This case study incorporates a combination of online and offline activities. The aim was to explore the intersections of digital literacy and creativity and to reflect on the ways in which creativity informs learners’ digital literacy practice, both inside and outside formal education institutions. The central metaphor for these activities was ‘Digital Bloom’: an abstract concept represented by a field of flowers, where each flower reflects an individual understanding of digital literacy and the field symbolises the social layer.
6.2.2 Case Study 14. ‘Digital Bloom’: Exploring Digital Literacy in Virtual and Public Space
The concept of Digital Bloom functioned as a metaphor for meanings made with digital literacy by learners and teachers, where a field of flowers was used to express diverse individualised understandings of digital literacy (represented by individual flowers) against a backdrop of socio-economic context (meadow).
This aspect of the project built on the collaboration of the project team with partners from the public and commercial sector. There were two strands to this part of the project: the first (the Digital Bloom installation) built on collaboration with Sheffield Children’s Festival and its aim was to design a dissemination event which would creatively showcase the work of learners involved with the project. Sheffield Children’s Festival, organised by Sheffield City Council, is the largest festival of its kind in the UK and a major event in Sheffield’s cultural calendar, with 34,000 children and young people taking part in 2011. Participants had the opportunity to work with professional artists, develop their creativity, exhibit work, perform in city center venues, participate in workshops and special events, and enjoy performances of dance, theatre and music.
The second (Digital Bloom Online) built on collaboration with realsmart and its aim was to develop an online space where users could add their own stories and, through that process, explore the meaning of digital literacies for their personal and professional lives.
126.96.36.199 Digital Literacy Practice
Digital Bloom in a Public Space
This strand built on the desire of the team to explore creative ways of disseminating OERs created in the context of the whole project. The team collaborated with Richard Johnson from Sheffield Children’s Festival to design a showcase of the work created by learners from participating schools. The working title of the showcase was Project voices and the following principles were adopted in its design:
- The showcase should be digital given the nature of the project
- The showcase should be interactive and allow for contributions from members of the public (online and/or offline)
- The showcase would incorporate rich media material (images, audio and video recordings) collected by the project team in the course of undertaking the school-based case studies
- The showcase should celebrate the involvement of learners from participating schools in the project
One resource that was offered to the team was ‘The Cube’, a freestanding, flatpack exhibition spacein the shape of a pod, which can be easily reassembled in public spaces. It is part of a service offered by Art in the Park (www.artinthepark.org.uk), a Sheffield-based organisation that provides creative environmental workshops, events and activities for schools, children’s centres and community groups in Sheffield and the surrounding areas. It created a dedicated exhibition space where digital art could be projected onto the wall inside the pod. In terms of content, the team planned to exhibit artefacts created by children in participating schools – digital paintings, short movies etc – as well as material captured by the project team in the process of developing the case studies. These included short interviews with learners, images taken during events at participating schools, and reflections of the teachers involved.
The inspiration for the final shape and form of the installation came from work undertaken by the pupils at Mundella Primary School (available at digitalfutures.realsmartcloud.com) who, as part of their project, explored the use of Brushes app on iPads and the affordances of web 2.0 tools such as blogs and Twitter to communicate about their experience of involvement with the DeFT project. Eighty children took part in artist-led workshops where they had a chance to use iPads to create individual digital flowers which were then pulled into a digital mural by a graphic artist.
The workshop was part of the ‘Bigger Bloom’ activity package offered to Sheffield-based schools by the Sheffield Children’s Festival. The workshops were inspired by art of David Hockney, an artist well known for his murals depicting the Yorkshire landscape. Children in participating schools created paper flowers which were then incorporated into a three-dimensional spring mural. In the case of Mundella Primary School, the activity was modified to fit with the aims of the DeFT project and so the flowers and the mural were digital, with the choice of Brushes app inspired by David Hockney’s iPad-based art.
The work of the children at Mundella inspired the team to conceive of an installation based around a central concept of a field of flowers, where the artefacts produced by learners involved with the DeFT project would be displayed on a digital meadow and each individual piece of work would be represented by a single flower. Initially, the team envisaged that it would be possible to create an installation with a gestural interface where, on entering the pod, visitors could ‘collect’ the flowers (ie access the material created by learners involved with the project) by reaching out towards the flower representing an individual story and pulling it in their direction in order to open up an image or a video/audio recording associated with that flower. However, given the limited resources available, the scope of the installation had to be scaled down and the final version was in the form of a website projected from a computer onto a large screen placed inside the pod. In this version, visitors could access the individual stories of DeFT learners by using a mouse to click on a flower displayed against a backdrop of a stylised digital meadow (see figure 1 below for image of visitors interacting with the installation).
Due to time restrictions, the team had to limit the choice of material on display mainly to work undertaken by children at Mundella. This included videos from the workshop showing the artist interacting with the kids, audio from children, children’s comments on the blog, as well as the individual flowers created by the children.
The installation was exhibited between 9 and 13 July in the Winter Gardens, which is a public space in central Sheffield adjacent to the museum and the university city campus. The pod was open to the public between 10:00 and 17:00 each day and staffed by assistants who were Sheffield Hallam students; two of them were involved through participation in the DeFT projects. Around the pod, the project team placed a display of the work of children from different schools (see figure 2 below), interspersed with quotes from project team members and teachers talking about their understanding of the project and ways in which they interpreted digital literacy. The quotes and images were organised around three central questions: What is the DeFT project about?; What is digital literacy?; Are you digitally literate?
A key event taking place during the week was a drop-in workshop on 10 July led by Richard Johnson from Sheffield Children’s Festival, during which members of the public could use the Brushes app on iPads to create their own paintings. Five iPads were placed on the table outside the pod and members of the public were invited to create their own paintings (see figure 3 below). Where permission was granted, the paintings were then uploaded to a dedicated Flickr account (available at www.flickr.com/photos/82322448@N02/).
Overall, the installation attracted 400 visitors. It enabled the project to reach out to members of the public who would otherwise probably never have considered getting involved with a project focused on digital literacy in the context of teacher education. As one of the students staffing the pod commented:
It’s just been a really worthwhile experience; we have had so many people comment on having the pod in a public place, to make people aware of it who might be just passing through … We have had people from the council and Children’s Services come through, and make connections with the project. Hopefully it will lead to all sorts of possibilities, it’s so important that you have reached out to the public, and given them this opportunity.
At its core, the installation reflected the commitment of the project team to values of open access. The installation itself is customisable and can be re-purposed, so the concept could be taken up by others wishing to offer dissemination events to maximise creative engagement with the public.
Digital Bloom in a Virtual Space
The concept of sharing accounts and stories surrounding digital literacy became an extended metaphor of Digital Bloom Online, in which the team explored ‘collections’ and assemblages as a means of exploring and provoking meanings related to technical tools and how we live and learn with them.
The second strand of Digital Bloom built on collaboration with realsmart. Its aim was to develop an online space where project participants and members of general public could submit their stories exploring their understandings of digital literacies. Users can visit the website (www.digitalbloom.org) to share a digital story in the form of text, images or rich media, which then will be added to the public meadow (see screenshot of the submission form below) and can be viewed by others.
188.8.131.52 Reflections on Participation
This section pulls together reflections contributed by individuals who were involved with various activities connected to the Digital Bloom installation and Digital Bloom Online strands of the project.
Reflections from Sheffield Hallam PGCE student, one of the pod assistants:
It has been astonishing how pre-schoolers have taken to you just putting an iPad in front of them … You’ve got 2 year olds, and you go ‘this is how you change the colour…’ and they go ‘yeah yeah yeah I know’ and they just got on with it absolutely fascinating, compared to people even in their late twenties early thirties, they come along and say’ oh what’s this then, how do I do this and how do I do that and I think half of it is that kids have the confidence to just do it, and also because they’re BORN digitally literate-… and I think that education needs to catch up! … we have had a baby that could not have been more than one year old tapping away on it.
Comment from visitor to the Digital Bloom installation:
Children’s festival is the sort of thing where people can join, people can look what the kids are doing because the students are our future … It’s a more technology lifestyle nowadays. So that the kids, they have iPads themselves, and they are all over the places and I used to remember when we are still kids, we played cards. There’s not much of that now. And I think it’s a better way of learning things. It’s interesting as well, yes it’s much [more] interesting, interactive.
184.108.40.206 Digital literacy reflections
The framework underpinning the Digital Bloom project is that of digital storytelling, which emerged in California in the late 1980s as a method employed by community theatre workers to enable the recording, production and dissemination of stories (Lambert 2009). The arts practitioners embracing digital storytelling were motivated by their commitment to the democratisation of culture: to empowering and giving voice to individuals and groups traditionally silenced, marginalised or ignored by mainstream culture (Clarke and Adam 2012). Digital storytelling encompasses narrative forms and processes produced and shared digitally, including narrative, image-only stories, as well as multimedia narrative integrating image, sound and perhaps text (Ganley 2012). In its broadest sense, the term ‘digital storytelling’ in education settings relates to the application of multimedia resources in learning environments for the production by students of multimedia narratives (Clarke and Adam 2012). Overall, digital storytelling offers ‘a powerful medium for students to represent a theoretically informed understanding of texts and contexts in a form other than ‘‘traditional’’ writing’ (Coventry 2008: 166). This case study has also explored the affordances of web 2.0, given that the ‘digital’ aspect is crucial here and that the stories told both in the context of the installation and the online space would not exist without the capacities of digital media (Couldry 2008).
220.127.116.11 References/ Links to Further Resources
Couldry N (2008). ‘Mediatization or mediation? Alternative understandings of the emergent space of digital storytelling’. New Media Society, 10: 373.
Coventry M (2008). ‘Cross-currents of pedagogy and technology: a forum on digital storytelling and cultural critique. Introduction’. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 7(2): 165–170.
Clarke R and Adam A (2012). ‘Digital storytelling in Australia: academic perspectives and reflections’. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 11: 157.
Ganley B (2012). ‘Community, communication and creativity: digital storytelling in the liberal arts classroom’. In R O’Connell (ed) Teaching with multimedia: pedagogy in the websphere. Cresskill: Hampton Press.
Lambert J (2009). ‘Where it all started: the Center for Digital Storytelling in California’. In J Hartley and K McWilliam (eds) Story circle: digital storytelling around the world, 79–80. London: John Wiley.
Links to Further Resources
The technical specification of Digital Bloom Online has been released under a CC-licence and so can be reused and modified by anyone with relevant technical skills, available from project website: digitalfutures.realsmartcloud.com
The Digital Bloom installation is portable and re-purposeable and could be customised for different audiences; the project team would be happy to talk to anyone interested in doing this and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.