2013. Vol.4, No.10A, 82-89
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.410A012
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Enhancing Student Engagement with Their Studies:
A Digital Storytelling Approach
Eunice Ivala1, Daniela Gachago1, Janet Condy2, Agnes Chigona2
1Fundani Centre for H i g he r Education Development, Cape Peninsula University of Technology,
Cape Town, South Afr ica
2School of Education a nd Social Sciences, Ca pe Peninsula University of Technology, Cape To wn , South Africa
Received August 2nd, 2013; revised September 2nd, 2013; accepted September 9th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Eunice Ivala et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Higher education institutions in South Africa are faced with low throughput rates, and the need to enhance
students’ interest in their studies is a key objective for higher education institutions. Student engagement
is one of the factors shown empirically to enhance student success at higher education institutions. The
paper reports on the potential of digital storytelling in enhancing student engagement with their studies,
amongst 29 final year pre-service student teachers at a large University of Technology in South Africa, as
part of their assessment in their final year professional course. The reason for doing this research was due
to the limited adoption of digital storytelling in conventional educational settings globally and the fact that
little research has been done internationally and particularly in South Africa, into how digital storytelling
can be a vehicle for expanding learning. The study was framed around the engagement construct involv-
ing qualitative methods of collecting data. Focus group interviews were conducted with the students and
the facilitators of the project to elicit whether the production of digital stories led to student engagement.
Focus group interviews were analyzed using inductive strategy. Results showed that the production of
digital stories enhanced student engagement with their studies which led to high levels of reflection on the
subject matter, which as a result led to a deep understanding of the subject matter. Findings of this study
will contribute knowledge in the field which may be valuable in increasing student engagement with their
Keywords: Student Engagement; Engagement Construct; Digital Storytelling; Digital Stories; Digital
Higher education institutions (HEIs) in South Africa are
faced with low throughput rates (Swanepoel et al., 2009; Scott
et al., 2007), and the need to enhance students’ engagement in
their studies is a key objective. Student engagement (the
amount of physical and psychological energy that students de-
vote to educationally purposeful activities) is one of the factors
shown empirically to enhance student success at HEIs (Astin,
1977, 1985; Gellin, 2003; Pike, Kuh, & Gonyea, 2003; Pike,
Schroeder, & Berry, 1997). In response to the above challenge,
this study investigated the potential of digital storytelling in en-
hancing student levels of engagement with their studies,
amongst 29 final year pre-service student teachers at a large
University of Technology in South Africa, as part of their as-
sessment in their final year professional course. The study was
formed by the engagement construct (Kuh, 2009) which helped
the researchers in understanding the potential of digital story-
telling in enhancing student engagement with their studies. The
engagements construct holds that the level of student engage-
ment is positively related to gains in the desired outcomes, their
general abilities or critical thinking; is also positively linked to
grades and retention rates. The above tenets guided the re-
searchers in this study.
The study utilized qualitative methods of collecting data.
Focus group interviews were conducted with the students and
their facilitators (inclusive of the lecturer) to elicit whether the
production of digital stories led to student engagement with the
subject matter. Findings of the study showed that the produc-
tion of digital stories enhanced students’ level of engagement
with their studies, which led to high levels of reflection on the
subject matter, which as a result, led to a deep understanding of
the subject matter. The researchers recommend that digital
storytelling should be used more in pre-service teacher pro-
grammes because they expand learning beyond the traditional
face-face methods of teaching and learning and lead to high
levels of student engagement with their studies. Additionally,
the researchers suggest that there is need to implement digital
storytelling in disciplines other than education to ascertain
whether the results are replicable or not.
Digital Storytelling and Student Engagement
Digital stories are defined differently by different authors
(Banaszewski, 2005; Barrett, 2006; Mills, 2010; Long, 2011).
E. IVALA ET AL.
However, the working definition for this study is that, digital
stories are short, first person video-narratives created by com-
bining recorded voice, still and moving images and music or
other sound. Digital stories are produced by someone who is
not a media professional, and usually constructed as a thought
piece on a personal experience (Matthews-DeNatale, 2008).
These non-professionals position themselves as “authors”, com-
posers, and designers who are expert and powerful communi-
cators, with things to say that the world should hear (Hull et al.,
2006: p. 10). Digital stories have a variety of uses: telling of
personal tales, recounting of historical events, or as a mean to
inform or instruct on a particular topic etc. Digital storytelling
shifts the focus of the classroom away from the teacher, a
model that has dominated education since the 18th Century, to
the student (Banaszewski, 2005; Knapper, 2001). The basic
paradigm shift is from an educational emphasis on people as
recipients of information and knowledge to an emphasis on
people as participants in the creation of information and knowl-
edge (Freire, 2001; Ohler, 2006; Tyner, 1998). The creation of
the digital stories involves incorporating multimedia compo-
nents such as images, music, video, and narration, which is
usually the author’s own voice (Barrett, 2006, 2008; Dogan &
Robin, 2006) and to deliberately make explicit their own
thoughts and actions whereby fostering reflection.
If well integrated in schools/universities, digital storytelling
can enhance facilitation of a wide range of substantial educa-
tional benefits: acquisition and consolidation of knowledge and
skills; heightened engagement, motivation towards learning
activities, and also acquisition of digital literacy skills (Blas,
Garzotto, Paolini, & Sabiescu, 2009). Digital storytelling allows
students to develop their personal and academic voice, present
knowledge to a community of learners and receive situated
feedback from their peers. Due to their affective involvement
with this process and the novelty effect of the medium, students
are more engaged than in traditional assignments. These factors
can create a “spiral” of engagement, drawing students into
deeper and deeper engagement with their topics or studies (Co-
ventry & Oppermann, 2009). Digital storytelling’s combina-
tion of video, sound, images and student voice creates an envi-
ronment where students become deeply invested in their topics
or subjects under study. Digital storytelling increases engage-
ment through interactivity. It improves students’ teamwork
capabilities through the thick social interaction students engage
in during the production, than other school activities do (Blas,
Garzotto, Paolini, & Sabiescu, 2009). Digital stories mediate the
academic conversations students conduct with their peers and
with staff, management of their learning, how they document,
distribute and apply their knowledge, or the time they spend
really trying to understand a topic. Furthermore, creating digital
stories increases students’ motivation and engagement levels
(Dogan & Robin, 2008; Salpeter, 2005), especially the direc-
tor’s chair effect, self expression and opportunity to utilize
technology as a key factors in captivating and motivating stu-
dents (Banaszewski, 2005; Paul, 2002; Dogan & Robin, 2008).
Despite growing recognition of the importance of student
engagement and the potential impact of digital stories on stu-
dent engagement, little research has been done internationally
and in South Africa into how the adoption of digital storytelling
as a vehicle for expanding learning is creating new patterns of
engagement. Additionally, the adoption of digital storytelling in
conventional educational setting is currently limited; most re-
ported educational projects based on these systems are largely
based on episodic, short-term experiences involving a limited
number of teachers and students for a short period (Blas, Gar-
zotto, Paolini, & Sabiescu, 2009) and the little research avail-
able is from developing countries. As a result, only limited
research is available to guide best practice. Thus, the reason
why the researchers in this study set to investigate the potential
of digital storytelling in enhancing student levels of engage-
ment with their studies in an African context, specifically
amongst 29 final year pre-service student teachers at a large
University of Technology in South Africa. The study aims to-
further research in this field, and is guided by the following
question: what is the potential of digital storytelling in enhanc-
ing pre-service teacher students’ levels of engagement with
The study was informed by the engagement construct which
has been in the literature for more than seventy years, with the
meaning of the construct evolving over time (Kuh, 2009). The
earliest use of the engagement construct was by Ralph Tyler,
who showed the positive effects of time on task on learning
(Merwin, 1969). In the 1970s, Pace developed the College Stu-
dent Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ), which was based on
what he termed “quality of efforts”. He showed that students
gained more from their studies and other aspects of the college
experience when they invest more time and energy in educa-
tionally purposeful tasks such as: studying; interacting with
their peers and teachers about substantive matters; applying
what they are learning to concrete situations and tasks etc.
(Pace, 1990). Alexander Astin (1984) fleshed out and popular-
ized the quality of effort concept with his “theory of involve-
ment” in which he emphasized importance of involvement to
student achievement. Since then, different scholars have con-
tributed lots of papers addressing different dimensions of stu-
dent effort and time on task and their relationship to various
desired outcomes of college (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005;
Pike, 2006; Tinto, 1987, 1993).
Today, engagement is the term usually used to represent
constructs such as quality of effort and involvement in produc-
tive learning activities (Kuh, 2009) and student engagement is
measured differently by different scholars. Engagement is con-
ceptualized as the time and effort students invest in educational
activities that are empirically linked to desired college out-
comes (Kuh et al., 2008). Engagement encompasses various
factors, namely: investment in the academic experience of col-
lege; interactions with faculty; involvement in co-curricular
activities, and interaction with peers (Pascarella & Terenzini,
2005; Kuh, 2009). Kuh (2009) emphasizes two major facets:
in-class (or academic) engagement and out-of-class engagement
in educationally relevant (co-curricular) activities, both of
which are important for student success.
Thus, the factors that influence student’s level of engagement
are either student-based or institution-linked (Strydom et al.,
2010). Student behaviours which are linked to engagement
include study habits, time on task1, interaction with staff, peer
involvement, and motivation (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Ac-
cording to the Student-engagement construct (Astin, 1984,
1Time on task has two meanings: one is to do with how long the students
have been in college; the other is to do with how many hours a week the
students usually spend on activities related to their school work (Pace, 1982:
p. 22; Spanjers et al., 2008).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 83
E. IVALA ET AL.
1985), institutional policies and practices influence levels of
student engagement on campus. Certain institutional practices
are known to lead to high levels of student engagement (Chick-
erring & Reisser, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini 1991). These
include student-faculty contact, cooperation among students,
active learning, prompt feedback, time on task, high expecta-
tions, and respect for diverse talents and ways of learning. Also
important to students’ learning are institutional environments
that are perceived by students as inclusive and affirming and
where expectations for performance are clearly communicated
(Kuh, 2001). Institutions influence student engagement by the
way in which they “allocate resources and organise learning
opportunities and services to induce students to participate in
and benefit from such activities” (Kuh et al., 2005: p. 9). Thus,
measures of student engagement that guided the researchers in
understanding the issue under investigation in this study were:
interaction with staff; interaction with peers; time on task
(in-class and out-of-class engagement in educationally rele-
vant activities (Kuh, 2009); policies and practices; applying
what they are learning to concrete situations and tasks (Pace,
1990); motivation; active learning; prompt feedback; respect
for diverse talents and ways of learning (Chickering & Reiser,
1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).
Background of the Case Study
The project2 was carried out in 2010, with final year pre-
service students in the Faculty of Education and Social Sci-
ences at a large University of Technology in South Africa. The
lecturer considered using of digital storytelling in the profes-
sional development course in order to help students acquire
reflective skills. The course was structured into two block ses-
sions, a face-to-face and teaching practice sessions. Students
produced their digital stories during the face-to-face sessions
whereby they were provided an environment where facilitators
actively encouraged them to speak their minds, were interested
to hear what the students had to say, responded respectively to
students’ ideas and treated them as knowledgeable members of
the class. It is in this kind of environment that 60 pre-service
student teachers were introduced to the art of digital storytelling.
Before embarking on their own stories, students were shown a
model story developed by their lecturer as they were not famil-
iar with the digital story genre. The seed story shown was on
the lecturer’s reflection on her thirty years of being a teacher.
After the introduction to the art of digital storytelling, 31 stu-
dents opted to write a paper-based portfolio for their assessment,
leaving 29 students to embark on the journey of digital storytel-
ling for their final year assessment in the professional course. In
this assessment, all the 60 students were required to reflect-
on-action3 on the seven roles of a teacher4.
The project took eight weeks, commencing with students
writing a script for their stories. After each student wrote drafts
of the story, the facilitators provided constructive feedback, on
each draft, giving suggestions on how to shape the stories to not
exceed the required word count of 500 words. It is important to
note that the first drafts of the students story scripts were too
long (in some cases more than 5 pages) and content followed
the examples shown by their lecturer and therefore had no con-
nection with the seven roles of the teacher as per the assign-
ment brief. This resulted in students writing several drafts.
Students worked in groups (self-selected) mostly based on lan-
guage and race and within and across these groups, students
gave feedback on each other’s script. After writing the script,
students turned their written script into digital audio files by
recording their voices as they read their stories using a software
programme called Audacity5. They then located, scanned or
took digital photographs to accompany their words, found im-
ages on the Internet to enrich their stories, recorded background
songs or downloaded songs from the Internet. They ended the
process by bringing these multiple media together (using MS
Movie Maker)6 to make a short (around 5 minutes long) pow-
erful and personally meaningful digital stories that clearly and
movingly spoke to the other members of the class. The produc-
tion of the story took place both off and on-campus in a dedi-
cated student laboratory. The final story was presented to staff
of the Faculty of Education and Social Sciences, students’ par-
ents and the students themselves. See Figure 1 below for a
schematic representation of the digital storytelling process.
The study utilized qualitative methods of collecting data.
Participants and Context
The study was conducted in 2010, with 29 final year pre-
service students in the Faculty of Education and Social Sci-
ences. The study was located in this faculty and subject, be-
cause of the lecturer’s and students’ willingness to participate
in the study. Three staff members from the academic develop-
ment centre at this university facilitated the project. Conven-
ience sampling was therefore used for this study.
2This study is a continuation of the study by Ivala et al. (2011) on digital
storytelling and enhancement of reflection amongst 29 pre-service student
teachers and their lecturers at CPUT.
3Reflection-on-action involves students reflecting and contemplating on
issues after the issue had taken place (Schön, 1983).
4Currently the South African national teacher curriculum is based around
the seven roles of the teacher, which include: mediator of learning; inter-
preter and designer of learning programmes and materials; leader, adminis-
trator or and manger; community, citizenship and pastoral role; scholar,
researcher and lifelong learner; assessor; and learning area/subject/dis-
cipline/phase specialist (South African Government Gazette No. 20844).
Digital storytelling p rocess.
5For details on what audacity is see
6For details on what Wi n dow Movie Maker is see
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
E. IVALA ET AL.
Data Collection and Analysis
Data was gathered from three focus group interviews with
the students and one focus group interview with the facilitators
(inclusive of the lecturer) of the project to elicit whether the
production of digital stories led to student engagement. Focus
group interview data was recorded on tape and transcribed ver-
batim. The interviews were analyzed focusing on the identifica-
tion of conceptual themes and issues emerging from the data,
using techniques such as clustering, and making contrast and
comparisons (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The researchers were
especially interested in moments in the project that could be
construed as the focal points for students’ engagement with
The trustworthiness of information gathered in this study was
ensured by members of the research team discussing the re-
search process, the congruency of the emerging findings with
the raw data, and tentative interpretations which promoted va-
lidity. Descriptive validity (Maxwell, 1992) was ensured by
tape recording participants’ focus group discussions and tran-
scribing the discussions verbatim with an aim of quoting as
accurately as possible what the participants’ had said. Interpre-
tive validity was also adhered to as the researchers in this study
sought to understand the phenomena from the participants’
perspectives and categories (Bohman, 1991). The researchers
also employed the engagement construct to understand the issue
under investigation, thus promoting theoretical validity. The
researchers in this study acknowledge that findings of this study
are not generalisable, but offer valuable insights, which others
interested in the implementation of digital storytelling in their
curriculum delivery, could draw from.
Statement of Ethics
During the course of the study, all participants were treated
with respect and sensitivity. Activities carried out during the
study were negotiated with the participants and informed con-
sent was sought from every participant participating in the
study. Participants were also assured anonymity. Furthermore,
ethical clearance was obtained from Research Ethics Commit-
tee of the institution.
Limitations of the Study
The purpose of this study was neither to measure students’
attitudes to digital storytelling, nor to focus on the impact of
digital storytelling on student performance. The study focused
on the potential of digital storytelling in enhancing student
engagement with their studies, as perceived by the students and
the facilitators of the digital storytelling project. This means
that no statistics on student attitudes and performance will be
presented in this paper. Further research will need to be carried
out to establish students’ attitudes on digital storytelling and the
impact of digital storytelling on students’ performance.
Results and Discussion
The paper reports on the potential of digital storytelling in
enhancing student engagement with their studies from a stu-
dents’ and facilitators’ perspective. Based on the analysis of the
data, both the facilitators’ and the students’ who participated in
this project reported that digital storytelling enhanced students’
engagement with the subject matter at hand. Participants indi-
cated that the following factors enhanced their engagement with
their studies: extended opportunities for study beyond the
classroom time; motivation to interact with the subject content;
student control of their own learning; the process of producing
digital stories; peer learning and increased student-lecturer
interactions and promotion of high levels of reflection. Results
on digital storytelling and enhancement of student engagement
will be discussed under the aforementioned factors.
Extended Opportunities for Study beyond the
One of the factors given for enhancing students’ levels of
engagement with their studies by both the facilitators and the
students who participated in the digital storytelling project was
the extended opportunities for study beyond the classroom time.
Carroll and Carney’s (2005) argued that giving students’ a
chance to communicate their personal stories prompts them to
invest much more time and effort in the project than it may be
required (see also Coventry & Oppermann, 2009). Findings of
this study showed that students engaged deeply with the pro-
duction of their stories and hence the subject matter both at
home and on campus, as indicated in the following staff and
Staff A: … there is this student, I helped her with her
story throughout…I helped her edit her story, I helped her
record her story, I helped her put it together, the music. I
knew what was in her story but when it came to the pre-
senting, I was shocked because I had no idea of the words
that were coming out of that machine. Meaning that she
worked on it in class but when she found the skills that
she needed she went and re-did it… so it means that when
she got home she went back to it and started it again…
Student C: I also did most of my work at home, like
writing out the story and asking when I came to campus,
asking the lecturers maybe to edit and just to check if my
story is according to how it’s supposed to be… and would
do the typing on campus.
The above results demonstrate that literacy demands and
practices of college life infiltrated home life and that students
spend considerably more time (than when doing usual paper
based portfolios or assignments) on campus, outside of class
time and off-campus to work on their stories. These results are
in line with the engagement construct factor of in-class and out-
of-class engagement in educationally relevant activities (Kuh,
Motivati o n to Interact w i t h th e S u bject Conte nt
The motivation to interact with the subject content was an-
other factor given for enhancing student levels of engagement
with their studies. In this regard, finding servealed that the digi-
tal storytelling project motivated students to interact with the
content on the seven roles of the teacher:
Student B: ... it [producing a digital story] was so much
exciting than rather doing…all the paper based assign-
ments that we always have to do…you know it actually
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 85
E. IVALA ET AL.
was something that we wanted to come, we wanted to do
it and we loved every minute of it. It’s not often that you
get an assignment that y ou actuall y really enjoy doing.
Based on the above results, the lecturer’s choice of using
digital stories for assessment motivated these students’ in han-
dling the task in question more than any of the previously used
paper based ways of assessment (Ames, 1992; Blas, Garzotto,
Paolini, & Sabiescu, 2009). These findings are in line with the
engagement construct point of view that certain institutional
practices are known to lead to high levels of student engage-
ment (Astin, 1985; Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Pascarella &
Terenzini, 1991). As a result of this practice [digital storytel-
ling], the students were deeply involved in their learning.
Student Control of Their Own Learning
Another factor which enhanced students’ levels of engage-
ment in their studies was the student control of their own learn-
ing. Students reported that the production of digital stories gave
them control of their learning and enabled them to tell their
stories in their own voice:
Student D: … its [producing of digital stories] is very
personalized. It comes from your perspective and then
other people can relate to that…whereas when you write
something [paper based assignment] it comes out very
factual especially at this university level… people read
something that you’ve written and they have a slightly
different interpretation as you do in your head. Whereas
this [digital story] you’ve got the images right there and
you’ve got the words and the music. The tone is set. The
mood is set and the pictures are there to show things from
how you experience it and how you see it. So I think it’s
much more affective actually.
These results show that through the production of digital sto-
ries, students actively engaged (had internal interactions with
themselves) in making sense of their experiences (Chickering &
Reisser, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) and reflected more
deeply about the design process (McKillop, 2005) and the sub-
ject matter. This internal interaction is important since it is the
process of intellectually interacting with content that results in
changes in the learner’s understanding, perspective, or the cog-
nitive structure of the learners mind (Moore, 1989) and initiates
learners’ internal interaction about the information and ideas
they encounter in a course and constructs it into knowledge
with personal application and value (Dewey, 1916).
The Process o f Producing Digital Stories
An additional factor given by the facilitators and students for
enhancing their levels of engagement with their studies was the
process of producing digital stories. Results revealed that the
whole process of producing digital stories enhanced students’
engagement with the subject matter.
Staff B: … I must say most of them took it really seri-
ously to a point that they wanted it to be as we said…,
they re-did it and re-did it and re-did it and some of them
just recorded again in class, two, three, four times on their
own and they also went back… and recorded a back-
ground song again…
Student A: … I have to look at how long we had to take
just to write that thing [the story script] out. You write it
out, that’s the first draft. Then you’re going to write it out
again. That’s your second draft. Third draft, fourth draft.
You know it takes long, just thinking because you need to
okay that sentence doesn’t fit there… That takes time and
I mean even the pictures… it took me eight hours getting
pictures from Flicker…
The results show that all stages of the digital storytelling
production process (writing the story, directing their own digi-
tal story, illustrating and collecting images, selecting images,
combining images, music and voice and sequencing them to
make the story) appeared to stimulate students’ emotional con-
nection, effort and interest in the subject matter and hence stu-
dent engagement. Thus the above experiences may have re-
sulted in a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
Peer Learning and Increased Student-Lecturer
Furthermore students indicated that their levels of engage-
ment with their studies were enhanced by peer learning and
increased student-lecturer interactions. Results showed that
through the production of digital stories, students benefited
immensely from the influence and expertise of peers, as evi-
denced in the following quotes:
Student E: … Because like [student] C knew exactly
what was going on with all the programming whereas
with writing and stuff, I would be fine on my own. Just
like [student] A, but without C my movie would have
been very different and without sort of D saying this
sounds good, that sounds bad, or you know we kind of,
we bounced ideas off each other.
Student C: … working with other students, I mean, there
might have been students that you never even spoke to. I
mean for four years we’ve been together and to be honest
you’ve never said a word t o that person but durin g this, do-
ing this [production of digital stories] we just opened up.
The above findings revealed that students learned enor-
mously from each other by advising and giving feedback to
each other. According to Bruce and Lin (2009), this kind of
students’ dialogues constitute an intellectual layer of meaning
making, one that inspires the students to think seriously about
effective communication and the quality of their stories (Blas,
Garzotto, Paolini, & Sabiescu, 2009). Furthermore, the results
also indicate that the project helped students to create a learning
community which did not exist before. Wenger, McDermott
and Snyder (2002) argue that peer interactions is critical to the
development of communities of learning that allow students to
develop interpersonal skills, and to investigate tacit knowledge
shared by community members as well as a formal curriculum
of studies. Students also benefited from the high levels of in-
teraction with the facilitators. Facilitators of the project, who
were themselves lecturers at the university assisted students by
giving continuous feedback when needed, on all the steps
needed for the production of the digital stories.
Staff C: One, interpersonal relationships with the students.
That was really interesting because initially we showed
them a video and they tried to copy what they saw. And in
the first instances you had to basically get them away
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
E. IVALA ET AL.
from what they saw and get them to be busy with the five
or the seven roles of the teacher and that took a bit of
confrontation… the moment they realized what they had
to do, then they allowed me in and there was an incredible
mix, … a linkage between me and the students after a
while which was lekker [means good] to play around
Student B: I also did most of my work at home like writ-
ing the story and… asking the lecturers maybe to edit and
just check if my story is according to how it’s supposed to
be… according to the criteria.
The above results suggest that digital storytelling supported a
learning environment rich with student-student, student-lecture
and student-content interactions. Anderson (2003) argued that
sufficient levels of deep and meaningful learning can be devel-
oped, as long as one of the above types of interactions is at very
high levels. Additionally, the results are in line with the stu-
dents’ and institutional factors that influence student levels of
engagement. These fac tors are time on task, t ime spend in class
and out-of-class on educationally purposeful activities, interac-
tion with lecturers, and interaction with peers and motivation
(Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Kuh,
Promotion of Hi g h Levels of Reflection
The promotion of high levels of reflection is another factor
given by both the facilitators and the students for enhancing
their levels of engagement with their studies. Both staff and
students unanimously felt that digital storytelling promoted
high levels of reflection which led to deep learning or under-
standing of the subject matter, as evidenced in the following
Staff: This particular experience was a brilliant way of
doing it because they [the students] really had to engage
with their studies, the last four years. What they have
done, what they accomplished, how they learnt to be a
better teacher, so it really got them to engage… they said
they can see now what they’ve learnt and if they left uni-
versity without doing it [digital storytelling] it would be
leaving in a vacuum… this experience helped them to
crystallize all their learning…
Student: … it made me understand more what they meant
[seven roles of the teacher], because I’ve always known
what the seven roles of the teacher are, but I didn’t actu-
ally know what they meant and what they meant to me,
but now doing it with the digital story and actually incur-
porating it to my story, I kind of understood what they’re
about and what those seven roles-basically I didn’t under-
stand what they were but after the story now I know what
they mean and what they are.
The deeper reflection promoted by digital storytelling is said
to have promoted a deeper understanding in a subject content
which had previously been taught using the lecture method and
understood superficially by the students.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In general, findings of this study showed that digital storytel-
ling provided expanded opportunity for the students to engage
and plug deeper into the subject matter. Factors which led to
high levels of student engagement were: extended opportunities
for study beyond the classroom time; motivation to interact
with the subject content; student control of their own learning;
the process of producing digital stories; peer learning, increased
student-lecturer interactions and promotion of high levels of
reflection. The researchers echo Herrington’s (2003) finding
that student engagement is paramount to learning success as the
provision of expanded opportunity to interact with the subject
matter in the course understudy, led to high student levels of
engagement with the subject matter which enhanced student
motivation and interest in the subject matter and hence deep
and meaningful understanding of the subject content.
Based on the findings of this study, the researchers argue for
recognition of and support for digital storytelling as an alterna-
tive method of assessment in teacher education, which extends
teaching and learning beyond the classroom and hence high
levels of student engagement with their studies. The researchers
are of the opinion that for appropriate integration, digital story-
telling should be embedded in the curriculum and not used as
an add-on or a fad way of assessing learning. While the study
demonstrates the potential of digital storytelling for students
engagement in teacher education, a major question of sustain-
ability and replication to other disciplines remains. The re-
searchers suggest that there is need to implement digital story-
telling in other disciplines other than education in order to es-
tablish whether the results are replicable or not.
The researchers also suggest that there is need for more re-
searches to ascertain if higher levels of engagement would be
experienced by students through using digital storytelling to
engage with subject content which has not been previously
taught using a different delivery method. Since Dewey (1913)
pointed out the relationship between effort and interest and how
this interacts in producing good result, the researchers suggest
that further research is needed to gauge whether the increased
levels of student engagement promoted by digital storytelling
translate to improved student performance (in terms of marks).
An earlier version of the paper appears in the proceedings of
the 7 International Conference on e-Learning: Ivala, E., Chi-
gona, A., Gachago, D. & Condy, J. (2012). Digital Storytelling
and Student Engagement: A Case of Pre-service Student
Teachers and their Lecturers at a University of Technology.
This paper has been substantially revised based on the discus-
sions at the conference as well as the valuable comments from
the editor of special issue of Electronic Journal of e-Learning
who had selected the paper for possible publication in the spe-
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