Web-Based Hope: An Online Storytelling Curriculum Empowers Students to Create 'Vision Videos' That Reveal Their Dreams for the Future

By King, Emily | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), June-July 2010 | Go to article overview

Web-Based Hope: An Online Storytelling Curriculum Empowers Students to Create 'Vision Videos' That Reveal Their Dreams for the Future


King, Emily, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


NO DISRESPECT TO READIN', WRITIN', AND 'RITHMETIC, but Jim Amaral has quite a whole other notion in mind when he speaks of the three R's. "It's about trying to get the relationship," he declares, "to get the relevance, to get the rigor."

Amaral's three R's underpin the work his students do with digital storytelling in his seventh-grade Global Concepts class at Oak-Land Jr. High School in Lake Elmo, MN. Into his classroom curriculum Amaral has incorporated Tel.A.Vision, an online program aimed at inspiring students, particularly special education and at-risk kids, through the creation of their own "vision videos." The videos are three-minute, self-made tours of a student's future hopes and dreams, made with multimedia resources such as animation, still images, and music that are all available to the student on the Tel.A.Vision website.

According to the program's creator and founder, George Johnson, the videos show students a capsule of what they can accomplish in their lives, and in doing so produce more goal-oriented behavior, more focus, and more reason to stay in school. "If kids create these videos and watch them over time, they can become what they have created for themselves," Johnson says. "They can say, 'This is who I am.'"

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A former special education teacher, Johnson was born and still resides in Lake Elmo, and his organization is based there. "My key to success has always been to figure out what the world needs and pilot it in Minnesota," he says. "If it works in Minnesota, then it will work everywhere else."

Johnson partnered with the Silicon Valley-based company One True Media to create the Tel.A.Vision software, and then began trials with his new tool three years ago. In October 2008 he launched the site. Johnson says that last summer he decided the curriculum, which includes eight lesson plans that carry a class through the making of a video, needed to be redesigned and made more accessible to special education students. He enlisted the help of Christy Chambers, ex-president of the Council of Administrators of Special Education and former superintendent of the Special Education District of McHenry County in Illinois. Chambers simplified the language on the site so that, Johnson says, "any student of any ability could create a Tel.A.Vision video." She also put the lesson plans online; prior to December came as a written guide to subscribers.

A year's submission to the site starts at $500 for the first 50 students, then drops off as the number of subscriptions increases. Each student in a participating school receives an account and password to access the site. Since he introduced the program, Johnson says that more than 10,000 students across the country have used it to produce their own videos.

Of those 10,000 students, about 1,000 of them have come through Amaral's Global Concepts class. The class, which is a brew of math, science, social studies, and what Amaral calls "a whole lot of personal discovery," is the perfect fit for creating vision videos, since it asks students to take a larger look at their lives and their surroundings. "It's about the kids having a global view of themselves and their world," says Amaral, who has been on board since Tel.A.Vision's trial phase.

He uses the three R's to plain why the program works. "If students perceive that they have a relationship to their learning, and they see its relevance to their life situation, then they can motivate themselves to achieve higher degrees of rigor in their studies. "Digital storytelling fits nicely into this framework: Students see that it is about them--relevant--and their relationships--to other students, their environment, their activities. So as a result, they perform with degrees of rigor that I don't see in other situations."

The creation of the video is a yearlong project. Students must have it completed by Thanksgiving. They spend the second semester of the year applying new edits and additions to it. …

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