Fri 16th June 2017 - 14:51

Show your own gold

The Erasmus+ project 'Show Your Own Gold' is developing a model of intervention for vocational preparation based on helping young people use digital media to construct their vocational biographies.

The vocational biographies, developed through storytelling can serve as an e-Portfolio for young people, reflecting informal learning as well as formal educational attainment. The project has developed an online portfolio platform to support digital storytelling and the development of visual e-Portfolios and has organised workshops in five European counties. This case study explores the ideas behind the project and reflects on what was learned in carrying out the project activities.

Show your own Gold– a European Concept to Visualise and Reflect One’s Vocational Biography Using Digital Media

The “Show your own Gold” project is developing a model of intervention for vocational preparation based on helping young people use digital media to construct their vocational biographies. The project is developing an online environment which young people can use to showcase the competences they have acquired both formally and informally throughout their lives. The skills they need to construct this digital narrative will be developed through a modular programme of teaching and learning activities in each of the partner countries (Romania, Slovenia, Wales/U.K., Germany, Catalonia/Spain as well as Portugal). They will be supported by a training programme the trainer programme so other organisations can deliver the same opportunities.

Digital biographical narratives for empowerment and learning

The ‘Show your own Gold’ project has adopted the idea of ‘digital biographical narratives’ to provide learning support and promote reflection and autonomous activity. The idea of digital biographical narratives comes from a merger of two concepts: from Vocational Education and Training research and media/art education research in Germany. It is translated from the German terms ‘berufsbiographische Gestaltungskompetenz‘.

Visual ‘biographing‘ (‘Ästhetisches Biografieren‘ in German) is a process and a visual entrance to individuals’ own biographies and ‘educatedness‘ by using digital media. Vocational biography design is defined as the competence to cope with the demands and discontinuities in life.

The idea of ‘vocational biography design’ was introduced in German VET research by Hendrich (2003) and Kaufhold (2004) in response to the needs for adaptability by the ‘flexible worker’. It was designed to develop resilience for individuals to better handle changes and discontinuities in society. Also, to best cope with internal and external pressures for flexibility and to balance and reflect vocational experience (Reimann, D./Huber, K. 2016).

While traditional career orientation focused on the categorisation of the personal strengths of a person, the concept idea of what was translated as ‘Vocational Biography Design’ is focused on being proactive towards the reflection of one‘s own vocational and educational biography.

The idea is to activate learners, although it is recognised that gaining employment is not solely in the hands of the individual (Fischer et al, 2016). The BARB model (Witzel & Kühn, 1999) seeks to balance career and employment aspirations with the realities of seeking work. It recognises that construction of vocational orientation, decision making and active processes in one‘s life (vita) include situation and context as well as the dynamics of time. The process involves addressing a series questions for reflection:

  • Where do I stand?
  • Where do I want to go to?
  • How can I meet this target?
  • What did I learn from it?

The process of ‘visual biographying‘ is derived from art education (“Ästhetisches Biografieren“) and visual research (Ästhetische Forschung), is a didactic concept linking research to visual culture (Kämpf-Jansen, 2001). It is about making visible the phases of one‘s biography, using different kinds of media, materials, collections, and memorabilia as a starting point for reflection. 

Life/the vita has to be drawn, documented, written or sketched in the first place in order to visually appear (‘Bio muss erst grafiert werden’, as Pazzini, (2002) has put it. (Reimann, D./Huber, K. 2016)


The project adopted an approach to constructing biographical narratives based on storytelling. Stories are seen as useful in education as they can help promote understanding of often quite complex situations, linking theory to practice in a way that is memorable (NHS, 2005).

Storytelling is a powerful way of using narrative in establishing meanings. “Narrative meaning is created by establishing that something is a part of a whole and usually that something is the cause of something else” (Denning, 2007). It is usually combined with human actions or events that affect human beings. The meaning of each event is produced by the part it plays in the whole episode. The events together can create a biographical narrative, aided by reflection on their meaning. To say what something means is to say how it is related or connected to something else.

Storytelling is also a way of capture tacit knowledge – knowledge that we do not know we have. Stories can provide a way of allowing people to express and share tacit knowledge in rich and meaningful ways, rather than being forced to articulate it in more ‘structured’ ways that can detract from its value (NHS, 2005).

Whilst storytelling is a long established practice, digital technologies can enhance and enrich stories through the use of multimedia. Even before the development of the internet, technologies were being used in the 1990s in the creation and sharing of personal narratives through the combination of thoughtful writing and digital media tools. A pioneer in the field, British photographer, author, and educator Daniel Meadows defined digital stories as “short, personal multimedia tales told from the heart.”

The widespread adoption of digital technologies has challenged traditional ideas of literacy. Beetham, McGill and Littlejohn (2009) emphasise that it is in the context in which learning is taking place and what is expected of learners which is changing so radically. Thus they talk of “learning literacies for a digital age” rather than ‘digital literacies‘.

In terms of the ‘Show your Own Gold’ project, the aim is to develop digital biographical portfolios to promote and extend the digital literacy and capabilities of learners through engagement with new media and through digital storytelling. However, at the same time both in designing the portfolio technology and planning programmes for learners it is important to realise that different individuals will have different levels of capability and may require continuing support in developing and extending their learning literacies for a digital age.

The ‘Show your own Gold’ project has developed an online platform for digital storytelling and visual biographies based on the open source Wordpress and BuddyPress software. Workshops scenarios have been developed, organised and evaluated with young people in Germany, Spain, Portugal, UK, Romania and Slovenia to help young people develop their visual biography in the form of an e-Portfolio. Those scenarios were adapted to the country specific requirements of the target group and organisation of vocational preparation and pre-vocational training in different countries.

Findings and issues

In the course of developing the platform and conducting the workshops there were a number of issues which arose:

Employability versus empowerment

There was tension between employability, creativity and empowerment. The use of multimedia and digital biographical storytelling was seen as a powerful process for developing the expansive forms of digital capabilities outlined above, and of encouraging reflection and empowering participants through the articulation and recognition of learning from wider contexts than formal education. Yet at the same time employers were still felt to not recognise the importance of such creativity, still viewing competence in the more traditional form of certification and qualifications.

Social media and Web 2.0

Social media and Web 2.0 offers many apps which can be used for creating and sharing content. Some are explicitly oriented towards learning, productivity, creating multimedia content and many for social networking and interaction.

Apps such as Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram are primarily targeted towards young people. Interestingly, older social networks such as Facebook appear to be slowly losing popularity with younger people, whilst increasingly appealing to an older age demographic. Furthermore, free internet access is regulated by schools e.g. Facebook is often banned German schools, so that only teachers have access and can enter if required. This is problematic in that it prevents discussions and has consequences for organising access in order to analyse and discuss Facebook profiles and other digital identities which students have developed online.

There was considerable discussion between the project partners on what reliance, if any, should be placed on the use of web 2.0 and social media applications. Social software can offer rich learning opportunities. However, concerns were raised over privacy and the complicated terms and conditions of use, sometimes granting ownership of products to software providers. Furthermore, there is no guarantee of the future of social software services, many applications widely used in education have been shut down by application providers.

It was recognised that there was no single answer to these issues. In developing its own platform, the project sought where technically possible to allow the embedding of outputs from social software programmes, for instance videos from YouTube.

The use of technologies requires skills from teachers, trainers and students

Despite the widespread use of technologies in everyday society there is no guarantee that teachers, trainers or young people will be confident or competent in using a digital portfolio system. Indeed, it could be argued that the move from computers to the use of mobiles for everyday communication, is lessening young people's familiarity with ‘traditional’ computer software and applications. Those applications which encourage more creative forms of use of social media, such as Instagram or Snapchat, are based on very short inputs and near simultaneous communication with limited opportunities for reflection.

Even when teachers and trainers are confident in using technologies for everyday work purposes this does not guarantee they will be confident in their pedagogic application for learning, neither that they will be familiar with e-Portfolio systems.

Digital literacy and digital narratives

The emerging and wider understandings of digital literacies are helpful in terms of the ‘Show your own Gold’ project, especially in terms of viewing digital literacy as a developmental process encompassing access and functional skills to higher level capabilities and identity.

The process of developing digital narratives clearly match this perspective and provides a rich context for motivated learners to develop new skills and practices in different situations. However, the processes of developing (multimedia) narratives and using an e-Portfolio system need to be more closely integrated. This is particularly so in the time limited context of a workshop.

Privacy and digital safeguarding

There remain different perspectives on privacy and digital safeguarding in different countries. In some respects, this is reflected in different legal and administrative rules and procedures, in different cultural attitudes towards the use of social and digital media. Our overall concern should be to educate young people in both the opportunities and affordances of digital media and of sharing for learning and reflection, alongside understanding the safe use of the internet.

Barriers to access

Despite policies and programmes for digital inclusion, there remain considerable barriers particularly for socially excluded young people and people with low levels of qualifications. These young people may often have no home access to computers or the internet. It may be worth considering how mobile applications could be used creatively in developing digital narratives, given wider access to such technologies.

Using digital narratives and storytelling in different contexts

Developing digital narratives and storytelling has considerable potential especially for exploring informal learning. As such it could be transferred to many different target groups. Alongside its wider use in formal education, digital narratives are increasingly being used in public service provision especially in health services and other contexts where it is important to understand different perspectives and meanings.

As the research undertaken with the younger participants has suggested, pupils were highly motivated to attend the workshops. Their worked focused on developing online biographical narratives, and were interested in using different types of digital media and applications for means of visualisation, and succeeded in developing and presenting their projects (Reimann, 2017).


Beetham, H., McGill, L., and Littlejohn, A. (2009). Thriving in the 21st century: Learning Literacies for the Digital Age (LLiDA project). Glasgow: the Caledonian Academy, Glasgow Caledonian University.

Denning, S. (2007) The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative, Jossey-Bass

Hendrich, W. (2003) Berufbiographische Gestaltungskompetenz. Habilitationsschrift. Universität Flensburg.

Fischer, M. et al. (2016): Den eigenen Weg finden. Ein Lehr-/Lernarrangement zur Förderung berufsbiografischer Gestaltungskompetenz. In: Reimann, D./Bekk, S./Fischer, M. (eds., 2016): Gestaltungsorientierte Aktivierung von Lernenden. Übergänge in Schule – Ausbildung – Beruf, Norderstedt, p. 115-144

Kämpf-Jansen, H. (2001). Ästhetische Forschung – Wege durch Alltag, Kunst und Wissenschaft. Zu einem innovativen Konzept ästhetischer Bildung. Köln: Salon Verlag.

Kaufhold, M. (2004). Berufsbiographische Gestaltungskompetenz und Überlegungen zur Erfassbarkeit. In: DIE-Report 4/2004. Pisa für Erwachsene.

NHS (2005) Why are we telling stories accessed April 5, 2017

Pazzini, K.-J. (2002). Bio muss erst grafiert werden. In: Manfred Blohm (Hrsg.): Berührungen & Verflechtungen. Biografische Spuren in ästhetischen Prozessen. Köln: Salon Verlag. pp. 307-320.

Reimann, D.: (2017): German National evaluation report (IO3). Karlsruhe: IBP/KIT

Reimann, D. 2017. The transnational Curriculum report (IO 2). Karlsruhe: IBP/KIT

Reimann, D./Huber, K. (2016): A European concept to visualize and reflect the vocational biography using digital media. In: Reimann, D. / Bekk, S. / Fischer, M. (eds., 2016): Gestaltungsorientierte Aktivierung von Lernenden. Übergänge in Schule – Ausbildung – Beruf, Norderstedt, p. 145-173

Witzel, A. and Kühn, A. (1999). Berufsbiographische Gestaltungsmodi. Bremen

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