A number of research method strategies were used in this study as a way to increase student participation in telling their own college story. These included introducing students to an action research model, conducting initial interviews, asking students to chronicle their day with drawing and timelines, using iPads and an app called 'Livetrekker' to track and document their paths around the campus, and digital story telling.
Research meetings: Given that the student researchers were also busy college students, it was challenging to find a time to have group research meetings. The research facilitators needed to take advantage of time before and after a semester to meet with students. One meeting was held before a semester started to recruit students and orient them to the project. Here students had a chance to view previous studies, review a timeline of proposed research activities and ask questions about the research and their expected commitment. A second meeting was held with students to review their data and to confirm themes from their combined work. A future meeting will be held to determine in what ways they want to share their research.
Initial interviews: Initial interviews were done with student researchers, primarily as a warm-up activity for discussing and mapping college. These were usually done in the first one-to-one meeting between the student researcher and research facilitator. Questions included a) Where do you go first when you get to college, b) Where are your classes , c) Where do you like to hang out/have fun, d) Where you like to eat lunch, and e) Where you like to study. Eventually we also found that it was important to ask the following questions to better understand the context of their experiences. These questions included: How many semesters have you done at college, which courses did you take each semester, when are you going to age out of school (turn 22), do you work, and what are your plans after you turn 22?
Using campus maps: We worked with students from two college campuses and one strategy we used was to enlarge their campus maps as a way to help them map out where we would be going on their walking and talking tours. As it turns out, the maps were not as useful since the students knew the campus better 'from the ground' rather than an abstract map. Still, the maps were helpful for the research facilitators to refer to after doing walking and talking interviews with students to clarify where students had taken them on their tours and to determine the breadth of their college experience and understanding of the campus.
Drawing maps: Student researchers were also asked to draw maps, free-hand style, of where they go on campus. They were given sheets of white paper and a pencil. Almost immediately what seemed to work better for students was to draw 'scenes' from their day- taking transportation to college, getting something to eat or drink at the campus coffee shop, a classroom that included the desk and chair set up, where the instructor stood or sat and where they, their ed coaches and classmates sat. With a prompt they sometimes labeled the course name at the top. One student suggested that color pencils would make this easier. A few students initially wondered why they had to draw but once they understood that the drawings did not need to look like exact representations of the campus, they drew more freely.
Using Livetrekker and iPads: In an effort to understand better where students went on campus, what they did and who they interacted with, the research facilitators taught the students to use a free app called 'Livetrekker' with an iPad to track where they went on campus. Initially it was hoped that students would download this app on their own smartphone or tablet and track their days on their own without the research facilitators. A few students did download the app but found it didn't always work and some students said they didn't have time to do it. So the Livetrekker maps we have were completed when we were walking with them on campus. The students controlled the iPad and the app but with us there for support. A nice feature of Livetrekker is that has built in features for the user to take photos or videos or record narratives while tracking their movements. All the student researchers learned to use these very quickly and enjoyed augmenting the maps with media.
Walking and talking interviews: Walking and talking interviews were conducted with the students as they were using the iPad and Livetrekker to document their trails around college. This proved to be a very informative way to understand the students' experiences because we could ask our questions in context and in real time. For example, as a student was headed to the dining hall to document where he gets his lunch and socializes with friends, a number of students along the way greeted the student and indicated that they would see him later at a college event. This was a great opportunity to ask the student more about how he got to know these students, where they see each other on campus, and how frequently he had the opportunity to go to events like the one they were talking about. The walking and talking tours also provided us with insight about how independent the students were on campus, without supervision from an educational coach who we asked to stay behind. Students were, for the most part, able to easily navigate around campus on their own and negotiate buying lunch, getting to class, purchasing college points for their college card, and conversing with college peers.
Refining maps and timelines over the academic year: Half the students in this study were involved for a full academic year and therefore, they had the opportunity to update their drawings with new classes and new routines. The research facilitators also found that using a timeline approach with the students was an effective prompt. For example, to initiate a new drawing, the research facilitators would ask "Can you show me in a drawing what you do first"? This chronological approach made it easier for students to get started and coincidentally aligns with their growing skills to keep track of and manage their own schedules. A recommendation for future studies is to start with this timeline approach and also refer to this request as "drawing your day" rather than "mapping your day".
Digital stories: An outcome of this research offered to students was to use their work to develop digital stories. Students were encouraged to look at all their work- photos and videos, their Livetrekker maps, their interview transcripts, and their drawing to see what themes came out of their work and if there was one in particular that they wanted to talk about. We also used warm up questions to help them think about a topic for their digital stories: a) Is there anything missing from your college experience and if so, how does that impacts you, b) Can you describe a great day at college and where it happened, c) Can you describe a hard day at college and where it happened and d) Describe your overall feelings college experience. All 9 students developed drafts of their stories, selected a soundtrack from an audio site we have a subscription to and recorded the narration for their stories. Given the short amount of time we had left for this study, the students did a great job. Stories centered on feeling like a college student, how important it was to be able to take art classes at college, meeting friends at college and pursuing a dance and performance career. One student focused on his on-campus job with the women's basketball team and the influence it had on his experience making friends, being part of a team, and contributing his math and computation talents in a way that was different from using them in a class. Given the time that is needed to really teach students about the digital storytelling process, a recommendation for next time is to build in more time to create the stories, get feedback from their peers and record stories with more conversational methods to see if that better represents their natural voices.
Presenting stories to peers: At the end of the academic year, students from one of the colleges were invited to an end-of -year celebration of college. Four students presented their digital stories to their peers, their teachers and coaches, family members and college staff. Feedback: