Research directions and findings

General background to the Critical Connections: Multilingual Digital Storytelling Project is provided on the Homepage and in the Blog (post entitled ‘Project Summary and Film Sample’). Here we focus on the research element within the project summarising material set out in our book and a number of other publications:

This is divided into five sections:

  • Research team
  • Theoretical context
  • Research questions and methodology
  • Key findings
  • Collaborations and future plans
  • Research Team

Dr Jim Anderson

Dr Vicky Macleroy

Dr Yu-Chiao Chung

Dr John Jessel

Dr Anna Carlile

We have also received valuable support from

Dr Gabi Budach (External Advisor)

Dr Vally Lytra

Dr Cristina Ros i Solé 

Theoretical Context

Theoretically, the project links to several major areas of research:

  1. Multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, Mills). On the one hand, multilingualism and multimodality as dual components of literacy, on the other a critical and creative approach to pedagogy.
  2. Computer Assisted Language Learning. (Warschauer, Kern, Ware, Thorne, Chapelle, Thomas, Yamazaki)
  3. Post-communicative language learning. Translingual, transcultural approach with emphasis on content, authenticity of tasks and integration of digital media (Kramsch, Phipps) – Project Based Language Learning (Beckett)

However, the Critical Connections Project is distinctive in a number of ways:

  • Integrating different strands of language learning (foreign and community/heritage languages, English as an Additional Language) and in taking a holistic view of students’ language repertoires
  • Looking beyond a narrow, instrumental view of language learning towards one which recognises the symbolic nature of language and the significance of personal, affective and aesthetic dimensions (journeys, dreams, memories, imaginings)
  • Engaging students’ agentive selves, affirming the possibility of plural, non-essentialised identities
  • Harnessing the power of the digital media within an interdisciplinary, project-based approach to language-and-culture learning
  • Fostering sharing and dialogue within and across schools locally and globally facilitating active citizenship and transcultural understanding
  • Extending understanding of literacy, recognising intersections between multilingualism and multimodality within a range of semiotic resources for meaning-making.
  • Advocating an alternative direction for education policy and curriculum design based on principles of equity and social justice.

Research questions and methodology

Against this background and in the light of multilingual digital storytelling work being carried out in project schools both in the UK and overseas, we set out initially to investigate three broad questions:

  • What is the significance of multilingual digital storytelling for young people and their learning?
  • What is an appropriate pedagogical framework for carrying out MDST work in schools?
  • What are the implications for policy and teacher professional development?

Considering the exploratory nature of the study as well as the multiple elements and complex interrelationships involved, critical ethnography was chosen as the central research methodology but taking account also of ecological, collaborative and multimodal perspectives. Qualitative data was collected (observation, recorded interviews, documents, photographs, digital stories, etc) and analysed thematically taking into account student, teacher, school manager and parental perspectives. Our colleague, Anna Carlile, assisted us in integrating a student participant-researcher model into our work. This showed how young people can become actively and creatively engaged in project-based research through brainstorming, active listening, formulating questions, carrying out interviews, interpreting and presenting their findings (See Carlile in Anderson and Macleroy, 2016, chapter 5). Teachers also have played an active role alongside researchers in interrogating the significance of data taking account of different school contexts and perspectives. This collaborative and dialogic way of developing the project, allowing space for the ‘social processing of knowledge’ (Louis, 2006), has enabled deeper and more nuanced understandings to be arrived at and has given teachers the confidence to taking part in conference presentations and workshops as well as contributing to professional and academic journals.

Key findings

Data analysis has pointed to eight areas of significance:

  1. Language learning, multilingual repertoires and identity
  2. Multilingual composition and creativity
  3. Culture, international partnerships and active citizenship
  4. Learner autonomy, critical thinking and student voice
  5. Engagement and motivation
  6. Sites of learning: school, home and online
  7. Transformative pedagogy
  8. Curriculum policy, planning and professional development.

These are fully discussed in our book (Anderson and Macleroy, 2016) and in various articles. However, a summary of key points related to these categories can be found in the Research Flyer.

As the project has moved beyond the first phase so our research has tended to become more focussed. In particular, we have come to realise the potential significance of the arts in their various forms (drama, visual arts, music, poetry, dance) in relation to multilingual digital storytelling and this has been enhanced through collaborations with the British Museum and the Museum of London. We have investigated how interactions with museum artefacts (including art works) can enrich language-and-culture learning (Arabic and Bengali) and provide a stimulating context for the creation of digital stories. An inquiry-based dual language and content approach, consistent with cross-curricular project-based language learning, has been developed in relation to this. Prioritising translingual-transcultural processes, emphasis has also been given to symbolic and aesthetic dimensions to language learning taking account of the role of affect and imagination in shaping students’ lifeworlds. Feedback from project schools where resources have been trialled has been highly positive.

Mention must also be made of valuable collaborations formed in some schools between Languages and Arts teachers (Drama and Visual Arts in particular) and the valuable insights gained from this. There have been tangible benefits for both students and teachers reflected in the high quality of work produced. Further discussion of this can be found in the blog post entitled ‘MDST and the Arts’.

Collaborations and future plans

Through the project we have benefitted enormously from collaborations with colleagues working in universities and other organisations both in the UK and overseas. These include:

Plans for 2019-20 include:

  • Coordination of a multilingual digital storytelling project with schools in the UK and overseas based on the theme ‘Our Planet’. This will culminate in a film awards event and multilingual poetry workshop in June 2020 supported by Goldsmiths Public Engagement Funding.
  • An intergenerational, multilingual digital storytelling project with Deptford Cinema around the theme ‘Cultural Webs of Deptford: Multilingual Stories of Friendship and Belonging’. Participants will develop ideas and digital media skills through a series of workshops. Films created will then be screened at Deptford Cinema.
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