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Literacy, Art, Technology and Community

StoryScape: a community based technology for supporting literacy through child-caregiver joint engagement in story craft.

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Describe your project.

Learning, teaching, and community activities have always been an important part of libraries mission. New technologies are allowing libraries to forge a new era of “learning by doing,” through S.T.E.M, Maker Spaces, and other DIY activities. The StoryScape project is an important part of this new vision. StoryScape centers the focus of creation on language through story craft. The end result is the promotion of literacy and community engagement in the creation of a rich library of stories.

StoryScape is a unique technology platform developed at the MIT Media Lab to enable transmedia storycraft. Each StoryScape story is a mixture of interactive images and text. Built with a focus on engaging young, challenged learners, StoryScape supports anyone to become an author. StoryScape enables the creation of digital, physical, and transmedia stories that can be shared with anyone. The StoryScape library can be accessed by anyone via a web browser, printed in different formats for offline use, or accessed through a custom Android application.

The goal of our project is two fold:
1) Promote child literacy through child-caregiver story creation during workshops held at libraries.

2) Promote hyperlocal stories through community engagement of artwork for use with the StoryScape platform.

One of the most important, and most enjoyed, activities for young children is reading. Stories for early readers leverage images and text as a means of conveying information and teaching literacy. Parents and other caregivers play a critical role in literacy by modeling language through reading with their children.

As children advance in their literacy skills it’s difficult for caregivers to participate. StoryScape overcomes these challenges by enabling joint engagement between child and caregiver during story creation. With StoryScape, young children are able to create stories using images and text, while a caregiver can help them develop the story and model grammar and writing skills.

Similar to early reading for children, StoryScape leverages images as a means of supporting learning. Stories in StoryScape are built from images and text as the child constructs visual scenes and adds text. The images provide a catalyst for creativity and are themselves descriptive. For children building a scene using the StoryScape editor is much easier than writing a complex sentence. The ease of creation engages the child and enables the caregiver to spend time discussing the scene/story, help the child develop the logic of the story, and model grammar and writing.

The building blocks of StoryScape stories is artwork. We plan to promote hyperlocal storytelling by engaging community artist in the creation of artwork relevant to the local library and surrounding neighborhoods. This artwork will be used during StoryScape workshops and will become part of the freely available library of local stories.

How does this project advance the library field?

Whether it is community story time held by a librarian, or a caregiver reading to their child in a quiet corner, libraries provided an important space for children and families to develop literacy and come to love literature. StoryScape further extends this space and the opportunities of library patrons by providing technology that allows children, caregivers, and community alike to take part in the creation of stories.

Our goal is to enable libraries to become local publishing hubs for children and the community. By offering technology and activities that promote child-caregiver story creation and engage the local community in the creation of artwork, we hope to promote libraries as a new creative destination that centers around language and art.

This is an important advancement for libraries as it allows patrons to not only checkout amazing stories, but create amazing stories that become an artifact of the local community.

Who is the audience and what are their information needs?

While our target audience of this project are children and their caregivers, our further goal is that StoryScape is a technology that librarians can continue to use to engage the local community in literacy. For these reasons we address three audiences: children and their caregivers, librarians, and community artist.

Children and Caregivers:
We plan to target children between the ages of 4-8 years and their caregivers. Through cooperation with libraries we will conduct a series of community workshops held at libraries using StoryScape to allow child-caregiver story creation. The goal of these workshops will be for children and their caregivers to create a short story together that can be added to the online library, in addition the children can print out their story so they can take a physical copy home. Our hope is that the children and their caregivers then become regular users of StoryScape at the library and at home to promote literacy.

Through the workshops we will develop materials for use by librarians to conduct their own workshops. Our goal is that StoryScape and supporting materials will make it easy for any librarian to use StoryScape as a tool for engaging their local community in story creation. In the same way that it is common for a librarian to hold community story time, were a librarian reads to children, we hope it becomes common place for a librarian to hold story creation time were children and their caregivers create stories together.

Community Artist:
An important building block of StoryScape stories is artwork. Our goal is to engage community artist in the creation of artwork relevant to the local community to enable hyperlocal stories. Local libraries are already important hubs for the arts in a community. Through StoryScape we believe there will be new opportunities to engage local artist in the mission of libraries. We will consult with librarians and local artist to develop opportunities for libraries and artist to work together in the promotion of language and arts.

Please list your team members and their qualifications.

Core Team:
- Micah Eckhardt, PhD MIT Media Lab. Micah developed StoryScape as part of his PhD at the MIT Media Lab. Micah has over 10 years experience developing learning technologies for children and challenged learners.

- Craig Ferguson, M.S. Caltech. Craig has been a part of the StoryScape project the last 2 years and has a background in ed-tech and language technology.

Mentors and Advisors:
- Philipp Schmidt (Peer 2 Peer University and MIT Media Lab): Philipp is an open online learning veteran and helps run the MIT Media Lab’s Learning over Education initiative.

- Prof. Rosalind Picard (MIT Media Lab): A leading expert in Affective Computing and learning technologies.

- Prof. Mitch Resnick (MIT Media Lab): A leading expert in education technology, participatory learning, and creator of the Scratch platform that serves millions of children.

- Brian Bannon (Chicago Public Library Commissioner): As commissioner of the Chicago Public Library Brian is responsible for the 80 libraries that serve Chicago’s 2.6 million residents.

-Tinsley Galyean (Curious Learning): Tinsley has an extensive background in education technology and literacy. As Executive Director of Curious Learning he leads the mission of promoting global literacy.

Organization name and location (City, State).

StoryScape Project
MIT Media Lab
75 Amherst St,
Cambridge, MA 02139

What are the obstacles to implementing your idea, and how will you address them?

There are three key obstacles to our project succeeding: technology, art, and community.

1) While extensive work has already gone into the StoryScape platform, during its development and testing as part of Micah's PhD at the MIT Media Lab, there are challenges in providing a robust and scalable system for "real-world" usage that must be addressed. Fortunately, past work and extensive testing with users provides us with the roadmap to implement new features to address user and technical needs. Fortunately, core members of the team have the technical skills necessary to meet these challenges.

2) One of the significant challenges that came out of the research and development of StoryScape is the difficulty of art creation. The art of the StoryScape system provides the building blocks for story creation, and having a diverse set of art sets is necessary for longterm and mainstream usage.

During research with StoryScape we found that the use of visually coherent and thematic art sets, compared to a set of images that you might get from a Google image search, enabled story creators to more easily express themselves. The use of thematic art sets resulted in user stories nearly doubling in length and users expressing more "enjoyment" in creating stories.

Unfortunately, the creation of such art sets is time consuming, and often requires an expert or otherwise skilled practitioner. While a significant amount of the current artwork of the StoryScape system was contributed by professional artist we also found opportunities for engaging younger people and communities in artwork through group activities. We plan to work with local artist to develop group activities around stories, libraries, and community that result in the creation of local art.

3) Building local communities online is difficult at best, you have to be part of the community that you build. For this reason it will be critical that we develop community through personal, local, relationships. StoryScape is only a tool, but we think it is a great tool to use for literacy and community. We will work closely with local library staff, who know and are part of the community, to engage the community through workshops. The goal of the workshops are two fold. First, to engage the community and provide access and opportunity to self authoring and child-caregiver joint story creation. Second, to leave library staff and the community with the tools and knowledge to continue using StoryScape as a tool for community, learning, and expression.

Part of our focus will be to develop a model that enables the library to collaborate with the community through use of the StoryScape platform, with a particular focus on child-caregiver joint story creation and using the art needs of StoryScape as a mechanism for engaging local artist too. We believe by meaningful engagement with the local library and community we can build a community around StoryScape that is maintained through the library.

How will you spread the word about your project? Who are you trying to reach?

We plan to promote the project through local libraries, schools, and artist communities. Our primary promotion channel will be local libraries. Parents, other caregivers, and children already frequent libraries. We plan grassroots efforts through informational flyers and scheduled workshops at libraries. In addition, we will work with library staff so that they providing information to patrons during child and language centric activities held by staff such as, story time, sing alongs and other activities commonly held at libraries.

Team members have extensive experience working with schools. In addition to libraries we will work with schools that we already have relationships with to provide children and their caregivers with information about library held workshops with StoryScape. We further plan to work to implement a special art project with a school to create a StoryScape art set representing the school and local community.

As discussed in this project proposal artwork is an important part of the literary process with StoryScape, and a powerful means of telling stories. In addition to grassroots efforts through informational flyers at local libraries we plan to reach out to local artist communities and art school students to promote their involvement in creating artwork for the community and storytelling. We plan on holding several contest and promotional events that encourage artist contribution.

Our main goal is to have the StoryScape platform and workshop activities organically spread through the local library system city after city until it becomes another valued part of what every library offers.

How much do you think your project will cost, and what are the major expenses?

How much do you think your project will cost, and what are the major expenses?

During the course of the research and development at the MIT Media Lab significant progress was made towards developing StoryScape as a technical and learning platform. The following outlines project cost over the course of this project.

Phase 1 - Workshop development and Community Prototyping at one library branch
- Workshops and prototyping: ($20,000)
    - Develop library workshop model for StoryScape child-caregiver joint story creation.
    - We will conduct several open workshops as a means of developing “curriculum.”
    - Develop support materials for library staff to conduct StoryScape sessions independently.
    - Prototype promotional materials.
    - Develop online supporting materials.
- Technology ($40,000)
    - Website refactor.
    - Develop community features.
    - Develop administrative features.
    - Develop analytic features.
    - Hosting platform and 12 months cost.

Phase 2 - Refinement and Scale
- Workshops and community development: ($30,000)
    - Scale up of library workshop model for StoryScape child-caregiver joint story creation with more
     patrons and libraries.
    - Workshop support with experienced facilitator.
    - Development of FAQs and how to videos.
    - StoryScape art contest.
- Technology ($40,000)
    - Deploy community features.
    - Deploy administrative features.
    - Deploy analytic features.
    - Host workshop learning materials and how to videos.
- Community outreach ($10,000)
    - Promote workshop through flyers, posters and other print materials.
    - Conduct public information sessions at library sharing research with StoryScape, overview of
     technology and information about workshops.
    - Public learning materials and how-to materials for caregivers and children to use StoryScape
    - Final report publish project methods, supporting materials, FAQs, media, tools and outcomes under
     and open license for allow deployment of the StoryScape workshops by other libraries.
- Overheads
    - Include project management, legal, administrative, and other overheads

Project subtotal: $140,000
Overheads (15%): $21,000
Project total: $161,000


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Excited to have this honor and looking forward to putting it to good use. 

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