Integrating Narrative Digital Storytelling into Higher Education

8.4.2019
New study by Marianna Vivitsou (University of Helsinki) and Ari Korhonen (Aalto University) “Digital Storytelling and Group Work – Integrating the Narrative Approach into a Higher Education Computer Science Course” discusses a pedagogical intervention that took place from October to December 2018. The study will be presented in ACM, ITiCSE ’19 conference, July 15--17, 2019, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK.

The students were 2nd year minor and major in Computer Science and their task was to tell stories in three phases (i.e., abstract, manuscript and video story). As the stories would explore recursion, which is an intriguing but fundamental concept, it was assumed that digital storytelling would give the students the opportunity to visualize and make the notion more concrete. The researchers also thought it would be interesting to test how group work works in relation to character and storyline development. Characters and plot/storyline are basic elements of narrative storytelling and the development of one influences the other. This was seen as a process of multiple storylines, where stories evolve and co-evolve within stories.

Based on these, the group work was seen as the space where students synthesize the stories of their own development. Development is not about content knowledge only. It is also about growing the sense of belonging, whether the group, the class, the university etc. In short, group work is about identification. Using concepts from group theory, psychoanalysis and narrative theory, researchers examined how story narratives and group narratives relate. Student work resulted in short films, documentary-style and program-based stories.

In short films, students developed a distributed type of leadership with a centripetal (i.e., inward) movement and high mutual recognition, well-elaborated characters, well-developed plots and accurate representations of recursion. In documentary-like stories, where the leadership was moving outward/centrifugal the level of identification was low and the stories displayed explicit misconceptions. On the contrary, where mutual recognition was higher, the stories were better elaborated, and recursion well represented. In programmed stories, a lot of attention was given on technology use, with programming and code development playing a protagonist role. Here, the characters were better defined than in documentaries, but not as well-elaborated as in short films. In this type, we observed a kind of focused leadership, which resulted in transferring task responsibility to a peer with advanced programming abilities.

Overall, the study shows that group identification and narrative elaboration and development correlate with the ways content is conceived or mis-conceived in student work. When members recognize one another and identify more strongly with the group, main theme configurations seem to be better-established with well-worked out storylines and characters. When identification is at low, the work displays misconceptions. This perspective on the narrative dimension of digital storytelling bears implications on pedagogical design, not only for the teaching of complex content, but also teaching the new media, misconceptions and dis/misinformation.

Read the study here.

Further information:
Marianna Vivitsou, Post-doctoral Researcher, CICERO Learning, University of Helsinki
Ari Korhonen, Senior Lecturer, School of Science, Aalto University