Innovation in Language Learning

Edition 16

Accepted Abstracts

Sharing COVID-19 Photo Essays with Voiceover Technology (or How to Survive a Pandemic Semester)

David Rothman, Queensborough College: City University of New York (CUNY) (United States)


In early April of 2020, Western Queens was being called the ‘epicenter of the epicenter’ for COVID-19 cases in the United States. Numbers were rising dramatically and residents in this section of New York City were stuck at home, many in a state of panic. How does one teach an English Language Learner (ELL) composition course in the midst of this chaos? This presentation aims to showcase a highly successful COVID-19 photo essay project, which allowed students to emerge from isolation and share ideas and images in an effort to bear witness to what was going on around them. These photo essays evolved from our focus on incorporating visually enhanced, digital portfolios with voice over technology into our ELL curriculum.  Digital portfolios empower the students to develop their own story of how and what they have learned. Reflections on writing allow students to become both scholar and critic, thus giving them agency. The process of presenting their portfolio gives way to inquiry-the process by which students and instructors share feedback. Most importantly, working with digital portfolios allows students to demonstrate their ‘non-academic’ skills, promoting multi-modal literacy, and having the effect of boosting their self-esteem in an academic environment. Our COVID-19 Photo Essay Project was quite straightforward. Students were asked to share a few self-taken photos that ‘captured the spirit’ of what was going on in the moment. Some took photos of social distancing signs, others of empty store shelves, others of ambulances, etc.. Many students chose to take these photos from inside their homes. They posted their images and voice-over narratives on their digital portfolio. Finally, classmates viewed each others’ photo essays and posted their personal reactions as voice files. This project promoted a sense of shared compassion in the online classroom and reminded us that we are not alone.

Keywords: digital Portfolio, online pedagogy.

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