On the use of narrative fiction in education

The use of video in education is growing, both in formal as well as in informal settings. Several formats of video are widely used, such as talking heads, animation, screen captures or combinations thereof. However, the use of fiction film, especially the narrative storylines found in drama, receives less attention in current pedagogical approaches, while the use of narrative storylines could help students to develop higher order thinking skills. We were interested in studying the use of such narratives in the context of a course to train higher level thinking and reflection skills. The usage of narrative storytelling is underutilized in current education while new media technologies makes these narratives more accessible. In academic courses, where the focus is on values and attitudes film could be used to reach sufficient levels of engagement for reflection and enhances critical thinking skills based on real life situations.

In our study three different types of media based on the fiction film ‘On Being a Scientist’ were designed. ‘On Being a Scientist’ was produced for educational purposes. It aims to raise students’ awareness of academic integrity and to prepare them for the problems and dilemmas they could encounter as scientists. To differentiate the effect of temporal and spatial aspects of video versus that of narrative storytelling in general, narrative fiction film will be compared to written narrative, scientific talking head, and scientific text. For the purpose of this research, a fragment of ‘On Being a Scientist’ was chosen. Moreover, to determine how sufficient levels of reflection can be reached, two different learning formats are evaluated. These formats differ on the extent to which the task is self-regulated by the students. In the first learning format students are asked for a free recall of the narrative and viewpoint and a structured format which provides external regulation for reflection on the narrative. The participants, undergraduate university social science students (n=533) were randomly assigned to eight conditions. In condition 1 and 2 the participants watched the narrative film; in condition 3 and 4 participants read the film script; in condition 5 and 6 students read a scientific text; and in condition 7 and 8 participants watched a talking head. All conditions approximately took 8 minutes time. After watching or reading, students in condition 2, 4, 6 and 8 were presented a free recall task, while students in condition 1, 3, 5 and 7 were presented with a structured recall task. To determine if students in the different conditions use different argumentation structures and arguments when reflecting on relevant issues from a different perspective a scoring rubric was used.

The students in the different condition used various argumentation structures and arguments when reflecting on the issues discussed in the films and texts. The three major differences between the conditions reflect the benefits of narrative video with a structured assignment. First, students in the narrative video condition show a stronger process of reflection compared to the narrative text condition, reflected in higher score on the rubric. Second, students in the narrative text condition show a different process of reflection compared to the scientific text condition, reflected in higher score on the rubric, due to the presence of narrative elements in the text which allows self-identification. And final, students who are regulated during the reflection assignment show a higher score on understanding, application and evaluation of different perspectives compared to students who self-regulate the reflection process.