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Google Classroom and Digital Storytelling: Stories Away from Home.

Empowering internal displaced children to learn technology and amplifying their voices with digital storytelling tools

Photo of Trang Phan

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What problem does your innovation solve?

Education is being severely undermined among internal displaced people (IDP) and girls are often worst affected by the loss of schooling opportunities among IDP (Yousafzai, 2016). This innovation will put IDPs back into (virtual) classrooms, provide an engaging way to learn lifelong technology skills, and provide them a safe place to connect and tell their stories. Their stories can be shared (with permission) with calls to action from the global community.

Explain your innovation.

There are two parts to this innovation: 1) developing an online course on digital storytelling (DS) using Google Classroom (GC) platform and 2) creating a portable digital library (PDL) of DS tools. Both GC course and the PDL are free of charge. All the students need is a device and Internet connection to enroll in the course. Phase 1: The DS course is a project-based, hands-on learning experience that requires the student to integrate multiple technological skills to produce a digital story of their own. Students will learn to: • Choose a topic • Prepare a script • Choose/collect relevant multimedia content • Record the narration • Integrate a story Resources include: short video lectures, apps, app tutorials and hands-on practice modules for each step of producing a digital story. Besides the instructor's feedback, students will be exposed to peer works to provide feedback and develop a sense of trust, compassion and empathy among the community. Local support from partner refugee centers can include individual/group tutorials, mentorship and emotional support. Phase 2: Students' stories will be shared on Google Classroom for feedback from peers and instructors. Student can use the stories to: - Apply for scholarships - Participate in a DS contest ( Partner refugee centers can use stories to attract donors and staff to their mission.

Who benefits?

This innovation will directly benefit students at partner refugee centers who have access to technology. The course equips students with lifelong technology skills and simultaneously enables them to make their life stories and dreams heard. Please find the user experience map attached. Measurement of success will be demonstrations of technology skills (i.e. computer-based reading and writing, Internet search and copyright practices for beginners, and voice recording techniques, etc. ) integrated in the production of a digital story and a complete story itself when they finish the course (students can be pre-taught basic computer skills prior to the course.) Implementation of this innovation will be with students in partner refugee centers in Texas and California that have access to technology. When the project scales, it can expand to other refugee centers in America and overseas, including countries where English is spoken a second language.

How is your innovation unique?

1) The use of Google Classroom platform: free, highly interactive and engaging platform that allows learners to create, share, and collaborate with one another. 2) Students can develop a sense of trust, compassion and empathy through sharing, collaboration and providing feedback. 3) The practical application value of the course: multiple technological skills that students are required to use to integrate a story. Nowadays it is not only about the body of knowledge that the learners have, but what they will do with it (Winthrop, McGivney, William, & Shankar, 2017). This is especially true for students with limited access to technology. 4) The course provides a safe space for the students to connect and share and use their stories, and get their voices heard. 5) The power of storytelling as a means to communicate one's life events, dreams, aspirations with the world, which may be pain relief at one level, or a call to action in the global community at another level.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

My goal is to build a course that is close to the student's needs and allows maximum personalized learning. The following issues were addressed during the feedback collection phase: • Access to technology • Recruitment and communication with partner refugee centers supporting the course. • Student’s literacy, English proficiency and technology skill levels. Remaining questions: • How will a student be credited for their work? • How to determine students’ preparedness for the course? • Should the course be translated, especially when the course is scaled? Are students allowed to submit their work in their own language? • Will partner refugee centers be able to assist students with basic computer skills?

Tell us more about you.

I am currently an assistant professor and the Director of the Instructional Technology Resource Center at Fresno State. My colleagues are from Indonesia, Turkey and America. Growing up in a poor village in Vietnam, I went through significant hardship early in life and education was the primary force that brought me to where I am. I strongly believe that education can do the same for IDPs and want to be part of the effort to make this happen.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

There are two primary settings for this implementation: 1) the computer classrooms at partner refugee centers where the students can access the Internet, and 2) mobile platforms. Both settings present minimal (or zero) risks for the student to participate. In addition, as mobile technology has increased access and reduced subscription costs by 99% from 2005 to 2013 (Winthrop, McGivney, William, & Shankar, 2017), so implementation costs are truly minimal.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

The course will be first provided at the following refugee centers where there's access to technology and learning needs were identified. 1) PAIR Houston (TX) 2) Alliance for Multicultural Community Services (TX) 3) International Rescue Committee (CA) 4) Oakland International High School (CA) 5) Center for Empowering Refugees (CA) When the project scales, it can be expanded to other refugee centers in America and overseas, including countries where English is spoken as a second language.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

I have 9 years of study and work in America. I earned my Master in ESL Teaching and Ph.D. in Learning Design and Technology in Texas. My job involves teaching English language and designing online courses for the underserved. I have several NGO relationships from my volunteer work during my Ph.D., including PAIR Houston, one of the two Houston-based NGOs that has agreed to collaborate with us. The other three centers are in Oakland, CA, a 3 hour drive from Fresno State University where I work.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

My Ph.D. focused on designing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for global audiences. One of them was a digital storytelling MOOC. My MOOC research involves strategies to address the diverse learning needs of global learners. My job as a professor and Director of the Instructional Resource Center at Fresno State University is to build quality courses at low or no cost for the underserved. I am currently teaching technology integration courses for future teachers using Google Classroom.

Innovation Maturity

  • Early Stage Innovation: I am exploring my innovation, refining, researching, and gathering inspiration.

Organization Status

  • We are not formally registered but are a formal initiative through a school / university.

Organization Location

We are at: California State University, Fresno 5241 N. Maple Ave. Fresno, CA 93740 University of Houston 4800 Calhoun Rd, Houston, TX 77004


Fresno State university site: University of Houston website: My personal website: http://trangphan.weebly Google Classroom course website: (class code: 7tqw2t)

How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

The feedback I received for my project came from openIDEO community members, experts, and the 5 identified refugee centers in Texas and California. The feedback was significantly helpful. I've included summary of the feedback and changes I'm incorporating in the two attachments to this section. For further information, please see the course map below:

Who will implement this Idea?

The project will be implemented through the joint efforts of: - Course instructors: 1) myself, 2) an instructional designer from Fresno State, and 3) two volunteer faculty members from the University of Houston (UH): one co-designed the digital storytelling (DS) MOOC offered by UH and the other is the director of a DS contest ( - Full-time program staff members at the five refugee centers. Their roles include providing tutorials, group/individual tutorials, emotional support and mentorship to the students in person.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

1) End-user daily challenge: Most students at the identified refugee centers live near or below the poverty line and often do not have access to a computer at home. Their source of Internet use comes from the computer classroom/lab at each refugee center. Access to computing resources is one of the primary benefits of my strategy to partner with refugee centers. 2) System-level challenge: Refugees have many pressing needs, including: housing, nutrition, health, family support, and counseling, among other challenges. The problem is if a refugee student does not become excited about their own education and invest in learning technology, they run the risk of being permanently disadvantaged. Our course can help as it is conceived as both an education and technology engagement vehicle.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

There is a one-time effort to get this course built and launched with the initially selected five refugee centers. After that, scaling will be similar to a MOOC model, i.e., at low or no cost, as the course can simply be adopted by other refugee centers. The course can also be offered for a cost at some locations to subsidize staff training in emergency settings. There is also a possibility to obtain support from Fresno State’s computer donation program for certain refugee centers needing computers.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

Impact: After refining the course with refugee centers in America, by 2022 we aim to spread adoption of the course internationally. According to UNHCR, there are 22.5 million refugees, over half under the age of 18. Given the technology availability, a modest goal is to reach 100,000 students, including initial adoption in Africa and the Middle East. Question: How do we find and partner with international NGOs working on the frontier of providing access to technology to refugee populations?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

The primary outcomes measurement is the number of students completing the course and publishing a digital story. Each published story represents a learning journey. The student must learn to integrate a range of skills, including: computer reading and writing, Internet search, copyright and fair use practices for beginners, voice recording techniques, and video editing. Student's work at each stage of developing their digital story is seen by peers and reviewed by the instructors.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

If this proposal is selected, the first year timeline will be: October – December 2017: • develop the course materials January – May 2018: • pilot the course in the selected five refugee centers • identify more refugee centers June – August 2018: • refine the course • develop “train the trainer” materials September – December 2018 • identify international NGO partners After year one, we will scale the project to domestic and international refugee centers.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • We didn't have an operating budget

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are not a registered entity.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Less than 6 months

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Business Model Support


Join the conversation:

Photo of Rebecca Petras

Your initiative is a very interesting one and is crucial for providing quality education for numbers of children especially minority groups who are not receiving education in their native languages.

I am the Deputy Director in Translators without Borders (TWB); a U.S. non-profit organization that aims to close the language gaps that hinder critical humanitarian efforts worldwide. We recognize that the effectiveness of any aid program depends on delivering information in the language of the affected population. By maintaining a global network of professional translators, we help non-profit organizations overcome communication barriers, increasing access to critical information and services while fostering a climate of understanding, respect and dignity in times of great need. We invite you to learn more about our work through this link. Translators without Borders is a non-profit organization supported entirely through our volunteers, grant funders and generous donors and sponsors.

TWB’s current translation capabilities exceed more than 190 language pairs with over 20000 translators. So far we have translated over 45 million words as part of humanitarian crisis response, and health and education services. We have also provided basic translator training to over 250 trainees in our translator training centre.

Since 2010, Translators without Borders (TWB) has played a crucial role within the humanitarian and development sectors leading on localization and translation of complex and lifesaving information into more than 190 languages, especially for populations in crisis. TWB has contributed to building the capacity of local translators in different parts of the world including in Kenya, Guinea and Greece.

Translators without Borders is expanding its program to support Mother Tongue Education programs. We want to work in collaboration with education providers to overcome the language barriers to mother-tongue education. TWB has the expertise and to:

Translate and adapte educational materials in local language, including training translators in local languages
Support Ministries and education providers to develop materials to support teachers in teaching in mother-tongue languages

We believe that our expertise around language and localization when coupled with your expertise and efforts in Education will expand the outreach to marginalized populations unable to benefit from quality education opportunities. It would be our pleasure to connect with you and learn more from you on your ongoing projects and discuss possible ways of cooperation together.

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