Digital world meets English class in literacy project

A University of Prince Edward Island education research project currently being piloted in two high schools ties literacy skills to current digital technologies.

UPEI researchers track high school students' writing skills through digital assignments

A unique UPEI research project has high school students develop their writing skills using creative digital expression such as video, blogs and music. 2:19

A University of Prince Edward Island education research project currently being piloted in two high schools ties literacy skills to current digital technologies.

The idea of the project — which is taking place in one English class at Three Oaks Senior High School and two at Colonel Gray High School — is to move beyond researching and writing papers.

Three Oaks students produce a music video for English class. (CBC)

"What we're going to be measuring is whether these students grow in their text-only writing skills, even though they've been engaged in a much more digital kind of assignment," said education researcher Sean Wiebe.

Nancy Milton's Grade 10 English writing class at Three Oaks has been working on their creative projects since October.

"It is a digitally driven world, and I think it's our responsibility as teachers to expose our students to this digital world beyond just our curriculum," said Milton.

The thinking that is involved in the digital projects is the same as more traditional English assignments, says Sean Wiebe, UPEI education researcher. (CBC)

Of the many projects students are undertaking, one group is creating artwork that they will present and write about in an online art blog. Another group is producing a music video, complete with its own script.

"We made a stop-motion animation movie for our English class, and it's just about two guys who are really hungry and looking for a pudding," said student Matthew Arsenault.

Milton said of her students, "There's just been that added level of engagement that I certainly have not seen in a writing class for a long time."

Using essay writing as a marker of a student's ability to write doesn't match the types of activities that are available for students today, said Wiebe.

What society values as forms of communication are changing and schools need to keep up, he said.

With the digital projects, students still have to analyze, predict and generate criteria, Wiebe said.

"So the thinking that's involved is the same."

Culture PEI has partnered on the project and recruited film makers, web designers, authors and actors to help the students.

Students seem more engaged in their assignments, says Nancy Milton, English teacher at Three Oaks. (CBC)

"I think to teach them alternate ways of expressing themselves in this day and age because we have a lot of alternate possibilities," said Marlene O'Brien, cultural mentor with the group.

The researchers are tracking the students' progress through interviews and tests.

They will present their findings in May.

If the results prove positive, they will make a case with education officials that activities such as this should be happening in more English classes.

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