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A tattoo tells mother's story.

Freshman Learning Community creates bond through digital storytelling

November 12, 2015
KOKOMO, Ind. — When Alex Prouse created a digital story, she wasn’t just learning how to use another technology tool in her future classroom — she was building a bond with members of her freshman learning community.

Prouse, from Logansport, told the story of her daughter Serenna’s perilous first days of life at Riley Hospital for Children IU Health, for her Indiana University Kokomo class, Using Computers in Education.

Christina Ivanova, future faculty teaching fellow, leads the class, which gives freshmen in the School of Education experience with technology tools they can use in their classrooms. They created their stories with pictures, text, and music, and then showed them in small groups or in a full-class presentation.

While the experience just using the tool is valuable, Ivanova sees digital storytelling as a way her first-year students have a voice to tell their stories, and to create a community to support one another.

“I thought about the freshman learning community goals, and thought it would be neat to use the tool to have students tell about their journey to college,” she said. “Everything we do is connected to how it can be used in their classrooms as teachers. A side effect is that it strengthened the class bond. It strengthened the rapport among classmates.”

That kind of bond provides support for the students as they navigate their freshman year, giving them people who care about them and can encourage them to succeed and persist in their education.

Prouse says her classmates understand her more than they did before, having had this glimpse into her life, and many of them have asked her how her daughter, now a healthy two year old, is doing.

“It’s a nice feeling to know they care about me outside of class,” she said. “I feel like I also got an intimate look into their lives. We’re really close as a class, and this is part of it.”

Prouse’s project built on an earlier discussion of artifactural literacy, in which the students talked about objects that are meaningful in their life experiences. She showed her tattoo of her favorite Bible verse, Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulations, be constant in prayer,” which comforted her during her long days in the hospital with her baby.

“After she was born, I had to review that verse every day. It was a really hard time. It was a reminder to think of the hope we have, and to be constantly praying,” she said.

Taylor Bell, Kokomo, shared the story of her parents’ divorce during her senior year in high school, and how her friends helped her get through it. She said digital storytelling is a safe way to tell that story.

“You could be open and get your experiences out without having to stand in front of the class and feel vulnerable and emotional,” she said.

She envisions using this technology in her classroom, when she is a high school English teacher.

“The uses for this go beyond telling personal stories,” she said. “I can have my students retell the story of a novel we have read, and give their spin on it, so I can be sure they’ve understood what they’ve read.”

She also sees the personal value of it, as her class has forged friendships.

“We’ve made friends we will keep all four years we are here,” she said. “If you have friends, you have someone to check when you aren’t in class, and to encourage you to keep going when times are hard.”

Most of the students are recent high school graduates. The freshman learning community allows them to take a class with the same group of people for the entire first year, and to build a community of support that makes them more likely to succeed and return to continue progressing towards their degrees.

“It’s critical that we take that opportunity in the first year, to help them adjust and let them know they aren’t alone,” said Ivanova. “The freshman learning community is a place you can feel someone cares about you, and you have value. It is so helpful to have that kind of community to dwell in, and not feel isolated.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 11/12/2015