[This post was originally published on September 25, 2012.]
Your average student has developed a significant collection of digital work. There are Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and Flickr and Instagram photos. I’ve been thinking about how to use this collection of artifacts since Antero Garcia reminded me that there is a “huge stream of student data to look for growth in.”
[Photo: text message by sffoghorn, on Flickr]
What are positive ways to use all that data? I’m not interesting in mining that data for indications of what strategies do or do not work. Instead, I’d like students to find their growth and changes in that stream of data themselves. Happily, I’ve found inspiration for an assignment that I think will do just that. I simply need to ask students to look for the stories in their data stream.
Oddly, this idea came to me when I read a story in the Georgia Southernalumni magazine. I’m not an alumnus of Georgia Southern, so I almost threw the paper into the recycling unopened. It only ended up in my mailbox because I have donated to the Graduate Research Network (GRN). Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to skim it in case the GRN was mentioned inside.
Instead, I found a story about Jessica Hines, a photography teacher at Georgia Southern. Hines searched through her own data stream to learn more about her brother Gary, a Vietnam War veteran who took his life. The story from the alumni magazine isn’t online, but you can read more about Hines in My Brother’s War: Professor Acclaimed for Images of War Experience.
Two things caught my imagination from the piece. First, my eye tripped on the title, “Hines teaches students to tell story of themselves through photography.” The grammarian in me either wanted to add the word the, change story to stories, or perhaps both. Still the idea of telling stories with photographs drew me in, since I’ve been searching for multimodal assignments recently.
My interest piqued, I read on and found my second inspiration. Hines talked about her teaching as an introduction to her own search to learn more about her brother:
“I explain to my students that the camera is a device that, by pressing a button, shows them what they are interested in,” explains Hines. “The potential for self-discovery is high if one pays attention.”
What would happen, I wondered, if I sent students off to look through their data stream for their stories with the intention of learning more about themselves and their interests in the process? I knew I had found a positive way to use that “huge stream of student data.”
The assignment I have in mind asks students to look back through their data stream for recurring themes or topics and to compose a text about how their ideas have changed over time. I want them to consider questions like these:
- Has your interest in the topic or theme deepened over time?
- Have you slowly lost interest?
- Have you learned increasingly more over time?
- What has influenced how you feel about the topic?
- What have you noticed as you look back at how you’ve documented the topic or theme over time?
- What stories have you found?
- What discoveries have you made about yourself?
For now, I’m leaving the medium for the text open. The piece could be a traditional text, but the assignment also lends itself to video, photography, and multimedia compositions. I’ll also leave the places students search for these stories open, rather than limiting the activity to just photographs, for instance.
Finally, I am hoping that I can avoid the Creepy Treehouse effect, since students choose the stories that they tell. They will pull their stories together in an independent piece that won’t require me or the class to visit their private postings. Students will curate the collections only with data they feel comfortable sharing.
In addition to reflecting on their own stream of data, I hope this assignment will also help students learn more about finding and analyzing how images or themes develop in a body of work. The assignment reminds me of the skills that I use when I trace how a poet uses a specific motif through a series of poems or how a novelist develops an image over the course of a novel.
What do you think of asking students to explore their own data stream? Do you have ways to tap the stream of student data? Do you have an assignment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below!