Barbara Barrett | Student Stories with Adobe Spark Video

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A recent participant from the Narrative Techniques Study, Barbara Barrett M.S.Ed., lecturer in the Intensive English Program, transformed a presentation assignment in her course, 'Level 4 Oral Communication' (IEP142) into a student generated media assignment. Through developing and sharing personal narratives using Adobe Spark Video, ESL students had the opportunity to explore, correct their errors and receive valuable feedback to prepare for a high-stakes academic speech.

Case Study in Brief

Course(s): Level 4 Oral Communication (IEP142)

Instructor: Barbara Barrett M.S.Ed.

Semester: Spring 2017

Number of Students: 16

Instructional Designer: Hannah Inzko, Gemma Henderson


In the course, 'Level 4 Oral Communication' (IEP142), English as a Second Language (ESL) students are expected to: demonstrate an ability to discuss cause and effect with appropriate vocabulary and grammatical structures; expand their academic speaking, listening, and note-taking skills in English.

Around the mid-point of the course, one of the required projects is to complete a formal, academic 5-7 minute speech on causes and effects, a skill tested on the final exam, in the form of a two minute impromptu cause and effect speech. In previous cohorts, through this hi-stakes assignment, Barbara had found that students have struggled with the vocabulary and grammatical structures associated with discussing cause and effect in English.

After her participation in the Fall 2016 Narrative Techniques workshop, Barbara selected narrative techniques (student generated media and student stories) as a fitting way to introduce a "mini-project", completed shortly before the major cause and effect presentation. Barbara designed this formative assignment to provide students the opportunity focus on the target grammar and vocabulary, by engaging and challenging them to use storyboarding and digital tools to share their stories.

Target Skills

  • Listening: Understand presentations with the following skills: thinking critically, predicting content, identifying main ideas, details, conclusions, intonation, and specific expressions and by making inferences and interpreting speakers’ tone, attitude, and stress.
  • Speaking: Give clear presentations to a small group using organized physical or mental notes, visuals, posture, speaking volume and speed, and enthusiasm and to help students speak naturally and comfortably with correct pronunciation of word endings, key word stress, reduced function words, and linking sounds.
  • Digital Literacy: Use presentation software such as Adobe Spark Video to communicate information.


Guidance on the following implementation of these technologies was provided by Academic Technologies and the Digital Media Lab.

Instructor’s Perspective

"As an educator, using Adobe Spark Video brought a breath of fresh air into the course for me, (as I teach it often; sometimes 3 full semesters annually). This digital tool engaged students and gave them a safe space to explore, be creative and make mistakes before receiving a high-stakes presentation grade. By using personal stories rather than dry academic topics for this first cause and effect speech, students were more motivated to take time to ensure they communicated their ideas effectively. It also elicited more high-quality peer feedback than traditional impromptu speeches.

The videos are limited to only 2 minutes, so students would be forced to think carefully about their word choices and grammar. It also forced them to practice their presentation multiple times, which they tend to avoid. I made an example presentation telling a story about a time I felt culture shock while teaching English in Japan, and explored two possible causes of the shock. After introducing the project and showing my example, I invited Vanessa Rodriguez from the Digital Media Lab in Richter Library to the class to model how to make videos in Adobe Spark and answer student questions. One class was spent just setting up accounts and exploring the functions. In a following class, students storyboarded and planned their grammar and vocabulary. Then, the class went the language lab in Allen Hall to create their videos. The following day, a first viewing was held, where the class watched everyone’s videos and gave feedback. Students had the option of resubmitting their work if they wanted to make changes based on the feedback from their peers.

In the end, after completing the informal narrative culture shock presentations utilizing Adobe Spark Video, the students were more successful with their vocabulary and grammar on their formal Cause and Effect presentations than previous students who did not complete the culture shock project had been in the past."

Student Perspective

"The students were surveyed before the project, after the project, and at the end of the semester to see if they felt that the narrative project had helped prepare them for the projects and final exam in the class. The results of the surveys were extremely encouraging. All in all, students seemed to enjoy the project and find it helpful. In fact, a few liked the program so much that they stated they were planning to use it for personal projects. Students were more likely to practice their own presentations beforehand and more engaged when listening to one another’s presentations than with more traditional formats."

Student Artifacts


The following steps detail how to turn an traditional cause and effect presentation assignment into a digital video narrative storytelling assignment. 

  1. Contact Academic Technologies to discuss your idea for the course and examine your existing syllabus and resources.
  2. Provide students with an example, instructions, and rubric guidelines for their projects. Make sure project milestones are scaffolded throughout the term.
  3. Assist students in signing up for accounts on Adobe Spark Video. Take a day together in class to explore the basic functions and to understand how it works.
  4. Students brainstorm and submit a storyboard based on the assignment. Give feedback on logical order of ideas, grammar, vocabulary, transition words and phrases.
  5. Next, students complete their videos, save them, and submit link to the instructor.
  6. The following day, hold a group viewing session for each 2 minute video, where students can provide immediate peer feedback.
  7. Set a due date for any revisions students want to make based on the peer feedback, have students re-submit an updated link, and officially grade projects after the deadline.
  8. Finally, have students present their updated videos in class (optional).

Evaluation and Data Considerations

  • if you want to be able to show off student work outside of class, they will need to sign a release form, preferably at the beginning of the project.
  • Some students will not want to display their name publicly on a website due to privacy concerns. The proposal at the beginning of the term can help determine student submissions when it is time to grade.
  • Design survey instruments to deliver to the students over the course of the project to evaluate success of the course change.