Educational Digital Storytelling in Management Education

Project overview

The initiative was implemented at London Metropolitan University (LMU) Guildhall School of Business and Law. LMU is one of the most diverse universities in London with over 60% of students from BAME backgrounds and 50% mature students. All students represent 142 distinct nationalities. LMU has introduced its Education for Social Justice and Sustainable Development Framework (ESJ/ESD) to improve our diverse students’ learning experience. As the Director of the BSc Digital Business Management (DBM) Course and the Module Leader of one of our largest first year modules (DBM and Emerging Technologies), I decided to use digital stories (DS) to assess students’ performance and engage students in inclusive collaborative group assessment (ICGA) and self-reflection to help them better understand the assessment criteria, the task requirements and the theories taught in terms of the module.

DBM is a new area that has quite recently emerged and gained considerable importance. Education is acknowledged as an essential means for promoting DBM literacy by activating the creative potential within students to understand it, bring forth changes in their everyday life and that of various companies around the world, and collectively envision a brighter and more sustainable future. Students in the current initiative were also allowed to use translanguaging (TRL), that is words or phrases in their native language, during the group sessions to promote inclusion for all students irrespective of their background aiming to support low-achieving, multilingual, BAME, neurodiverse (i.e., dyslexic) and mature students. These students are often disadvantaged when they are assessed via traditional written assignments (i.e., reports) without receiving additional support (i.e., via ICGA).

Students in this module repeatedly complained in terms of the previous year module student experience surveys that they were disadvantaged by not being able to use other means (besides writing) to express their ideas and improve their grades. Many students also revealed that they felt isolated after the Covid-19 lockdown and suffered from various mental health issues (Meletiadou, 2022). They thought that the module was monotonous as it did not encourage interaction among learners. Moreover, students were not allowed to make any choices in terms of their final assignment. They considered writing assignments challenging and boring and their submission and progression rate was relatively low. Attendance was low and students complained that they could not understand neither the theories they were taught in terms of the module nor the assessment criteria.

As a new module leader, I had to overcome these challenges. This initiative was undertaken in terms of LMU’s efforts to close the BAME attainment and continuation gap and the attainment and continuation gap by disability supporting students effectively to succeed in HE by using innovative inclusive digital game-based teaching and assessment methods. The overall aim was to offer all students, irrespective of their background, equal opportunities to succeed and make their dreams come true promoting EDI in Management Education. This was also what students congratulated me on when I received my award for my Contribution to EDI by the LMU Student Union in April 2022.

More information

The aim of the current approach was to enhance all (400+) L4 students’ leaning experience and improve their academic performance and motivation to learn by using a powerful technology-enhanced learning approach (DS) and an inclusive formative assessment strategy (ICGA). I used ICGA to promote peer learning/mentoring and help students better understand the assessment criteria and requirements of the assignment, the theories involved in the module (i.e., digital business strategies), receive multiple feedback and develop valuable professional skills i.e., negotiation. I used DS to:

  • increase students’ interaction and foster inclusion and Social Justice,
  • engage them as partners in learning by allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning,
  • decolonise the curriculum by celebrating their multilingual identities through translanguaging, and
  • develop their digital skills by experimenting with multimodal literacies.

In terms of this initiative, 400+ first year students were taught various DBM theories as part of a module (Figure 1). They were asked to choose their own company and do some research on their website to identify various elements (digital business and marketing strategies) and provide recommendations as consultants. Students had to prepare a DS in the form of a website or a blog in which they could use text, videos, podcasts, infographics etc. to present their findings and recommendations. They were then involved in ICGA, received feedback from their lecturers, wrote a paragraph reflecting on their achievements, challenges and areas for improvement and submitted their DS. Finally, they presented their work in terms of an online mini-conference to their peers in Levels 3 and 4.

Learning about DBM is not an easy task due to the inherent complexity of the theories involved. We need innovative pedagogical approaches and tools that will allow us to design learning activities in which learners will be empowered to develop new, alternative interpretations of DBM in personally and collectively meaningful ways. I argue that a constructionist perspective (Papert & Harel, 1991) involving the use of expressive media for DS (a Digital Serious Game-based approach – Corti, 2006, p.1) and ICGA offers an appropriate frame for designing learning activities fostering individual creativity and collaborative learning (Vygotsky, 1978; Piaget, 1929) which also involve some form of peer mentoring (fostering inclusivity – Meletiadou, 2022) in learning about DBM.

The current initiative is based on the design of appropriate learning and assessment activities following this rationale. I explored individual creativity and ICGA as a learning and assessment process based on the students’ individual and collective processes and resulting in the co-construction of new ideas and insights about DBM, and new tangible artefacts (DS) encompassing them. The purpose of ICGA is to foster a learning approach to assessment and develop a shared power relationship with students as they are asked to form the assessment criteria together with their lecturer (Meijer et al., 2020). This initiative shows that a positive social climate (PA – Topping, 2009) is necessary in developing and sustaining ICGA and that this form of assessment and the use of reflective SA foster autonomy, critical thinking and problem-solving (Boud, 2013), which are undoubtedly good lifelong learning skills (McConnell, 2002).

According to previous research, DS is a pioneering learning-oriented technology-enhanced approach which allows students to develop a wide range of skills i.e., academic (Yildiz Durak, 2018), digital (Chan et al., 2017), and social (Lin et al., 2013). Lambert (2012) describes a DS as a narrative blending visual and aural features for telling a personal story. DS encourages the use of a mixture of different modes of print, visual, and aural expressions which allow students to be more creative and engage more deeply in their own learning process (Meletiadou, 2022) promoting Social Justice (Lambert, 2012) for multilingual and multicultural students. Students can therefore make choices and transform an otherwise monotonous assignment into a meaningful exploration of their possibilities to express themselves in alternative ways (Bloch, 2018; Meletiadou, 2021). DS also become more important when used outside the teaching sessions for professional reasons, i.e., to showcase their talents to a potential employer (Yancey, 2004).

Engaging learners in comprehending genre (stories) across both print and digital modalities potentially allows learners to become more active members of their academic and professional groups and of the wider digital world. In the current initiative, students could also use their own language (translanguaging – Wei, 2018) to create intercultural narratives and improve multi-cultural awareness promoting what Pahl and Rowsell (2019, p. 12) report as a ‘circle of digital storytelling’.

Since there is a demonstrated need for more research on the “effective adoption of technology-enhanced assessment” (Jopp 2019, 5), I investigated how DS and ICGA can facilitate authentic learning in Management Education. Allowing students the intellectual freedom to frame questions and present solutions in terms of DS and ICGA enhances student engagement, encourages creativity, and opens up greater opportunity for frustration. This mirrors the practice of “generative humanities,” grounded in digital humanities, where students create digital projects beyond texts (Burdick et al. 2012, 10). In the initiative discussed here, students defined and then grappled with difficult problems. They expressed frustration at the lack of clear, finite answers and the challenges of collaborating (through ICGA) to produce quality content on deadline. After completing their DS, however, they often expressed appreciation for the process and the valuable lessons learned along the way. They gained confidence in their ability to resolve difficult problems and engage as emerging professionals with real problems that exist outside of the classroom walls. They also expressed pride in the results.

Teaching with DS requires a significant time commitment, motivated faculty, and a willingness to take risks involved in introducing new forms of student assessment.  Learning through DS, similarly, requires time and dedication from students.  This initiative represents a specific teaching context, but presents strategies and scaffolded approaches for cultivating flexible, adaptive approaches to learning grounded in disciplinary content and digital skill development. Examining evidence demonstrates the potential for DS, TRL and ICGA to promote authentic learning as students imagine, research, negotiate, and produce DS.

The current initiative also extends Yussof et al. (2009) conceptual framework for Serious Games and aims to establish a conceptual model that will be used by the educational practitioners when designing serious games for effective learning. It is an evolution of the input-process-outcome game model discussed by Garris et al. (2002). My model adds the ICGA (including TRL) element which aims to promote inclusion for all students irrespective of their background, increase students’ engagement and enhance their academic performance especially when DS is used in Management Education.

  • Presentation at the Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Conference 2023, Business and Management 2023 Conference
  • Preparation of an article

Considering the need for immediate change for multimodal writing skills in current Management classes, this initiative indicates ways in which educators can implement a combination of these powerful learning methods (DS, ICGA and TRL) in terms of which multilingual learners can exchange ideas and improve their writing skills using both verbal and non-verbal elements. DS allows learners to put the theory they learnt into practice and experiment with a new highly interactive approach which can increase their academic achievement while they engage in the development of fascinating DS.

However, educators must be cautious when implementing these exciting techniques as students face considerable problems using them when i.e., they have limited access to the Internet or technology. Moreover, some students (i.e., mature) may lack the relevant knowledge and experience in using technological tools. Consequently, practitioners (or  their teaching assistants) should provide training and continuous support to their students when using DS to avoid any kind of discrimination. Lecturers should also emphasize the product as well as the process of learning as students develop their academic skills while preparing their DS. They need to focus on assessing students’ writing skills and ideas rather than the elements that learners use to make their stories more attractive. In addition, educators must have a detailed plan, which can guide their students. This should help them understand the reasons why they are expected to engage in DS and the benefits this might bring to them in terms of their academic and professional development. Lecturers should also have clear assessment criteria and ensure these match the curricular goals. Otherwise, the implementation will not be successful and certainly unfair for some students.

The openness of the collaborative assessment process is also crucial to its success (Boud, 2000). Therefore, learning relationships have to be fostered, and trust developed and maintained in order for ICGA to succeed. The balance between critique and support is very important, yet at times very fragile (McConnell, 2002). Overall, this initiative shows the importance that students attach to learning and assessment processes which take place in a social environment. It is not only a major factor in supporting and motivating Management students but also in helping them overcome feelings of isolation especially in the post-Covid-19 era.

All in all, this initiative explored the potential for DS, when carefully planned, scaffolded, and implemented, to engage students in authentic learning, teaching students to think deeply and creatively about disciplinary content while creating sharable digital products. Considering my findings, DS seems to be a powerful tool for Management lecturers who would like to enrich traditional courses and allow students – especially at the undergraduate level – to have access to and become proficient in the 21st century multimodal literacies. Moreover, the recommendations for improvement offered by this initiative add to the literature base on DS implementation in Management Education. Finally, the present initiative may assist Management Education faculty use technologically suffused pedagogy to meet module aims successfully.