PoliCultura Portal: 15,000 Students Tell their Stories about Cultural Heritage
School outings to cultural institutions are potentially wonderful opportunities for bringing youngsters closer to culture. Unfortunately, most of the times, they are not as successful as they might be. Students welcome these events as “free time” rather than learning occasions; they do not pay enough attention to the explanations during the visit, especially if they are not supposed to be the subject of evaluation when back to school: thus, the overall educational impact is quite poor. Families too undervalue these occasions. Teachers, on their side, are often at a loss on how to effectively prepare the class for the visit, how to “follow-up”, how to raise their students’ interest.
It is now widely proved, in the field of pedagogy, that the learner’s active role, as well as a clear goal, can trigger motivation and lead to the achievement of substantial educational benefits. This can explain the success of Policultura (www.policultura.it), a program aimed at school of all grades, where students create multimedia (and multichannel) “stories” about cultural topics. Started in 2006, Policultura has gathered so far more than 15,000 participants, aged between 4 and 18, with 700 stories approximately. 20% circa of these stories are about school outings to cultural institutions: kids (1) get set before the visit, studying the overall cultural frame. Oftentimes they are divided into groups, each in charge of a specific aspect which they are supposed to go in depth into; (2) they go to the visit, take pictures (with their cameras or cell phones), take notes, in view of the story making. Aware of their task, they pay attention, ask questions and clarifications, gather content, etc. Teachers report the surprisingly high level of engagement of these young “multimedia authors”. When (3) they get back to school, the production phase begins: texts are written and refined, pictures are chosen, drawings are made and scanned, additional material is looked for, etc. In order to create their multimedia story, schools use 1001stories, an online authoring environment made available for free by HOC-LAB of Politecnico. The result is an exciting educational process and a beautiful multimedia “motion picture”, where the cultural institution is the “star”. Reports say that families too get involved in the process and sometimes, at the end of the work, they are led to the museum/park/institution etc. by their kids, who are by then so knowledgeable that they act as guides (Garzotto, Paolini, Museums and the Web 2008).
All the stories are gathered in a brand new, state of the art, portal (that will be made public in December 2011). An advanced exploratory interface allows users to access the stories using different canvases, highlighting different features, selecting different facets, etc. Continuous feedback provides the user with information about how the different facets are correlated (e.g. the discipline vs. the type of learning experience, the specific subject vs. the level of schooling). Facets can also be correlated with words clouds derived from the abstracts (in English and Italian) of the stories. Other facets concern more pedagogical aspects. Users can drop their comments, though they cannot rate the stories (for pedagogical reasons). PoliCultura-portal is likely to be the largest (worldwide) collection of students-generated multimedia content.
The paper will illustrate how PoliCultura has been beneficial for the cultural heritage domain, and how PoliCultura Portal can be used to promote digital storytelling at school.