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Int. J. Arts and Technology, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2014

Digital storytelling at school: what kind of educational


benefits?
Nicoletta Di Blas*
HOC Hypermedia Open Center,
Politecnico di Milano,
Via Ponzio 34/5 20133 Milano, Italy
E-mail: nicoletta.diblas@polimi.it
*Corresponding author

Luca Ferrari
Education Sciences Faculty,
Universit di Bologna,
Via Filippo Re 6 40126 Bologna, Italy
E-mail: luca.ferrari15@unibo.it
Abstract: In this paper, we investigate the potential of digital storytelling in the
context of formal education for fostering substantial educational benefits. Our
discussion is based on a five-year experience with digital storytelling in Italian
classes of all school grades (from pre-school) that has involved almost 15,000
students, and on the data from surveys, direct interviews and focus groups with
hundreds of teachers. The results show that students do achieve a number of
benefits, both direct (i.e., curricular, traditional) and indirect (i.e..,
non-curricular, non-traditional, like, for example, a professional attitude). We
draw conclusions regarding what we deem to be the key ingredients of this
successful experience, among which the concrete implementation in each class
stands out as prominent.
Keywords: digital storytelling; instructional design; educational benefits;
digital learning; computer supported collaborative learning.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Di Blas, N. and Ferrari, L.
(2014) Digital storytelling at school: what kind of educational benefits?,
Int. J. Arts and Technology, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp.3854.
Biographical notes: Nicoletta Di Blas is an Assistant Professor of the
Department of Electronics and Information of Politecnico di Milano. She
graduated in classics and obtained her PhD in Linguistic Sciences from The
Catholic University, Milan. She teaches communication theory for Politecnico
di Milano and communication for cultural heritage for the University of
Lugano, Switzerland, at the Technology-Enhanced Communication for Cultural
Heritage Master. She is a member of HOC-LAB of Politecnico di Milano
(http://www.hoc.elet.polimi.it). Her research interests focus on multimedia,
multi-channel communication, eLearning (digital storytelling, educational
experiences based on MUVEs) and impact evaluation. Her two main
application fields are eCulture and eLearning.

Copyright 2014 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.

Digital storytelling at school

39

Luca Ferrari is a Research Collaborator at the Faculty of Education, University


of Bologna. He has been involved in several national and European research
projects, among which: Learnin4All (on technology in school, with an
emphasis on inclusion) and Classi 2.0 (also on relevant uses of technology in
education). He collaborates with HOC-LAB of Politecnico di Milano, both in
research activities and as a Teacher for the DOL (online diploma for
ICT-enhanced education). His research interest comprises the relationships
between new technology and learning, with a special focus on disability. He is
also currently active as a trainer in two main fields: technologies to reducing
handicap and design and development of learning artefacts.
This paper is a revised and expanded version of a paper entitled Kids create
multimedia stories: an authentic educational value? presented at ACM IDC
2010 International Conference in Interaction Design and Children, Barcelona,
Spain, 912 June 2010.

Introduction

Most e-learning activities in formal education (i.e., at school, as part of a curricular


activity) are introduced in view of supporting the achievement of educational benefits,
like enhanced understating/knowledge about a subject matter, skills acquisition (typically
technical skills), increased media literacy (i.e., the capability of communicating with
ICT), etc. It is less often the case for teachers to implement an ICT-based activity in view
of making the students aware of what a deadline is, keener to share with their parents
what they do at school, more willing to cooperate with the teachers or more motivated
in school activities in general. These benefits are not officially included in any school
systems programme: we may call them atypical, peripheral, indirect (as if they were
a side-effect), non-curricular (Di Blas and Ferrari, 2010). In spite of the negative
semantics of these labels, they are highly desirable: they make students better students,
they strengthen community bonds at various levels (within the class, with the teachers,
with the families, within the local community), they leave a mark.
This paper is about the direct and indirect benefits of an ICT-based activity
in school: digital storytelling. It is based on the large amount of data gathered in the
frame of the PoliCultura initiative, by HOC-LAB of Politecnico di Milano
(http://www.policultura.it), in which pupils, of all school grades, produce multimedia
narratives. PoliCultura has actively involved so far almost 15,000 Italian pupils, from
school year 2006 (see Table 1). The extensive monitoring of the impact has included
online questionnaires, interviews, focus groups with the teachers as well as the analysis
of the students artefacts performed each year by a panel of experts. The digital
storytelling activity turns out to be like a pebble thrown in a pond: it does not only
promote direct benefits, (i.e., improvements in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes),
but also indirect benefits, like a professional attitude, improved relationships between
teacher and students, the involvement of families and of the community at large, etc.
The paper is organised as follows: after going through the most relevant related
works, we introduce our case-study, the PoliCultura initiative. We present the data on the
benefits achieved by the participants and then we outline what in our opinion are the key
ingredients that make the experience effective.

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N. Di Blas and L. Ferrari

Related work

Digital storytelling is quite a huge field: due to the focus of this paper, we shall
concentrate here on systems that allow authoring multimedia digital stories rather than
passive consumption (Iurgel et al., 2009). Authoring tools for digital storytelling have
been mainly developed for (very) young children, being the educational value of
authoring a story strongly backed by those pedagogical theories that consider learning as
knowledge building rather than knowledge transmission (Feher, 2008; Jonassen and
Land, 2000). A number of tools have been developed to support this activity, both in the
academic and commercial arena. Still, commercial products tend to see users more as
listeners than authors and if they are considered as the authors, then they are generally
provided with readymade characters with which they can play role-games at the most.
These products are often CD-ROM-based, they impose strong limitations to creativity
and almost never allow cooperation or sharing of the stories with other peers (Antle,
2003). Therefore, to see real creativity at work, one must turn to academic prototypes
and projects (Cassell, 2008).
Many approaches make use of physical elements to trigger the process of
story-making. For example, MITs StoryMat records and recalls childrens voices as they
play with stuffed animals on a colourful, story-evoking, quilt (Cassell and Ryokai, 2001).
Other approaches, like Sage (Bers and Cassell, 1998) and PET (Druin et al., 1999),
integrate tangible elements (like stuffed animals) into the technology-enhanced
storytelling process. StoryRoom also adopts a physical approach by providing kids with
room-sized Interactive Storytelling spaces where they share a theatrical experience
(Alborzi et al., 2000). Other approaches make use of virtual environments in which the
stories take place, like Puppet, an autonomous agents-populated virtual environment
where children play multiple roles in creating narratives (Marshall et al., 2004).
Collaborative storytelling has also been explored, but mostly at experimental level:
MOOSE crossing, for example, allows kids to cooperatively design and build objects and
virtual characters in a virtual space (Bruckman, 1997). The FaTe project allows very
young kids (ages 5 to 8) to develop stories together in a shared 3D environment (Garzotto
and Forfori, 2006). ToonTastic is a tool, still in its beta phase, meant to enable children to
collaboratively create a story using an interactive, multiple-pen display (Russell, 2010).
Eventually, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) 4Kidss StoryBuilder is one of
the rare examples of large-scale exploitation of a digital storytelling system. Children can
create multimedia comix-style stories, based on the typical mechanism of
add-a-sentence-to-a-story. They can then save their stories in an online personal space
and also publish them and share them with friends, via e-mail (Antle, 2003). Digital
drawing, especially if collaborative, has also been considered a form of storytelling, like
in the KidPad project (Benford et al., 2000).

The case-study: PoliCultura

PoliCultura is an initiative by HOC-LAB of Politecnico di Milano, started in school year


2006. HOC-LAB had developed at that time a tool (1001 stories) for quick and easy
production of multimedia narratives (i.e., quite short and pleasurable applications, based
on video and audio), that was then used and still is by the labs staff in various fields:
cultural heritage communication, e-tourism, corporate communication and so on (see Di

Digital storytelling at school

41

Blas et al., 2010; Rubegni et al., 2010). Since the tool was quite easy to manage, we
decided to offer the opportunity of using it to Italian schools, starting from high schools
only in year 2006 and then progressively including all school grades. On the whole,
almost 13,000 students and 1,100 teachers have taken part in PoliCultura so far (see
Table 1).
Table 1

PoliCultura: the participating classes (those who register vs. those that actually take
part in the final competition)
Registered classes

Year

2010/11
2009/10

Total Pre-school
381
332

33
23

2008/09

415

2007/08

339
104

2006/07
Total

1,571

Primary
school

Classes that took part in the competition

Junior
High
high
school
school

133
137

97
80

118
92

39

173

113

149

98

104

Total Pre-school

Primary
school
68
51

Junior
High
high
school
school

175
140

15
10

47
35

45
44

90

191

25

69

57

40

92

129

55

36

38

56

56

691

If satisfied by the result of their efforts, teachers and pupils can decide to take part in a
national competition that crowns the best works of the year. Roughly 1/3 of the
participating classes actually submit the narrative to the competition: underestimation of
the effort needed is the main cause for dropping out. A panel of experts, from the
academia and the school, examines the submissions. The main criterion of evaluation is
the pedagogical quality of the experience rather than the perfection of the final result.

3.1 The toolkit


The 1001 stories toolkit allows creating multimedia applications that include audio,
slideshows of images and texts. These applications are also multi-channel, in the sense
that once generated they can be accessed by mobile devices (iPhone, iPad) or
downloaded on any device with a podcast player. 1001 stories is offered as a free web
service and does not require any specific software installation.
From a technological point of view, 1001stories is an engine, written in php,
composed by three main parts: a data entry, a preview and a generator. The data entry is a
simple authoring environment enabling the user to edit the editorial plan of the story and
to enter content for each element. The preview allows to visualise at any moment of the
process the contents inserted that far, as they will appear to the final user. The generator
produces and publishes the final applications (for the different delivery channels).
1001 stories is very easy to use: even people with minimal technological background
can handle it. The average learning time in primary school is 20 minutes. To make it even
more usable, we provide schools with more limited features with respect to our
professional version: e.g., schools can use slideshows only to illustrate their narrative (no
video, no flash animations). The reason is that we want to encourage any teacher to take
part, even those who are not confident with technology, and we want to allow them to
achieve in a reasonable time/effort a good result. A too sophisticated tool would cut down
participation dramatically.

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Figure 1 Web version (left) and mobile version (right) of a multimedia narrative done with
1001 stories (pre-school class) (see online version for colours)

3.2 The narratives


We call the applications done with 1001 stories narratives. They are audio-based:
content is the king while the visual communication just goes with it and evokes what is
being said. They are meant for a pleasurable, relaxed fruition: they present anecdotes,
interesting pieces of information, quotes and episodes. The goal is to raise curiosity about
issues, not to cover them fully. School can choose between two different formats (more
are under development): the complete narrative, encompassing a set of main topics with a
number of sub-topics (Figure 2), and the compact narrative, with just a linear set of
topics. The authors can choose how many topics and sub-topics they want but they
cannot modify the design (e.g., adding further navigation layers).
Figure 2 The complete narrative format (see online version for colours)

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Each item of content (be it a topic or a sub-topic) consists of an audio commentary,


approximately one or two minutes long, that goes with a slideshow of images; the audios
transcript is visible on demand (Figure 3).
Figure 3 The web interface of a narrative (primary school, title: Diego and the principle of
flotation adventures of a small pirate) (see online version for colours)

Users can browse the content in a number of ways: they can get a general overview, by
moving from one main topic to the next automatically, they can get all the pieces of
content moving from one topic to its sub-topics and then to the next main topic (again,
automatically), or select manually what they are interested in. When play lists are created,
the set of main topics (thus again offering an overview of the content) are collected as
well as the chapters (i.e., each topic plus its sub-topics).

3.3 Schools participation


Schools are notified of the initiative by the regional branches of the Italian Ministry for
Education: the school principal can then strongly encourage some teachers to take part
or simply pass the communication to all the teachers to see if any of them wants to join
the activity. Typically, two or more teachers decide to participate together, in order to
share the tasks and the hours needed to perform them.
The HOC-LAB staff provides participants with a short guide on how to make a
multimedia narrative: the guide is approximately 12 pages long and it addresses both
communication (how to select a proper topic, how to organise the content) and
technological issues (how to record MP3 files, how to use the 1001 stories toolkit). As we
said above, the technological requirements for using the toolkit are very low, so that
almost any teacher can take part: their pedagogical knowledge is much more necessary
than their technical knowledge to successfully complete the experience (Di Blas et al.,
2010c; Mishra and Koehler, 2006).
When the work is completed, participants can decide whether to take part in the
national competition. If they are nominated among the finalists, they come to the
celebration day at the LABs premises in Milan, in June. Both teachers and pupils are
invited: workshops (for the pupils) and focus groups (for the teachers) are organised, in
order to allow the LABs researchers investigating the impact of the toolkit with its direct
users.

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3.4 Production workflow


In the light of our experience with professional applications (Di Blas et al., 2010a), we
sketched a production workflow composed of five main steps:
1

theme selection

editorial plan creation, i.e., deciding what the topics and sub-topics are

gathering of the material

contents refinement

data upload.

But in spite of this, teachers and pupils interpret these rules quite freely and a number of
very creative organisational patterns are possible (Di Blas et al., 2009b). For example, in
some cases the topic of the narrative is the object of some other school activity,
independent from PoliCultura, therefore a huge amount of material is already there and
the need is to squeeze it into the 1001 stories format. In other cases, since the class is
divided into groups, the workflow runs in parallel: each group manages the
collection-refinement-data upload sequence independently.
In the first year of deployment, when high schools only were addressed, two kinds of
topics for the narrative were suggested: local art or local history. We then understood that
this constraint hindered teachers from participating, since they felt they could not afford
abandoning curricular activities to focus on specific topics. We therefore decided to let
them free to select whatever subject they wanted.
Pupils are typically organised into groups. The groups composition is either decided
by the teacher (who for example puts together proficient with less proficient pupils) or by
the pupils themselves. Inside the group, roles may alternate so that all the pupils can
perform all kinds of activities: writing the texts, drawing the pictures and scanning them,
recording the audios, managing the activities as project managers, etc. As an alternative,
teachers give a different role to each pupil in the class (like for example the reporter)
and all the students work cooperatively. The teachers role varies according to the kids
age: for very young kids (less than eight years old), she manages the activity; for older
kids, she gives them freedom, often delegating most of the technology-based activities to
them. In all cases, she acts as supervisor of the production process.
At any time, during the creation process, authors can preview and play the final
result. When authoring is completed, the generation engine delivers the narrative as a
website, an off-line version (CD-ROMs can be burnt for the families) and also podcast.
All the narratives are displayed on our website (http://www.policultura.it), but schools are
free to install them on their server if they wish. In many cases, in order to share the
results with the families, schools have printed the work in various formats (e.g.,
notebook, posters).

3.5 Monitoring tools


Every year, from 2006, the impact of the activity has been tested through a number of
means: online questionnaires, direct interviews (via Skype and telephone), focus groups
during the celebration days and the analysis of the students artefacts.
Online questionnaires are administered to:

Digital storytelling at school


1

teachers who complete the narrative and take part in the competition

teachers who complete the narrative but do not take part in the competition

teachers who do not complete the narrative and therefore do not take part in the
competition.

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Questions mainly revolve around their assessment of the benefits achieved by the
students and how the activity was implemented.
Interviews are taken when the activity is about to start, to investigate the teachers
expectations, and at the end of the activity, to investigate the results. Interviews undergo
a complex refinement process that go from the transcription to a more synthetic main
features extraction. The ultimate goal is to put all the features extraction documents in a
repository, to be explored thanks to a combination of faceted search and tags/words
clouds. The repository is one of the tasks of a national-funded project, Learning 4All, that
involves partners from both technological and pedagogical universities. It is foreseen to
host hundreds of documents (each corresponding to a single interview) resulting also
from other ICT-based experiences, thus providing a comprehensive overview of how ICT
can be used in school environments and with what results. The repositorys target are
both teachers and scholars (Paolini et al., 2011).
Focus groups are held each year during the celebration day of PoliCultura: HOC-LAB
researchers sit together at a round table with 20 to 30 teachers and school principals.
Issues dealt with are: why did you decide to join an ICT-based activity? What kind of
benefits did it bring about? How did you organise the class? Did you manage to involve
all the students? Were ICT somehow helpful for inclusion? Eventually, the narratives
themselves are object of analysis by a panel of experts. The quality of the results is an
indicator of how much media literacy has been achieved.

Educational benefits

The digital storytelling activity of PoliCultura generates a number of substantial


educational benefits. Actually, numerous studies have shown that the learning outcomes
achieved by students constructing external representations of their knowledge are
stronger, retained longer, and transferred to other relevant contexts (Lajoie and Derry,
2000; Lehrer, 1993). This is also supported by several constructivist theories, such as
constructionism (Papert, 1980), collaborative learning (Slavin, 1995), situated cognition
(Brown et al., 1989) and authentic learning (Herrington, 2006).
In this section, we present the results of the data collected with 139 teachers during
school-year 2009 to 2010 [results from previous years are comparable see also Di Blas
et al. (2008, 2009b)]. First of all, we present the data related to what we may call direct
(i.e., curricular, typical, expectable) benefits, then we move to the core of this paper:
the achievement of indirect (non-curricular, atypical, unpredictable) benefits. The
reader must note that rating is on a 1 to 5 points scale, where 1 is the most negative score
while 5 is the best and 3 average.

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4.1 Direct benefits


Teachers acknowledge that the storytelling activity with 1001 stories fosters substantial
cognitive benefits, in terms of enhanced curiosity (score: 4), improved knowledge (score:
3.86) and improved recollection (score: 3.69), all in relation to the narratives topic. In
addition, 67.7% of the teachers declare that their pupils show increased curiosity towards
their subject of teaching (e.g., history, history of art, mathematics ).
Communication skills are enhanced too, both in general (score: 3.76) and more
specifically with new technologies (the so-called media literacy; score: 3.92). Related to
this, the pupils capacity of well organising content is also acknowledged (score: 3.73).
The acquisition of technical skills is obviously also there (score: 3.81), although it scores
less than most of the cognitive benefits (see Figure 4). Interviews actually show a switch
between the expectations of the interviewees that consider the acquisition of
technological skills as prominent, and the results, where other benefits emerge as more
relevant, first and foremost the improved capacity to communicate with new
technologies. The so-called social skills are also perceived as very relevant, the capacity
of working in group especially.
Figure 4 The educational benefits of PoliCultura (see online version for colours)

Note: Year 2009 to 2010, 139 respondents.

Last but not least, teachers report a significant increase in students engagement and
motivation. While engagement can be defined as the sheer pleasure of participating/doing
an activity, motivation is the will of performing the required tasks (i.e., reading,
researching, making the drawings, etc.), the feeling that expanding a great deal of energy
into something is worthwhile (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). 68.3% of the teachers declare
that the class as a whole had been involved; 27% of the teachers declare that 80% of the
pupils in the class had been involved. Teachers report: PoliCultura has triggered
aggregation inside the class; students were so motivated that they worked even in
extra-curricular hours; PoliCultura generates enthusiasm: pupils show prolonged
attention and they thrive to improve their performance. Engagement and motivation are
probably the driving forces for all the other benefits.

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4.2 Indirect benefits


Together with the curricular benefits, a number of other benefits are generated that are
atypical in school environment.

Professional attitude: Probably in relation to the group work and also to the
competition, students develop a sense of responsibility and an almost professional
attitude. They feel that their contribution is intertwined with those of their peers and
is crucial for the overall final result (finishing the narrative and winning the
competition). A teacher reports: all the kids seem much more responsible. They
know that their work is crucial for the whole class. They start to understand what a
deadline is!.

Surfacing of new talents: Since the activity is unusual, it reconfigures the


relationships inside the class as some students abilities that are usually not rewarded
in normal schools activities, surface as relevant (typically, the technological skills).

Improved relationships between teacher and students: The common goal of creating
a good product and hopefully winning the competition bonds not only the students as
a group but also the students and the teacher. A teacher reports: PoliCultura has
been an occasion to know my students better, especially some kids who proved
invaluable in this work, whereas in regular school activity they do not usually stand
out.

Increased motivation towards schools activities: The motivation generated by the


ICT-based experience lasts more than the experience itself and influences other
school activities. For example, a teacher reports: The students in my school (an
Economics-Technical Institute) seem uninterested in learning the techniques of
writing, and disaffected about culture in general. The teachers job gets harder, as we
struggle to find strategies for motivating students to express their thoughts in correct
forms. The opportunity offered by PoliCultura, that made available to schools such a
friendly product of advanced technology to communicate culture, was well accepted:
all students in the class could collaborate to create the interactive narrative.
Educational results have been excellent, because writing together with other forms
of expression has become a useful tool, which students use now with increased
confidence.

Families participation: Again thanks to the high level of involvement, students tend
to report on what they are doing at home. In one case, the students of a primary
school who had done a narrative about the local archaeological museum, after the
work was finished brought their parents to visit the museum, acting as guides. Most
of the families had never visited the museum before (Garzotto and Paolini, 2008). In
another case, the grand-father of one of the kids was involved in the activity as
historical memory: the topic was the old way of living in a small village in the
Italian Alps.

Community-at-large involvement: Sometimes, involvement crosses the boundaries of


the schools walls to reach the community at large. For example, a beautiful narrative
produced by a pre-school class was presented in the local theatre to the schools
principal, the towns major and all the people who wished to attend.

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Help into expressing oneself: Asking children to tell a story with their own digital
words, for example interpreting a character or simply reporting a personal
experience, helps them to express their inner self, sometimes in problematic
situations. A young primary school girl who took part to PoliCultura while in
hospital (a small, ever-changing class had been organised there) found a way to
speak aloud about her difficult situation. Asked to re-interpret in her own words the
wizard of Oz tale, she reported that our nurse is just like the Witch of the North: she
can see everything. Yesterday she spotted me while eating a cookie and she scolded
me: you know you just cant have cookies she said. In another case, students
were asked to make a self-presentation using poetry and images, with the 1001stories
tool. Andrea, a primary school boy, described himself as a chips: If I were a chips,
I would crumble up immediately, for Im so scared of being crunched () but if
I were Andrea, as I am and always have been, I would be a very long book to read.

Inclusion: The general excitement produced by PoliCultura urges all the students to
take part, even students with disabilities or diverse needs. A teacher reports: In my
class there is a dyslexic kid. He tried to record his part some 15, 20 times. He did not
want to give up! The whole class stood around him cheering and in the end, he made
it.

The key ingredients of the experience

In this paragraph, we attempt to extrapolate from our experience what the key
ingredients that make it successful are. Figure 5 summarises our view.
Figure 5 Key ingredients of digital storytelling in schools, their immediate effects and generated
benefits (see online version for colours)

Note: The elements marked with * are those controlled (totally or partially) by the
designer.

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49

PoliCultura, as we discussed above, generates a number of benefits: direct (i.e.,


traditional, related to the curriculum, typical of a school environment) and indirect
(a-typical, non-foreseen, not even looked-for but still relevant). The main driving forces
in our opinion are:
1

motivation (meant as the willingness to make an effort for achieving something)

the reshuffling of roles that the activity triggers.

Ease of use is the necessary pre-condition that allows the activity to be performed in any
kind school and by any teacher, even with a poor technological background. 1001 stories
can be managed very easily: 20 minutes is the average learning time in primary school.
Serious content is essential for the achievement of substantial benefits in terms of
knowledge (one of the direct benefits). Though this point may sound obvious, we want to
stress that phantasmagoric technological effects are useless if serious content is not there.
The second thing to be noted is that learning does not come through technology per se
but thanks to the motivation generated by technology: as discussed elsewhere, technology
acts as trigger, like an exciting shopping experience thanks to which goods (i.e., sound,
traditional, deep learning) are bought (Di Blas et al., 2010c).
Motivation comes from/together with engagement and engagement in its turn comes
from the fact that kids are using ICT. Data from interviews and focus groups show that
teachers acknowledge the fundamental role of technology in motivating their pupils.
When explicitly asked whether a similar activity but without ICT would have worked the
same, they all (100%) said it would not. A comparative study, where storytelling with
1001stories and without it was performed, reinforce this conclusion (Rubegni and
Paolini, 2010). Still, ICT alone is not enough: we offer all participants the possibility of
using the 1001 stories tool for any other activity they wish, but just a negligible subset
actually does it (less than 1%). Actually, the second key ingredient for motivating
students is a clear goal to achieve, in our case delivering the work by the deadline and
hopefully winning the competition. Previous experiences with ICT-based programmes in
schools demonstrated that the competition acts as a powerful spur for doing ones best
(Di Blas et al., 2009a). Being goal-directed is one of the many characteristics that in
Csikszentmihalyis option an activity should have in order to foster a sense of flow (i.e.,
deep involvement) in the participants (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).The third motivating
factor is the visibility of the results: students (and their families) are fluttered by the fact
that their work will be on the web, visible to everyone. In another sense, even very young
kids (pre-school) like to think that someone (the people in Milan, their families, their
relatives) will look at what they have done (Figure 6). Interviews to teachers reveal
that an additional motivating factor is the relevance of Politecnico in the Italian
panorama: especially schools from small rural towns like to think they are taking part in a
national big initiative promoted by a prestigious institution.

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Figure 6 Pre-school kids have just uploaded a set of picture and patiently wait while the system is
loading (see online version for colours)

Collaboration fosters both motivation and the reshuffling of roles. The interesting thing
is that the 1001 stories tool is not meant for collaborative use (but at the same time it does
allow for it). Still, when introduced in the classroom, it does foster a collaborative
activity (Di Blas et al., 2010b) and therefore strengthens the bonds among the students,
who need to cooperate to reach a common end. A teacher reports: my students are
reaching the awareness that group work means coordinating, listening to each other,
dividing tasks etc. A high-school student reports: the entire activity was almost entirely
managed by us students: we split into groups, collected relevant information and then
worked on it. Although the groups were 6, all collaborated with each other all the time.
The fact that 1001stories although not meant to foster collaboration does allow it has
turned out as an unexpected asset: interviews reveal that 100% of the participants do
work in group, in one way or another.
The reshuffling of roles is determined by the necessity for the teachers to adopt a new
pedagogical paradigm: teachers are provided, from our side, with just a sketch of
instructional design that needs to be completed and adapted in full details to fit the needs
of their specific situations. A number of factors are to be taken into account, ranging from
the students characteristics (proficiency, inclinations, capabilities, diverse needs) to
the equipment availability and the colleagues (or the principals) willingness to support
the activity. In addition, most of the times the activity is fully new for both teachers and
students. Unlike normal school activities, the teacher is neither fully aware of the details
nor can s/he fully handle the technological tasks. S/he has to cooperate with the students
to face the novelty. It oftentimes happens that students who for example are good at using
technology become the teachers helpers. Thus, roles in the class are reshuffled and
there is a chance for new talents to emerge and gain, through a successful experience,
enough confidence and motivation to perform better in school activities in general. A
teacher reported in an interview this interesting anecdote: In my class there is a student
that, well, you know makes you desperate. I gave the class as homework to prepare a

Digital storytelling at school

51

slideshow for the narrative. I asked them to deliver it by e-mail. Three hours later I got
the slideshow from that boy (the disaffected one). I could not believe it. The day after, I
showed it to all my colleagues who were as surprised as I was. From that moment, I gave
him more responsibility in the activity.
Let us now transform the lessons learned in a set of guidelines for designers:
1

The tool must be easy to use (to allow for wide adoption and also to support
communication efficiently).
We deliberately sacrificed some advanced functionalities (that we do have in our
professional version) to make the tool as intuitive and usable as possible.

Be sure to deal with sound, serious content.


It is easy to run experiences with ICT generating high engagement that seems
positive but do not produce a substantial educational impact.

Provide participants with a clear goal.


Studies and data demonstrate that having a clear goal is a powerful motivating factor
for participants. As we said above: while hundreds of classes use our tool every year
for taking part in the competition, less than 1% use it for other educational activities.

Provide some sort of visibility to the results of the activity.


For example, publishing works on the web is again a good motivator.

Encourage/allow collaboration among participants.


1001 stories had not been meant for a collaborative use; yet, 100% of the participants
did work in group and this turned out as one of the greatest assets of the experience,
according to teachers. Our advice is therefore: do promote collaboration! or, at
least, do not impede it.

Do not encage participants (and most important their leader, the teacher), in a strict
instructional design; let them free to add, adapt, change the rules to fit their situation
and needs. This is where creativity works.

Conclusions

In Section 5, we have distilled what we deem are the key ingredients of our successful
educational experience with digital storytelling in schools. In our current research, we
want to better investigate the instructional design how the experience is implemented
in the class. As we said above, in spite of the fact that we suggest a workflow of activities
in the instructions we provide participants with, they tend to interpret them in many
different ways and do as they like. Through the interviews (and their refinement)
performed in the frame of the Learning4All project, we are trying to elicit how the
implementation process relates to the achieved benefits. We know that the secret of a
positive educational impact lies in the process of creation itself, independently from the
quality of the result.

52

N. Di Blas and L. Ferrari

Acknowledgements
We warmly thank first and foremost Paolo Paolini, Scientific Coordinator of HOC-LAB
and of PoliCultura. We also like to thank the people from the HOC-LAB staff who
passionately work for making PoliCultura a success every year, especially Elena Maccari,
PoliCulturas project manager.
This work is partially supported by National Project L4A (Learning for All) Grant
No. RBNE07CPX 001.

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