Understanding Others’ Stories to Find Our Own: Helping Linguistically Diverse Students Analyze, Create, and Evaluate Digital Literacy Narratives


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This chapter explains a digital literacy narrative project completed in a first-year bridge program course for students needing additional support in their English language development. Within this context, students use the DALN project to develop a greater awareness of others’ stories in order to more freely share their own and expand their understanding of digital literacy. The assignment asks students to not only write their own digital literacy narratives but also analyze existing DALN submissions and create of their own multiple trait grading rubrics. This chapter explains the procedure of the assignment in depth and references student sample texts and student responses to the learning experience. The project combines an introduction to text analysis and the production of multimodal communication in a context where multilingual learners can explore their own literacy histories and identities in a way that encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning.



This project connects digital literacy with myself, that’s let me feel I’m closer to what are learned in class. And the experience of doing multi-modal project make me apply what I learned about multi-modal project into my own work. —Anonymous (digital literacy narrative reflection, May 13, 2016)

In 2015, I accepted a new position at a small, Midwest liberal arts university.  This position involved revamping and enhancing a fledgling first-year bridge program for linguistically diverse, primarily international, students needing additional support in their English development. In this bridge program, students take a mixture of academic courses and additional credit-bearing courses to help support their linguistic development and prepare them for the academic expectations of higher education in the U.S. Among other changes, I added a Digital Literacy course to the second semester bridge sequence. The focus of the course was to create an environment where students could develop their oral and written communication skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) using digital tools, within a themed course about the impact of technology on daily life. In order to explore the effects of technology on students’ own literacy experiences, one of the four major assignments was to create a digital literacy narrative.

Digital literacy, as a conceptual definition, drove the course as well as every assignment. The concept itself is ever changing as the continual pace of new digital realities grows. Starting with literacy, the traditional definition was blown open by the New London Group (1996)—suggesting that literacy was not a clearly defined concept, but rather better termed as multiliteracies. As part of the New London group, Gee (2007, 2008) utilized the foundation of multiliteracies in his discussion of new literacies, which included the literacy practices of video games. The opening of the traditional definition of literacy led the way for digital literacy or literacies to develop as part of the “new” view of literacy.

Adding digital to the literacy conversation has brought up more discussion of exactly what comprises digital literacy. Pangrazio (2016) explains how the scholarly conversation has evolved to consider the evaluation of and proficiency with digital tools, the collection and integration of digital information, general information literacy, and content curation skills. Many scholars choose a less-defined position, though often agreeing that to be digitally literate involves a set of abilities and practice that help form a necessary skill set in our current technology age (Eshet-Alkalai, 2004). While many components have been proposed, there is still no clear scholarly consensus for exactly what digital literacy means.

The basis for this course and the literacy narrative assignment was an intentionally vague interpretation of digital literacy. My digital literacy orientation incorporates multiliteracy and new literacy themes, resulting in a definition of digital literacy, like literacy, that involves ways of seeing, doing, being, and using language in connection to the secondary discourse. This secondary discourse involves the practical thinking and behavioral skills required to navigate the digital world. In this course, students were asked to construct their own definitions of digital literacy as they interacted with different digital contexts (e.g. the literacy narrative, internet memes, video games), what Gee refers to as “semiotic domains” (2007, p. 19). This pedagogical approach towards digital literacy resembles Luke et al.’s (as cited in Cope & Kalantzis, 2015, p. 4) multilteracies approach: support of students as they engage in experiential learning, analysis, applied learning, and the acquisition of meta-skills.

Literacy narratives and digital literacy narratives are not new pedagogical approaches in classrooms of students whose first language is not English (Amicucci, 2012; Fraiberg, 2010; Nicholas, Rossiter, & Abbott, 2011). Narratives are powerful tools to help learners make meaning in their own contexts and realize how learning has taken place already in their lives. Students use narratives, often in the form of literacy narratives, to explore complex multilingual identities (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000) and the narratives themselves can become “sites of translation” (Soliday, 1994, p. 516). The narratives are culturally embedded and influenced by the context in which they occurred as well as the context in which they were elicited.

One adaptation of the traditional literacy narrative is the digital literacy narrative, also known as techno-literacy autobiographical narratives (Ching & Ching, 2012) or literacies of technology (Hawisher, Selfe, Moraski, & Pearson, 2004). These narratives can take various forms, focusing on a literacy journey through a digital presentation or concentrating on how digital means are connected to literacy development. The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN) includes these and other interpretations.

Expanding on the scholarship previously mentioned, the assignment explained in this chapter integrates basic textual analysis; digital, multimodal expression; and student-centered grading. It aims to enhance the traditional narrative writing assignment with analytical components (examining others’ digital literacy narratives), utilization of various modes (linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural), and student empowerment (student-generated rubrics). This chapter explains the digital literacy narrative assignment situated within the Digital Literacy course for students of linguistic diversity. I address how the assignment is positioned within a particular context with a certain population, explain the various assignment specifications and how they fit together, and discuss how student submission and responses help us to understand digital literacy development. Such work continues to open space for all students to not only more fully express their message but also discover who they are as learners and their place within the academic community of writers.

Context and Participants

To understand the potential impact of the assignment, it is important to see how it is situated in the overall educational context. As mentioned previously, the assignment is part of the course Digital Literacy. The course is not only a credit-bearing course; it counts towards core curriculum requirements. The purpose of the course as a whole is to help students develop academic communication skills, become more comfortable with common digital tools used in the classroom, and critically engage with the role of technology in life and society. The course itself is part of the second semester of a year-long bridge program for multilingual, primarily international, students who might benefit from additional linguistic and academic support their first year in a U.S. university.

In the past few iterations of the course, the student population has been primarily from Arabic- and Chinese-speaking countries. Students generally have had IELTS scores of 5-6, placing them as intermediate users of English, and have come from a variety of intended majors including business, computer systems, hospitality management, and criminal justice. The students’ previous experience with technology has been varied, as has their expectations of the U.S. university environment.

For the last few semesters, I have been the instructor for the course. My training and experience involve working with English language learners and first-year writers, as well as utilizing technology as a way to engage learners and enhance their communication abilities. The class, therefore, has elements of ESL, first-year composition, and digital humanities courses. My pedagogical approach embraces what are often considered “alternative” pedagogies, namely critical pedagogy (Freire, 2000), mutuality (Wallace & Ewald, 2000), culturally responsive pedagogy (Gay, 2010), and a translingual orientation (Canagarajah, 2016; Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur, 2011).

With this proclivity, I work to create classroom engagement spaces that model environments of problem-posing, praxis, empowerment, reciprocity, and cultural negotiation. Students were encouraged to explore course content and tasks in ways that utilized their own knowledge and skills and be actively involved in the learning experience as creators. Students were encouraged to negotiate the terms of assignment so they had the opportunity to best show what they were learning. Students were encouraged to use their first language to help them understand the course content and assignments. In alignment with my pedagogical orientation, student responses within this chapter are only slightly edited for issues of clarity.

Assignment Specifications

On the working assignment sheet, students were given the purpose of the assignment—to analyze, create, and evaluate a personal digital literacy narrative, based on a developing understanding of digital literacy. In addition, students were told what skills they were expected to practice during the assignment process: critical examination of others’ work and personal work, clear description, and isolation of important elements.

Materials and tools. For this assignment, the class referenced the textbook Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects (Arola, Sheppard, & Ball, 2014), the DALN website, our school LMS (Blackboard), Google tools (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms), as well as other digital tools which suited the individual student creations: Microsoft products (Word, Powerpoint), Prezi, iVideo, WeVideo, and a variety of smartphone tools.

While in other contexts I have chosen to rely on outside articles and teacher-made materials, for this course and with this student population, I wanted to keep much of the course reading to a few sources. This decision served several purposes, most importantly to keep a more controlled vocabulary and consistent tone for students developing their language skills. Writer/Designer (Arola et al., 2014) proved an accessible yet appropriately challenging text for students. Though the textbook comes with many extension options, I chose to use the main content as the foundation for course discussions and projects.

Though there are other paths to finding examples of literacy and digital literacy narratives (e.g., first-year writing textbooks, YouTube) the sheer amount of authentic narratives in the DALN made the choice clear. The authenticity and range found in the DALN was paramount to the success of this assignment—students needed to encounter “real” voices in public spaces who may have communicated through “unacademic” means. Students needed to have access (though potentially overwhelming), to samples with various strengths and weakness so the students could then choose what effective communication strategies they wanted to use to communicate their own stories.


Introduction to the assignment. The Digital Literacy Narrative was the third of four assignments in the course’s project sequence. The first two assignments involved description, analysis, and creation of infographics and memes, while the final project involved a researched investigation of a technology topic. In this course, my own explanation of digital literacy was kept intentionally vague as I focused on supporting students in their own development of a personal definition of digital literacy through readings, experiences, and personal creations throughout the term. To introduce the assignment, students were tasked with developing conceptual definitions for digital, literacy, and narrative. After exploring individually, the class compiled their results and we worked to create a definition of what a digital literacy narrative might mean.

Table 1: Example of digital literacy narrative introductory activity (whole class responses).
  • Portrayed and characterized by electronic and especially computerized technology
  • using or characterized by computer technology
  • It is a word that is related to the technology that uses numerical data (digits) in their software.
  • Digital describes electronic software. its about technology. Digital is a new way of appealing with people.
  • digital literacy is the ability to use technology
  • processing information extremely fast and won’t say no anytime
  • Showing the time with number instead of with hour and minute hands
Cell phones
any “smart” machine
DVD player
Software (Netflix)
  • the ability to read and write
  • Knowing how to read and write
  • The ability to read and write
  • Knowledge that related to a specific subject
  • The skill to read and write
  • NARRATIVE is tale told in either oral or written fashion
  • Spoken or written story
  • Anything told or recounted
  • Story that is told or written

After the class exploration, I introduced the assignment according to the assignment description I had already created. I posted the assignment on Blackboard, rather than distribute paper copies, to allow for editing options when the class came up with outstanding ideas during the introductory phase, as well as to allow for some minor changes the class agreed upon through the creation process. The total timeframe for this project, from introduction to conclusion, was approximately three weeks.

Part 1: Literacy narrative analysis. The motivation for each section of the assignment was driven by student struggles I observed in similar contexts in the past, personal educational experiences which helped form my academic development, and key research in the field. I designed the assignment to include an analysis component. Analysis is not only an essential skill for students to possess for other classes but also a component of a scaffolded approach to the teaching of writing. Gibbons (2002) describes the Curriculum Cycle, a four-step process based on a genre approach to writing, includes the stage of “modeling the text type” (p. 61). Gibbons explains that, in this stage, students should become comfortable with the various components (e.g., linguistic elements, structure, purpose) of the target genre before writing. Analysis helps elucidate components and patterns. This familiarity is part of the journey to independent writing.

Another, more practical, reason to include an analysis component within the assignment is to help students become more comfortable at understanding assignments on their own. In my work in English language learning contexts, students often desired an exact outline or plan of any given assignment. While I may provide such an outline, I find that professors in other courses will not. Through experience with analysis, students learn to derive the needed or lacking characteristics from example texts and become more empowered to take control of the assignment end product. With this, even if the professor will not provide the exact components (or provides them in a vague fashion), students have an avenue to find assignment models so they can construct their own ideas about the assignment at the start, thus empowering students to find answers to their learning questions.

The goal of Part 1: Literacy Narrative Analysis was to develop students’ observational, analytical, and critical thinking skills and help provide a direction for students’ own digital literacy narratives. At the point in the semester when this assignment took place, students already were familiar with basic textual analysis. As in much of multimodal studies, the definition of “text” is viewed broadly. Throughout the course, students become familiar with the concept of “text” as stated in the primary textbook for the course—any “piece of communication as a whole” (Arola et al., 2014, p. 1). Textual analysis can be interpreted in various ways as well, but in this context we practiced strategies to notice “sense-making practices” (McKee, 2003, p. 15) and to understand which practices and components students gravitated towards and wanted to emulate.

In order to find these practices and components, students went to the DALN and located several digital literacy narratives. They worked collaboratively to identify positive and negative characteristics of each narrative they watched/read/listened to, in addition to noting consistent themes or ideas that appeared across the narrative samples. Students kept track of the narratives’ location, format, summary, and any additional comments pertained to the examples. Students were encouraged to look for commo, as well exceptional areas within the examples. To give students a place to begin, I modeled the analysis of a few digital literacy narratives found in the DALN. As a full class, we talked about utilizing the search engine to locate appropriate digital literacy narratives and learning from literacy narratives that might not fit the “digital” category. Students worked with partners or in small groups to watch/listen/read some examples of digital literacy narratives in the DALN and then discuss the components of the analysis.

Students submitted their analyses in a shared Google Sheet where I could provide feedback and encourage the extension of ideas when appropriate (see Table 2). Some students gave surface-level responses that needed to be enhanced, so revision of Part 1: Literacy Narrative Analysis was permitted until the final submission. Students identified several positive characteristics in the DALN samples, often commenting on use of multimodal elements to enhance the story, the choice of an “interesting” story, the inclusion of details in the description, organizational structures, and understandability. Negative characteristics were also noticed, such as omission of an introduction or conclusion, an overload of information, few multimodal elements which made the narrative “boring” to read, distractions in the recording, no explanation or definition of literacy, or focus on only “regular” literacy rather than digital literacy. In addition, students made other comments about notable format issues and included a summary of each sample.

Table 2: Examples of Part 1: Literacy narrative analysis (Group 1, four females and one male).
Example 1: Espinal’s Digital Literacy Narrative multi-model video, show the books she learned in video, the video is more accessible for audience by drawing pictures to explain her story clearly, background music make video more attractive no subtitle, no introduction, the story is about literacy but not digital literacy

The analysis component needed to be done thoroughly because it was referenced throughout the rest of the project. Students looked to the analysis as they created their own digital literacy narrative and as they constructed the evaluation rubric for the grading of their project.

Part 2: Your digital literacy narrative. I was inspired to use a digital literacy narrative because of my experience with a traditional literacy narrative assignment in the first-year writing environment. Congruent with other research (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000; Soliday, 1994), I observed the literacy narrative as a place where students could incorporate their own knowledge, experiences, and identities within the framework of an assignment to help them have a greater understanding of themselves, their own tendencies, and their own learning potential. I also had written my own “technology story” as part of a graduate level in-class writing assignment, and the experience helped me to accomplish similar goals in my own academic journey.

The goals of Part 2: Your Digital Literacy Narrative were for students to produce a clear, coherent, personal story that utilized student observations from Part 1: Literacy Narrative Analysis and to tell their story using multiple modes of expression (see Arola et al., 2014). After the analysis, students begin to create their own multimodal digital literacy narrative project. Because the students had viewed various digital literacy narratives already, I did not give additional guidelines as to what students should include in their narrative. It was important for students to use the samples from Part 1: Literacy Narrative Analysis or any additional samples they chose to examine to see what they could do, rather than should do.

Another key step in the creation process was the first draft conference. Students brought in a written idea or storyboard of their digital literacy narrative plans. We met for 10-15 minutes, and I gave further direction for the project. In the conference time, I encouraged students to keep referring to their analysis of the DALN samples to get ideas. The original purpose evolved throughout the first week as we discussed the “boundaries” of the assignment. Rather than give students very specific details about what to include, I would elicit student ideas, encourage students to explain why they wanted to include those ideas, and support them in making a place for their project choices in their personal grading rubric.

In order to help students in the creation process, one class was devoted to introducing possible technology tools: WeVideo, advanced functions in Powerpoint and Google Slides, and a very basic explanation of audio editing possibilities through Audacity. Students did not have to attend the technology explanation class if they had tools they wanted to use and the project was using more than one mode of expression (as defined by Arola et al., 2014).

Part 3: Personal grading rubric. The inspiration for the personal grading rubric came from an experience in a graduate course. A professor I worked with would ask the class the week before the assignment was due how we thought we should be graded. It was an experience that frustrated many students because educational systems simply give expectations to fulfill before moving to the next task, not require students to take ownership of the grading process. This approach didn’t give detailed assignment expectations at the beginning, but instead asked students to look at what they had created and what was good about what they had created. The experience inspired me because it left room to include elements in the grading process that had developed through the assignment creation experience, rather than only the beginning. Grading became an evolving process that could change until the final submission.

While the use of rubrics in connection to student writing has been moderately addressed in writing assessment literature, there is little definitive evidence whether engagement with the rubric itself or the metacognitive awareness developed through the use of rubric influences writing improvement or student perception of writing improvement. The use of student-generated rubrics, particularly with English learners, has been less examined. Becker (2016) attempted to address the gap through a study with university level English learners in an Intensive English Program (IEP). Becker’s findings show that “students who either participated in co-creating a scoring rubric or used a scoring rubric to assess writing performance had significantly better overall writing quality than did students who simply saw the rubric or belonged to the control group” (2016, p. 22). Building on these results, I worked to give students guided control over the rubric creation.

Having some understanding about the English language learning population, I anticipated that this component may be difficult to explain and confusing for students to understand. I used work from Part I and II to help students come up with ideas. In class, we created example criteria to guide students through the process. Students identified key criteria and then defined them. Students could also then explain how their final product fit into the criteria. I encouraged students to use the criteria to loosely guide their drafting process and then to go back and change any elements that did not fit with their final project for submission.

Essentially, students were creating the criteria for a task-specific, multiple-traits rubric (Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, 2015). These rubrics allow for a tailored assessment of the task at hand, often written in student-friendly language. For the final grading, each criteria level was evaluated by how completely they fulfilled the criteria they identified and described. Some of the criteria overlapped between student projects, but, in many cases, students would also include unique elements that reflected their work. Some final student criteria examples are as follows:

  • organization: project should have clear introduction, appealing conclusion and detailed body content.
  • narrative: should be true, personal, detailed and about digital literacy… My narrative incorporates a personal story about my accident and how I overcame that obstacle. I incorporate technology by explaining my learning process in Saudi Arabia. (anonymous, assignment submissions, May 6, 2016)

These show a developing understanding of text construction, voice, and digital literacy.

Final Submissions. As part of the final submission requirements, students were asked to submit their final project via our school LMS and also to the DALN. Students had the choice to submit anonymously or use identifying information on the DALN. The anonymity option gave a space for students to publish their work, without the pressure which can come knowing their peers and family could locate their work.

In the reading of the final projects, I discovered some themes consistent with established research on the topic. Hawisher et al. (2004, p. 644) acknowledge the “cultural ecology” in which literacy and its development reside. The authors pinpoint five key themes in literacy narratives of technology: literacies are cultivated in times of societal change; digital literacy can be used for personal empowerment; educational settings are not the only, or primary, place for digital literacies acquisition; the circumstances of access to technology are complex and influence other areas; and literacy beliefs are shaped by the familial context. These digital literacy narrative submissions were no different. Considering the occurrence of literacy developing in times of change, the smartphone, as well as various social apps (e.g., Snapchat) made repeated appearances throughout the projects. As for personal empowerment, one student (Z., 2016) commented how her digital literacy skills had led her to e-commerce opportunities, opening doors not only for her but other women in her home country (see Figure 1). Concerning school-based digital literacy acquisition, educational institutions played some role, and personal communication technologies, used first for social reasons, infiltrated comments on digital literacy development. In terms of access to technology, availability of digital means was connected to mobile devices rather than desktop computers or the internet as an entity. Lastly, families were also mentioned as influencing the reasons or the means for developing digital literacy.

Figure 1. Personal empowerment through digital literacy (Z., 2016).
Figure 1: Personal empowerment through digital literacy (Z., 2016)

Looking at one student’s example, posted to the DALN, we can see a path for digital literacy development (see Video 1). The student begins by defining what literacy is, not merely as the ability to read and write but as “an individual’s capacity to put those skills to work in shaping the course of his or her own life” (Li, 2016, slide 1). She then approaches digital literacy, framed through the use of computer and its affordances, from a perspective of necessity. Early on, the student demonstrates an ownership of her own literacy development, specifically her connection between technology and her personal, academic, and social literacy needs and expressions (slide 3). The student has personal revelation that digital literacy is necessary to do what she wants to do—download music and communicate with her friends—without appearing as “an antiquated person” (slide 3). The necessity leads her to practice on her own to expand her skills (slide 4-5). She resolves to become more proficient with technology, exploring every function of new tools, to achieve her personal goals. She started from a point of interest, and the necessity for her to fully explore those interests led to her practice and eventual comfort with her own digital literacy. Her digital literacy development was not something that happened on its own, but rather something she had ownership over.

Video 1: My digital literacy narrative (Li, 2016) [Text transcript]

This student example was one of many unique interpretations of digital literacy. The initial prompt for this assignment purposefully provided some structure but left significant room for different interpretations. Digital literacy narratives allow students to communicate personal stories in a creative, personal fashion. For this assignment, each student created something unique and expressed their messages in imaginative ways utilizing integrative technology options. They made connections between their literacy learning experiences and technology. In light of the placement of this assignment within the course sequence, I could see students’ emerging understanding of literacy(ies) as much grander than merely reading and writing (Gee, 2008). Their work displayed a developing ability to show the relationship between technology and their own person progress.

Students often showed these developments through stories of struggle. One student focused on the pursuit of digital literacy as one of resilience: pushing through challenges in class, driven by personal areas of interest, and spurred by peer pressure to achieve a level of digital literacy that fit with her life (Li, 2016). For another student, his use of digital means changed drastically after a major accident. He initially was very interested in technology and started learning how to use a computer, but a head injury changed his interest. While he utilized a computer in his recovery, it caused him to eventually avoid technology in lieu of more hands-on work (see Figure 5). It was only when he starting studying in the U.S. that digital skills became necessary for him again (Ali, 2016). These stories demonstrate that becoming digitally literate (which might be extrapolated to more general definitions of literacy) often requires overcoming obstacles. Many times it will include setbacks and detours. It may be influenced by internal motivation but often is pushed by external forces. This reinforces the ideas that any path to literacy is not linear, particularly when second language acquisition is also in play (Larsen-Freeman, 2015).

Figure 2. How I learned to use computers, slides 6-8 (Ali, 2016) How I learned to use computers, slides 6-8 (Ali, 2016) How I learned to use computers, slides 6-8 (Ali, 2016)
Figure 2: How I learned to use computers, slides 6-8 (Ali, 2016)

While the assignment alone may have allowed for a space for self-expression of a digital literacy understanding, submission to the DALN publically situated student stories among the stories of other writers. Students were joining the continual conversation of “What exactly is digital literacy?” and helping to define the concept through their own displays of work. Posting to the DALN fit my own pedagogical orientations about digital literacy—the focus on real-world, applied learning, rather than disconnected assignments for classroom-eyes only. The DALN provides a unique space for students to experience digital literacy narratives as readers and writers.

Through this project, students demonstrated their connection to digital literacy through traditional definitions of the term: displaying their developing familiarity with digital tools and critically reflecting on the use of digital means. Students expanded their use of digital tools by trying new platforms (e.g., Prezi) and adding audio to traditional presentation platforms. Students critically reflected on their own digital experiences and also worked to choose appropriate visual representations and overall design styles to suit their projects.

Student Reflection and Feedback

At the end of the project, students completed a reflection about the experience. Since the written reflection occurred a week after the final submission, I asked students to recall the different activities related to the project in order to help them reflect on the entire experience. I then asked which activity helped in the final creation the most/least and which activity was their favorite part of the whole learning experience. Students primarily commented on Part 1: Literacy Narrative Analysis, multimodal creation, personal revelations, group work, and about the project as a whole.

One of the goals for the analysis component of the assignment was to empower students to understand assignments and gain ideas by viewing and modeling other texts. By utilizing the wealth of examples offered through the DALN and the diversity within those samples, students were able to see the range of possibilities. Students found the DALN examples helpful as they worked to create their own digital literacy narratives:

  • [What I found helpful was to] Watch and write the negatives of what I had watch from other digital literacy narrative. Also try to do not have the same mistake and if I have, I try to fix it.
  • My favorite part of all the project was the examples we watched at DALN.
  • The examples helped me to understand the project and make it easy to understand (anonymous, digital literacy narrative reflections, May 13, 2016)

These responses show the value of authentic examples, not hand-picked positive models, in helping students understand successful and unsuccessful elements. Because students did not always choose strictly defined digital literacy narratives to examine, sometimes choosing “regular” literacy narratives, students were able to consider features from a broader genre structure and then apply analysis results to a narrower iteration of the genre.

Adding to comments about the analysis of other narratives, students found the multimodality of the assignment influential. The assignment was multimodal in nature, fitting into the subject of the course. Encouraging multimodal expressions helped learners in a variety of ways: providing avenues to express meaning when linguistic expressions become challenging and helping students develop production skills and comfort with tools that may be valuable in other academic courses. Students also enjoyed the multimodal component and technology tools and saw benefits of these affordances:

  • Prezi help me learning the experience of how to organize material and information. Record audio really practiced my speaking English.
  • [My favorite part] Audio. It can explain my project more detailed to readers and make my project multi-modal.
  • My favorite part is audio and video editing because it make me interesting to learn. (anonymous, digital literacy narrative reflections, May 13, 2016)

Using multimodal elements helped students organize their thoughts, practice their language, and made the learning environment more interesting.

On the individual level, the Digital Literacy Narrative assignment had personal implications for students. Much work on narratives focuses the on the result of greater identity awareness (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000; Soliday, 1994), and these reflections concur with that previous work. Other practical issues in personal development, identifying weaknesses and seeing the value of group work, were also revealed:

  • I realized that my spoken English is still kind of poor. I need to practice more. And I’m supposed to learn more vocabulary, it will help my writing.
  • When I have completed the story, I learned how people respect other when ask them for help. [in reference to peer review]
  • Sometime, I could not understand what the project needs, but the helping as a group helped me a lot. (anonymous, digital literacy narrative reflections, May 13, 2016)

Through their reflections, students understood themselves better and therefore how to improve their own language proficiency and literacy practices.

Part of the motivation for this assignment was to help students understand the power of their own stories, their own voices, and their potential to succeed in what can be a new and challenging learning environment. Student responses show how these initial motivations were actualized:

  • How this project help me, it was about write a story then use some technology to explain your story and it was something new for me and I think it will help me with other classes.
  • It was a lot of work but this project make me use new thing and teach me how to explain my story in technology way.
  • I learned a lot of thing, the most important one is how I came be myself. I try something new and I do not know if I can fail or not but I am so proud to myself.
  • My favorite part of my project is the main story. This story is one of the most memorable story in my growth process.
  • This project connects digital literacy with myself, that’s let me feel I’m closer to what are learned in class. And the experience of doing multi-modal project make me apply what I learned about multi-modal project into my own work. (anonymous, digital literacy narrative reflections, May 13, 2016)

Students discovered they were able to conquer new challenges, learn and apply new digital and literacy skills, integrate information, and become more self-aware about their own learning styles and personal identity.


The Digital Literacy Narrative assignment, in addition to the general course architecture, attempts to enact ideas from literacy studies, digital media studies, and English language learner/learning scholarship. Students used text analysis and creation in multimodal environments and through multicultural and multilingual lenses to tell their own encounters with literacy as it is connected to digital media.

Though the Digital Literacy Narrative assignment attempts to cross the borders of various (though related) disciplines, there is much room for continual border-crossing in composition studies as a whole and particularly within English learning contexts. In 2011, Lotherington and Jensen posit that second language classrooms have a long way to go in promoting multimodal and multiliterate expressions; many of these spaces seem to still focus on the “flat literacies,” to the detriment of language learners who could greatly benefit from the destruction of the harmful dichotomies that exist in language instruction (e.g. native/non-native). The DALN provides many examples from storytellers who have thought beyond the 8 ½ by 11 (or A4) page. It is a repository of examples that students of linguistic diversity can learn from, gain inspiration from, and connect to.

In the world of higher education, where students continue to engage with more, rather than fewer, digital tools on a daily basis, a digital literacy narrative assignment gives students a place to tell their own stories and examine their own connections to technology in a more flexible, non-binary space. For linguistically diverse students needing additional English support, the different components of this assignment help students to continue to evolve in their understanding of digital literacy; develop effective strategies for recognizing effective traits and themes within a genre; make connections between the content of the course and their broader experiences; communicate clearly through various modes of expression; and take more ownership of their learning process.


Students submitted informed consent agreements to allow for the inclusion of their assignment-related work anonymously. The IRB was provided by Mercyhurst University. References to student work in the DALN are covered by the “deed of gift” license through submission to the DALN.


Alghefari, M. (2016). A computer changed my life. Retrieved from http://www.thedaln.org/#/detail/cabbe891-f04a-49ac-a1c0-2512526a909c

Ali, S. (2016). How I learned to use computers. Retrieved from http://www.thedaln.org/#/detail/5263716e-4b2f-40b9-a5fa-3106101729d4

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