Today was day one of our first Celebrate Oklahoma Voices 3 day workshop for educators in 2008. The project team is facilitating five of these workshops during spring and summer 2008 at different five locations in our state. Of all the topics I have addressed in professional development workshops over the past two years, digital storytelling is the theme I feel most “centered” sharing and presenting.

One of the best things about today’s workshop was the opportunity to use the Ken Burns “The War” documentary filmmaking guide for educators, including a SUPERB DVD featuring video clips from the seven-part series. Wow. What fantastic content– it is superb to have access to this curriculum and digital storytelling guide, and be able to provide it for EVERY workshop participant thanks to the involvement and support of Oklahoma Public Television. The responses participants brainstormed this morning after viewing two different video clips reveal a glimpse of the powerful ways the media clips from this documentary film can be used to equip and empower aspiring digital storytellers.

There are multiple reasons why our Celebrate Oklahoma Voices project MATTERS. I’ve been thinking about these a great deal in the days leading up to today’s workshop. Here are several of them:

  1. Examples of Constructive Digital Tool Use: We hear so many bad headlines these days about MySpace, teens making poor choices about content they share online, sexual predators using the web to prey on youth, etc. These bad headlines tell only a small part of the story of interactions that are taking place online today. Inviting students to create and share digital stories online has tremendous potential value for helping inform perceptions of school board members, parents, and many others about the valuable ways digital technologies are and can be used to support constructive communication and learning.
  2. Preserving History: I would love to have digital recordings of my grandparents and great-grandparents talking about their life experiences. Sadly, we don’t have an audio record like that. Today, with a digital recorder it IS possible to document the oral histories of our family members, neighbors, and community members for posterity. For family members, these digital oral histories have incalculable value.
  3. 21st Century Skills: We need to tangibly advance the agenda of helping learners of all ages acquire and refine 21st century skills, or digital literacy skills. This project invites learners to engage in a wide variety of activities resulting in the creation of multimedia projects which are being safely shared online.
  4. Conversations about Copyright: It is vital learners of all ages understand the issues surrounding intellectual property rights and copyright. There is no better way to invite conversations and investigations about copyright than to provide a meaningful context for those conversations to take place. These discussions take place naturally when learners are creating digital stories.
  5. Promoting Constructive School Reform: We hear a great deal about educational reform and change, but where is the ACTION? It is taking place, and one of the places is these Celebrate Oklahoma professional development workshops. The digital stories which are being and will be created as a result of this project have more potential to tangibly advance a school reform agenda in communities across our state than a host of presentations by out-of-town gurus or book studies led by the superintendent. (I think book studies about good books– like “Working on the Work” can be great, but digital storytelling by students is even better.)
  6. Opportunities for Positive School Public Relations: Schools and school leaders are always looking for opportunities to bolster the district’s public image, and effectively “tell their story” of the good things happening within the district with students and teachers. This digital storytelling project supports these PR goals for all schools and organizations involved.
  7. Showcase the Potential of Public and Private Partnerships: A variety of supporters and donors are making this digital storytelling initiative possible. When private dollars and public education goals meet in projects like this, wonderful things can result which benefit all concerned.
  8. Young People Learn Listening Skills: We sometimes hear the old adage, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Yet how often do we emphasize the importance of LISTENING skills in formal as well as informal learning contexts? Good listening, and active listening, are important skills. These are emphasized in our digital storytelling project.
  9. Creative Commons Education: It is vital that every teacher and student not only understand issues of copyright and intellectual property as they relate to media publication online, but also vital they understand Creative Commons and the possibilities CC affords for both legal media content reuse as well as licensed publication.
  10. Value of Open Web Digital Objects: Brian Lamb discussed in his K12Online07 keynote with Alan Levine and D’Arcy Norman “More Than Cool Tools” the importance of publishing digital content on the OPEN versus the CLOSED web. Our project advances this ethic of content publishing on the open web.
  11. Diverse Historical Voices: The traditional history textbook contains a very limited number of perspectives and voices on certain topics, compared to the number of “voices” out in the wider world on that subject. An open digital storytelling project like ours affords opportunities for multiple perspectives to be shared. This is not only valuable from a historian’s perspective, but also very important from the perspective of critical literacy and media literacy.
  12. Relevant Professional Development for Diverse Audiences: In our workshop this week, we have K12 librarians, elementary teachers, university library/media specialist professors, school district instructional technology trainers, representatives from the state department of education, and even a school superintendent. The topics and skills we are addressing and learning about together are relevant for everyone.
  13. Engaging and fun learning experiences: The stories which were shared today during our workshop sessions, during lunch, and after the workshop were so interesting! Participants are EXCITED about the prospect of returning home and to their communities to collect stories and share them with their own family and friends, as well as others via the web.
  14. Modeling Best Practices for Professional Development: It is vital educators have opportunities for sustained professional development in cohort groups, including subsequent follow-up as well as an expectation of the tangible application of knowledge and skills learned during the workshop. It is also vital we help educators EXPERIENCE the value which can come from learning in a digitally blended environment. All of these goals are also advanced by our project.

How wonderful it is to learn together in this project, having fun but also doing VERY important work on a variety of fronts. There are probably even more reasons why Celebrate Oklahoma Voices matters, but the above list hopefully communicates the broad and diverse reasons I feel centered helping facilitate this project and absolutely LOVE and CHERISH the opportunity to share in these learning experiences with other Oklahoma educators.

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