Student-Created Digital Media and Engagement in Middle School History

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Boras]On: 07 October 2014, At: 06:43Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Computers in the Schools:Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice,Theory, and Applied ResearchPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wcis20

    Student-Created Digital Media andEngagement in Middle School HistoryCurby Alexanderaa Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, USAPublished online: 20 Aug 2014.

    To cite this article: Curby Alexander (2014) Student-Created Digital Media and Engagement in MiddleSchool History, Computers in the Schools: Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice, Theory, and AppliedResearch, 31:3, 154-172, DOI: 10.1080/07380569.2014.932652

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07380569.2014.932652

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  • Computers in the Schools, 31:154172, 2014Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0738-0569 print / 1528-7033 onlineDOI: 10.1080/07380569.2014.932652

    Student-Created Digital Media and Engagementin Middle School History

    CURBY ALEXANDERTexas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

    In this study, student engagement during classroom activities wasinvestigated where sixth graders created digital media projectsusing historical images. The study employed a qualitative de-sign involving observations, student artifacts, and interviews whilestudents were creating digital storyboards using a Web-based ap-plication developed for this research. Several patterns of studentengagement were identified, such as time on task, level of detail,and extra effort, which subsequently led to the development of fourdistinct profiles among the students. Applications of these findingsand directions for future studies are discussed.

    KEYWORDS social studies, digital media, student engagement

    Student disengagement is an immediate and persistent issue affecting bothteachers and students (Newmann, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992). Students whoare not personally invested in their learning are at greater risk to drop out ofschool (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006). Lack of student engagement isalso associated with teacher burnout and contributes to the national problemof teacher attrition (Hastings & Bham, 2003).

    Efforts at increasing student engagement have traditionally beentargeted at teacher effort and student incentives (Newmann et al., 1992).However, contemporary approaches to increasing student engagement havefocused more on learning environments (Brush & Saye, 2005; Ioannou,Brown, Hannafin, & Boyer, 2009) and the academic tasks that studentsperform (Heafner, 2004; Schlechty, 2002; Tomlinson, 2001). Newmann andWehlage (1993) identified the following characteristics of engaging learning

    Address correspondence to Curby Alexander, PhD, College of Education, Texas ChristianUniversity, Palko Building #345, 2800 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76129, USA. E-mail:curby.alexander@tcu.edu

    Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online atwww.tandfonline.com/wcis.

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  • Digital Media and Student Engagement 155

    environments and academic tasks: the level to which they are perceived asauthentic by students, the extent to which they are personally or situationallyinteresting (Murphy & Alexander, 2000; Renninger, 1992, 2000), the degreeof student choice, and the appropriate level of challenge and rigor.

    Technology-enhanced student projects potentially address many of thecriteria for engaging learning environments or work. Although technologycannot solve all challenges associated with student disengagement, it doeshave a proven track record for capturing students attention (Lenhart &Madden, 2005). An in-depth study by the Pew Internet and American LifeProject (Arafeh, Levin, Rainie, & Lenhart, 2002) found that teens regu-larly use technology autonomously for both school-related and personallearning.

    However, teachers have customarily been resistant to disrupting theirteaching environments and practices with technology (Cuban, 2001; Oppen-heimer, 2003). This is particularly true in history classes, where technologyhas not traditionally been part of the curriculum (Martorella, 1997). Tech-nology presents challenges to classroom management and typically requiresextra planning (Hofer & Swan, 2006). Furthermore, teachers must adhere tostrict curricular pacing and ensure they cover required content before end-of-year testing (van Hover & Pierce, 2006), either eliminating the introductionof technology-based projects or delaying them until the end of the year.

    As a way to address some of the challenges associated with implement-ing technology-enhanced projects, PrimaryAccess Storyboarda Web-basedstoryboarding tool, or gamewas created for use in the history classroom(see Figure 1). Using primary source images as a background, students re-search the context of the images, then layer speech bubbles and animatedcharacters on the background to create an historical visual narrative. Eachstoryboard can have multiple frames, and projects can be shared using aunique URL. Implementation of this tool requires less time than would berequired to create other forms of digital media, such as movies or pod-casts; yet, the storyboarding software still includes features that students findinteresting and fun.

    The purpose of this study was to investigate student engagement duringclassroom activities using PrimaryAccess Storyboard.

    THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

    The design of this tool was guided by the technological pedagogical contentknowledge framework (TPACK). Adapted from Pedagogical Content Knowl-edge (Shulman, 1987), Mishra and Koehler (2006) developed the TPACKframework to describe the interplay between a teachers content, pedagog-ical, and technological knowledge when planning instruction. Teachers donot develop their knowledge in each of these areas independently; rather,

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  • 156 C. Alexander

    FIGURE 1 PrimaryAccess Storyboard. A screen capture of PrimaryAccess Storyboard(www.primaryaccess.org), a Web-based tool designed for students to create narratives us-ing primary source images, text, and characters.

    these areas of knowledge intersect and work together as teachers visualizeand develop instructional activities.

    Shulman & Grossman (1988) believed teachers organized their content-area knowledge within a field of study differently from other professionalsin that same field of study, in that teachers categorized their knowledge interms of transferring it to others. Pedagogical content knowledge representsthe blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how par-ticular aspects of subject matter are organized, adapted, and represented forinstruction (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

    Building on this framework, TPACK operates from the belief that inorder for teachers to effectively teach with technology, they must continu-ally foster growth in all three knowledge domains: content, pedagogy, andtechnology. Teachers rarely use technology in their instruction for its ownsake. Rather, technology is used within the context of instruction for thepurpose of communicating concepts and skills to students, or allowing thestudents to build and convey their own knowledge back to others. Tech-nology, by nature, always fulfills a purpose for those who choose to adoptit (Rogers, 2003). Teachers have a different purpose for using technologyfrom professionals in other fields. Therefore, they organize their knowledge

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  • Digital Media and Student Engagement 157

    of technology differently from those in other technology-using professions,such as programmers or network specialists, because they consider how itspresence will enhance, augment, or possibly hinder important aspects ofthe learning environment, such as representation, collaboration, classroommanagement, and creativity.

    Current TPACK research focuses on the affordances of specific tech-nologies for enhancing both teaching and learning within the content areas(Thompson, 2007). Technology, from this perspective, is viewed more asa set of tools in a toolbox, and their goodness is relative to the teachingstrategies and cognitive processes they support (Salomon, 1993).

    Ferdig (2006) emphasized the importance of the design process whendeveloping educational technology that supports both content and peda-gogy. He proposed the following essential understandings teachers and in-novators must have in order to develop effective educational technologies.First, teachers and innovators must understand that educational technologydesign is a bidirectional process, where each discipline informs the other. Ateachers way of teaching should not totally dictate the design process, andthe innovators design sensibilities should not dictate the teachers practice.Second, teachers and innovators must interact and understand one anotherspredispositions in terms of using technology and creating a learning environ-ment where new tools are openly received. Finally, innovators and teachersmust understand the flexible and improvisational nature of both teaching andtechnology, and that effective integration of technology into the learning pro-cess may require innovations to be based on interchangeable componentsrather than rigid, systematic programs (Ferdig, 2006).

    PrimaryAccess Storyboard was developed based on the design criteriaidentified by Ferdig (2006) in order to create a tool that could keep studentsengaged in learning activities that involve inquiry using historical images. Stu-dent engagement with PrimaryAccess Storyboard and its associated learningactivities had unique implications for each dimension of the TPACK frame-work: engagement with the content, engagement with the learning activity,and engagement with the technology.

    Engagement with the content is the extent to which students are mo-tivated to learn the subjects being addressed in the classroom. Frick (1992)analyzed the notion of interestedness versus interestingness, noting thatthe former applies to a feeling of interest in a topic prior to learning theoutcome of an event, while the latter is a feeling of interest occurring afterthe outcome of an event and pertaining only to the specific outcome. Forexample, some students have a personal interest in history, and that interestmotivates them to engage themselves in the subject (Schiefele, 1991). Thestudents inclination toward history will likely result in increased achievementin their history classes (Eccles, Wigfield & Schiefele, 1998).

    Engagement with the learning activity is the extent to which the studentsare psychologically invested in the specific lesson the teacher has preparedfor the class. Using the prior example, students who are not inherently

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  • 158 C. Alexander

    interested in history may become engaged in a particular lesson based onthe teachers presentation style (e.g., a character re-enactment), the learningenvironment (e.g., a field trip to a historical location), or the teaching strategy(e.g., a debate with classmates). As Schlechty (2002) and Brewster and Fager(2000) pointed out, the teacher can influence the level of student engagementthrough the instructional decisions he or she makes.

    Engagement with technology is the extent to which students are mo-tivated by the technological aspects of the learning task. Students who arenot motivated by the content or the learning activity designed by the teachermay be engaged with the technology they are using to complete their task.For example, when using PrimaryAccess Storyboard, engagement with tech-nology could manifest itself as time spent on a certain task, the number offrames in a students storyboard, the number of resources used, the numberof revisions made, or the frequency of accessing the storyboard tool.

    METHODS

    A qualitative research design was employed for this study. This design facil-itated the detailed investigation of the characteristics of engagement amongthe students. Using observation, interview, and student artifact analysis, Iidentified manifestations of student engagement and developed profiles forstudent engagement with the historical storyboarding activities. The qualita-tive data were inductively analyzed using a case study design.

    The driving question guiding this inquiry was: How is engagement man-ifested in middle school students who use PrimaryAccess Storyboard for anhistorical inquiry activity?

    DATA SOURCES

    The study involved two sixth-grade history teachersTeacher A and TeacherBand their students. The study spanned two instructional units, one on thecauses of the Civil War and one on the effect of the Civil War on soldiers,women, and slaves. Teacher As class created storyboards during the firstunit, and Teacher Bs students used the tool about two weeks later duringthe second unit.

    The qualitative design was comprised of student observations, documentanalysis of student artifacts, and interviews. Student engagement during thelearning tasks was observed using two separate instruments: the student en-gagement constructs from the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS;La Paro, Pianta, & Stu...

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