z-library z-lib project Immediate Access

The Digital Storytelling/8 Key Questions Assignment


Timothy C. Ball

School of Communication Studies

James Madison University


Ball, T. C. (2016). The digital storytelling/8 key questions assignment. James Madison University.


This assignment is a culmination of the skills students have developed and the knowledge they have gained over the semester in a basic communication course. For the first part of the assignment students collaborate as a team to conduct research on one of the four topics the group chooses to explore, develop actions the audience could take to deal with the issue or problem, localize the topic and record interviews with subject matter experts, create a list of advantages/disadvantages for each action, and create a website for each topic the groups chose to explore. For the second part of the assignment, each group will facilitate a discussion with the audience about the topic using at least three of the 8 Key Questions from the Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action.

Background and Context

The Degree Qualifications Profile proficiencies that the assignment is intended to assess include Intellectual Skills (use of information resources, engaging diverse perspectives, ethical reasoning, and communicative fluency) and Civic and Global Learning at the bachelor’s level. For the Civic and Global Learning proficiency, it is the proficiency in which the student will collaborate with others, in developing and implementing an approach to a civic issue, evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the process, and, where applicable, describes the result.

Part I: Digital Storytelling. The Digital Storytelling/8 Key Questions assignment is a culmination of the skills students have developed and the knowledge they have gained over the semester in a basic human communication class. This class is part of the General Education program and is required of all students at the university (unless they have received dual enrollment credit from a community college or another university). Students from all majors enroll in this course. In this basic human communication course students gain an understanding of the basic principles of communication theory as well as experience in the practical application of those theories. Additionally, the course is designed to help them accomplish four learning objectives. By the end of the semester students should be able to: 1. Explain the fundamental processes that significantly influence communication. 2. Construct messages consistent with the diversity of the communication purpose, audience, and context. 3. Respond to messages consistent with the diversity of the communication purpose, audience, and context. 4. Utilize information literacy skills expected of ethical communicators.

For the first part of the assignment students collaborate as a team and conduct research on the topic their group chose to explore (1) how we can prevent mass shootings in our society; 2) how should higher education help us create the society we want; 3) what does national security mean in the 21st century; and 4) what should we do to help our youngest children thrive); post the sources they assemble to a website they create during the semester; learn how to effectively use digital cameras, microphones, and other equipment to produce digital files; tell the audience the story behind their topic by using the website; record digital video clips that explain the advantages/disadvantages of the options to the audience; and post them on their websites.

Part II: Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha is Japanese for “chatter” or “chit chat” and consists of a 20-slide multimedia presentation using a timeframe of 20 seconds per slide for a total of a 6-minute, 40-second presentation. Each group will create a Pecha Kucha presentation that explains to the audience the advantages/disadvantages of the actions developed to deal with the social issue or problem. To gain the most from the use of advantage and disadvantage the presenters need to: 1. establish a clear basis for comparison; 2. make a thorough and specific thematic statement; and 3. provide an effective arrangement for the material.

Here are some tips to help students prepare a Pecha Kucha presentation:

  1. Tell a story. The best presentations are often good stories instead of just a bunch of facts or portfolio pieces strung together. Take the audience on a journey (albeit a short one) that has an intro, development, and conclusion. Think about how your story will combine with the images you’ve chosen to solidify your message and give the audience a rich experience. Be sure to share with the audience why your presentation topic is important to you and why they should care about it too.
  2. What is most the important thing you want your audience remember? If the audience could remember just one thing from your presentation, what would you want that to be? Once you figure that out, your talking points and images will revolve around that theme.
  3. Use powerful, relevant images. The images you choose should reinforce your ideas. Make sure your images are high quality and that you have permission to use them.
  4. Don’t cram too much into your presentation. Even though Pecha Kucha presentations are always exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds (20 images, 20 seconds each), presenters often try to cram too much information into that short window and then have to talk rapidly to fit everything in. Less is more. Carefully edit out anything that isn’t vital to some aspect of your piece.

Part III: Facilitating Discussion. For the third part of the assignment each group facilitates a discussion with the audience about their topic using the 8 Key Questions from the Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action as the platform for these discussions. The 8 Key Questions (8 KQs) focus on Fairness (how can I act equitably and balance all interests?); Outcomes (what are the short-term and long-term outcomes of possible actions?); Responsibilities (what duties and obligations apply?); Character (what actions will help me become my ideal self?) Liberty (what principles of freedom and personal autonomy apply?); Empathy (how would I respond if I cared deeply about those involved?); Authority (what do legitimate authorities’ experts, law, my god[s] expect of me?); and Rights (what rights–innate, legal, social–apply?).

Two learning outcomes guide this part of the assignment. Students should be able to: 1. Provide the specific considerations raised or rationale implied when applying every key question to an ethical situation or dilemma (Cognitive SLO #3); 2. For a specific ethical situation or dilemma, students will evaluate courses of action by applying (weighing and, if necessary, balancing) the considerations raised by the key questions. (Cognitive SLO #4).


  1. Have students read the topic material on the presenting group’s website.
  2. Introduce students to a circle process for discussing ethical situations.
    • Have the students break up into smaller groups and encourage each group to sit in a circle. Hand out the talking pieces (these can be tokens of some kind).
    • Establish some expectations for the ethical reasoning process (e.g., turn cell phones off, use the talking piece, and engage in active learning).
    • Rules for using the talking piece:
      • Tell students that whoever is holding the talking piece is the only one who should be speaking. The other members of the group should actively listen to the speaker.
      • Students should pass the talking piece around the circle and share their thoughts related to the 8 Key Questions and the scenario.
      • Students always have the right to pass the talking piece to someone else.
    •  Tell students that the circle is a safe space to question assumptions and to challenge others in a respectful way. It is a space for openly sharing thoughts and experiences.
    • Ask students to take this task seriously and use the 8 Key Questions to make the best possible decision together.
  3. Use multiple rounds to help students understand and apply the 8 Key Questions to the topic. Here is what could be done in these rounds:
    • A. Round 1: Give students 3 minutes to reflect individually on the 8 KQs and apply them to the topic. Have each student determine which key questions are most relevant for this topic. In the circle, have each person share which of the key questions they think are most relevant for this topic and have them explain why. After everyone has had a chance to share using the talking piece, have the group decide what three questions most apply to this topic. Each group should be prepared to share their top three questions and tell the other groups why they chose those three questions.
    • B. Round 2: Have the groups discuss which questions were the most important. Each group must come up with an answer and be prepared to share. Encourage the groups to reflect on how their answers match up with the 8 KQs: why did they choose what they did based on the 8 KQs?
    • Round 3: Have the groups discuss whether using the 8 KQs changed their considerations and the discussion about this topic.

Alignment and Scaffolding

The Digital Storytelling/8 Key Questions assignment is a semester-long assignment that culminates with the creation of a website that introduces the audience to the social issue or problem, the actions that people can take to deal with that issue or problem, and the drawbacks associated with each action; a Pecha Kucha presentation in which each presenting group has to distill for the audience the most important information relevant to their chosen topic; and a facilitated discussion that each presenting group has with the other members of the class. Although there are no previous courses that prepare students for this assignment, there are activities throughout the semester that do prepare them. For example, students are introduced to a public speaking model in which they learn that all presentations have a beginning, a middle, and an end (or an introduction, a body, and a conclusion). They practice how to get the attention of the audience, tell them a story, and reiterate the main points again in the conclusion.

In order to reinforce the importance of information literacy, students are required to view a series of short videos developed by reference librarians at our university that focus on 1) recognizing that information is available in a variety of formats; 2) determining when information is needed and find it; 3) evaluating the quality of information; 4) using information effectively; 5) employing appropriate technologies to complete assignments; and 6) using information ethically and legally. After viewing the videos from these six areas, students take a graded exam that evaluates their understanding in each area. Students are introduced to the website software and the digital equipment they can use to record interviews with subject matter experts in the second week of the semester, and are given one day per week to work on their projects in class. They are encouraged to work together on their projects outside of class as well.

As part of their orientation process, all university students are introduced to the 8 Key Questions. During this orientation session incoming first-year students are required to attend an “It’s Complicated” session, a 75-minute facilitated “thought experiment” that educates new students on JMU’s ethical reasoning framework, the Eight Key Questions. The session is facilitated by a JMU faculty or staff member. In class, students are once again exposed to the circle process and asked to apply the 8 Key Questions to a scenario. What is it designed to prepare them to do next, within your course or in subsequent courses? Students in subsequent courses should be able to construct messages that are appropriate for any purpose, audience, and context; respond to messages as well as understand the purpose, audience, and context; and utilize information literacy skills expected of ethical communicators.


In the fall 2014 semester, students had a difficult time facilitating a discussion with their peers in the audience and incorporating the Madison Collaborative’s 8 Key Questions into the discussion about these important social issues, even though they were introduced to the 8 Key Questions during what’s called 1787 Summer Orientation. During this orientation period incoming freshmen are required to attend an “It’s Complicated” session, a 75-minute facilitated “thought experiment” that educates new students on JMU’s ethical reasoning framework, the Eight Key Questions. The session was facilitated by a JMU faculty or staff member.

A key suggestion made at a NILOA assignment charrette in March 2015 was to model what a facilitated discussion should look like. Modeling made all the difference, and students successfully facilitated discussions with their peers in the fall 2015 semester.

The Digital Storytelling part of the assignment was challenging, but successful. To help students with the first part of the assignment a Media Fellow was embedded in the class. This Media Fellow acted as a liaison between me and the students, but held no grading responsibilities. The Media Fellow provided peer tutoring, feedback, and experience with digital assignments. Students were required to interact with the Media Fellow in class and during a handful of workshops and voluntarily during lab hours and consultations. This interaction was intended to enhance the level of learning and to enrich the classroom environment.

Please select an option

The assignment library and the assignments within are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. By clicking “Ok” you agree to cite each assignment (including modifications), with the provided citation on the assignments downloaded from this site.

  1. Rubric