Cross-Cultural Affordances of Digital Storytelling: Results from Cases in the U.S.A. and Canada

Cross-Cultural Affordances of Digital Storytelling: Results from Cases in the U.S.A. and Canada

Deborah Kozdras (University of South Florida, USA), Christine Joseph (Pinellas County School District, USA) and Karen Kozdras (Halton District School Board, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8668-7.ch008
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In this chapter, the authors consider the use of digital storytelling as a tool for boundary crossing. Media, as an extension of self, has potential to help cross-cultural learning that benefits all stakeholders, but specifically, immigrants and English Language Learners, who often experience school literacy challenges. The authors used Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as a lens to view two teacher case self-studies, one in Canada and one in the U.S.A., and to examine how their use of digital storytelling helped elementary ELL students to learn the language of school as well as transfer their knowledge to other students and educators. The findings indicated the importance of creating avenues through which immigrant English learners can develop interpersonal communication skills critical to being successful across cultures. Through an analysis of the cases, the authors present language learning implications for educators.
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“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 7)

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan uttered his famous words “the medium is the message” (p. 7). While some have mistaken this much cited quote to mean that the mode or means of communication is more important than the actual information content, McLuhan viewed the medium as the “massage” in that “all media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical” (McLuhan & Fiore, 1976, p. 26), “as a wheel…is an extension of the foot” (pp. 30-31) or as “the book…is an extension of the eye” (pp. 33-36). Similarly, with digital storytelling, technologies allow individuals to massage their messages through sophisticated multimedia, and to participate in cross-cultural communication.

McLuhan’s message originated in the 1960’s. This was a time when people lived in a media-consuming world where “all media works us over completely” (McLuhan & Fiore, 1976, p. 26). However, today’s students are not just passive consumers of media; they use digital technologies and communicate their messages through social media (Jenkins, 2006). Because of developments in the Internet, video-editing software, and mobile Apps, elementary school-aged children can create and publish professional-looking digital stories in the form of slide shows, videos, and other multimedia presentation formats. Since these more sophisticated production tools have become widely available on personal computers and mobile devices, it is reasonable to expect that we all converge on deploying and exploiting their use.

But what happens in educational contexts? Kearney and Schuck (2006) posit that the “recent convergence of video and computer technologies presents new opportunities and challenges in education” (p. 1). While the use of technology in educational contexts can present challenges, in this study we focused on the opportunities. More specifically, we were interested in examining what the teachers learned about their practices with the use of technology: 1) How did the teachers use the medium–of digital storytelling–to massage the messages of the students and help with cross-cultural communications? 2) What did the educators learn about BICS and CALP from their experiences working with the students?

This purpose of this chapter is therefore to examine two vignettes, one in Canada and one in the United States of America, where educators noted ways in which digital storytelling helped English Language Learners to cross barriers to communication. Throughout the chapter, we provide vignettes of the teachers (Christine and Karen) and their single focus students: Christine and Juan in the U.S.; and, Karen and Reba in Canada.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Media Literacy: Digital media literacy combines the multimodal properties of media literacy with the technological capabilities of digital literacy. In order to be digital media literate, one must be able to critically consume and creatively produce multimedia “texts” using digital technologies.

New Literacies: New Literacies studies recommends viewing literacy through a situated socio-cultural lens. My theoretical perspective is that literacies are always situated as communication tools used in social situations and reflecting cultural contexts.

Academic Vocabulary: This includes language used in school settings and textbooks. It includes discipline specific words (ie. Scarcity, supply and demand, opportunity cost) and academic general words (ie. Describe, annotate, argumentation).

Discourse: Gee (1996) defined discourse as “ways of behaving, interacting, valuing, thinking believing, speaking, and often reading and writing that are accepted instantiations of particular roles (or ‘types of people’) by specific groups of people (p. viii). For Gee, there are two major forms of discourse: an individual’s primary Discourse, manner in which the individual communicates regularly; and secondary Discourses that emerge within public spheres and are tied to affinity groups.

CALP: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency that requires school-like academic thinking and proficiency.

Disciplinary Literacy: Includes the language and vocabulary specific to a discipline. For example, in Economics, one would need to learn, use, and understand words such as: entrepreneurship, global economy, supply and demand, opportunity cost, etc.

Cross-Cultural Students: In these cases, we considered the ways in which students were able to cross-cultural language barriers to be able to communicate more effectively in the classroom.

BICS: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills or conversational fluency in a language.

Traditional Literacies: Forms of literacy—reading and writing—that are traditionally valued in a school setting.

Academic Language Proficiency: “The extent to which an individual has access to and command of the oral and written academic registers of schooling” ( Cummins, 2000 , p. 67).

HOTS: Higher Order Thinking Skills, which are elicited through the inclusion of questions that require higher order thinking: inferencing, comparing texts, evaluating sources, etc.

Multiliteracies Pedagogy: A multiliteracies pedagogy requires the consideration of all modalities–visual, aural, gestural, spatial, tactile–as equally important in a digital world that includes multiple modes as communication in a global economy.

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