Digital storytelling is also a form of narration highly relevant to the contemporary digital era. Interactive multimodal texts are constantly been created whilst current users develop a variety of literacies and skills in the process.
Most students are accustomed to playing adventure, platform and role-playing videogames. Based on their prior experiences with videogames and films and their favorite subjects at school, my students decided to carry out an interactive project.
They formed two groups, which would engage in two separate digital tasks. The first group decided to design a videogame after writing a story about significant cultural works of art; famous artists’ paintings. In their story, a robbery takes place in an art museum and the player/user is expected to gather all the necessary information and tools so as to solve the mystery. As the story takes place in an art museum, players/users seek clues in famous pieces of art, ask questions to the museum curator and visitors and explore the area in order to retrieve the missing painting.
The second group of students decided to create a videogame based on science focusing on electricity and the tools and materials needed to create an electrical system. Einstein was the wise grandfather who challenges them and helps them to find out the mystery of electricity!
Designing a videogame is challenging both for the teacher and the students, as most of them have probably played many videogames but they are not accustomed to designing digital environments, let alone videogames. Still, this project was based upon students’ interests, as the various videogames they are playing are the focus of their everyday discussions.
In this context, the teacher came up with the idea of proposing the design of a videogame in the school. This project was the product of 17 students, 10 boys and 7 girls, attending the 6th grade of primary school in Thessaloniki. Most of the students were moderate ICT users, having fair experience in MS Office and mobile applications, and basic understanding of audiovisual software. Their project was titled “Create your own videogame” and it took place during school hours and during students’ free time, if they wished. For this project, the teacher chose to adopt the 5E instructional model. The 5E model calls for the teacher to design and facilitate five types of instructional events within an instructional lesson or unit.
In the initial stage of engagement, the teacher aimed at exploring and highlighting students’ prior knowledge, experiences and skills. All answers provided by students were recorded on the interactive whiteboard and a mind map, with some key words noted down. The session finished with a group discussion on videogames; their wide appeal and attractiveness, what makes a good videogame, and which type students prefer.
In the next stage, the teacher gathered the students in the computer lab. The students were asked to play two videogames for a limited amount of time; an educational and a commercial one. The main task the teacher expected them to do was to explore both types of games and reflect on what is learned via a videogame, if anything is learned at all, the videogame’s structure and storyline, who are the main characters, and how does the story deepens or comes to an end.
In stage 3, students had to explain the essential elements that make up a videogame. Some notes were taken, though all videogame structures were presented verbally in class. Students expressed their own views on videogames argumentatively, perhaps for the very first time, debated the pros and cons of videogames, and critically reflected on crucial questions posed by the teacher, such as whether there is a narrative in every videogame, what is its main purpose, which strategies are employed or even how many people/professionals are needed to design a videogame.
In the fourth stage, students decided to work on creating their own digital story, so as to penetrate in videogame structure and gain insights into the pros and cons involved in this process of videogame design. The students, supported by the teacher, started designing, implementing and evaluating their own digital story, through a videogame they set out to design and eventually play. Initially, the students had to think of all the essential elements of a videogame. They had to decide on a story and write it (plot, characters, setting etc.), think about the future players’ incentives to play the game, decide on the target-audience, the videogame goals, its interactive setting, the rules and tools available etc.
Designing a videogame proved a rather challenging, but entertaining, task for the students. They noted down all their ideas on a Google Drive document, which was continuously re-written by all sub-groups of students. Students also created a storyboard, on which they recorded the plot and its development frame by frame.
Students then had to decide on the software and tools employed in the storytelling (images, videos, texts, instructions, etc.). In each group of students a task was assigned; thus, not only a videogame was designed, but students also participated in a simulation of the videogame “industry”, as each one of them had a different role/profession. One group was responsible for image and video processing, another for sound effects and music, another for composing the videogame texts, whilst yet another for gathering and comprising all the elements into a functional videogame. All software used for these tasks was mostly freeware and open source, whereas some requiring subscriptions were available through the school’s account. After having worked on each task separately, the students gathered all their digital products and started designing the game via Adventure Maker, defined all hotspots, selected all the potential tools available for the players/users etc.
During the fifth stage the students were asked to reflect on and evaluate the procedure they followed so as to create a videogame. Specifically, they tried to understand the possibilities, opportunities and restrictions offered by such a project. The teacher asked the students to record the steps they followed in detail, recall their experience of this project, reflect on their actions and evaluate the final outcome. As soon as the videogame was designed, re-designed and de-bugged, the students played it, before distributing it to their peers for feedback and free use.
Students discussed the digital product, the design process and its development step by step, the hurdles and grey areas as well as further potentials they could have included in their videogame so as to make it more attractive and professional. They reflected and argued on all of the aspects involved in the project from multiple perspectives. Through constant interaction with personal digital narrations, students managed to enhance their knowledge, develop multiple skills and shape or re-enforce their own identities.
During this project, the students gained new knowledge on arts, language, new technologies, physics, maths and history. They used interdisciplinary methods of learning and combined it with their personal interests into an engaging experiential fun activity. In addition, they practiced critical thinking, deep reflection, giving and receiving feedback and meta-cognitive learning strategies. They enhanced their social skills, became more open and accepting of diversity and multiple perspectives and adopted a culture of listening to others, collaborating and sharing. Inclusion was a great success of the project along with increased self-esteem and self-confidence. The students showed that they could take imitative, and be innovative and entrepreneurial.
The topic of the project was selected collectively, through democratic processes, and all opinions and ideas were brainstormed and carefully examined in terms of feasibility. Similarly, throughout the project multiple perspectives were used, several options were offered as the game evolved, which all originated from students’ ideas. So, in this sense, most of the students’ ideas were in fact embedded in the game, as this was its main philosophy.
Throughout the project, students had to work in groups, with randomly selected students and not only their 1-2 closest friends. In addition, they had to learn how to reflect critically, make crucial decisions and practice giving and receiving substantial feedback. These processes enhanced students’ self-confidence and self-esteem and also enforced the idea of working together and collaborating towards a goal. Students realised and appreciated their peers’ abilities, skills and even personal traits. Thus, peer relationships quickly evolved acquaintances to friendships.
Initially, the teacher made use of an interactive board so as support her students towards chosing a suitable viable topic, organising its various stages and implementing it. As the entire project consisted of creating an interactive story and designing a functionable videogame, educational technology was used during all stages (videogame design software). In addition, as the students were creating their story, selecting its characters, and other elements, they had to dig deep into the internet to find suitable information and chose the items they would use in the videogame. Other resources, including MS Office, google drive etc were also used so as to facilitate the preparatory stage and the organisation of the entire project.
As previously mentioned the end-product of this project was a videogame. Besides the people involved in the project, all the students attending this school, but also interested teachers and parents, received the game application the 6th grade students designed and could easily play it.