Teaching Computers to Tell Learning Stories: Using Critical Narrative Theory to Frame Design and Evaluation Strategies for Online Educational Experiences

By Voithofer, Rick | Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Teaching Computers to Tell Learning Stories: Using Critical Narrative Theory to Frame Design and Evaluation Strategies for Online Educational Experiences


Voithofer, Rick, Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia


        Through a critical analysis of Classroom Connect's Quest
        experiences from 1998-2002, this study provides a framework for
        using narrative theory to guide the design and evaluation of
        educational multimedia and online education. Narrative theory,
        derived from literary and media studies and influenced by
        cultural studies, offers numerous parallels to learning
        theories that circulate in educational technology scholarship
        while providing designers with sophisticated conceptual tools to
        create culturally relevant educational experiences. By using
        discourse analysis to analyze narrative structures including
        genre, story and plot, place and setting, time, character and
        characterization, point of view and focalization, complication,
        crisis, resolution and coda, this study meshes learning theories
        and systematic instructional design approaches with cultural
        theories of pedagogy that address the relationships between the
        intersections of race, class, gender, ethnicity, geography, and
        nation with learning.

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Through a critical analysis of an online multimedia learning experience, this study provides a framework for using narrative theory to guide the design and evaluation of educational multimedia and online education. Narrative theory, derived from literary and media studies and influenced by cultural studies, offers numerous parallels to learning theories that circulate in educational technology scholarship while providing designers with more sophisticated conceptual tools to create culturally relevant educational experiences. In this study educational narratives are described as structured learning events that move through space, place, and time with the purpose of creating a change in knowledge among those experiencing the narrative. Narrative theories explain how individuals construct their knowledge through the culturally situated stories that they tell and in which they participate (Connelly & Clandenin, 1990). Narrative theories informed by cultural studies, what will be called "critical narrative theory," allow for the examination of educational multimedia narratives from critical cultural perspectives that are attentive to issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, language, region, geography, profession, education, nation, and ability (i.e., difference).

By adopting a critical perspective using narrative theory, this study makes the assumption that certain narrative structures (e.g., genres) in multimedia promote representations of narrative characters and storylines that are culturally relevant (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1995) and promote inclusive cultural plots by addressing narratives that circulate across diverse social narratives. Taking into account narrative structures in parallel with learning theories allows hypermedia designers to consider the cultural components of learning through narratives. The assumption in narrative theory that aspects of cultural diversity can be identified and understood by the stories that are told within, between, against, and across difference is an important aspect of approaches to educational technology that value equity (e.g., International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE] standard VI (1) --"Social, Ethical, and Human Issues" states that educators should, "apply technology resources to enable and empower learners with diverse backgrounds, characteristics, and abilities" and "identify and use technology resources that affirm diversity").

Because of the perceived capacity of the Internet to present learning experiences from anywhere at anytime, the notion of the "quest" in the form of web quests (Dodge, 1995; Dodge, 2002; March, 2002) and virtual field trips (Wilson, 2000) have become a popular part of the discourse in K-12 educational technology integration. In order to display a material example of narrative theories in context, this study undertakes a critical narrative analysis of a semiannual (1998-2002) online educational Quest experiences sponsored by Classroom Connect (2), including Maya Quest, Africa Quest, Galapagos Quest, Australia Quest, America Quest, Island Quest, Greece Quest, Columbus Quest, and Asia Quest. …

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