Digital stories created by rural teens reveal their communities have a significant impact on their identity formation and community understanding.
The study's author, Donna G. Wake of the University of Central Arkansas, asked 7th- and 9th-grade students at two Southern, rural schools to create digital stories expressing their views on teen life in a small town.
Digital storytelling involves writing and producing a small movie that includes still images, voiceover narration, and music. Some see it as a powerful way to promote literacy among teens.
The study found that some of the emerging themes in students' stories were typical of adolescents, regardless of where they live. But it also found students' identities and community understanding were influenced by their rural surroundings.
Specifically, students often identified themselves by outdoor recreational activities unique to rural areas, such as the ability to build shelter, hunt, and grow food. And when they talked about pets and livestock, those animals were uniquely rural (i.e. goats, llamas and chickens).
Students offered a mostly positive view of their schools and communities, describing them as places of support and connectedness.
"Overall, the participants in this study seemed to feel that there was an advantage to living in a rural context, and they were proud to differentiate their community as a better place to live," according to the study.
Although some schools are doing digital literacy projects, the study suggested schools should capitalize on students' use of technology and use it to help them explore their identities.
"These tools provide students with means to assess and acquire skills necessary to compete in current global and technological climates," according to the study.