Since 1999, Scott County Schools in Kentucky has been a leader in digital storytelling thanks to its director of technology, Jeanne Biddle, who with the district's previous tech coordinator, Leslie Flanders, launched a tool to help teachers improve the writing skills of their students in preparation for state assessments.
"Kentucky students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades had writing assessments," says Biddle, who has been director since 2004, but some teachers struggled with the difficulty of preparing students to create the Kentucky Writing Assessment's required written portfolio pieces. Flanders and Biddle believed that if students could write what the assessment's Holistic Scoring Guide called a "proficient" or "distinguishing piece" that was literally a script about a student's chosen subject— and create a video about it—that teachers could approach teaching how to write a quality portfolio piece in a new way.
60 Storytelling Teachers
During a summer workshop in 1999, Biddle and Flanders modeled for 14 teachers how to take a personally written narrative and film it, using additional media like sound or pictures to illustrate their written narrative.
Teachers learned how to brainstorm with students about choosing a genre for their portfolio piece; assist with drafts and foster peer review; help students create a visual storyboard to sequence the digital story; and use digital video-editing software like iMovie, Final Cut Pro and Pinnacle Studio DV for voiceovers, and Photoshop and ImageBlender to manipulate pictures. After 16 hours of writing, editing and adding effects, students had produced their own digital stories, and submitted written scripts as a portion of their grade-specific assessment.
"At one point we had 60 digital storytelling teachers in the district," says Biddle. Though the written aspect was for the students' portfolios, the electronic outcomes of their hard work were often shown in class or assemblies.
Accessible Tech Tools
"Scott County has always been recognized as cutting edge," says Biddle, largely for the tech tools it's provided students and teachers, which she believes are "requirements for today's learning." "The majority of my work is based on instruction and working with pockets of teachers interested in harnessing technology," says Biddle.
Her personal goal is always to bring to her students the best technology she can. Biddle's notebooks contain countless ideas, success stories and failures that she believes are catalysts for continuous improvement. "Most often, questions I ask myself involve what are kids doing with technology at home, what are the ‘cool tools' and Web sites that catch their attention, what is happening in the corporate world, how can these pieces be integrated and aligned to content to engage students, and how can we involve teachers and leadership in the vision?"
Videoconferencing allows students to attend classes on special topics held in other schools without having to leave their classrooms. The district uses a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system instead of traditional phone lines, using lightningfast T1 lines thanks to Kentucky's allocation of $5 million for improving bandwidth across the state. In 2002, the district started using GPS devices for "treasure hunts" to teach students about GIS triangulation data points that are used by fire and police departments to answer emergency calls. And, this year, Biddle funded a "Teach, Lead and Inspire" grant of $25,000 that made available to any teacher in the district hardware like interactive whiteboards, iPod Touches and projectors. Says technology integration specialist Artie Ianow, "Teachers know that they can call or e-mail Jeanne directly and that their concerns or requests will be addressed."
Jennifer Elise Chase is a contributing writer for District Administration.