Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Beyond the School's Boundaries: PoliCultura, a Large-Scale Digital Storytelling Initiative

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Beyond the School's Boundaries: PoliCultura, a Large-Scale Digital Storytelling Initiative

Article excerpt


Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are dramatically changing the way we teach and learn in many respects. They are helping to diversify the way lessons are given, thanks to multimedia interactive content; they are improving the quality of contact with students and families; they are supporting a number of evaluation and assessment processes. One interesting and not fully explored yet outcome is that ICT can actually support, even entice, students and teachers to go beyond the school boundaries, both in spatial and in temporal terms. In a connected world, people can learn "anytime, anywhere" at "any path, any pace", as the motto of the Florida Virtual School (FVS) goes. The Florida Virtual School is a striking example of innovation in this sense: it is an accredited, public, online e-learning school serving students in grades K-12. In theory, a student may take the whole program online without ever stepping into a classroom; in practice, only 1% of the FVS students are exclusively virtual; it rather happens that students join specific courses to supplement their studies at school, especially when they are underperforming (

This paper introduces an ICT-based initiative that uses technology to "go beyond the school's boundaries": PoliCultura, a large-scale deployment of collaborative digital storytelling at school, with 20,000 students (at June 2012), aged between 5 and 18, involved so far ( PoliCultura pushes students and teachers to gather materials from sources other than the textbooks, to interact with their territory (institutions, authorities, experts...), to involve families (parents, grandparents), to communicate with remote peers through social media during and beyond school hours, in the end conjuring up highly innovative multimedia and multichannel digital stories (figure 1) that are shared through an international portal (figure 6). PoliCultura mingles formal and informal educational aspects: the whole activity is under the teachers' supervision and framed within the curriculum, but at the same time students are pushed to organize themselves and to interact with the "external world". The process of story-creation fosters the achievement of substantial educational benefits, many of which related to this "opening", which is facilitated and supported by technology.

The paper is organized as follows: after a section on the "state of the art" of digital storytelling for youngsters (section 2), we plunge into the PoliCultura initiative's description (section 3), with a specific focus on selected examples where the breaking of the school's boundaries is quite evident (section 4). Some data on the evaluation are reported in section 5, but the reader is reminded that a full account of the educational impact is to be found elsewhere (Di Blas, Paolini, 2012). Eventually in section 6 we draw the conclusions and highlight our future steps of research.

State of the Art on Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling (plus or minus the adjective "interactive") is quite a huge field encompassing different phenomena and very different approaches (Iurgel et alii, 2009).

In this paper we focus on the educational aspects of digital storytelling in formal education, with students as authors rather than consumers. By digital storytelling we mean "the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling" where "digital stories derive their power by weaving images, music, narrative and voice together, thereby giving deep dimension and vivid color to characters, situations, experiences, and insight" (definition by the the Digital Storytelling Association; The Association for Progressive Communication further clarifies the concept: "Digital stories are stories produced, stored and disseminated using digital media. The focus is on the story tellers' control over the medium, choice of words (narration), pictures and music so that the process is as powerful for the story teller as the end product is to the listener. …

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