Creating Digital Stories: Colin Orians

Phil Gay


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Interview Participants
In my 15 years at Tufts I've taught primarily small classes. And when I took the CELT program a couple years ago I was trying to imagine how to engage in a large class. How do you teach to 150 kids and still have the same style that I use to have in a small class, which is student projects, sort of hands-on activities.
And so, Molly Mead, at the time, gave a little introduction to digital story telling, something that she had done in her own work, more the humanities/ social sciences side of things. And the idea that these students could work together to create a small video, five minutes max in length and bring in the science they were learning,
pick a topic and work together as a team felt like the perfect thing for a large class. So we have 152 students. There is no way we can have 152 different projects. Can't have 152 papers, maybe in some worlds you can, but it would be really hard to have that kind of independent project. So I was looking for a project that we can do in that class that would bring the students together.
So what we came up with is that we should split the roles of the students. We should have a project manager, we should have a science writer, we should have some of the art director, image director, and then the fourth person would be sort of the technical expert. So they would each come to them with their own separate what they were in charge of, but the idea is
but the idea is that they would actually work together to create this thing. So they'd all become sort of experts of the science, they would all sort of be able to evaluate the images that were pulled together. The quality of their bibliography was really important. We made it really clear to them that we didn't want them to just visit a lot of websites to get information.
And so the strongest projects were ones that went to the library and found data papers, papers that had been published by scientists looking at this issue and finding a way to sort of convey that information into it. I guess my goal there was to have them realize that any topic is a process where there's no end point, there's always more science to be learned and there's recent science that's been done on it,
so I wanted them to incorporate sort of the thoughts of researchers. There was a project on vaccines, whether or not people should be vaccinated. And, so they actually went to health services at Tufts and interviewed the health services person there on, you know, what is the science behind vaccines? What are the policy implications of not getting vaccinated?
So, that was a really interesting interview with some people at health services. We designed it to have a peer review process in it, which was I thought a really important aspect of it. So, we have them get a draft into us, I think it was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and then we would, Zach posted them all online with project numbers and then these clips were up there.
Some of them were too long at the time, but that was okay because this was a draft. And then each group was responsible for evaluating two others. So we gave them a rubric for what kinds of questions to be asking themselves as they were looking at this other project. So I'm hoping that that did sort of two purposes:
One, it gave other projects feedback on what was working well or not, but maybe in the process they also started asking themselves what can I do differently the next time. So one of the comments we got in feedback was it's really hard to coordinate four people. And so the question, should we actually reduce it to three people, but then you have many more projects and so that would be one thing.
So that would be a learning outcome, just the challenges of working with four people and the challenge is when one person doesn't quite carry the load and yet I think that's also an important learning experience, where not everybody gives as much as you might like them to give. But I think that they learn a lot on their own individual projects,
you know, and I think that while they might have learned just as much if they had written a joint paper, the fact that they actually have a product at the end that they can put forward if they wanted to, share with people. I think we're in the media age of being able to figure out how to communicate science and communicate environmental issues digitally is really really important.
So, I think it's better than just having them write a paper that the only people who see it are Tegan and I. I'm going to share with them if they want to post some of them, and I want to post it on the Environmental Studies website. And I want to post them on the wiki so the students can get some examples of projects next year. I think there was some mixed reports we got from students
on whether or not they would like to see them posted, cause you know, we don't want to predetermine what kind of project they do. But a diversity of postings. I'd like actually to include some of them in my lectures next year. Here's a video on this topic, I'm about to lecture on it. So I think students teaching students is an important process and hopefully these videos can be used in all sorts of different ways.
The timeline for this project was spread out over the entire semester, so asking them to complete various sort of time point assignments along the way to keep them on track. But I do think it was very backloaded in terms of the work required. The beginning they were required to make a bibliography and then write a storyboard and find their images all together and the storyboard was
really the first major piece of work on my part because it was the opportunity I had before they made their final project to really provide a lot of constructive feedback on their script and on their images and then following that making the video itself I think was a lot of time for the students, especially the technical manager.
I think something for us to think about next year is that maybe some of the videos lacked a very substantial topic from the beginning that made it hard to make a very nuanced sophisticated video. I think we need to establish whether the topics we give them are about them evaluating the claim scientifically
sort of what is clean coal and how is it clean and is it really standing up to the claims that the coal industry gives it or should we be asking them to sort of provide natural history of a specific type, sort of like the Cassava virus and what is going on with Cassava virus.
This project was a lot different because we really got to do our research but instead of writing this elegantly written complex essay we had to do one that could be understood by the general public. Therefore, it seemed a lot more simple but it also produced a lot of challenges because we wanted to make it complex, we were trying to find all this really detailed research about the problem
and why it's happening, but really we in our video tried to stick to the basics so that when we had to make our recommendations they could be very straightforward, this is what you can do in your everyday life to fix the problem of water scarcity. But I think you know at times it was frustrating while we were making the video because we wanted to go into those complexities
and we were saying to ourselves, you know, I could just write an essay and this would be done, but having this process go throughout the semester made it something we were constantly thinking about. How could we make this big problem in simple terms for the public. So it was a very open project in that even if someone's video they didn't like, they had to put it up on the website.
So, the peer review you had to comment on, you know, what exactly they were saying in the video so the text itself, the quality of images, which actually proved to be really important because if you didn't have clear images then the entire video just didn't look nice. And that was something that at first in a rough draft we were saying 'Oh, it's fine if we have an images that's a little bit blurry,'
but it ended up being really important to make, to have like really nice photos, sharp photos, so that was something we had to address in our final draft. And also the quality of music that you were putting in. We thought we had like a great song for one of the parts of the text and one of the group said that it sounded like "Pop Goes the Weasel," so we changed it.
So, in the end we got good reactions from the professors, from my peers that I showed, from our family that once it was up they were very proud of this project because it's not something that you see usually from a university class, like you don't usually have a physical product that you can share, like on the internet.
Most of my projects are all essays or tests, which we had like three tests in this class, so we were tested on the information, but we also had this opportunity to do a creative assignment. And so for people like me that aren't majors in the subject, it was great because I could use my other strengths to succeed in the class.
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