Friday, March 20, 2009

Photo story session at Newick School

On 20 March 2009, Year 4 students at Newick Primary School used Comic Life software to make a one-page photo story titled 'A day at our school,' for the purpose of initiating communication with Silanga School in Kenya, as part of this project as well as the VeSeL project. Two researchers from this project were on hand to document the session and offer technical help.


We created the template pictured below. The teacher took pictures beforehand of different activities around the school which students could use (using cameras which we supplied for the VeSeL project). We also set up simple blogs for each school, and before the session the class talked about their typical school day and about how conditions at Silanga School might be different. Students thought for example that school assemblies are different, having seen pictures of Silanga School gathered outside under the trees instead of in a large hall where Newick's assemblies are held; they thought the school might not have tables or a library; one student suggested that Silanga wouldn't have such a large digital whiteboard, having only a single laptop.

In preparation the teacher also created a text document titled 'Steps to success' which contained specific steps for students to follow, including opening the document, saving into their folder, adding photos and text.

The session

At the start of the session the teacher demonstrated Comic Life in front of the class on the digital whiteboard, showing how to open the template, drag photos into panels, and add text boxes. She described adding text to using Microsoft Word, an indication that students had used Word previously.

Most students worked on their own, though some had to pair up since not all laptops were available. Pairs had the option of collaborating on one photo story or two. Even for students working on their own there was a lot of sharing, communication and collaboration, as can be seen in the following images taken from video.

Students received support from the teacher, other students, and the researchers present. For example, one student showed another where to locate the template document. The teacher showed another how to scroll through the pictures and drag them into the document. A student asked one of the researchers how to make speech bubbles without arrows.

The students generally accomplished the task within the allotted time (1 hour) and near the end the teacher told students that anyone who had finished could 'have a fiddle' at making a second photo story of their choosing. This resulted in a good deal of experimentation

At the end of the session students presented their photo stories to the class, as seen below.


Most students' photostories tended to replicate the one the teacher demonstrated at the start of the session. However they demonstrated creativity within this structure, for example using speech bubbles to have pictured students say what they were doing, or giving labels or speech bubbles to inanimate objects such as the whiteboard or the class register.

There were some technical issues. For example, the teacher placed the template on a server, and students were instructed to open the file and save a copy into their own folders. However, when all students simultaneously tried to access the same file this caused severe network delays. To address this during the session, the teacher tried to save a copy into each student's folder herself using her own laptop.

Students generally found the software easy to use. One student, when asked whether using the software was a good way to tell a story, said, 'Yeah, because it's a comic strip!' but then said a story would be easier to understand if it was written down, 'because then you would be able to describe it more, and this is just pictures with a little bit of writing about what's happening,' adding that a written account could include more detail.

Another student said, 'I like when you click on anything, absolutely anything, you can change the style of it and I really love it for that.' The main complaint was that the text boxes were difficult to move around.

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