Heritage and L2 writing processes in individual and collaborative digital storytelling



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After decades of focus on verbal communication, applied linguists and second language (L2) practitioners are revisiting writing as a way to learn the L2 rather than merely exhibit learning. During the writing process, learners potentially clarify and solidify the explicit knowledge that they may have learned in the classroom setting, and the permanent written record pushes learners to demand more of themselves regarding language form, and the extended time gives them the opportunity to meet this demand, often with the help of their explicit knowledge. In this digital era, individual and collaborative writing has applicability outside of the classroom as more and more working relationships are carried out remotely via shared documents, such as Google Docs. Social tools such as digital stories (DSs) promote not only digital writing but also the development of multimodal texts that integrate multiple modes of voice, music, images, sound effects and text-on-screen. DSs have been used to see the development of listening, speaking, reading, writing, culture, and identity; however, little is known about…. The aim of this study is to draw these elements into one project in order to explore L2 and SHL digital composing processes, perceptions and products during individual and collaborative digital storytelling tasks following the two theoretical frameworks: Activity Theory (AT) and Social Semiotic Multimodal Approach (SSMA). The focus of the investigation is to compare the writing processes during individual and collaborative digital stories (DSs) and to situate these processes fully into the activity system model created by Leont’ev and Engeström, including the notions of subjects who interact with other humans and the artifacts created within their culture. These artifacts or tools mediate our learning as we share the labor of tasks within our community as we create tangible or intangible objects according to the rules created by the community in order to achieve a particular outcome. Part of the process of multimodal composition includes the transformation, or changing from one genre to another, and transduction, or changing from one mode to another. In analyzing the multimodal products, the investigation sought to reveal the extent to which individual writers maintained the complexity, accuracy, and fluency (CAF) they achieved in the collaborative tasks. In this project, eight SHLs and six L2s composed collaborative and then individual digital stories. Data sources included background questionnaires, testing for leveling the participants in order to form the pairs, periodic student reflections, text documents, prewriting activities, simple narratives, voiceover scripts, DSs, and semi-structured interviews. To explore the processes, perspectives and products, the qualitative analysis included qualitative content analysis. To explore the CAF of the products, the quantitative data analysis included T-tests using the collaborative data as “pretest” and the individual data as “posttest” as well as mixed-ANOVA tests of within-subjects effects to measure interaction between the two demographics. In the comparison of the collaborative and individual composing processes, data revealed that the collaborative process was richer in ideation and creativity in story structure. Although the collaborative processes were superior in task completion and maintaining task parameters, the composers evinced greater numbers of transduction moves and digital synesthesia, or integration of modes, in the drafting of the individual compositions, especially the SHLs, most likely due to the practice effect of task repetition. In the comparison of the perceptions, the data revealed that though the participants missed sharing ideas, sharing the load, and sharing accountability during the collaboration, they also enjoyed the creative freedom and flexibility found in the individual tasks. The two different demographics reveals very different perceptions about the goals and purpose of the DSs. The SHLs were very invested in the content and in sharing an important message that they felt connected to their identities as coming from immigrant families. On the other hand, the L2s were more invested in task completion and grade although their level of engagement with the task content did rise as the result of the immigrant interview in the second task. In the comparison of the products, a statistical analysis revealed a significant difference in the fluency, or word count, of one of the monomodal documents: the collaborative and individual simple narratives. This project also found an interaction between the demographics in that the SHLs maintained fluency in the individual writing while the L2 did not, although statistical measures of complexity and accuracy were not significant. This investigation contributes to the scholarship by fully situating collaborative and individual tasks within activity theory as well as comparing the products of two activity systems with the same participants within the same course. The investigation also contributes two rubrics for measuring accuracy and complexity of multimodal compositions, which included elements beyond the written word, such as image, music, sound effects, voiceover recording, and text on screen.



Activity theory, Social semiotic multimodal approach, Digital storytelling, Multimodal composition, Digital synesthesia, Transduction, Heritage and second-language learners, Individual versus collaborative tasks, Multimodal assessment rubric