Ninth Volume in Service-Learning Series Focuses on Identity and Integration
Reviewed by Kajsa Larson
Creating Our Identities in Service-Learning and Community Engagement. B.E. Moely, S.H. Billig, and B.A. Holland (Eds.). IAP-Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC, 2009, 282 pages. Hardcover. ISBN 978-1-60752-289-8
As the ninth volume of the Advances in Service-Learning Research series, an initiative that began in 2002, Creating Our Identities in Service-Learning and Community Engagement addresses an area of research that has not been widely discussed: the topic of identity in relation to service-learning and community engagement. Each of the authors of this edited volume touches upon different aspects of identity theory, described as “an organizing concept around which the individual is able to integrate varied aspects of the self and aim for consistency in behavior” (p. x). This volume appeals to a wide readership, including university faculty and staff, community partners, students, or any other service-learning stakeholder that is interested in the topic of creating and sustaining identity through service-learning and civic engagement partnerships.
The book is organized into four parts. The three chapters in Part I examine the role of service-learning in higher education institutional identity through the examination of promotion and tenure guidelines, institutional websites, and critical reflection mechanisms developed by faculty. Chapter 1 analyzes survey responses to the 2006 applications for the Elective Classification for Community Engagement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The authors found that most of these institutions place community engagement in the category of service in the evaluation of promotion and tenure. In Chapter 2, the authors reviewed online websites of 25 “research-extensive” universities to see how engaged scholarship was promoted. Then, the authors developed a matrix of this material to stimulate a national effort to collect, maintain, and share information about programs, activities, and policies to grow the field of practice. Chapter 3 utilizes case study methodology to examine data from a faculty initiative using the DEAL Model of Critical Reflection (Description, Examination, Articulation of the Learning). The conclusion of this case study points to the benefits that faculty gained through collaboration and how their “pedagogy” was transformed. Six themes also emerged: the role of institutional support; the rationale for using reflective writing; the importance of structuring assignments; the necessity of facilitating feedback to students; evidence of effectiveness; and challenges for faculty. The studies in this section suggest that universities are more widely recognizing service-learning initiatives but this approach is not often fully integrated into the system.
The two chapters of Part II explore the topic of partnership identity through the lens of the community partner. In Chapter 4, the research of five cases seeks to address whether faculty-community partnerships are capable of developing organizational identities, guided by the principles of partnership: “a shared understanding of ‘who we are’ as a [partnership] entity” (p. 75). Through the analysis of the organizational attitudes about partnership (the mission, organizational structure, expectations), the author concludes that partnership identity may help those organizations make sense of what it means to be a partner with each other. Chapter 5 discusses the results of a questionnaire sent to campus and community partners, as well as interviews that were conducted about university-community partnerships, in order to show how to create and sustain meaningful relationships between these two entities. The authors discuss the success and pitfalls of partnerships and point to the importance of frequent communication and that the vision, mission, purposes, and expectations of the partnership should be formalized in writing. The authors of both chapters conclude that a mutual identity can be achieved through service-learning initiatives between university and community partners through open communication and dialogue.
The three chapters of Part III focus on the student perspective through comparative studies of student performance between learners who engaged in service-learning and those who did not. Chapter 6 provides a literature review on this topic and then presents an analysis of the K–12 standards associated with middle and high school programs implemented in a school district in Philadelphia, along with the positive outcomes. The results of the study pointed to how students involved in service-learning had higher test scores and had improved behavior. In Chapter 7, the authors present a two-year investigation of an after-school mentoring project through a middle school-university partnership. The study addresses both the perspective of the mentor and that of the student and compares group mentoring with one-on-one mentoring. The results show that middle school youth improved both emotionally and academically and benefited the most from group mentoring. Mentors felt that they developed teaching skills, knowledge of youth, and community understanding. Chapter 8 addresses “cultural-based service-learning,” defined as “a pedagogical approach that intentionally integrates race- or diversity-related content with community service by providing students with opportunities to learn about social disparities associated with diverse communities” (p. 190). By administering a pretest and posttest to an albeit demographically homogenous group of students, the authors found positive changes over the semester in their problem-solving skills, awareness of racial privilege and blatant racial issues, ethnic identity, and racial attitudes. From the research presented in this section, readers can see that students benefit from community or service-learning projects that take place during and after school.
The four chapters in Part IV provide a synopsis about the past, current, and future research initiatives of service-learning and civic engagement, including the international perspective of scholars from several countries and the differences between research in K–12 and university settings. Chapter 9 examines the interdisciplinary nature of service-learning through library and information science research. The authors examined literature represented in journals such as the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning and the Advances in Service-Learning Research series, as well as masters’ theses and dissertations on service learning published between 2004 and 2006. The results show a wide range of departmental affiliation of service-learning scholars and diversity in the research from which they draw. The authors noted differences between those writing theses and dissertations versus those writing articles. The conclusions of the study point to the importance of cross-collaboration among disciplines as an opportunity for tapping a wider range of sources.
Chapters 10 and 11 are transcriptions of presentations given at service-learning conferences. In Chapter 10, Lori J. Vogelgesang gave a plenary address at an unnamed service-learning conference. Vogelgesang suggests that motivation is a strong reason for faculty commitment to service-learning and offers five tips for researchers to help them address the interconnectedness of service learning and what it means to live in a multicultural world: network, do good work, practice what you preach, publish and disseminate your work. Chapter 11 consists of a transcription of a plenary panel session during the Eighth International Research Conference. The speakers represented the United States, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, and Canada. They were asked to discuss and provide tips about service-learning and community engagement research. All of the panelists were in agreement about the importance of building community and being mindful of the context where this research takes place. An analysis of the individual presentations reveals both commonalities and differences among panelist responses. Chapter 12 summarizes the process by which K–12 standards for service-learning were developed with the end goal of encouraging the development of similar standards in the realm of higher education. The authors reconfirm several important themes from other chapters: the usefulness of interdisciplinary collaboration, the need to foster a shared sense of community through service-learning and community engagement, and developing standards for this type of work. The authors address the ways in which research can better inform practice: “As the field develops, researchers need to develop broader research questions that go beyond program evaluation” (p. 275).
The investigative aspect of service-learning takes precedence in this volume, with the most amount of material found in Part IV. Part II, on partnership identity, has the fewest chapters. Nonetheless, the authors of this compilation provide excellent literature reviews on service-learning and identity theory by citing both influential scholars in the field (Boyer, 1996) as well as more recent studies about the long-term effects of service learning and identity (Spring, Dietz & Grimm, 2006). Most of the chapters also include information about research limitations. Those most commonly discussed were the small number of institutions or partnerships that were studied, demographic or geographic limitations of the research participants, or a narrow research scope (web-based only or for a brief amount of time).
This volume provides an engaging and inspiring assessment of the interplay between service-learning and identity from all angles, thus paving the way for enriched conversations about the impact of community engagement on self, other, and collective. It can be placed within a larger trajectory, ranging from John Dewey’s seminal works about identity, service, and democracy (1916; 1927) to Saltmarsh and Hartley’s recent compilation To Serve a Larger Purpose: Engagement and Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education (2011).
Boyer, E.L. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 1(1), 11–20.
Dewey, J. (1916), Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: Macmillan.
Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems. Chicago: Swallow Press.
Saltmarsh, J., & Hartley, M. (Eds.), (2011). To serve a larger purpose: Engagement and democracy and the transformation of higher education. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Spring K., Dietz N., & Grimm, R. (2006). Youth Helping America—Education for active citizenship: Service-learning, school-based service and youth civic engagement. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service.
About the Reviewer
Kajsa Larson is an assistant professor of Spanish at Northern Kentucky University.
Canadian Scholars’ Book Moves Engagement from “How to” to Socio-Political Aspects
Reviewed by Marc Felizzi
Engaged Scholarship: The Politics of Engagement and Disengagement. Lynette Shultz and Tania Kajner (Eds.). Sense Publishers: Boston, MA, 2013. IAP-Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC, 2009, 200 pages. Hardcover. ISBN 978-94-6209-290-7.
Rather than dryly delineating what community engagement is and should be, editors Lynette Shultz and Tania Kajner add life to this concept in their wide ranging compilation Engaged Scholarship: The Politics of Engagement and Disengagement. The editors attempt to move the discussion of academy involvement in the community from a description of how to engage the citizenry to one of how to comprehend and develop awareness of the socio-political aspects of the community, as well as the importance of service-learning and the scholarship of engagement. Shultz, an associate professor and co-director of the Centre for Global Citizenship Education and Research at the University of Alberta, and Kajner, a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, have extensive experience in the scholarship of engagement, global policy, and international education. Shultz and Kajner have included contributions from writers in the areas of global citizenship, community engagement, educational policy, sociology, anthropology, and human services to produce a compilation of studies and essays that address various perspectives of community engagement, service-learning, educational policy, media studies, deliberative democracy, and more in a lively and incisive book.
They offer articles that review the community engagement movement of the past 20 years. Struggling under a constant push and pull to define the ethereal concepts of community engagement, both editors hold that effective engagement requires a move away from an economy of knowledge (often held within the halls of higher learning) to a citizenship of knowledge, whereby the public contributes heartily to scholarship and academia.
This concept of knowledge as a privilege has been addressed in earlier literature, for example, Whitford and Strom (2013), state that “…engaging with communities is not the way universities have functioned traditionally. More often universities have been physically embedded in the geography of the local communities, but not in the real world lives of their residents. This split, sometimes referred to as the ‘town and gown’ separation, was often a reflection (and cause) of mutual distrust and dislike” p. 73). Shultz and Kajner attempt to address this ideological gulf by providing active examples of not just engaging through pedagogy, but of learning from community members, which in turn enhances praxis and builds relationships between universities and communities.
Several chapters were particularly intriguing and thought provoking. In “Beyond the Binary,” Kajner challenges the assertion that most scholarship is the primary fiefdom of the university. She asserts that scholarship must be viewed in the context of a new paradigm, one that encompasses Boyer’s (1990) “four interlocking functions of the scholar;” discovery, integration of these discoveries in the larger social and intellectual contexts, sharing of discovery, and application of this knowledge to the problems faced by individuals and society. Consistent with the perspectives on engaged scholarship articulated by other (Boyer, 1990; Frey & Carragee, 2007; Peterson, 2009). Kajner elaborates on her concept of a citizenship of knowledge by stating that information gathered and shared experiences in the community is research owned by the academy and the participating citizens and students, not solely the university. Kajner’s concept of community engagement extends beyond a unidirectional focus of outreach to fully embrace the idea that engagement is an exchange of ideas, data, and knowledge, a bi-directional flow of learning, not simply telling the community what is best.
To wit, in order to bridge the academy- community gap, Su-Ming Khoo asserts in her chapter, “Between Engagement and Citizenship,” that there indeed is a space between the two, and this space is best crossed by integrating a service component into university curriculums by encouraging and expecting students to disseminate what they have learned into the community. This expectation of sharing what is learned builds upon the reflexive component and opens the learning process to enable students to learn from one another and from those to whom they deliver newfound information. Additionally, Khoo contends that such a paradigm allows students and universities in developing countries to promote the use of digital technology in learning and pedagogy and allows universities to work with groups that may be especially interested in engaged scholarhip, specifically non-traditional and geographically isolated students.
Co-editor Shultz, in her article “Engaged Scholarship in a Time of the Corporatization of the University and Distrust of the Public Sphere,” addressed the trend of the “commercialization of learning” often promoted by multinational corporate interests. Shultz maintains that research emanating from corporate sponsored departments is often, not surprisingly, driven by the agenda of the funding conglomerate. Such research may be suspect, and Shultz contends that desires by universities to ally with corporations is troubling and may lead to an over commercialization of knowledge and a colonization of communities. Indeed, if the university is providing resources, data, and knowledge driven by a corporate agenda, how can the community truly benefit or remain independent? Shultz discusses various corporations that have disrupted local communities and environments, in the name of “furthering education.” She asserts that in order to be truly engaged, the scholar must push back and “disrupt the logics of discipline pressing corporatism onto the universities” (p. 43) by engaging in scholarship within a paradigm of “pluralversality,” which enables the university to attend to the options of a true global vision.
Several chapters address civic and community engagement in both sub-Saharan and South Africa. Both Ali Abdi and Catherine Odora Hoppers examine the role of the university in deconstructing colonialist and apartheid-based epistemologies in the African community. The potential to merge the concepts of African thought and ontologies into an educational system that encompasses traditional and emerging beliefs is unlimited. Abdi mentions that despite the best efforts of developed countries, the educational systems foisted upon African nations may have done more damage, and may have caused more civic disengagement than engagement. These essays are strengthened by Makkawi’s (2013) assertion that “In post-apartheid South Africa, many university departments have been intensively involved in community engagement initiatives, devoting their academic knowledge and expertise to various community-focused development and processes of reconciliation and reconstruction in a post-conflict society” (p. 91). This statement is reinforced by Catherine Odora Hoppers’ work, which discusses the creation of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) in order to develop a more community engaged and knowledge based pool of instructors and students in South Africa. Hoppers analyzes the role of SARChI in creating such learners and teachers and discusses what South Africa’s universities must do in order to engage the richness of their village and tribal culture into their curriculums. Rather than relying on new technology to promote the university, Hoppers writes that “the information revolution is not a revolution of technology, machinery or techniques, software or speed, but a revolution in CONCEPTS and thus THE WAY WE THINK” (p. 150).
Linda Herrera and Peter Mayo in “Digital Youth, the Arab Revolution and the Challenge of Education of Work,” provide vivid and intimate portraits of the protagonists of a revolution that toppled several oppressive regimes in the Middle East. The editors included this powerful essay to describe engagement in a larger sense, in this case, a revolution that was largely created and fashioned out of the use of social media and digital technology.
The role of social and electronic media in pedagogy and engagement is addressed in Paul Carr’s essay “The Mediazation of Democracy.” While most universities promote the idea of critical thinking and the development of students who use such skills to analyze society and history, Carr maintains that modern media is actively engaged with democracy and education, and therefore, the media play a role achieving more evolved and ethical forms of self-government in the community. Rather than negatively criticize social media and downplay its utility, Carr writes that society should embrace it as a vessel to promote democracy and to engage, enlighten, and energize the community at large.
Shultz and Kajner have done an admirable job in presenting the work of a diverse group of scholars and writers who together add a critical piece to the epistemology of pedagogy and community engagement. The articles within this collection bring forth many questions and opportunities for rich and stimulating discourse both in the classroom and community.
Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Frey, L.R., & Carragee, K.M. (2007). Communication activism as engaged scholarship. In Communication Activism, Vol. 1, pp. 1–64. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Makkawi, I. (2013). Community engagement from the margin: Zionism and the case of the Palestinian student movement in the Israeli universities. Arab Studies Quarterly, 35(2), 91–109.
Peterson, T.H. (2009). Engaged scholarship: Reflections and research on the pedagogy of social change. Teaching in Higher Education, 14(5), 541–552.
Whitford, L., & Strom, E. (2013). Building community engagement and public scholarship into the university. Annals of Anthropological Practice 37(1), 72–89.
About the Reviewer
Marc Felizzi is an assistant professor of Social Work at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
Authors Make Case for Engaged Scholarship in Social Work Research Methods Guide
Reviewed by Kala Chakradhar
Qualitative Methods for Practice Research (Pocket Guides to Social Work Research Methods). Jeffrey Longhofer, Jerry Floersch, and Janet Hoy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, 216 pages. ISBN 9780195398472.
Qualitative Methods for Practice Research is a pocket book guide to social work research methods, one of a series of two dozen pocket guides written by various authors covering a variety of topics on research methods. This particular book is co-authored by Jeffrey Longhofer and Jerry Floersch, both associate professors of social work at the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers, and Janet Hoy, assistant professor of social work at the University of Toledo. In coproducing this 200–page 8.5 x 5.5 easy-to-carry guide, the authors offer beginning and experienced social work practitioners a way to understand the qualitative research process of knowledge-building and meaningful application to the practice context of which they are a part. This collaborative work also offers academic researchers ways to sensitize themselves to the practice contexts and the stakeholders in the various client systems. The authors make a strong case for engaged scholarship in which the researcher-practitioner interaction is interdependent and there is an ongoing dialogue toward knowledge advancement and mutually beneficial ends.
A search for the origins of the idea of engaged scholarship leads to Boyer’s seminal work (1990) calling for a reconsideration of the definition of scholarship in academe. In taking a critical look at the reward system for faculty in higher education primarily through research and publishing, he laments the isolated nature of this academic endeavor. As he described in later years, (Boyer, 1996): “The scholarship of engagement also means creating a special climate in which the academic and civic cultures communicate more continuously and more creatively with each other, helping to enlarge what anthropologist Clifford Geetz describes as the universe of human discourse and enriching the quality of life for all of us” (p. 20). What began as a serious recommendation for scholarship within universities to be connected to the realities of the world outside has today culminated in several disciplines working toward strengthening the research-practice interface. The creation of knowledge that can be suitably applied to real world practice settings is increasingly being recognized as an interactive process between the researcher and practitioner through the phases of problem formulation, conceptualization, creating a design for investigation, executing the study, and utilizing the results (Calleson, Jordan & Seifer, 2005; Hughes, Bence, Grisoni,O’Regan, & Wornham, 2011; Kielhofner, 2005; Wilson, 2006).
Longhofer, Floersch, and Hoy, in this innovative piece on qualitative research methods, exemplify this researcher-practitioner partnership and the value of engaged scholarship in social work practice settings. They subscribe to Van de Ven’s (2007) framework for engaged scholarship where knowledge is to be coproduced through collaborative work and challenging, differing perspectives through an interactive evolving process called arbitrage. The authors foresee this form of engaged scholarship as ushering in a new era in social work research, interdependent as opposed to autonomous and parallel. Besides the introductory chapter, which sets the stage for the purpose and focus of the book, there are five chapters. A “Notes” section gives a chapter-wise elaboration of some of the implicit content. The book ends with a glossary of the conceptual terms used as well as a list of references.
The philosophy of critical realism is introduced and discussed in detail in Chapter 1 wherein attention is drawn to what goes on in the open systems in which social workers practice. The authors see critical realism as best suited for engaged scholarship. A distinction is made between empirical, actual, and real domains where the real is beyond what knowledge can explain and fathom and is part of the complex experience of the practitioner’s discoveries through reflection in practice situations. In the same vein, the contrasts drawn between brute and institutional (contextual) facts, closed and open systems, downward and emergent causation, and the necessary and contingent demonstrate what constitutes critical realism. In enlightening the struggle that exists in connecting theory and practice, deductive and inductive processes, the concept of phenomenological practice gap (PPG) is elaborated. By the authors’ own admission, this chapter makes for challenging reading but does admirably address the limits of variables-based research, especially when critically looking at the process of implementing evidence-based interventions in mental health practice settings. The authors’ interpretation of the critical realist perspective to causation in social work practice situations is worth a read.
The second chapter illustrates the use of qualitative methods in projects involving engaged scholarship beginning with problem formulation, framing aims and questions to data collection and analysis. Interspersed with examples from practice situations as well as day-to-day experiences, the narrative offers clarity in understanding the stages of research including sampling, recruitment of participants, and the role of the Institutional Review Board. The chapter explains the nature of qualitative data including use of audio-visual media, describes three analytic strategies (thematic, grounded theory, and narrative), and also offers a simplified introduction to the data analysis software, Atlas.ti. By providing screenshot illustrations of sample data and preliminary coding instructions, the authors give readers an opportunity to get started right away. All this is brought together at the end with a case illustration of youth and psychotropic medication retracing the steps from formulation to findings.
Institutional ethnography as a qualitative method was developed by sociologist Dorothy Smith in the third chapter. The focus of this method is on the web of social processes and relationships in a practice context. This method specifically lends itself to the study of the effects of policy or interventions where, in reality, multiple dynamics come into play and multiple networks of individuals are impacted in different ways. The application of this method is illustrated by the effects of policy on the everyday experience of case managers and clients in community mental health settings. Coproduction of knowledge through researcher-practitioner engagement and identification of PPG is also demonstrated through the illustration.
Chapter 4 discusses how an engaged scholarship approach is used to adapt evidence-based interventions. The authors offer examples from literature where such adaptations were made to incorporate the strengths and needs of the context, which they term positive variance. In examining seven of these adaptations, the authors draw their inferences on the iterative adaptive process and the methods used. An illustration of a jail setting is used to especially affirm the need to anticipate the “particularity” of the setting and the “nature of open systems” (p. 137). The inevitability of phenomenological practice gaps is underscored and practitioners are urged to “reject the premise that experts make knowledge and transfer it downward” (p. 137).
In the final chapter, the multiple aspects of engaged scholarship are tied together by what the authors exalt as the single most important concept in social work practice and research namely “reflexivity” (p. 139). These “internal conversations” (p. 140) or reflections in relation to the contexts are discussed in terms of how they are processed. In addition seven components of reflexivity suited to engaged scholarship are detailed.
The authors’ effort in the form of this concise guide to qualitative research is indeed commendable. The presentation of the rationale to pursue knowledge building in mental health practice settings informed by critical realism and engaged partnerships is a novel perspective in bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners. As the authors envision, this does open up the potential for collaborative research and learning. The real world practice illustrations make for ease in understanding the range of possibilities in the qualitative research process. A unique feature is the inclusion of resource links and references within the narrative of the chapters. At the same time, however, qualitative research today has gained its own level of sophistication such that the initial chapters make for challenging reading and comprehension. Although the authors have made an effort to integrate the concepts in their illustrations, these concepts do beg for more clarity and depth of explanation.
Professional social workers, in their role of intervening with individual, groups, and communities, are not only governed by the profession’s ethics but also by a set of expected competencies. One key competency is practice that is evidence-based and guided by research and in turn informs research (Lietz & Zayas, 2010). This book and its philosophical orientation supports this expectation. Lastly, the companion site for the Oxford University Press Pocket Guides to Social Work Research Methods offers additional links and resources related to the content of this book (Pocket Guides to Social Work, n.d). Longhofer and Floersch offer readers a good experience in qualitative research and a worthy read in the understanding of the intricacies of the researcher-practitioner interface.
Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation.
Boyer, E.L. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 1(1), 11–20.
Calleson, D.C., Jordan, C., & Seifer, S.D. (2005). Community-engaged scholarship: Is faculty work in communities a true academic enterprise? Academic Medicine, 80(4), 317–321
Hughes, T., Bence, D., Grisoni, L., O’Regan, N., & Wornham, D. (2011). Scholarship that matters: Academic-practitioner engagement in business and management, Academy of Management Learning and Education, 10(1), 40–57.
Kielhofner, G. (2005). Scholarship and practice: Bridging the divide. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 59(2), 231–239.
Leitz, C.A., & Zayas, L.E. (2010). Evaluating qualitative research for social work practitioners,.Advances in Social Work, 11(2), 188–202.
Pocket Guides to Social Work Research Methods (n.d). Retrieved from http://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/umbrella/pocketguides/.
Van De Ven, A.H.( 2007). Engaged scholarship: A guide for organizational and social research. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, E.J., III (2006). Engaged scholars and thoughtful practitioners: Enhancing their dialogue in the knowledge society. Information Technologies and International Development, 2(4), 89–92.
About the Author
Kala Chakradhar is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Leadership and Human Services, College of Education and Human Services, Murray State University.
Digital Storytelling: A Technological Approach
Reviewed by Katherine E. Perone
Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. Joe Lambert. Routledge: New York, N.Y., 2013, 206 pages, ISBN: 978-0-415-62703-0.
Lambert’s Digital Storytelling emphasizes the use of storytelling as a cultural artifact and tool for personal growth and community support. Communicating thoughts and emotions through stories strengthens the ability to engage individuals, groups, organizations, and communities worldwide. Storytelling creates an environment where language is power. Combining technology and storytelling to create digital storytelling results in a new medium to interrelate with others.
Digital Storytelling describes the use of technology to tell one’s story. Throughout the book, Lambert challenges the reader to think about the questions “What shapes our stories?” and “How can we tell our stories in today’s technological world?” An additional question to consider when reading the book is “What is the value of digital storytelling?” These questions address Lambert’s central themes and he answers these questions throughout the book by sharing stories told by “common” individuals. Chapters 1 through 4 provides excellent examples of stories that shape one’s life. His examples include stories about obstacles, achievements, people who have made a difference in one’s life, and life changes. Many of his chapters conclude with a personal story followed by the author’s interaction with the storyteller. This subtle but powerful tool engages the reader in the phenomenological experience of the collaboration involved in the process of creating digital stories. These personal stories describe the “soul of community” and how the story can be used to invoke community activism and education (Sandercock & Attili, 2010). Chapters 5 through 11 describe the tools used to tell stories using modern technology and address the question regarding how to tell a story through the use of technology. These tools include pictures, storyboards, and audio programs. The value of digital storytelling is depicted throughout the book but chapters 14 and 15 detail specific uses of digital storytelling.
Readers from diverse backgrounds will enjoy Lambert’s easy to read instructional approach. Chapter 5 illustrates this approach by explaining the seven elements needed, as determined by the author. These elements include ownership of insights, ownership of emotions, finding the moment, seeing the story, hearing the story, assembling the story, and sharing the story. These elements would not be considered evidence based, but a reflection of the author’s lived experience of facilitating digital storytelling workshops over the past two decades. This chapter gives the reader an excellent recipe for digital storytelling, including the emotions evoked, the importance of visual, audio and tactile response, and the methods to tell the story. To illustrate the importance of the audience in sharing the story, Lambert describes how the “permanency story” of foster children can be used in social work training. Lambert’s seven elements provide the reader with diverse approaches to digital storytelling, which includes audio, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles. Also included in this chapter is scholarly information about copyright issues when using other authors’ material and providing useful information to academicians as well as lay people.
Lambert’s mastery of storytelling and the rationale for digital storytelling is evident throughout the book. Although his examples are taken from his workshop participants, the reader gains a sense of how useful digital storytelling is in other arenas such as education, community activism, counseling, and healthcare. Chapter 14 is devoted to the application of digital storytelling in a healthcare setting. In this chapter, he describes a program called Patient Voices, which uses storytelling to advocate change in health care, and he incorporates a question and answer session with the founders of the program. They describe the value of digital storytelling in end of life care. This chapter demonstrates how digital storytelling gives terminal patients control to decide what story they want to share and what visual aids will be used to tell the story. Used in this way, this medium can provide closure for the patient and family.
The use of digital storytelling in higher education is discussed in the last chapter of the book. The chapter is authored by academicians from four state universities representing the East and Midwest. The chapter’s authors provide examples of how digital storytelling can be used in the classroom as well as with faculty development. For example, Jacobs describes how digital storytelling strategies used in his course “Digital Storytelling in and with Communities of Color,” required students “to think about the ways that the media had represented them and their communities” (p. 177) and to “speak back to those representations, to make their own representations about themselves and their communities” (p. 177). The chapter engages and challenges readers to brainstorm ideas on the use of digital storytelling in program coursework. Current articles written about digital storytelling emphasize the significance of the tool in education (Czarnecki, 2009; Morgan, 2014), and although the chapter was specific to higher education, digital storytelling can be used in all educational settings (Czarnecki, 2009; Morgan, 2014).
Links between theory and practice are a limitation of the book, especially for those who may wish to delve more deeply into the epistemological and methodological frameworks connected to digital storytelling pedagogy and outcomes. Lambert’s descriptive terminology postulates narrative theoretical perspectives. These concepts include constructing and reconstructing one’s story based on his or her worldview (White & Epston, 1990). Descriptive terms from narrative theory such as co-constructed, reframing, and identity construction to explain the importance of storytelling within the community framework are used within the book. Narrative theory gained prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Bruner, 1987; Polkinghorne, 1988; White & Epston, 1990) and is a framework that encompasses the use of story as a tool of empowerment (White & Epston, 1990). Narrative theory is built on the idea that people’s lives and relationships to others are shaped by their life stories. The uniqueness of the person is defined by his or her story and the interpretation of their stories. Issues related to self-concept, interpersonal relationships, and personal growth are explored, deconstructed, and reconstructed to develop a new story (White & Epston, 1990). This storytelling approach mimics the book’s design and linking the theory to his chapters would have strengthened the book’s framework.
Another limitation of the book is its ongoing reference to the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS). CDS is a non-profit organization that provides workshops on digital storytelling. Chapter 6 is devoted to the CDS workshop model, and although relevant to the topic, the redundancy to the author’s proprietorship may limit the reader in seeing digital storytelling beyond this particular framework (see Alexander, 2011, and Ohler, 2013, for example, for media and education-oriented perspectives on digital storytelling). If the reader can look beyond the strict adherence to the CDS model of digital storytelling, the book provides readers the tools needed to tell a story enmeshed in emotion, logic, and reflection.
Alexander, B. (2011). The new digital storytelling: Creating narratives with new media. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Bruner, J. (1987). Life as narrative. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 54(2), 11–32.
Czarnecki, K. (2009). How digital storytelling builds 21st century skills. Library Technology Reports, 45(7), 15–19.
Morgan, H. (2014). Using digital story projects to help students improve in reading and writing. Reading Improvement, 51(1), 20–26.
Ohler, J.B. (2013). Digital storytelling in the classroom: New media pathways to literacy, learning and creativity (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Polkinghorne, D. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Sandercock, L., & Attili, G. (2010). Digital ethnography as planning praxis: An experiment with film as social research, community engagement and policy dialogue
Planning Theory & Practice, 11(1), 23–45. doi: 10.1080/1464350903538012.
White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
About the Author
Katherine E. Perone is an assistant professor/director of field education of Social Work at Western Illinois University.