Empowering Teachers Through Digital Storytelling: A Multimedia Capstone Project


Source: Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 35:1, 6-19

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors’ purpose in this article is to share the outcomes of a constant comparative content analysis of a multimedia capstone project, designed to have teachers reflect on and synthesize their learning experiences, shared via a digital story.
A fundamental component of the capstone was for teachers to tell their stories through the perspective of how they perceived themselves as empowered educators.
Through digital storytelling, teachers reflected on how their major assignments empowered them as educators.
The research questions this study are:
1. How did first-year teachers define and represent empowerment in their capstone projects?
2. What projects within the capstone stood out as empowering?
3. How did first-year teachers frame empowerment within their teaching as reflected in their capstones?

The researchers conducted a content analysis of a culminating multimedia capstone project, an artifact from two cohorts in their second year of a 2-year urban alternative certification and master’s program.
Participants and setting - Participants included 29 first-year teachers from two cohorts completing their master’s degrees in a large southeastern urban university.
The teachers were career changers committed to teaching in urban elementary schools.
Data sources, collection, and analysis - Each teacher participant created a 6- to 12-minute multimedia capstone.
The capstones involved digital storytelling and were developed around the theme of being an empowered educator, and synthesized how each of their five major master’s assignment met the National Board Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) standards and empowered them and their students.
The researchers’ analysis occurred in two phases.
First, a conceptual content analysis of the Capstones, as an artifact representing empowerment, was conducted (Colorado State research guide, 2006), followed by using constant comparative methods (Merriam, 1998; Strauss & Corbin, 1998).


Teachers’ definition of empowerment
In response to the authors’ first research question, how did first-year teachers define and represent empowerment in their capstone projects, they noted the teachers’ descriptions of what felt empowering to them and their students.
Teachers defined empowerment in Shor’s (1992) terms as situated, democratic, or activist characteristics of an empowering education.
In defining empowerment from a situated stance, teachers centered their students as a source of empowerment.
Teachers built on their students’ realities to forge a better connection to life experiences and the curriculum.
Next, for democratic, teachers emphasized the importance of student voice and student choice in anchoring learning
Finally, activist learning fulfills the role of a protestor, resister, or challenger to oppressive systemic academic, social, political, and economic conditions.
Activist learning is also about students taking an active role and interest in their learning.

Teachers’ most empowering project
For their second research question, the authors determined that the Problem-Solution Project (PSP) stood out as being the most empowering of the learning experiences.
The PSP assignment involved teachers asking their students to choose a problem in their school, community, nation, or world of their choice to solve.
Teachers, in turn, facilitated the project while meeting established curriculum standards for their school.
The authors note that it would seem that teachers empowering their students in this manner, in turn, had the most influence on their own feelings of empowerment,
Participating in a learning community, Cross-Career Learning Communities (CCLC), which also focused on problem posing and problem solving, was found to be a close second as an empowering project.
That the PSP and CCLC were empowering suggests that the projects that facilitated situated student choice (PSP) or situated teachers’ choices of an issue posed and engaged as a collective with their peers yielded stronger sentiments of empowerment.

Teachers’ framing of empowerment
The authors’ third research question asked, how did first-year teachers frame empowerment within their teaching as reflected in their capstones?
Results of their analysis fell into the following three hierarchical categories:
(a) lack of empowerment,
(b) teacher-focused empowerment, and
(c) student-focused empowerment.
The authors report that teachers falling in the lowest category (lack of empowerment) (n =7) did not illustrate empowerment in their capstone or they specifically mentioned not feeling empowered.
In select instances, the strain, stress, or restrictions of work conditions were shared.
Teachers who fell into the teacher-focused empowerment (n=10), centered their feelings on being empowered by actions they initiated with their students and attributed empowerment to their own actions.
Teachers who demonstrated student-focused empowerment (n=12) most often referenced their students’ empowerment as the catalyst for their own sense of empowerment.
In this instance, power was presented as shared among students and teachers, resulting in mutually gratifying sentiments regarding teaching and learning.
Teachers’ capstones primarily fell into the second and third categories.
The authors note that the third category was particularly distinctive in that teachers who positioned empowerment via their students often integrated their actual students in the capstones, rather than just speaking for or about them in their narrative.

The authors conclude that using a digital storytelling process for first-year teachers’ capstone experience led to several affordances for supporting the development of empowered educators working with students in urban schools.
Recognizing the challenges and stressors of becoming a first-year teacher that can too often leave teachers feeling disempowered, the multimedia capstone project analyzed by the authors fostered teachers’ capacities to position themselves as empowered while also providing key information about the learning that occurred during the program and the first year of teaching.
This effort also supported using digital technology as a facilitative tool in providing a dynamic multimedia capstone product beyond the more commonly used text forms.

Colorado State research guide. (2006). Retrieved from http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/research/content/index.cfm
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, CA: JosseyBass
Shor, I. (1992). Empowering education: Critical teaching for social change. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press
Strauss, J., & Corbin, A. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE 

Updated: Dec. 29, 2019