Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moving from Students as Consumers to Creators of Digital Content

Storytellers can transform the world. They inform, persuade, entertain, and inspire us to take action. Digital storytellers use technology to improve the quality of their work and amplify its impact.
Digital storytellers include youth, although often they create digital stories independent of school. In school, most youth only consume digital stories and resources. We need to transition from consumption to creation of digital content, from students as consumers to students as creators of digital content. When students create digital content that they value, they are much more likely to be engaged. With greater engagement, they commit themselves more fully to learning so their learning is deeper and more enduring.
Over a year ago, my colleagues and I in the York County School Division in Virginia began looking for tools and platforms to help support students as creators of digital content.  Although our teachers and students extensively use Discovery Education resources, when we started our search we did not know that Discovery Education already planned additional steps to support students as creators of digital content.
Our participation in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools led to a partnership between our school division and Discovery Education focused on students as creators of digital content. The League of Innovative Schools is a national coalition of 32 school districts committed to collaborating with top researchers, providers of breakthrough technologies (including Discovery Education), and one another in demonstrating, evaluating, and scaling up innovations that deliver better results for students.
After exchanging ideas with Discovery Education Vice President Andy Schaeffer (@AndySchaefferDE) at a Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools event, we submitted a request for collaboration to Discovery Education. Here is an excerpt from the request for collaboration:
We invite Discovery Education to collaborate with the York County School Division in the transformation of learning.  By supporting students as they create new content using the vast digital resources of Discovery Education, we can engage our students in rigorous work that allows them to transform the world.
We want to emphasize student use of digital resources, rather than teacher use.  We will move from students being consumers of digital resources to students being creators of digital resources.   
By relying on our bring-your-own technology initiative, our private cloud infrastructure, and our virtual learning opportunities, our students will take the use of DE resources to a whole new level.  Students will use their own smart phones, tablets, netbooks, and other devices at school and outside of school to create digital resources . . .  Students will access the resources of our private cloud anytime, anywhere, and from any device with internet connectivity in order to create and use videos.  Whether they are working in traditional brick-and-mortar settings, virtual courses, or blended environments, students will use digital resources to transform the world. 
 Our dream is that DE will be a digital hangout for our young people—a place where they play, learn, create, problem-solve, and inspire.  We wonder about the possibilities.
·                     Would it be possible for students to create video mashups and post them within DE?  The mashups could combine editable videos from the DE digital library as well as student-created videos.  The mashups could incorporate green screen technology. 
·                     Would it be possible to create channels within DE?  Perhaps students, schools, and school divisions could create their own DE channels through which they could publish videos for the global DE community.  The videos posted on a channel could address a variety of topics or they could be special-interest channels.  For example, our students might create a channel that features videos regarding local historical sites such as the Yorktown battlefields, the Jamestown settlement, or Colonial Williamsburg.
·                     Would it be possible to further attract students to DE as a digital hangout by allowing students to earn recognition from their peers in the DE community based on the quality of their postings?  For example, users could “like” postings by students and the number of likes could be prominently displayed next to the video link.  Students might also earn social media points within the community based on the number of their postings, the number of views of their work, and the number of times their work is liked.

Within weeks of receiving our request for collaboration, a team from Discovery Education, including Vice-President Alex Morrison (@AlexMorrisonDE), visited York County to discuss potential collaboration. We learned that Discovery Education developers had already outlined the conceptual parameters of a space within Discovery Education for students to post original digital content mashed up with editable Discovery Education resources.

Last June, our division won a grant from the Department of Defense Education Agency to support leveraging technology for student achievement. Using grant funds, we entered into a three-year contract with Discovery Education. Discovery Education committed to providing professional development relating to students as creators of digital content while also enhancing opportunities for students to post original content, including editable content, within the Discovery Education community. We committed to provide feedback to Discovery Education on its new platform while it was in Beta phase.

The Discovery Education development team moved quickly. Within months they created the core of the Beta version of the emerging platform. They assigned a temporary name (Board Builder) for the Beta version, noting that the official name would be announced later. Last month, they conducted a focus group with our teachers regarding the Beta version.

David Futch (@futchd), a Discovery Education professional development coach, rolled out the emerging Beta version earlier this month to forty of our teachers engaged in year-long professional learning with Discovery Education. David explained a three-step process.
1.      Students create and download video. They collect original video using flipcams, smart phones, tablets and other devices, including devices they bring to school through our BYOT initiative. Students select editable video or audio clips from the Discovery Education library. They download their content and the editable Discovery Education content.
2.      Students use software to construct a video mashup.
3.      Students create a board within Discovery Education and upload digital resources, including the video mashup, to the Board. Teachers then approve the board for viewing by a broader audience.

The Discovery Education-York County School Division partnership is yielding valuable information to Discovery Education during the beta phase of Board Builder. Shelley Santora-Jones, the manager of the Board Builder development team, explained, “We want to know whether the teachers are running into any challenges. We also want to know what features they find particularly valuable and what additional features they would find useful.”  For example, we told Discovery Education staff that because of our BYOT initiative, we particularly valued Board Builder’s ability to accept files in different video formats, such as .mov, .avi, .swf and .mp4.

The questions our teachers asked also provided insight to Santora-Jones regarding the perspective of users. For example, teachers asked “Can you embed a link to one Board to another Board?” and “Can you import a photo as a background for a Board?”

Teachers can engage students in creating and sharing original digital content without Discovery Education. However, by using Board Builder within Discovery Education, students will have access to thousands of editable video and audio clips within DE while creating video mashups. Students will also have access to a global audience of more than two million subscribers in the DE learning community.

In the proactive spirit of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, we are proud to play a small part in Discovery Education’s ongoing work to support the concept of students as creators of digital content. As we collaborate with Discovery Education, we continue to create our story of the power of collaboration afforded by the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. Given students’ passion for creating digital content, the story is likely to have a happy ending involving students’ deep, enduring mastery of the content and skills of our curriculum.


  1. Dr. Williams,
    Thank you for your vision and guidance. I am personally VERY excited to see this initiative grow and develop! I'm so glad York Co. SD students are blazing the trail for other student creators and storytellers.

  2. This is really interesting and important work. What I like about this initiative is that students have access to high quality educational content from Discovery, but also have the freedom to mash it up with their own original work. WIll they be free to publish their mashups on YouTube or only within the Discovery Community. I'm hoping for the former :)

  3. I think this is a wonderful plan and great implementation that will totally keep the students engaged.

    One of immediate challenges I see for students is that they are often restricted by geography and financial resources as to what they can produce. For example, your students can visit Yorktown and Williamsburg, but what about the 1000s of other historical sites around the country, and then the globe, that your students may not ever be able to get too?

    I would love to see us create a worldwide, student-driven collaborative resource of video and photographic content that could be used freely by other students around the globe, so that they may be creators of content, but not necessarily have to visit the sites and capture the raw content to get there.

    For example, my students in Louisiana could create a collection of video, photographs, and history notes about sugar cane plantations in creole Louisiana, while yours do the same for Monticello, and when the students begin to create a module on slavery, they can have easy access to content from both, thus enabling them to be creators and learners with access to knowledge and content not ordinarily within their reach.

    I think this is so do-able that it should have been done already. I know commercial entities have already done similar things, so there is no technical reason this cannot be done.

    Your thoughts?

    -- Gary Dauphin

    1. Gary,
      I think you are right on target with the concept of having students create resources, including digital resources, relating to their area. It could be incredibly engaging for your students to take on the challenge of publishing educational resources relating to Louisiana for a global audience.

      We have multiple teachers who are doing this type of work with their students. As a district, we are trying to provide district support for their efforts. 40+ K-12 teachers just gathered at Jamestown and captured original footage of costumed interpreters. They started work on digital mashups of this original footage with other digital content. The idea is for them to go through the process themselves as they do similar work with their students.

      We'd love to see your students' work.

  4. Dr Williams, great stuff...creators/producers vs consumers, your investment in bandwidth, etc vs devices that go obsolete...and most of all I savored the first word - storytellers. Whether ink or pixels, campfire or computer screen. And youth are storytellers. And your schools ARE a story now - a page turner(screen scroller?) - in your journey of transforming learning to transforming the world.
    You would love the Int Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. It's old school - a lone storyteller, on stage, with a mic. But it's WONDERFUL. About 10,000 people descend onto the small town, in the mountains, in October with the leaves changing, cool fall air...there about six big tents w/a line up about 5 storytellers for a morning session. Now these are pro storytellers, there's a whole subculture, they're rockstars there...books and CDs, autographs, photos, etc. I brought two storytellers to my last base where I was the SLO and plan to bring them to Hampton Rds, Carmen Deedy and Bil Lepp. Bil is the 7 time Champion of the WV State Liars Contest (and State Dir of Educ) and tells tall tales. Carmen's shared on NPR, TED, and at the White House her stories of "Growing Up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia." Great stuff.
    Looking forward to meeting w/Reggie tomorrow... -Chris Dickson

  5. Thanks for the positive comments. Our teachers and principals are doing great work and I am honored to be a part of giving students the opportunity to make a difference as they learn the content and skills of the curriculum. We have a lot to learn from old school storytellers. Even with digital storytelling, the essence of the story is what is important.

  6. This is exciting work! How can we get an update on the project?