Using Digital Stories in a College Level Course on Rocks and Minerals: Lessons Learned

Using Digital Stories in a College Level Course on Rocks and Minerals: Lessons Learned

Prajukti Bhattacharyya (University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0068-3.ch015
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Digital storytelling juxtaposes the time-honored teaching and learning achievements of storytelling with the modern student’s affinity for technology. Although not commonly used in college science classes, the author incorporated digital storytelling in an upper level undergraduate geology course for majors at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. The overarching purpose of this exercise was to integrate the affective domain of learning within the course context. Informal comments from students indicated that this goal was indeed achieved by this exercise. Students identified technological difficulties and the time commitment necessary to create digital stories as the major hurdles they faced during the exercise. In this chapter, the author describes the course design, learning objectives, educational benefits, and strategies to overcome potential challenges of incorporating digital storytelling in college level science courses.
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Rocks and minerals have played an important role in human history since before the first human picked up a piece of flint and shaped a weapon. According to the Mineral Information Institute (MII, 2010), nearly 6 billion tons of rocks and minerals had to be mined for US consumption during 2009 alone. Thus rocks and minerals are an intimate part of our day-to-day experience. Traditional mineralogy and petrology courses for geology majors mainly emphasize the geophysical, geochemical and tectonic significance of rocks and minerals, but largely overlook the personal connection we have with them. In my “Rocks and Minerals” course taught at UW Whitewater, I wanted to underscore the deep connection of rocks and minerals in students’ lives.

Storytelling is a time-honored teaching tool that transcends the boundaries of space, time, culture and language. I wanted to use the power of storytelling to highlight students’ personal connection to rocks and minerals. Digital storytelling is the ideal vehicle for exposing today’s technology savvy learners to the traditional practice of telling stories.

Digital stories use a range of digital multimedia, such as still or video images, text, voice-over and background music to present information on a specific theme or topic (Robin, 2006). They provide excellent multimedia-based vehicles of interdisciplinary, constructivist, project-based learning (Ohler, 2006). Because of the personal nature of stories, students take ownership of their stories and thereby, of their learning. Digital stories can be used to develop written, oral and multimedia communication skills, critical thinking skills, analysis and synthesis of complex situations, and for increased retention of the course material (Kearney, 2009). They also promote creativity in the curriculum.

Pedagogical advantages of digital stories are manifold (Robin, 2006), and more and more educators are using digital storytelling in K-16 classrooms (Schuck & Kearney, 2008; Raimist, Doerr-Stevens, & Jacobs, 2010). The benefits of using digital storytelling in college level science courses, however, remain largely unexplored. Despite this, digital storytelling seemed a promising educational tool for my Rocks and Minerals course.

Digital stories are, first and foremost, stories. They revolve around the unique experiences, perspectives and reflections of the storyteller. Digital stories require the storyteller find personal meaning in the course content. The stories then emotionally engage viewers with the content material by means of evocative imagery and music. In short, digital stories address the affective domain of learning (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964), as they require that students reflect on how they value the world around them and examine their chosen places in it.

Today’s learners belong to the “net generation” (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005), with an intuitive grasp of visual media, and can express themselves using images better than using text. The tasks associated with creating digital stories address the preferred learning styles of a large proportion of today’s learners by providing a platform for hands-on learning where students are required to utilize visual and auditory media to communicate with others. Digital stories are also an obvious mode for incorporating technological skills in the curriculum.

Today’s world increasingly demands that students be trained in skills that can be applied beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. In training scientists to meet today’s demands, we need to teach them not only the facts and figures relevant to the discipline, but also how to effectively communicate scientific information to the general audience. Due to recent advances in audio and video technology, availability of user-friendly low-priced software and online video sharing services like YouTube, digital communication skills are increasingly becoming more and more relevant for today’s world. I wanted my students to learn some of those skills in context of the course, providing yet another reason to incorporate digital storytelling.

I wanted students to meet the following learning objectives by using digital storytelling. Specifically, I wanted students to:

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