Digital Storytelling: Envisioning the Experiences of Asian Immigrant Communities in Latin America (Mellon Project Report)

The objectives of the digital project in this course are to engage in listening, comprehending, transcribing, and translating language in a very familiar online platform: Youtube video. The first stage of the project involved recording interviews with Chinese and Japanese immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, in México and Perú. I completed this task during a faculty sabbatical in the spring of 2016. Then in the Spring of 2017, the digital recordings of these interviews were divided into four segments and distributed to four corresponding student groups in the Spanish 481 Senior Seminar course on Asian Immigration in Latin America.

Each group then worked with their interview to select a five minute segment from which to create a digital story. Each story required the integration of images and graphics to help convey meaning, as well as the transcription of the audio in Spanish and its translation into English. Students used iMovie or other video production applications to match the audio timeline with a sequence of visual images and photos. The video was then uploaded it to YouTube, and students used the captioning tool in YouTube to create the transcription in Spanish and the translated English subtitles. The videos shown here are a first draft and will be edited to correct some errors in visual material and Spanish and English texts.

This project gives students the opportunity to engage with exclusive authentic material in the target language. In addition, it encourages them to see the real world relevance of these contemporary voices and to present their own interpretation and visualization of excerpts of these immigrant stories on an easily accessible media outlet. Thus, it adds hands-on experience to the readings and video materials in the course, bringing to life stories from these communities. Moreover, the work of transcription and translation helps students to further hone their skills in listening, comprehension, writing, and interpretation in the target language.  

Throughout the process of integrating this digital project into my course, I have learned that the students are quite adept at working with these materials and require little guidance outside the initial explanation and demonstration provided in one class period. They engaged readily with the target language material and accomplished the arduous work of transcription and translation, adding their own visual interpretation of the audio text. The knowledge that they were the only ones with access to these stories, and that they were tasked with making them understandable and compelling for a wider audience, seems to have motivated the student groups to be creative in their visualization while remaining faithful to the audio story.

In practical terms, I have learned that an additional class period for them to work on the words they are not sure they are hearing correctly would diminish the amount of time required for editing later. Also, a review of the images may help to lessen the amount of editing of visual material.  

The creativity involved in the process of conveying an audio recording in a visual and textual format has proven especially motivating for the students. Each group expressed a different visual style and included distinct elements in their storytelling. Yet, the direct human presence in these voices brings them to life and conveys a responsibility to represent them faithfully, encouraging the student groups to work together and pay attention to detail. Both of these elements (creativity and responsibility) guided the collaboration and yielded a better intellectual product.

In sum, the immediate relevance of the end product, presented in a digital format with which the students are quite familiar (YouTube video), heightened the motivation for collaboration, creativity, and faithful representation in a way that I believe would be hard to replicate in a more traditional written format. Indeed, I found the students to be more enthusiastic and willing to work in groups in this digital project than with other written and discussion assignments. This in itself is a result that illustrates the value of digital projects in the Austin College classroom.