of the citation but had clearly taken the quotation from an author different from the original one, yet leaving this unindicated. The value of the citation was explained.
The majority of the students did not know that they must cite the authors of the images and photos they use to illustrate their works. Instead, they included images without adding any reference to their authors. This was the context for explaining to the students how to interpret, how to use the license of creative commons, and how they can access images, graphics and photos on any topic via advanced search engines. A number of students also used data to illustrate their argument but did not indicate the source of that data.
Regarding the style, some students wrote their chapters from a general point of view, speaking about the economic crisis and its consequences for the cinema ← 155 | 156 → industry but failing to point to possible causes or to facts that allow us to recognise the problems facing that industry. At first, some students found it hard to understand the purpose of the chapters. They were asked to choose an issue related to cultural industries, to delve into the topic, and to provide some conclusions.
At the end of the course, practically all students had understood the idea, but in the first versions of their chapters, they used a lot of empty sentences and created false dichotomies such as whether it is better to publish online or offline (printed books are being favoured by communication technologies because of the opportunities afforded by printing-on-demand). Both rhetoric practices, using empty expressions and creating non-existent oppositions to create a polemic, were very common in the first documents generated by the students. This rhetoric has similarities with the one used in popular television programmes, whose discussions are motivated by manichean propositions. In all cases except one, the difference between the students’ first and second documents was very big. They had four weeks to improve their work.
Students received many corrections and suggestions for their texts. As some of them asked for more help, time was provided to help them individually within help desk support hours.
When students had corrected their first document, they presented it orally in the classroom to share their work with their classmates, who were asked to write down keywords that, according to them, could help to define the work they were listening to. Furthermore, they were allowed to ask questions or to introduce their ideas once the presentation had finished. Some of the students used videos and slides to support their speech. Others merely read their documents out loud to their classmates.
The process of sharing the documents with classmates enabled the pupils to gain a comparatively broad perspective of the topics covered during the course. There were students who found it easier to speak in public than others did. This activity was also an opportunity to hear the students who participated less during the sessions.
Results: Knowledge Acquired by Students: Conceptual/Explicit and Procedural/Tacit Knowledge
At the end of the course, twenty-eight students took the final exam. In the exam consisting of nineteen questions, the students were asked to explain and to apply certain concepts. In the last task, the students were asked to identify the type of knowledge they had acquired by writing their chapters. ← 156 | 157 →
We grouped the knowledge identified by the students in two categories: conceptual and tacit knowledge. Each student is represented by a number. Twenty-seven of twenty-eight students identified at least one type of explicit knowledge acquired by them as a result of their participation in the creation of the book. There was only one student who did not answer this question: the only one whose work barely improved after the corrections. Twenty-six of the twenty-eight students identified some kind of explicit knowledge as the fruit of their work.
Conceptual/Explicit Knowledge Acquired by the Students
Below, we list the explicit knowledge identified by the students as obtained during the creation of the collective book. As we will see, the students recognise different types of knowledge. In this way, student (1) states that she learnt about the role of intellectual property in the cultural sector, student (2) asserts that he learnt about the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, student (3) expresses that she learnt about the situation and importance of cultural industries in China, student (4) discovered new business models for reinventing the discography industry, student (6) deepened her knowledge on the need of cinema industry to refund its business model, student (7) discovered a multitude of online applications related to fashion industry, student (8) investigated the problems faced by scriptwriters who want to sell a script to a producer, student (9) states that he acquired knowledge about the situation of the game industry in Spain, student (10) obtained knowledge about online platforms which allow users to create graphic design, student (11) identified smartphone applications in cinema as knowledge acquired, student (12) learnt about how serious games can be used with different objectives, student (13) reached the conclusion that citizens nowadays have a big responsibility for being manipulated, student (14) obtained knowledge about the situation of publishing industry and about the democratisation of art through forms of expression such as urban knitting, student (16) maintained that he obtained knowledge about how the peer-to-peer practice is shaping the cultural industry, student (17) learnt about the possibilities that the internet generates for music professionals, student (18) acquired knowledge about new forms of editing and publishing, student (19) understood the crowdfunding phenomenon and its applications in the cultural sector, student (20) obtained insights about the new forms of watching television and about the meaning of public domain, student (21) acquired knowledge about the characteristics and applications of virtual worlds, student (22) states that she learnt about the process of starting a fashion company and that she also understood the value of the role of professional bloggers in a sector such as fashion, student (23) learnt about the situation of the gaming industry in Spain, student ← 157 | 158 → (24) acquired knowledge about the origin and evolution of the video games industry, student (25) learnt about cultural and economic indicators which illustrate the relationship between culture and advertising, student (26) expresses that she learnt to situate the role of new technologies in the fashion sector as one reducing the costs of designs and introducing new services such as allowing users to try on clothes in simulated environments. Student (27) identifies as knowledge obtained Marshall McLuhan’s concepts such as the global village, as well as an understanding of the most important virtual worlds and the possibilities they open up for communication, commercialisation and research.
Most of the students identified another type of knowledge acquired by preparing their chapters, something we refer to as tacit knowledge. This type of knowledge relates to the way-of-doing and it is probably the most difficult one to gain because it needs practice and time. Only ten of the twenty-eight students did not identify tacit knowledge obtained as a result of their work. It should be pointed out that even if the students did not cite this type of knowledge as gained, it does not mean that they did not obtain it.
It must be highlighted that when the students were asked to respond the type of knowledge they had obtained by writing their chapters, they probably associated knowledge with content because the question was asked without further clarification in order to motivate an open answer.
Procedural/Tacit Knowledge Obtained by the Students
Student (2) expresses that she has learnt to apply the ideas of Marshall McLuhan to the actual context, student (3) finds that he has learnt to search information and to elaborate conclusions, student (4) admits that has discovered the need for being informed about what happens in other countries in respect of cultural industries, student (9) finds that he has learnt to express his ideas in a better way, student (13) states that she has learnt to apply the agenda-setting concept to contemporary times, student (15) expresses that he has learnt to investigate and to analyse the information obtained, student (17) affirms that she has become able to search information by using reliable sources of information, to organise items ← 159 | 160 → and to focus on a topic, student (18) expresses that he has learnt to research to avoid having misconceptions, student (19) admits that she has learnt to search and compile data in an effective way and to transform data and contents reviewed into something that makes sense, student (20) highlights that he has leant to research and to discover new information about cultural industries, student (21) admits that she has learnt to categorise information obtained to improve the capacity for analysing, student (23) expresses that he has learnt to use references and to write more critically, thus giving a unique perspective to the topic studied, student (24) expresses that she has learnt to use sources written in English and, finally, student (25) states that he has become able to contextualise cultural industries and to describe how they react to socioeconomic variables.
Storytelling is one, if not the most, important activity giving form to society. Actions are motivated, accepted or punished by storytelling. The widespread use of the internet makes it possible that more citizens contribute to the practice of storytelling, being part of a collective storymaking, whereby users cocreate, share documents and build social networks. Nowadays we have at our disposal an infinite number of devices, virtual environments and technologies allowing us to be storytellers in different ways by using a myriad of communicative resources such as texts, images, sounds, videos, etc.
In the context of education, it is mainstream to cultivate the capacity of students to generate contents to have them engaged as active participants in the construction of their learning process. The experience shared in this chapter allowed the students to learn with greater immersion than pedagogical strategies based on the memorisation do. As a consequence of the students taking responsibility and interacting meaningfully, they acquired a deeper understanding of the issues involved in the subject. Understanding storytelling as a context for interaction allowed us to develop the curricula in an active manner, by having into account the individual and collective interests and needs of students, and experimenting, therefore the transformative capabilities of this approach.
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1 “Quill is a natural language generation (Advanced NLG) platform that goes beyond reporting the numbers – it creates perfectly written narratives to convey meaning for any intended audience. While advances in data visualization and data science are helpful, they don’t take us the last mile. Data visualizations are often complex, requiring expert-level analysis and explanation. Quill immediately adds value to data by identifying the most relevant information and relaying it through professional, conversational language. The result? Intelligent narratives that efficiently communicate the insights buried in Big Data that people can comprehend, act on and trust.” Cfr. https://www.narrativescience.com/quill
2 Cfr. Collective Book: Industrias Culturales/ Creativas en un Entorno en el que lo Físico y lo Virtual se fusionan. Retrieved September 2nd, 2016 from https://sites.google.com/site/publicidadindustriasculturales/home/industrias-culturales-creativas-en-un-entorno-en-el-que-lo-fisico-y-lo-virtual-se-fusionan
3 Engaging in ‘action research,’ requires the professional educator to continuously ask, “How can my work be modified to produce better results” (Sagor, 2009: 10).
6 At the beginning, the Frankfurt School was linked to the University of Frankfurt, but emigrated in 1933 to New York City and was associated with Columbia University for seventeen years (Rogers 1997: XV). The members of the school enjoyed political and economic freedom to conduct their research as they were funded by the millionaire Herman Weil (Rogers 1997: 112)