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Digital Storytelling in Political Science

August 8, 2010

My colleague and I use a research paper in Political Science and Constitutional Law as a major course assessment, and as a way for our students to examine a currently unresolved Constitutional issue that interests them.  At the end of the paper the students must make an informed-by-research prediction of how the issue will be resolved.

Up until this past May and June the only two people in the class would see the papers and learn about the issue: the student and the instructor.  Clearly not a good situation, and a ton of educational opportunities missed.  So this year with the 1:1 pilot in my Political Science class I decided to organize this project into an opportunity for the students to share their labors, educate the class, and spark discussion

In the document below you will see how the project is structured.  The standard introduction to the issue is followed by a discussion or analysis of the legal issues, Constitution, court cases, prominent figures and differing viewpoints related to the issue.  Concluding the paper is the prediction.  Pretty standard stuff.

Another part of our curriculum has the students writing case briefs.  This is a useful skill on its own, but it had previously stood alone as an activity as part of the study of the judiciary and the Supreme Court.  Here’s where I saw my opportunity and took it.

First, the students were using court cases in their research paper, so why not have them write their briefs about one of the prominent cases in their papers (usually a precedent setting case)?  Next, I knew I wanted the students to share their research papers as presentations with the class, but NOT to do it in PowerPoints that they stand in front of and read.  So I went to my friend Heather (hhersey03 on Twitter) in our IMC and explained what I was looking to do.  She then told me about digital storytelling as a way to accomplish these means.

She decided that digital storytelling would be best since so many of these issues are emotional and potentially personal  (abortion, gay marriage, immigration reform) or very current (detainees on Guantanamo, oil crisis).   This method (Prezi, Voicethread, GoAnimate!, etc.) allows the students to incorporate different media from different sources to create a more dynamic presentation than PowerPoint.

Finally, I had the students post their case briefs to Moodle prior to the presentations.  Before the individual student would present (while s/he was setting up) the class would read the case brief to introduce them to the legal concepts and constitutional issues.  This also allowed the student to spend more time presenting the issues and controversies and less time with the background information.

I was more than thrilled with the outcome.  Most of the class tried at least one of the tools for a portion of the presentation (I told them that they could use PowerPoint as a starting point, and if the tools were too daunting they could just stick with PowerPoint…this whole project is a learning curve for them, too).  The presentations were interesting and engaging and the students had great questions.  In fact, just last month a student from that class presented to our new 1:1 cohort and said how this project was more informative, and fun, than any other summative project he had done in the past four years.  He went on to say that he feels more informed about national and global events because of this class.  I was floored as I had no idea he felt that way until he said it!

Here are the documents for you, as well as the link to our IMC’s digital storytelling page.  Please let me know what you think, if you have suggestions and if you have questions.  Again, the presentation rubric is adopted from Science Learning Academy in Philadelphia.

Project Sheets and Rubrics

Research Project Spring 2010 (paper and research)
Research Project Spring 2010 Rubric
Constitutional Issue Research Project Presentations 2010
Constitutional Issue Research Project Rubric 2010

Digital Storytelling @HCRHS IMC

Case Briefs

Case Brief Instructions 2010
There are many excellent sources on the web on how to write case briefs.  I just did a Google Search to come up with the ones I showed the students.

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