Download - Digital Visual Literacy and Poetry
Chris Thomson (http://www.electricchalk.com) 1
TEL1 Module: Evaluative Case Study
Digital Visual Literacy and Poetry: Photostories as a teaching tool with
Y11 English Students
By Chris Thomson
Tutors: S. Bamford and C.R McCarter
1.1 Aims and Objectives
The aim of this evaluation is to examine the effectiveness of using creative photo story software
as a way of enhancing digital literacy and skills in literary criticism. Software for producing short
digital movies combining still images, text and sound have been around for a few years and their
flexibility means that they have applications right across the curriculum. The benefit of using this
type of software is that it allows students to explore the possibilities of learning using digital
video without the technical and logistical problems of trying to use moving images. Still images
can be readily found on the internet or easily acquired using a digital camera.
This case study also gives to opportunity to study issues around “digital literacy” and how
developing skills in this area can have benefits for more traditional ideas of text analysis.
By conducting this evaluation it is hoped to provide some guidance for future projects based on
the outcomes of one relatively small activity.
1.2 Revelation Sight and Sound (RS&S)
Revelation Sight and Sound is the software that was used for this project. It is produced by
Logotron and has been available since 2006. It is a tool for producing digital media in either
audio or video formats. It conforms to the basic definition of a non-linear media editor
(Wikipedia) in that it is based on a timeline structure and is a non-destructive editing process. It
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has been specifically designed for use for 7-14year olds but is accessible to students both
younger and older than this due to its uncluttered design.
The software allows a series of images (and video) to be sequenced and then augmented with
“Ken Burns” style zoom and pan effects and transitions. Simple text can be added as stand-alone
titles or titles over the image. Audio can be added as user-produced voiceover or music tracks.
The final result is then rendered as a movie file that can be burnt to disc or uploaded to a video
The same results can be broadly achieved with a very wide range of software. Alternative
suggestions are offered in Appendix 1.
1.3 The class project
The work being evaluated here has been done by a single class of Year 11 students from
Handsworth Grange Community Sports College, Sheffield. The project was planned and
implemented in partnership with Sheffield East City Learning Centre (CLC).
The students had been studying one of the GCSE set poems, Vultures by Chinua Achebe. The
teacher’s concern was that the group were not sufficiently engaged by the poem and she
wanted to give them an opportunity to examine the use of language and imagery in the poem
using ICT. She also needed to collect evidence of speaking tasks for ongoing assessment of the
The teacher approached the CLC as she was looking for an engaging way of helping her students
present the outcome of their work. As using the CLC facilities means a day off timetable for the
class she wanted to generate a level of excitement that would create further enthusiasm for the
The task is a version of Digital Storytelling as described by Gravestock and Jenkins (2009):
“Digital Storytelling combines a narrative with images that support and enhance
the narrative. The emphasis is on the story, not the technology.” (p247)
The second sentence in that definition is significant. For this project the technical nature of the
task was always secondary to the language and literature learning objectives. If the balance was
towards the technology this would potentially limit the effectiveness of the event.
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The project involved 3 main tasks where the students worked in pairs.
Using Audacity, a freely available, open source audio recording tool, each student
recorded themselves reciting the poem.
Students used RS&S to create a short movie with their recital backed up with
synchronised images to illustrate the language used by the poet. A musical soundtrack
was then added and the finished project rendered as a single movie file for storage and
Finally the project was adapted with the student removing the recital from the timeline
and replacing it with a voiceover explaining their choice of images in the style of a DVD
“director’s commentary”. It was this commentary that would be used for the main
assessment as shown in Appendix 2.
The students were given a choice of methods for selecting images. A preselected bank of around
60 images was taken from the Creative Commons pages of photo-sharing site Flickr
(http://flickr.com/creativecommons ). These images were a mix of abstract images or ones that
matched quite closely the metaphors in the text. Students were also given the option of finding
their own images by conducting a Google image search (http://images.google.com). Due to the
limited time available during the day (the students had just under 6 hours to complete the task)
most opted to use the bank of saved Flickr images.
2.1. Reasons for choosing this project
The teacher wanted to encourage her students to speak in a format that could be assessed and
to explore an aspect of literary criticism that in the past has proved difficult for these and
previous students. By spending an extended period of time on tasks relating to the poem she
hoped to increase their familiarity with the text to improve their skills in analysing poetic text
but also pragmatically to prepare them for the upcoming exams where the particular poem was
likely to figure.
The project gave the opportunity to explore issues about “digital literacy”. This goes beyond the
notion of “traditional” literacy, the ability to express ideas and emotion through written text,
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and seeks to take account of the multi-modal nature of modern communication. This is a field
that has been explored most notably by Lankshear and Knobel (2006). The students made
choices about what different media to include that enabled them to communicate their learning
more effectively. Part of the activity was to choose images to help them articulate their
responses to the text. They also selected music to provide atmosphere. This gave the students
great scope for creativity and interpretation of the text.
The reasons for choosing this particular type of activity to go with this learning objective fall into
two main categories:
Developing students’ skills in digital visual literacy
Enhancing engagement with learning through the use of ICT
Digital Visual Literacy
The main learning objective of the activity is to develop the students’ understanding of the
poem. In addition, the activity is also an opportunity to develop skills in “Digital Visual Literacy”
(DVL). Spalter and van Dam (2008) define DVL as “the ability to:
1. critically evaluate digital visual materials
2. make decisions on the basis of digital visual representations of data and ideas, and
3. use computers to create effective visual communications
As such the activity covered point 3 in that the students will be creating their own media but
also point 2 as they had to make decisions about the best way to represent their own ideas.
Given the nature of the group’s academic achievement this was probably the key area to
Although the idea of a generation of “digital natives” has fallen out of favour in recent times, as
highlighted by Bennet et al (2007) it is certainly the experience in this part of Sheffield that
young people are at home with technology and that using ICT provides routes to learning that
are taken up even by some of the most reluctant learners. It was hoped that that by using ICT as
a way of reinforcing understanding of this poem the teacher would be able to engage the
students’ interest in a way that would at least have been different than had been achieved in
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the non-ICT space of the class room and perhaps even enhance it. The task of analysing the
poem’s language and imagery requires no ICT involvement but this activity was taking the
opportunity to “technologise literacy education” (Lankshear and Bigum 1999). Bill Green (1998)
describes effective literacy teaching as bringing together language, meaning and context. It was
hoped that choosing images to fit their understanding of elements of the poem and then
explaining that understanding and the overall context of the poem would meet these criteria.
Walsh (2007) highlights the fact that given the technology that surrounds young people
(especially in the form of web2.0 tools) creation of “user generated content” (UGC) comes
relatively easily to them. They are, as he puts it, already “multimodal designers”, able to express
learning “…drawing on multiple semiotic modes - better through design than through words
alone” (2007, p84). Despite the software being new to most of them, many had already used
applications like Windows Moviemaker and so were familiar with the concept of creating this
form of media.
One aim of the teacher for using this ICT approach to the topic was to create a level of interest
in analysing the poem. The teacher hoped that the use of the City Learning Centre’s resources
would achieve that. Burn and Reed, in work as far back as 1999, examined the use of non-linear
video editing with teenagers and found that:
“This sense of excitement and achievement…has been a common thread in our work on
non-linear video editing, offering a practical and enjoyable experience to disaffected
pupils *and+extremely able pupils.” (1999, p18)
It would be naïve to assume that students that had struggled to interpret the poem successfully
in the classroom would magically be able to do so using a laptop and a bank of images. At the
very least, though, we hoped to see students achieving marks in line with predicted grades or
surpassing them slightly.
3.1. The sample group
The group consists of 18 students Year 11 students in which there is a male to female ration of
2:1. They are a low achieving set compared to their peers and in relation to their own predicted
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grades. 61% of the group that attended this activity were performing “below target” (see
Appendix 2. The group worked in pairs to plan the activity at school and at the CLC.
3.2. Quantitative assessment
To establish what sort of impact the activity has had on the learning, the teacher gave the marks
for each student according to standard assessment practises at the school. These were
compared to the results for previously marked work as well as scores predicted according to the
Fisher Family Trust measure (where available).
In order to summarise this data, the appendix shows a composite grade combining the FFT score
with the predicted grade along side the grade achieved. This is then used to arrive at a score
relating to the difference between the two. For example, if a student has a composite predicted
grade of DD but is marked as C then I have given them a score of +1. Likewise, if a student has a
composite predicted score of CD and they achieve a D I have given them a score of -0.5. This
score will then be used to summarise the impact of this activity on achievement. (A fuller
explanation of this method is shown in Appendix 2a).
It is difficult to disentangle the marks from the technology aspects of the activity and in no way
will I be able to say with any confidence that using RS&S has had a significant impact on the
grades of the students. What I hope the results will show is that students obtain marks broadly
in line with expectation but that there is a noticeable impact on engagement with the topic and
standards of behaviour (if we work on the assumption that students that are engaged in the task
will demonstrate “good” behaviour).
3.3. Qualitative assessment
An interview was conducted with the lead teacher prior to the activity to capture the main
learning objectives as it was important to establish the criteria for success that the teacher was
working to. As far as the teacher is concerned this activity is being run as a pilot and so she was
not looking for hard statistical measures to determine levels of success so none has been
attempted here. A post-activity follow-up interview was held to reflect on the outcomes and to
gauge her level of satisfaction.
4. Outcomes and Evalulation
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The activity was successfully completed on the 8th December 2010. All pairs completed the task
but at varying levels of detail. A number of students were unable to complete the
“commentary” part of the task but as they had partially completed it the teacher was satisfied
there was enough material to assess.
Overall, behaviour and engagement with the task was good throughout the day despite some
peaks and troughs.
A few groups struggled, not with using the software, but with analysing the poem, selecting
appropriate images and then being able to justify their choices. This created a sense of
frustration with them and led to the visual quality of their finished work not being as polished as
4.1 Teacher’s Observations
These are the main points made in the interview with the teacher based on her observation of
the activity and analysis of the assessed work.
1. The session was successful in that it met the learning objectives set out at the start of
the project. The majority of the students completed enough of the task to provide the
teacher with assessable material on speaking.
2. The activity would need to be rebalanced in the future so that more time was spent on
the second activity where the students recorded the commentary and not so much on
the initial activity in which the students created the movie.
3. The extra focus on the poem afforded by the activity led all the students to refer to it in
their mock GCSE exam a few weeks after the activity, even when the poem itself wasn’t
appropriate to the exam question. This indicates an increased level of familiarity with
4. The activity was an effective way of encouraging students to speak. The activity was
low-focus, meaning that he groups were speaking in pairs with peers. The group were
much more comfortable with the activity than if they had been speaking to the teacher
or the whole class.
4.2 Qualitative Assessment
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In order to summarise this data, Appendix 2 shows a composite grade combining the FFT score
with the predicted grade along side the grade achieved. To aid analysis, this is then used to
arrive at a score relating to the difference between the two. For example, if a student has a
composite predicted grade of DD but is marked as C then I have given them a score of +1.
Likewise, if a student has a composite predicted score of CD and they achieve a D I have given
them a score of -0.5. This score will then be used to summarise the impact of this activity on
1. 78% of the students achieved a grade either in line with their predicted grade or
exceeding it. (Scores of 0 or greater)
2. 33% exceeded expectation on the task. All of these were male. (Scores greater than 0)
3. 17% of students achieved lower than expected grades. (Scores lower than 0)
4. 7 of the 13 students mentioned in point 1 had been performing below target (assessed
on achievement so far this academic year.)
5. The widest variation in between predicted score and actual outcome was a male
student with an FFT score of D, was predicted by the school to achieve an E (and so was
performing below target) but was marked as C for this activity (+1.5 grades according to
my scoring method.
6. The total score for the group shows an overall increase of 3.25 grades.
This indicates a very positive outcome to the assessment of this task. As mentioned before we
would expect to see the many of grades in line with predicted scores with some improvement.
Whether it is significant that all the students who exceeded expectation were male probably
would not stand up to statistical scrutiny given the sample size and the ratio of male to female
pupils (2:1). It is, however, probably worthy of further study. Anecdotal evidence from speaking
to teachers in the City Learning Centre’s partnership schools suggests that it is difficult to
engage boys in particular with studying poetry and other literature. Using technology enhanced
learning to help these difficult to reach students is worth investigating more.
When comparing the teacher’s initial objectives with the eventual outcomes the project can be
judged a success. Using this type of technology can enhance the learning of the students and the
observations of the teacher show that there are some added benefits to taking this approach.
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The nature of the work allows different students other than the usual higher achievers to do
well than thanks to the process of creating this type of media and that it creates a “safe”
environment where they can speak for assessment without the risk of embarrassment
associated with more traditional methods.
The suggestion to rebalance the activity in favour of the “commentary” aspect highlights a key
risk in running technically complex activities to enhance learning. Teachers and other
practitioners need to be wary in case the procedural part of the activity, in this case compiling
the media into a movie, detracts from the pedagogical objectives.
The impact on the performance of the male students is interesting and it would be worth
investigating similar projects to build up a clearer picture of whether it is repeatable and to
suggest reasons why it might be the case
Although this software is not considered “cutting edge” given its age, the type of activity is a
valuable one. It is also now achievable using tools freely available on the web (a few examples
are given in Appendix 1) Tasks of this nature allow development of digital and visual literacy
skills and aids reflective, constructive learning.
The teacher in this case study is considering running a similar activity with Year 9 students in the
run up to starting their GCSEs.
BENNET, Sue et al (2007) The Digital Natives Debate; A critical review of the evidence, British Journal
of Education Technology, 39(5), 775-786
BURN, Andrew and REED, Kate (1999) Digi-teens: Media literacies and Digital Technologies in the
Secondary Classroom, English in Education, 33(3), 5-20
GRAVESTOCK, Phil and JENKINS, Martin (1999) Digital Storytelling and its pedagogical impact, in
MAYES, Terry et al (ed.) (1999) Transforming Higher Education through Technology Enhanced
Learning, York, Higher Education Academy, 246-261. Available on
h_technology_enhanced_learning Last accessed 30th Jan 2010
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GREEN, Bill (1988) Subject-specific Literacy and School Learning: a focus on wiriting, Australian
Journal of Education, 32, 156-179
LANKSHEAR, Colin and BIGUM, Chris (1999) Literacies and New Technologies in School Settings,
Curriculum Studies, 7(3), 445-465
LANKSHEAR, Colin and KNOBEL, Michelle (2006) New Literacies: Everyday practices and classroom
learning, 2nd Edition, Maidenhead, Open University Press
SPALTER, Anne M. and van DAM, Andries (2008) Digital Visual Literacy, Theory into Practice, 47(2),
WALSH, Christopher (2007) Creativity as Capital in the literacy classroom: youth as multimodal
designers, Literacy, 41(2) 79-85
WIKIPEDIA, Non-Linear Editing System, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-linear_editing_system.
Last accessed 11th Dec 2009.
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Appendix 1 - List of selected alternative software packages that could be used to create digital
Microsoft - Windows MovieMaker
Microsoft – Photostory3
Adobe – Premiere Elements
Avid – Pinnacle Studio
Corel – Videostudio
Final Cut Express
On the web:
Animoto – http://www.animoto.com
Stupeflix – http://www.stupeflix.com
Vuvox – http://www.vuvox.com
Jaycut – http://jaycut.com/
Edu.Glogster – http://edu.glogster.com
Creaza - http://www.creaza.com (requires payment of a subscription)
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Appendix 2 – Table showing students’ Fisher Family Trust KS4 grade, Predicted grade for Y11 English
Language and grade achieved for activity. G
M D D D 0
M D E C 1.5
F C C D -1
M C D C 0.5
M E D D 0.5
M D C C -0.5
M C E D 0
F C D D -0.5
M E E E 0
F D D D 0
M D D D 0
F C C D -1
M C C C 0
M D E D 0.5
M E E C 2
F D D D 0
M E E E+ 0.25
Appendix 2a – Method for reaching the score in the final column
The FFT score and the school’s predicted grade are combined to make a composite grade which can be
shown as a scale:
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This is compared to the grade achieved for the activity. Moving up one point on the scale gains a score
of 0.5. Changing from a one whole grade to another, though gains a score of 1.0.
For example, the first student in the table has a composite grade of DD and achieved a grade of D. As
this grade doesn’t move the student up the scale they are shown as scoring 0. The second student has a
composite score of DE and achieved a C. This moves then 3 points up the scale giving them a score of
Digital Visual Literacy and Photostories by Chris Thomson is licensed under a Creative Commons
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