Producing Multimedia Stories with ESL Children: A Partnership Approach
National Chiao Tung University
GAIL FITZGERALD AND MEEAENG KO PARK
University of Missouri-Columbia
This article describes the development of multimedia stories produced by ESL children using a children-as-designers approach. The rationale for the project was based on the use of technology to help second-language learning children express their culturally-diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Stories were produced by ten foreign-born international children from six countries working with nine educational technology graduate students from the USA and three other countries. Qualitative methods were used throughout the semester-long project to observe children, take field notes to document the process, capture design artifacts, conduct formative evaluation and final interviews, and write process reflections. The multimedia stories that emerged were rich expressions of children's culturally-diverse perspectives related to their folklore, family beliefs, and adjustments to a new country. The children successfully participated as design partners by writing and illustrating their stories and by sharing decisions about multimedia features in the stories. Although challenged by the one-semester timeline to learn high-level multimedia software and complete the stories, graduate students were positive about their experience working with children in an authentic design project. The results support the effectiveness of technology as an intercultural, collaborative bridge to support multicultural education and student-centered learning for children as well as developers.
One of the challenges facing educators is to weave multicultural education throughout the curriculum in meaningful ways. Multicultural education focuses on building understanding and equity across students from diverse racial, ethnic, social-class, and cultural groups. An important part of this goal is to help children interact and communicate with people from diverse groups (Banks & Banks, 1995; Moore-Hart, 1995). Technology is a medium that may provide a bridge to bring students together across age and cultural differences. This multimedia-writing project was an intercultural collaborative venture between graduate students in a university educational technology course and elementary children in an English as a second language (ESL) public school class. The rationale for the project was based on the use of technology to help second-language learning children express their culturally-diverse backgrounds and perspectives through multimedia story writing.
In order to produce the stories, a university/school partnership was implemented based on a new approach in software design that focuses on working with children as design partners (Druin, 1999, 2002). Nonnative (to USA) ESL children from the countries of Bosnia, Turkey, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Rwanda wrote and illustrated stories to retell folktales from their native countries or write creative stories based on their experiences. University students, themselves representing four different countries, were enrolled in a software design and development class and partnered with the children to turn their stories into interactive, multimedia stories with cultural images, trilingual text and narration, animation, and sound effects. When completed, the stories were placed onto CDs for dissemination to families, the school, and university classes.
STORY WRITING AS COMMUNICATION WITH SECOND-LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Literacy is the core for children learning to communicate in a new language. Communication requires meaning, and it encompasses reading, writing, and speaking. Social communication and meaningful tasks within cooperative groups are motivating approaches for stimulating language learning and fluency in literacy skills (Egbert, 2002; Johns & Torrez, 2001; Krashen& Terrell, 1983). Multicultural literacy experiences help second-language learners from different cultures improve performance as well as appreciate their own culture and the cultures of others. For example, in the Multicultural Links project, culturally-diverse backgrounds of children were used to provide multicultural literature-based activities as the means for children to improve reading and writing performance and positive attitudes toward reading and writing (Irwin, Moore, & Stevenson, 1994). A variety of methods were used to support these goals, including interactive reading and writing, creative arts, cooperative learning activities, and theater. Although books and web sites are now available with international children's stories (Hourcade et al., 2003; see the International Children's Digital Library available at http://www.icdlbooks.org/index.shtml), there may be value in having children write their own narratives, thereby sharing their culture through their own voices. According to Irwin et al. (1994), such literacy activities based "on our students' life experiences and background knowledge in the context of an emotionally supportive environment-an environment that is risk-free---encourages students to explore and experiment with language" (p. 259).
Storytelling is one form of communication found in all cultures throughout time. The interactive storybook is one popular form of storytelling that promotes literacy and exploration of written language by children (Fredickson, 1997). One example of an interactive book is Grandma and Me with a story about Little Critter (a hedgehog) who spends a day at the beach with his Grandma (Mayer, 1998). The story is shown on the screen with text, and it can be listened to and read using four languages. Beyond that, children interact with the story by clicking on objects on the screen to animate the story; hear music, sound effects, and dialog; and play theme-related games. Research suggests that these multimedia books provide a multi-sensory approach to reading that supports multiple ways of language learning (Labbo & Kuhn, 2000). Proponents of interactive storybooks believe they have the potential to increase comprehension because children bring their own prior knowledge to the story, allow children to explore and build their knowledge, and are highly motivating (Matthew, 1996).
Interactive storytelling has recently been explored for cross-cultural learning and to support children in telling their cultural stories (Bers & Cassell, 1998). With the use of new technologies, such stories can be written with cross-cultural partners, story features can be added to enable multi-lingual speech and text, and children's stories can be posted on web sites and discussion boards to facilitate intercultural communication. For example, The EuroTales Project (http://www.eurotales.eril.net/teacher.htm) offers a web site of folktales written by children in eight European schools. Children in each school write, illustrate, and post folktales from their own countries. The site supports cultural understanding among children through storytelling. As explained on the site, "We wrote these stories because we are proud of our culture, traditions, and language. We wish our children to grow up valuing the friendship of children from other countries. We wish them to become citizens not just of Europe, but of the World." Similar projects now exist to share stories on a global scale.
SOFTWARE DESIGN PARTNERSHIPS WITH CHILDREN
Too often, adults develop software from adult perspectives with evaluation only by adults; input from children is not sought and the voices of children are not heard. In designing new technologies for children, researchers of human-computer interfaces have discovered that children have unique likes, dislikes, and needs that are often different from those of adults. Developers of children's software cannot expect children to describe their needs, but must actively observe their use of software, involve them in talking about their ideas, and engage them as codesigners. As stated by Druin (1999) "We need to establish new developmental methodologies that enable us to stop, listen, and learn to collaborate with children of all ages" (p. 53).
Interestingly, when children are observed using software, researchers find that children use technology in different ways from adults. "Many times they do not have a defined task and their activities are open-ended and exploratory" (Druin, p. 53).
Druin (1999; 2002) has studied differing roles children may have in the technology design process. Druin describes the role of design partners as one where children are equal stakeholders in a project throughout the entire process. She noted "while children cannot do everything that an adult can do, they should have equal opportunity to contribute in any way they can to the design process" (Druin, 2002, p. 18). There are a lot of unknowns when working with children as design partners. One challenge is that children are used to receiving direction from adults in what to learn and how to perform;
the role of being an equal partner with an adult is new to them. Similarly, technologists are not trained in working with children as clients or partners, and come to the process wondering how to do this with children. There are logistical concerns for working with children over long periods of time and how to have sufficient and frequent time to work with the children. It appears that many factors can impact successful collaboration on the partnership teams that warrant evaluation (Fitzgerald & Peng, 2001).
This design research project used qualitative research methods to gather information to understand and document the partnership process as well as the story-writing outcomes for both children and developers. Qualitative methods were implemented throughout the process and included observations of children, note-taking, shared design artifacts, interviews with the children during and following completion of the stories, and reflections of the graduate students. Five related themes were identified for analysis in this project.
1. What themes and story features are important to second-language learners when producing multimedia stories from culturally-diverse perspectives?
2. How do second-language learners perform as design partners when creating multimedia stories?
3. How do second-language learners evaluate their experiences with shared literacy and multimedia story writing?
4. What factors are identified by graduate student developers as important when considering the feasibility of working with children as design partners?
5. How do graduate students reflect on their experiences working with children as design partners, particularly assessing multicultural understanding through the project?
The graduate students consisted of nine international students from Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey and three students from the United States. These students were enrolled in a hypermedia-authoring course at a large Midwestern university. The purpose of the course was for students to develop skills in designing hypermedia-learning environments using the professional authoring program Authorware 5 Attain. There were two simultaneous instructional strands in the course-learning Authorware and producing the stories. Each class period was divided into two parts-content discussion and lab. Content included skill development in using theory and research for hypermedia learning environments, child-centered hypermedia design, and formative evaluation procedures. Lab time was used for instruction in Authorware and other multimedia programs needed to produce audio and video.
Ten elementary-age youngsters in an ESL class in a local public school wrote the stories and participated as design partners (see stories at http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN).
The project took place over a five-month period of time. The children wrote and illustrated their stories with their classroom teacher prior to the beginning of the spring semester when the graduate students began working as partners with the children. Four face-to-face meetings were held with the partners. The course instructors had additional meetings with the children and their teacher to start up, do language translations, shoot the video bios, and interview the children following the project; graduate students participated in some of the media sessions.
The project provided an opportunity for the children to write folktales or creative stories based on their experiences, and thus, to express their culturally-diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The stories were produced with trilingual text and narration to facilitate an appreciation of language differences yet common meanings. The child/developer teams decided on desirable multimedia features for the stories, such as color schemes, graphics, animation, and sound effects. Additional multimedia features in the electronic stories included a bio of the child author and an electronic notepad to encourage readers to prepare messages they would like to send to the authors or to write new endings for the stories.
A variety of software was used to produce the interactive multimedia stories for the PC platform. Graduate student developers learned Macromedia Authorware for the programming and animation. The teaching intern for the course created teaching modules and step-by-step handouts that facilitated skill acquisition with the software tools. Adobe PhotoShop was used to produce and enhance children's illustrations. Cool Edit software was employed for audio production. Lastly, both Adobe Premier and QuickTime Pro were used to capture and edit the video bios. A brief description of the production steps of the project follows.
Writing the Story Narratives
The course instructor and intern demonstrated a variety of interactive storybooks to the children and allowed them to try out the interactive features of the stories. Children commented on the interactive features they liked in the stories that added interest. Prior to this session, the children had not been exposed to hypermedia or interactive stories. They had only minimal computer literacy skills and most had not used word processing programs.
The ESL teacher worked with the children on writing stories when they came to her for their resource instruction. The teacher read folktales to the children from other countries and talked about folktales they knew from their countries. Information was sent home asking parents to talk to their children about folktales from their native countries. The children engaged in writing their stories and drawing illustrations for approximately six weeks, twice a week, for 45 minutes at a time. The stories were written in English.
The teacher helped them edit their work and match the text to the illustrations. Because the children had little experience in story writing prior to this activity, they needed a great deal of help in breaking their narratives into pages and matching illustrations to specific pages.
Transforming the Stories into Hypermedia
At the first partnership meeting, each child was matched to one or two graduate students to partner with for story development. The partners discussed the stories and illustrations. The graduate student developers (hereafter referred to as "developers") asked the children what was hard and easy in writing and illustrating the story. They also asked the children about the colors they had picked and asked whether the colors had any associations with their home countries. For example, a student from Bosnia mentioned the color of the roof of the house in the illustration. The child said, "Red is the most common color for roofs of houses in Bosnia." An example illustration is shown in the story of Mirza and a Baby Wolf (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story4.htm). The partners then discussed the child's expectations for the story, likes and dislikes. They talked about initial ideas for multimedia features. The developers asked the children if they had seen interactive storybooks before and had ideas about what could move and what could make sounds in their story. The children had insufficient experience with interactive storybooks to make very many suggestions. Some of their suggestions were not feasible within the project time frame of the project. For example, some desired sophisticated animations, talking speech bubbles, or bouncing pointers over the text as it was narrated. The following section describes components in the media production process.
Story template. A story template was created in Authorware for the developers to use to produce the interactive stories with a common structure. Each story included interactive features of paging, changing languages, listening to audio, writing notes, and viewing a video. The template consisted of a user login, record keeping, note-taking capabilities, and an overall navigation structure for each story. Following the title screen in each story, a login screen appeared and required readers to enter his or her name. The user login set up record keeping to collect information on choices made by users-the time they spend on each page, selected features, and any notes they write about the story. The story records were designed for teachers or researchers to study and track children's choices as they use the interactive stories. Table 1 shows a partial example of a story record.
Following the login screen, the next screen displayed the main menu. Although each story differed in graphics, aesthetics, and illustrations, the structure of the main menu was identical for all stories. As shown in Figure1, an example screen from the story, Rabbit and Wolf (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story9.htm), three buttons are for navigation: the main menu button in the middle and the two hand-shaped buttons on the sides to read the story.
By clicking on the main menu, readers can choose the language for the story, navigate the stories using the Start Over or Quit buttons, or use the Take Notes feature to record their thoughts about the stories. Another function provided by the notepad allows readers to write new endings for the stories (Figure 2). These entries can be saved on the reader's computer and can be used in class activities to share electronically with classmates or teachers. Another button, Meet the Author, can be selected to view a video bio about the story author. The text and audio for each story changes for the different languages and the text is displayed below the illustration on each page of the story.
Interface design. At the second partnership meeting, the developers showed the children screen graphics they had created from the child's illustrations and ideas for content. Alternative color schemes were shown and other choices were demonstrated for the child to make interface design decisions. Ideas for animation and story enhancements were discussed. Children and developers decided collaboratively on the objects that could be animated. Some children were more interested in sound effects than animation. The children were encouraged to use their imagination and select ideas based on their stories and feasibility. Getting input from the children was critical in translating their text and illustrations into interactive stories.
A structured process was used to guide the design decision-making process. The guide that was used for this process is shown in Table 2. The story was first shown one screen at a time to solicit the child's reactions. Second, the text to accompany each graphic was read and options to add graphic details or interactivity were discussed to enhance content. Third, options were shown in regards to aesthetics, graphics, and colors to allow the child to make decisions. Finally, the partners agreed on the language translations.
Developers took notes on the guide to capture the child's responses. In Table2, the "Screen 4" row presents a sample of the child's comments. The developers converted the children's stories into interactive stories and developed all the multimedia features to accompany the story. This phase took approximately three months, as the developers were also learning Authorware in their university class.
Text, graphics, and animation. The text in each story was translated from English into both Chinese and the child's preferred language that was, in most cases, the child's native language. In some cases, parents did not have sufficient knowledge of English to assist with the translation process, and professional translators were used to produce the needed text of the story. Children's illustrations were scanned and manipulated using Adobe PhotoShop. In many cases, the illustrations were incomplete or insufficient to support the story, and the developers needed to enhance the illustrations as well as work with children to get additional drawings. Based on decisions made in partnership meetings, developers created some simple animation examples to show the children. Together they decided what animations to add to the story.
Audio and music. Each story was narrated in three languages. In many cases, children provided the narration in their native language. Most of the children no longer spoke their own languages fluently and could not do their own narrations without extensive help. In some cases, parents assisted with the translations and audiotaping. The children selected opening and closing music clips, and sometimes, sound effects from copyright-free resources provided by the developers. Original music was performed, digitized, and included by one of the developers.
Author video bios. The children made video bios to include with their interactive stories. In the bios, they told about their stories and new life in the United States. Most began by greeting their family and friends in both English and their native language. The videos were converted into the QuickTime movie format with some special transition effects.
Formative Evaluation: Evaluating the Interface with Multiple Audiences When the stories were completed in the interactive multimedia format, the developers showed their products in their graduate class to get feedback from each other. Following that, the third partnership meeting was held with the children to conduct a formative evaluation. The purpose of this session was to detect strengths and weaknesses in the stories or media components in order to revise the product and to improve its communication and appeal.
Each child was observed while interacting with his or her story. The formative questions guiding the evaluation were "Can the child navigate the interface?" and "How does the child respond to the story?" The developer guided the child through the story, observed, and discussed features; a second graduate student or instructor served as a note-taker to write field notes on the child's responses and reactions. In this session, developers could ask additional formative evaluation questions as desired. Some of the additional questions asked were "What do you like best and least about your story on the computer?" and "What new ideas do you have after interacting with your story?" The partners then made final decisions to complete the stories.
The final design meeting was held to show the completed stories to the authors and classmates. Each story author demonstrated his or her program and answered questions. The notepad was also demonstrated. Classmates enjoyed the stories and made positive comments about the stories. The developers held final discussions with their partners.
Revising, Finalizing, and Producing the CDs
The developers revised the stories based on the observations and discussion during the formative evaluation session. In most cases, music and sound effects were added and graphics were enhanced. To finalize the stories, the project staff helped developers create and insert the children's bio video clips into the story. Some children wanted to add more to their stories and did some additional writing and illustrating. Additional one-on-one meetings were scheduled as needed between the partners to finalize the stories.
The stories were combined into one program that featured opening and closing credit screens, opening and closing music, and a main menu for story selection. A globe and flags were added to represent the countries of the children and the developers. The main menu displayed hot-button thumbnails of all the title pages for the ten interactive stories. The program was pressed onto CDs and copies were provided to the children, their families, school media centers, the teacher, school administrators, developers, and other interested faculty members.
Summative Interviews with the Children
The course instructors conducted group interviews one week after the final session. These were held without the developers present to solicit the children's feedback on the design partner process. Interviews were held with children in two groups-the older and the younger children- to give each other peer support. A structured interview process was followed with these questions:
"* Did your story turn out in the way you wanted?
"* How do you feel about sharing your stories?
"* Did your partner listen to your ideas and act on them?
"* Do these kinds of stories help kids understand each other?
"* What would you tell other kids about the computer story-writing project?
Responses to the interview questions were limited and quite concrete. The children mentioned how difficult it was to write the stories and that they disliked their drawings. They thought that it was "cool" working with partners and that these partners made their stories look "neat" by adding music and animation to them. The children liked everything about the way their stories turned out except for the quality of their drawings. They were excited to share their stories with their families but not their peers in regular classes.
They agreed that the partners did what "you told them to do." They would recommend the multimedia-writing project to other kids, saying, "it's hard, but it's fun." In retrospect, the project staff realized that there had been insufficient time for children to share their stories with families, teachers, and peers, so they were unable to experience reactions to their work.
Analysis of Inquiry Themes
Findings from the qualitative measures were summarized to respond to the five identified themes for inquiry.
1. What themes and story features are important to second-language learners when producing multimedia stories from culturally-diverse perspectives?
There were three themes evident in the children's stories and all of these projected culturally-diverse perspectives. Although the original task given to the children was to share a folktale from his/her country, some of the children created original stories with their own ideas. Most the children said they got their story ideas from their country or from reminders of home.
Theme 1: Folktales. Folktales are stories passed down within cultures and are common lore in children's literature. Among the different kinds of folktales are trickster tales. Two stories written by the children were trickster folktales. Although the writers were from different countries, both stories included the protagonists of a rabbit and a wolf. In the German tale about Wolf and Rabbit (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story8.htm), a rabbit out-smarts a wolf using a variety of tricks and escapes from being eaten by climbing up a ladder to the moon. In the Rwandan tale, Rabbit and Wolf (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story9.htm), a smart rabbit hides a cow from a wolf that they planned to eat. The rabbit tricks the wolf into thinking its strength caused the cow to sink into a river, and the rabbit and its friends ate the cow.
Although "Pepito" is a folk character that appears in Hispanic children's stories, one of the Pepito stories was based on folklore of a different type-myth or legend. Folklore is based on oral tradition and casts meaning within stories. Pepito's Story http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story7.htm) would be considered folklore to the extent it is a re-telling of a story with meaning. It has a religious theme about an orphaned baby and the love he receives when taken in by people at a church, and later his forgiveness for burning a cross when playing with matches.
Theme 2: Strength of the Family, Dangers, and Separation. Four stories centered on children within families and the struggles they had within their environments. In these stories parental figures have a central role in rescuing children and creating "happy-ever-after-endings." The strength and bond of the family unit is the message within each story.
The Story of Juana & Pepito (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story3.htm) includes "Pepito" as a character, yet the story theme tells about family and separation. Written by a girl from Nicaragua, this story tells about two children whose mother disappears, their life with grandmother, and a tragic accident with their grandmother. They receive help from a stranger who turns out to be their mother and they all go home together.
The Smith Family (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story6.htm) is a story about a wealthy family that worries about being harmed by mean neighbors when they go on a trip, only to discover they have not been harmed when they return home. In fact, everyone missed them and the children did well in school and got prizes for good grades.
Happy Girl (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/storyl.htm) describes a fearful family, afraid of town people who were physically larger than they are. They face dangers of losing a daughter overnight and a cat that wants to eat them. All ends well with a surprise birthday party attended by all the village people. Nothing else bad ever happens to them.
A wolf once again appears in a story in Mirza and a Baby Wolf (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story4.htm) but this story turns out to be about a boy who goes into the woods by himself, gets frightened by a baby wolf, and runs home to his mother. He is scolded for not telling his mother he went into the woods. He does not tell his mother what happened, but always obeys her after that.
Theme 3: Being New, Making Friends, Acceptance. Two stories were different from the others in that they seemed to deal with experiences these children were having in adapting to life in a new culture. The stories seemed "here-and-now" and demonstrated children's perspectives on acculturation. Both dealt with children's personal relationships and the impact other children have on easing their transition into a new school.
In The Vampire (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story5.htm) written by a Turkish girl, the story tells about a girl who has powers to retaliate when experiencing personal rejection. The main character in the story, a girl, is called ugly on the first day of school and becomes mad. Because the girl is actually a vampire, she plots to harm others. When a new friend comes over to her house to play, she bites her on the neck, and the friend is never seen again. It is interesting in this story that retaliation is more important than acceptance by a new friend.
The story of Jamie and Dajana (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story2.htm) written by a girl from Bosnia deals with these same fears of going to a new school, but the girl in the story is accepted by others who help her with the transition. First, the new girl makes a friend on the bus, is welcomed into her new class by a nice teacher, and then plays with her new friend at recess. She tells her parents she had fun and likes her new friend.
No experiences of rejection or retaliation are described. In different ways, all the stories demonstrate culturally-diverse perspectives. Some re-tell old trickster tales or build on folklore; some share the importance of family and the ability to persevere when faced with dangers; others give insight into the experiences of children entering new schools
and friendship groups. For the most part, people in the stories have names consistent with their backgrounds and their illustrations include villages, houses, and other environmental details from their recollections of their native countries. At one level, these are just children's stories to be enjoyed by other children; but at another level, the stories provide deep meaning and insights into the culturally-diverse memories, desires, and values of these children.
2. How do second-language learners perform as design partners when creating multimedia stories?
The second-language learners were dedicated to writing and illustrating stories; however, they had few ideas to contribute in the product development process. This could be due to their limited experience with interactive multimedia stories or not understanding their roles in the design process. The graduate student developers frequently needed to prompt or encourage their child partners to be creative and informative. The second-language learners also showed unique thoughts and preferences that were very different from those of adults.
As the partnership meetings progressed, the developers and children got better in communicating and collaborating on project design. One interesting consequence resulting from such interactions was the steady transformation of developers' attitudes toward children as design partners. Graduate student developers learned to see the story through the eyes of children and were able to immerse themselves into the child's world.
What Irma has drawn was the story about a baby wolf and a child named Mirza. Frankly speaking, the story doesn't seem like it makes sense .... The picture is not that clean, so we started to edit the drawings to look nicer (in my opinion). But things were not going well, because as an adult, something what makes sense to me does not always make sense to kids. When I viewed the pictures through Irma's eyes, I could see the way I should make it. - Sun-
Hong, graduate student
3. How do second-language learners evaluate their experiences with shared literacy and multimedia story writing?
Three themes emerged from the author video bios and final interviews with the children. First, the children enjoyed the authoring process. For example, several children pointed out in the interview that they preferred making up stories or re-writing stories based on folktales. They also talked about how difficult it was to write their stories and that they disliked their drawings.
The children suggested alternative approaches to story writing, such as using a word processor to complete the story first, then working on the drawings to match the story. Second, children thought it was "cool" working with partners. Their partners made the stories look "neat" by adding music and animation to the stories. Throughout the project, the children felt they were treated like a "manager" because their partners would do "whatever you told them to do."
Third, the children held positive attitudes toward this partnership project. They enjoyed reading the stories in English, in their native language, and used the Chinese option to check pictorial Chinese characters on the screen. They looked forward to sharing their multimedia stories with families, and in their bios, said "hello" in their native language to family members in home countries. They felt intimidated about sharing the stories with their peers in regular classes or in the school media center. On the other hand, some children anticipated putting the stories on the Internet and being "famous around the world." They all expressed the belief that the stories could "help others to learn about different countries and languages."
4. What factors are identified by graduate student developers as important when considering the feasibility of working with children as design partners?
Several factors were identified in the reflective logs of the developers. First, the mixture of design theories and practical experiences of working with children was seen as one of the strengths of this course. Readings on children's roles in the design process provided the stimulus for design and class discussions. Several developers described the influence of readings and how they learned to value children's perspectives.
This course... enabled me to transcend the stereotype that I had in my mind. I used to think of children as passive users in education technology. Now I respect children more as partners who have a more equal and responsible role in the design process. - MeeAeng, graduate student
Second, face-to-face interaction with the children was the essential component of this project. Prior to this course, none of the developers had worked with children as design partners. Concerns and frustrations were expressed in early stages of this project. One student described how he encouraged his child author during the four school visits. Sabina, his child author, seemed to grow more comfortable working with him the more they worked together.
Sabina was very quiet the first time I met her, but she read her story, discussed her drawings, and told me a bit about herself .... For the next meeting Sabina was quiet and
shy as usual, so I encouraged her to play around with the graphics on the computer .... By the last meeting Sabina was very talkative and curious about the project. She likes her narration and asked to include "ciao" at the end of her story. Overall I got the feeling that she was getting more comfortable working with me. - John, graduate student
Third, developers learned how to work with child partners through the entire process of product development and realized the differences between designing for adults and designing with children. They learned to interact with their child partner at every phase of a project, and also acquired experiences on how to share ideas, ask questions, and negotiate for solutions. They came to respect children more as partners who have a more equal and responsible role in the design process. Such experiences helped developers gain confidence as multimedia developers.
5. How do graduate students reflect on their experiences working with
children as design partners, particularly assessing multicultural
understanding through the project?
This course was intended to be a meeting place for developing knowledge and cultural understanding for both children and developers as partners. It was found that the fostering of multicultural understanding was interwoven within the context of working, with children as authors. For example, in Pepito's Story (http://www.coe.missouri.edu/-ICN/story7.htm), Jimena shared a Mexican folktale on a life story of Pepito. Her partners were aware of her cultural traditions expressed in her story and illustrations; therefore they made efforts to retain Jimena's original drawings to accurately represent her culture.
For our understanding, there are many Mexican cultures presented in Jimena's story. For example, the flag color, the cross in the church, and the 13-year old birthday celebration for Pepito. Pepito and the angel are the important actors in her story. Therefore, we decided to put these features on the title page to give the readers a cultural orientation to her story. Also, we retained her original work to respect her ideas. - I-Hua and Mei, graduate students
Another shared growth in cultural understanding was described by a U.S. student about his experiences of working with Bertrand, a boy from Rwanda:
My goal was to represent Bertrand's work in the best light possible and include his cultural background. I searched the Internet for information about Rwanda... was quite frankly shocked. Rwanda is not the sum of its wars. I think Bertrand tried to make this point when I asked him about his country. He gets.. .not defensive.. .but guarded. He makes it a point to let me know he likes his country and that it is a normal place. I collected images from Rwanda that allowed me to see the good things Bertrand saw of his country. The images and color scheme are representational of Bertrand's culture. - David, graduate student
An interesting result was the increased level of caring and understanding that developers felt for their child partners. The relationship between the child partners and the graduate developers was more than just a child client and an adult multimedia developer. As described by one graduate developer:
... We were friends and we had a deeper level of understanding of each other, which certainly had a very positive influence on the process of developing our interactive story. What made it possible was the fact that I was an international student myself. My child partner and I were touching each other's hearts and working together to feel good about ourselves. - MeeAeng, graduate student.
Implications for Curriculum
The multimedia story-writing project was implemented to help second language learning children express their culturally-diverse backgrounds and perspectives through multimedia story writing. Technology facilitated attainment of these goals for the children through a creative process of working with production partners, most of whom were themselves international students. Many design features of multimedia story writing have important curricular implications.
The Multimedia Writing Genre
Multimedia, with its hypermedia structure, is a new writing environment that involves narration with multiple media capabilities and nonlinear affordances that allow readers to determine the path through a story and select special effects. Design partners in this project helped children bring alive their stories through media. Stories gave control to the reader to animate or re-hear sounds or narration as desired. Program options allowed readers to select different languages, read any page in any order within stories, and jump to a notepad to create new story endings. Alternative endings could be shared back with the story author or with other readers to build on or change the core narrative. The hypermedia organization and multimedia capabilities enriched the stories and allowed readers to explore and experience the stories more willfully. Multimedia images, sounds embedded in the story pages, and multiple language options all enhanced understandings of the cultural content and images. Ideas that would have been impossible for these young children to convey simply through descriptive writing were actualized in the stories through graphics, animations, sounds, and multiple narrations.
Facilitating Multicultural Education
Multicultural curriculum should promote an understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity (Sleeter & Grant, 2003). The multimedia story-writing project enabled second-language learners to celebrate their cultures and be proud of themselves by integrating their cultural backgrounds into their stories. Stories that include personal, cultural content are meaningful to children, build on prior experiences, and enable children to be more spontaneous in their language. The sharing of stories with partners and peers provided a social context for communication, thus supporting language learning and literacy skills. The multicultural education approach values diversity in language (Grant & Sleeter, 2003). Each story was produced in three different languages: English, Chinese, and the child's native language. The trilingual approach provided an excellent example of practicing cultural pluralism, which is a core concept of multiculturalism. Having three language options in the stories implied that students are not limited to English, and their native language and other languages are also valued.
If education is truly to be student-centered, then the experiences, perspectives, and ideas of the students themselves must be brought to the fore (Gorski, 2001). The multimedia story-writing project facilitated this kind of inclusivity by encouraging students to reflect on their own cultural experiences in writing and illustrating their stories and to provide their perspectives and ideas through multimedia.
The innovative approach to match university students with children to work collaboratively on multimedia story writing was well suited for the goal of "hearing children's voices" in software design. Researchers have noted that children use technology different from adults and often value different software features (Druin, 1999; 2002). Children are typically consumers of software and rarely participate in designing, or even evaluating, the products they use. For university students who are learning how to create software for clients, the experience was unique. Most had little experience working with clients of any age, and in particular, with children. The entire project created an authentic learning lab for the university students. Partnerships require equality of contributions and decision-making.
The second-language learners had very little prior experience with interactive stories or features of multimedia. Their contributions were primarily dependent upon examples and choices presented to them by the developers. Because university students had little experience working with clients to design from scratch, the instructors provided structure and models to guide their product and design process. Further, the university students were learning a new complex authoring tool, Authorware, as well as other multimedia tool programs. Because they did not have adequate independent production skills, the story template created by the instructors became an important support to create a common logic, look, and feel to the stories. Ongoing assistance was needed throughout the project for technical programming and media production.
Children had minimal literacy and writing skills; story writing was difficult and time-consuming-greater than had been anticipated. Children's attendance at school was erratic and many parents had very limited English literacy skills. There were many scheduling constraints with the school. The one-semester time frame for the project was problematic given the amount of new learning and skills necessary for story production. Even though the children wrote their stories the month prior to the beginning of the project, they had insufficient time to experience hypermedia and explore other multimedia stories to learn about their features. Whenever feasible, having a longer time frame to carry out these types of collaborative projects would enhance all components. It was apparent that the use of multimedia writing helped these children bring alive their personal stories and feel pride in sharing their cultural differences, but it is recognized more could have been accomplished with hypermedia features without the course time restraints.
Regardless of the challenges, the intercultural collaborative story-writing project was judged to be very successful. Accommodations were made to insure the viability of the steps of the production process. University students not only learned the authoring and multimedia software tools, they also learned an authentic design process working with children. The experiences enabled the university students to be better prepared to work with children and with clients from diverse cultures. The children produced wonderful stories filled with culturally-diverse images and perspectives. Interactivity allowed the stories to be shared in multimedia formats with graphics, animation, music, sound effects, and video bios. Throughout this process, the children expressed pride in their own cultures and appreciated others' cultures. In summary, the multimedia technology used in this project served as a valuable tool in the accomplishment of multicultural education and professional development.
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TITLE: Producing Multimedia Stories with ESL Children: A Partnership Approach SOURCE: Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia 15 no3 2006
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