An Exploration of Radicalisation Using Digital Storytelling

So in this blog, I’d like to run through one of the interesting projects I’ve been a part of for my MA course on E-learning innovation with the Open University.

This was a project where I’d be working with a geographically dispersed group of people to design a learning artefact on a subject that we had little experience of and facilitating others to learn about that subject through the medium of Digital Storytelling. This is an adaptation of the report I wrote on my experiences. It will be helpful for me to review what we did and it may be of use to anyone reading if they have to undertake something similar.

Situation

We were given the task of using digital storytelling to explore social/cultural/ethical dilemmas and instructed to choose either a professional domain, or a school subject, where learners would need to develop an awareness of a social, cultural or ethical issue and make informed and considered judgements with a view to learning whether digital storytelling could provide an effective educational tool.

Team members:

Name and Profession Responsibilities Technical competencies Location Further notes: aspirations / hopes for project etc.
Bob Bennell –Police Trainer Examine new ways to deliver training, reduce necessity for classroom-based 20 years experience in IT UK Would like to use Google Hangouts and desires to explore storytelling to bring subjects to life
Stephen Penney (Steve P) – Deputy Headteacher Safeguarding SMSC (British values), community/employability links, teaching, and teacher training UK
Huw Davies Works at a private English language school and has a part time job teaching second year students at a university Japan (GMT+9) Doing the module for personal interest. Has no experience of a project of this type and indicated that he’d be working while most were asleep
Steve Bell (Steve B) – E-learning professional Has worked in e-learning across wide variety of levels and contexts Web and software development experience and has high levels of experience utitilising Google apps including Sites UK Has no context in mind for the project but wants to incorporate Google apps into all levels of communication and build
Gareth Davies – Corporate Training Consultant Works in business training, English language instruction, and academic preparation. Has experience of using Learning Management systems, e-learning authoring tools, and minimal use of Google apps Thailand (GMT+7) Expressed an interest in using video editing software in future but no preferences regarding context for the project
Simon Hobbs Working with county councils to develop leadership and management training UK Keen to use e-learning more in professional role

Task

The group members came from diverse professional backgrounds, and a number of the members in the initial introduction thread stated no particular preference for a topic. Stephen Penney raised the idea of radicalization as he felt that Digital Storytelling with the focus of a current social/cultural issue might lend itself to the topic.

Steve B noted that there were two very different approaches available to us in designing a digital storytelling learning design. The first was to facilitate learners in telling their own stories. Alternatively, we would create a digital story targetting specific learning objectives.

Huw said he felt the latter approach would be best. This was supported by Steve P, making reference to an example of good practice by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and adding that an exploration of why people become radicalized or migrate could be an option.

Ultimately, in our second online meeting, we clarified our ultimate goal of creating a learning resource to raise awareness about radicalization in the UK with a target audience of young people.

Roles

Role Name Reasoning
Team Leader Huw A process of elimination left the Team Leader role to Huw
Connector Simon To monitor for connections in our ideas, themes, research
Media Manager 1 Gareth Preference due to potential responsibilities providing desired practical experience
Project Manager and Media Manager 2 Steve B Professional experience as a manager and experience of managing Google apps respectively
Researcher Bob Across the group, members had little experience of digital storytelling, so Bob volunteered to collate research on that aspect
Subject Matter Expert Steve P Steve P was the sole member with experience related to the topic area of radicalization

Actions

Communication

Steve B set up a Google+ community space for our project team. He designed it as to have one central point for communication and resource sharing.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.33.31

Links were provided to the project’s website, a shared Google folder where we could upload and store materials and later host our individual stories. There were also links to Google Docs documents for a Project Plan drawn up by Steve B that we could all access and modify, and a contact sheet for all members. Importantly, Steve B set up a Meeting Room for Hangouts which we could use at any time in order to chat about the progress of the project or to ensure that there were no technical issues prior to one of our weekly Sunday meetings.

All meetings were scheduled for 2pm BST on a Sunday by mutual agreement. With myself and Huw in Asia this was an ideal time. The meetings took place on 24/5, 31/5, and 7/6. After the third meeting, communication was solely via the Google+ Community using Google Hangouts.

Obstacles

As media manager, one obstacle I had at the beginning was never using Google sites before. However, with Google and YouTube tutorials I learnt its functionality by making changes while reacting to the needs of the group in the development of the project. Requests and following the progress of the design were made simpler via some of the functionality of the Communities page.

When an issue was raised for specific members, typing, for example, ‘+Bob Bennell’ would send them a notification.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.38.29

Also, any post made necessitated it be categorized according to the area of the project to which it was related.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.39.13

This made it easy to find information according to the area you were working on at any given time.

Development

Team members’ levels of participation/input seemed to fluctuate, and, therefore, a lot of what we did was not entirely synchronous. A great deal of work was done after mutual agreement in meetings and prior to the next one. However, the Community providing such an easily navigable source of information and easy communication was invaluable.

We created imaginary personas from which were extrapolated factors and concerns to consider in regards to our learning design that resulted in forces that might shape our project and its implementation. The process was helpful in reminding us of the technical, methodological, cultural, and demographic diversity of our potential target learners and it will be something I may use again in future.

However, as was discussed in the second Hangouts meeting, as there was a lack of a unifying theme with most, this diversity indicated that it would potentially be counter-productive to develop our project with such a finite number of personas in mind. We felt that it would be more appropriate to the context of the issue discussed to keep a more open mind and make it as universally accessible as possible in terms of the choices of how we facilitated learning and the subject matter discussed around the topic.

Technical and Pedagogical Approaches

We had tacitly agreed in one of our discussions in Meeting 3 to maximize the number of modes in which to present our stories. This decision was made due to the fact that we were working asynchronously, had differing levels of technological competence, and for the sake of our stories appealing to as broad a range of learners and learning styles as possible.

From our preliminary research we compiled a bank of theoretical frameworks, case studies that shared similar fields and/or objectives to that which we envisaged as our own, and we had a list of potential subject areas to address. We identified that the subject matter was too multi-faceted and complex to be able to cover in its entirety, but we could look at our prototype as the beginning of a larger project with the unused themes being addressed at a later date having received feedback and made adjustments based thereon.

Our digital story was non-linear due to the nature of having these separate stories covering so many aspects of the subject matter which learners could access in any order they wanted, but the central thesis of informing learners about the subject of radicalization ran as a throughline connecting them.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 16.46.41

Results

From our theoretical frameworks and case studies, we derived design patterns and principles which aided us in conceptualizing and storyboarding our stories. Personally, I had been finding it very difficult to conceptualize what I was to do, but found this process and reading the preliminary research found by others and referring to the ongoing discussion in the increasingly invaluable Google Community space very helpful. Essentially, through a process of researching the topic area and finding appropriate authoritative work that could be explored for our prospective learners, we had the necessary content. Then by looking for similar digital storytelling projects and researching what they had learnt in regards to good practice and potential avenues of improvement and exploration, we found a method of delivering the content.

Finally, we created our prototypes based on our conceptualizations and added them to the site.

The Prototypes

The five digital stories that comprised our overall prototype were:

Radicalization in the Digital Era – A non-linear interactive digital story exploring how people can become radicalized in the digital era created with Twine, an open-source tool for creating interactive, nonlinear stories.

Ask the experts – A video of a Q&A with an expert discussing radicalization from a historical perspective.

Right and Rights – A second Twine-created non-linear interactive digital story exploring ethical dilemmas related to rights.

The Story of Radicalization – An exploration of the history of the concept of radicalization in a Google Slides presentation.

Has the Media Hijacked Radicalisation – A discussion of whether the term “radicalisation” been hijacked by the via a Google Slides presentation.

Evaluation

In writing the heuristics with which users could evaluate the prototype and its individual stories we wanted to ensure that what we had produced met the following criteria:

  1. Easy to navigate and understand for all users
  2. Learner outcomes clearly indicated and measurable
  3. Featured content overall engaging to a high proportion of learners
  4. The material leads towards additional information off site
  5. Materials promote critical learner reflection resulting in building personal strengths relating to understanding the social and ethical goals of the project
  6. Compliant with relevant ethical standards
  7. Organised in a manner clear to learner
  8. Featured interactive stories situate activity appropriately, define goals, constrain actions, provoke thought, and spark emotional responses
  9. Featured interactive stories are compelling by being interesting, immersive, appropriate in scale/length, having a sense of agency ‘being in control’, and replayable

My personal evaluation of the prototype

Heuristic Score 1 = Weak 5 = Strong Reasoning
1 3 No obvious areas of concern. Navigation straightforward but language could be less complex at times. User feedback key in this area.
2 2 Learner outcomes sometimes expressed for the learners but no learner quantifiable outcomes plugged into the design.
3 4 Varied modes and subject matter should equate to higher degrees of engagement in learners. User feedback again of importance here.
4 1 Other than self-directed by the learner, there is no linking to off-site material
5 2 The materials are varied and do attempt to promote emotional reactions and critical thought of complex issues, but there is are no activities or areas for discussion of concepts.
6 4 Much work was done to ensure ethical standards were met and it appears that the materials reflect that.
7 3 Ideally, more pictures and a more distinct site would be used to present the individual stories but clear and concise with short descriptions of content.
8 4 Feedback required but criteria appears to have been met.
9 4 Ideally, there would be more multimedia as to make the pages more engaging but otherwise, while feedback is again desired, the criteria appears to have been met.

Unexpected outcomes

Personally, I had not expected to be creating non-linear interactive digital stories. I had expected to be using video editing software. I also had not considered how much I would personally learn about the topic covered in the overall design too.

Reflections

The Process and the Product

Overall, the process was an excellent learning experience. I have learnt a great deal about what would be involved in the creative design process regarding research and conceptualization in areas I have little familiarity with, and I have a lot more insight into how to work as part of a geographically dispersed team.

I feel that central to any success for the project was the communication channels of the Google+ Community and how that served as a central area for all activity. I fear that without Steve B’s experience and his proactive engagement, our project would have been very different. This is an important point for me. When you’re low on experience, look to leverage the experience of others as much as possible, but always ensure that you make that person aware of how grateful you are and look to reciprocate in any way possible.

However, the group suffered to a degree as a result of a lack of regarding who did what. While a couple of members certainly took the lead, in this context we could not expect someone to be particularly forceful in telling others what to do and by when. Therefore, in future, I would look to ensure that there be clearer roles and assignation of tasks.

Simon Hobbs disappeared shortly after the roles were chosen. He was to be the connector, looking for linkages between ideas and research which possibly serves as a clue as to why there was less cohesiveness in what we were doing. Our work was disparate and individualised. There was little communication and feedback on what was updated to the site. Little feedback was given to the learning designs themselves and no discussion was evident in regards to their being a balance of pedagogy in our designs.

Crucially, there was a failure to think beyond the creation of our individual stories to create a rounded learning artefact with an introductory exercise introducing the subject of radicalisation, the middle section of individual stories, and then final activities or discussion where learners could use and demonstrate their learning which could also provide measurable outcomes.

Personal Contribution

Firstly, I have to again make reference to how instrumental Steve B had been in so many of the tasks that would have been solely my responsibility had he not been in the group. I feel I would have struggled a great deal and would not have been able to set up the integrated platform as he did.

Also, while I attended all of the meetings, I feel I did not greatly influence the direction in which the project went. My story, also, was heavily reliant on the work of others. Ultimately, the conceptual framework I used and the application used to create my interactive story had been found by Steve B.

Nevertheless, the case study material I utilised to ensure the authenticity and ethical and sensitive treatment of the story created was sourced by me and the story itself was an interesting and potentially immersive learning experience.

I feel that as the project developed, I communicated and contributed more. I took the initiative to improve the aesthetics of the site, and reacted to any issues with permissions or the site’s pages.

My Prototype

The research I used to explore the theme of radicalization in the information age was mainly Terrorism, Communication and New Media: Explaining Radicalization in the Digital Age and Radicalization in the Digital Era 

To explore the radicalization of people via digital media, I created a non-linear interactive digital story using the application Twine where the user reads the story in the third person of a protagonist and make choices as to that person’s actions.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 17.06.50

Radicalization Twine Storyboard

As you can see in the storyboard above, the story branches off in various directions based on those choices. The choices relate to decisions made regarding exposure to digital media that may have the effect of radicalizing that character, allowing the user to experience how this might happen to someone. Ideally, I would want the possible scenarios’ journeys to be based on real cases of radicalization but potentially branch off in directions that result in results for the character that are very different to reflect the fact that it is possible that radicalization of one sort or another can happen to anyone.

The Twine can be accessed here or can be downloaded and opened in your browser here

The story begins with the following question:

Who am I?

The answer to this is can be defined as the knowledge and experiences you possess and the actions you tale. A final component of that definition is the network of relationships we are a part of at any given time. Your friends, family, work colleagues.

How is communication technology changing this?

Communication technology such as the Internet and instant messaging extends our relationships beyond those face-to-face relationships. They extend our reach far beyond the limits set on us by geography. You are about to read a story. In this story you can make choices. These are the choices of another person but in taking this journey with him, you can perhaps appreciate how it is that someone might come to make choices that may seem utterly alien to you and possibly even evil. This story tells us of how someone very ordinary, just like you or I, can become radicalized by the choices he makes tied with the person he is.

The story introduces us to John Roberts. John Roberts is a young man in his early twenties. He lives in a quiet working class village in the midlands. He attends the local college where he studies computer science. His father is an unemployed ex-factory worker while his mother is a carer. He’s a shy and quiet boy with few friends who generally keeps to himself.

John has a decision to make. This isn’t a huge decision. It’s a simple everyday choice. The kind of choice we make every other minute. It’s a choice of what to expose ourselves to. A choice of what we see and read and the legion of cumulative forces that have brought that particular option to the screen or newspaper we are currently training our eyes on.

The choices John makes from here affect the person he is. Ultimately, John has moved from the indirect relationships of this imagined community of people whose connections are governed by their shared political beliefs alone to a direct relationship via electronic correspondence with a representative of a group that moves beyond the action of debate and information dissemination. As the correspondence continues, it becomes clear that the world-view narrative of this group matches that of John’s very closely. John, disenfranchised with the current politics of the ineffectual mainstream parties decides that he wants to prove his dedication to the cause.

Desiring above all to affirm his beliefs with action of his own, John makes a final choice.

Who is John today?

John today is still the combination of the knowledge he possesses, the network of relationships of which he is a part, and the actions he takes. However, all three of these factors have shifted and changed as a result of the choices made, the new relationships that have been fostered and the new knowledge resultant of those relationships. John finds himself now an extreme actor, radicalized by the narrative that was the result of the many other narratives that he came into contact with via social networks, the media, and his family. This is not a condmenation or a justification of who he is today. It is simply his story.

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2 thoughts on “An Exploration of Radicalisation Using Digital Storytelling

  1. Hello Gareth,
    Thanks for this blog post. I am a 2016 H817 student doing exactly the project with one (and maybe another) this year. Everyone else is using a Google site to comment on the work but you have to get invited in to see what is happening. I think that’s a fault in the design of this assignment but hey for now I/we are just trying to get through it.

    Robin

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment and the best of luck. I think it was one of the best assignments in terms of preparing us for real practice. Communication and clear delineation of roles and responsibilities were crucial.

      Like

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