Telling stories is often the best way to transmit information, according to Dr. Jason Ohler.
“You can take any academic subject and make it into a story,” the former University of Alaska professor told a workshop on digital literacy last Wednesday evening. Close to 100 local residents attended the event, which was held at Clearwater Secondary School.
“There are no rules but there are guidelines,” he said. “Good stories have transformation. People change and grow. There also should be a problem that provides tension, and a solution or resolution.”
Students often have difficulty with creating and understanding reports, but they instinctively understand stories, he said.
He recommended making use of story-telling when teaching how to use digital media.
One of his favorite techniques is the green screen. This can be created on any wall in a classroom with a few dollars worth of paint. A student can then sit in front of the screen and tell a story, and at the same time have student-created images projected on the screen behind him or her.
He showed as an example a story created by a deaf boy about a girl who had been afraid to have a cochlear implant but then could hear a cat purr afterwards. Creating the story helped the boy deal with fears that arose after his own surgery, said Ohler. Although only three or four minutes long and simple to create, the presentation was surprisingly powerful.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he advised. The Rule of 80/20 says the first 20 per cent of time and effort will produce 80 per cent of the final result.
“I tell teachers to forget about getting that last 20 per cent,” Ohler said.
The Alaskan resident also advised the teachers in the audience not to try to control everything. There’s often no need to teach a new technology because many of the students already know it.
“When I’m teaching media to students, my goal is having nothing to do,” he said.
What youngsters do need is character education. Too often we make the mistake of attacking problems, such as sexting or cyber-bullying, one by one.
“What you need to do is sit down and talk about what they do on Facebook, and have it out loud. If we want our kids safe in cyberspace, we’ve got to talk about it,” said Ohler. “Whatever lines you draw in the sand, I guarantee they’ll find a way around them.”
We should adapt art as the fourth “r” in education he said, along with reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
It used to be that if a young person announced he or she wanted to be an artist, the parents would mourn because their child had decided on a life of poverty.
No longer, according to Ohler. Today everyone wants a website and they want it attractively made so people will go to it and stay. That means graphic artists are now well respected and well paid.
Wednesday evening’s presentation was followed by workshops for teachers and others on Thursday. Shelley Sim of the Clearwater Secondary School PAC organized Ohler’s visit with support from District of Clearwater, Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, Yellowhead Community Services, School District 73 and others.