Australian aboriginal culture is credited as being the oldest continuous culture on earth (DNA confirms Aboriginal culture one of Earth’s oldest, 2011), much of which has been maintained through storytelling and ceremony. “Aboriginal people ‘learn to be’ largely within their relationship with the land through which they express themselves physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually” (Mission Services, 2010, p.2). MY COUNTRY is an anthology of digital literature created by various authors, using various mediums, expressing their thoughts and feelings about place(s) in Australia that are special to them. It has brought together a variety of genres to showcase how diverse digital literature is (Emerson, 2011, in Rettberg, 2012). It contains original content created by myself, my family and a few of my Year 4 students, and web-based content. (A blog post titled Using THINGLINK as a portal for digital literature collections explains how the content was created). Initially it will be used as a stimulus for Stage 3 students in the “Land, People and Spirit” Religious Education module (Mission Services, 2010).
Digital storytelling has been described as the 21st century version of the art of storytelling with a twist (Morra, 2013), as it now possible for anyone with some digital literacy skills to create a story using a range of easily accessible digital tools, and share it with others. Questions raised by Rosenthal Tolisano helped to shape the MY COUNTRY anthology, and the context in which it will be shared with students: How does my story fit in and add value to the stories of others? How do we create a much larger story comprised of individual stories? (2015, para.7). How can MY COUNTRY help us “…get a glimpse of an Aboriginal way of seeing the world” (Edwards & Buxton, 1998, in Mission Services, 2010, p.8) by sharing and reflecting on our own stories, and stories of people we know or are familiar with?
The free, web-based tool Thinglink was chosen as the platform for the anthology, because of its ease of use to publish a variety of content, its portability across devices, and its ease of use as a final product. MY COUNTRY was developed to be a non-linear reading experience, and Thinglink allows an audience to choose which links to explore, and in what order, providing them with the opportunity to interact with the overall narrative about connection to land, and have a role in how it unfolds (Miller, 2009). A broad range of media can be uploaded to a Thinglink, so it is an ideal platform to use with children with different learning needs, giving them opportunities to access information in a medium they prefer, whilst also providing scope for children to use their creativity to publish content to the Thinglink in their own words and in their own voices (Educause, 2007).
Miller (2009) writes about interweaving learning technologies to create holistic learning experiences where talking, listening, reading and writing are all interdependent. MY COUNTRY was developed to illustrate how digital storytelling can be used to create these kinds of learning experiences by providing a meaningful context for creative interpretations of an experience, using a variety of easily accessible digital tools and different mediums, where each medium makes a unique contribution to a unified experience (Hall, 2012; Jenkins, in Parker, 2013). This will not happen if students do not have the skillset needed to read and write in a digital environment, because comprehending digital text extends beyond written language to navigating and interpreting various features such as visual images, video, graphics, sound, narration and hypertext (Serafini, 2013; Rich 2008; Allen, 2009). As they explore MY COUNTRY, students will need to learn and practise digital literacy skills which require them to think across media that they read in different ways, in order to be able to construct a meaningful whole from the different parts (Bowler, Morris, Cheng, Al-Issa, Romine & Leiberling,e t al., 2012).
Many of our students today choose to spend time in digital spaces that are both social and learning landscapes, connecting them to learning communities of people with common interests (Keough, 2015). MY COUNTRY is designed to reflect this connection with other people, through a shared interest in their love of places in Australia. The Thinglink has been embedded in a blog post, to allow children to post a comment about how they connect to one or more of the links they explored in MY COUNTRY. Students will also be invited to create and publish their own story to the Thinglink. The NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2015) predicts that intellectual property issues will become a key component of K-12 curricula, so conversations will be had with students about ethical and fair use and acknowledgement of other people’s property in their own digital storytelling product, plus creative commons licensing of their published product, so that they retain ownership of their own creative work within the Thinglink.
Although MY COUNTRY has been created to be used in the Land, People and Spirit Religious Education module with Stage 3 students, and has been embedded in a blog post for this purpose, it has the potential to be used in other contexts (eg. English or Creative Arts: expressing thoughts and ideas creatively in different mediums; Geography: “Factors that Shape Places”). Like the creator of the collaborative Venus Poetry Project, its exciting to consider what it could evolve into:
“But when you take the power of the masses and give them the ability to collaborate with everyone else who stumbles onto this site, just imagine what kind of works are possible!” (McCambridge, n.d.)
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