Digital Storytelling is a Game-Changer in Character and Citizenship Education for Students and Teachers

Digital Storytelling is a Game-Changer in Character and Citizenship Education for Students and Teachers

Friday, 27 July 2018

Following a three-year study at a secondary school, education researchers Phillip A. Towndrow, Rethinavel Shanmugan and Galyna Kogut share how they combined drama and digital storytelling to give a new twist to character and citizenship education.

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We all have stories to tell.

But getting started can be challenging for some classes because they are not always strong in expressing their ideas quickly and clearly in spoken words or written scripts. When this happens, we need different ways to kick-start and maintain their creativity.

In our study, Visualizing and Performing Character and Citizenship through Digital Storytelling (OER11/15), we wanted to understand how secondary one students used the arts and drama in digital storytelling to communicate their thoughts, feelings and ideas about living and studying in Singapore.

We also investigated if there were any long-term effects of using digital storytelling as a motivator to teach and learn.

After one year of specially-designed classes, workshops and a couple of field trips to local historical sites, we discovered how drawings, photographs, gestures, movie clips and mobile phone apps are excellent ways of developing story ideas.

In one activity, (see pictures) we asked the class to begin by making a representation of something they wanted but could not have. These images (e.g., a novel, branded soccer boots, a Polaroid camera and travel tickets) paved the way to deep discussions about possessions, property and looking after others in need. But that was not the end.

In another series of lessons, we used role-plays, improvisations and tableaux—where groups of students make still images with their bodies to represent a scene—to work on the specific details of a storyline. Examples included a robbery, a disagreement, and the emotions of a particular character.

We also noticed how the students enjoyed the freedom of moving around and stretching out in the school’s drama studio.

They also turned the school’s canteen and the nearby hawker centre into film locations to add colour and context to their stories.

These opportunities helped the class in viewing the world around them actively and be less apprehensive about visiting unfamiliar places like Fort Canning and Clarke Quay.

We quickly saw how all of the students in the class—regardless of their previous academic achievements—had a wealth of ideas and opinions to share.

One clear benefit of digital storytelling was in using of software to edit sounds, photographs, movie clips and words. For most students, using their mobile phones was a natural, self-initiated choice.

They worked quickly and easily in resizing and cropping pictures, adding emoticons, and using special effects and filters for emphasis. No formal instruction was necessary.

Another unique advantage of working digitally comes from combining different media to extend and amplify meanings beyond what is possible with written and spoken language alone. Some possibilities from the students included overlaying fast music on photographs to convey speed or movie clips with slow-motion transitions to express the passing of time.

Yet, despite these skills, the students still needed instruction and a lot of practice in key character and citizenship areas like trust and respect for each other. For example, we made it clear not to laugh at, criticise or evaluate classmates during group work and class presentations.

The success of our project depended on having a teacher with the flexibility and wisdom to learn from all the students in the class. In teacher Mr. Rethi’s words, “I learned to see the class as individuals and not just as a class. This allowed me to plan better because I knew their individual needs better.”

Overall, we believe our project shows the potential of digital storytelling in turning character and citizenship education into a meaningful process and active learning experience for both teachers and students.

For more about the project and our ideas about digital storytelling, please see: