Scribjab, SFU Public Square, Confronting the Disinformation Age, Digital Technologies

Digital Story Creation with Scribjab: An Innovative Interactive Display

May 08, 2019

By Dvorah Silverman

On April 10-18, SFU Public Square hosted the 7th Community Summit: Confronting the Disinformation Age. This highly anticipated event offered a stimulating week of lectures, exhibits, and panel discussions and was received by a solid number of participants, notably professionals who were eager to reach beyond academia and across industries to contribute to the critical discussions surrounding the influence of the rapid spread of disinformation in today’s changing cultural and political climate. As a newly hired research assistant for the Faculty of Education Research Hub, I was pleased to attend one of the summit’s kick-off events, Innovations in Research, held at SFUs Segal Graduate School of Business. Participants received a thought-provoking introduction: a showcase of a wide range of SFU visionaries who are pushing the limits of traditional research practices, connecting the human to the digital, and designing solutions to confront an emergent “post-truth” age. Research areas spanned from online extremist forums, to digital journalism, to AI technology; each area outlined the role these digital technologies are playing in shaping our democracy. In the wake of these burgeoning populist social movements, such leading-edge research offers a sense of optimism for a more just and equitable digital future.

Before the formal presentation, participants could visit a wide range of enticing displays and demonstrations, all showcasing new and exciting research projects by various SFU graduate students. The much anticipated project, Ecologies of multilingual and multimodal story production (SSHRC Insight Grant 2018 – 2021; Principal investigator: Dr. Diane Dagenais, Co-investigator: Dr. Geneviève Brisson), was presented by research assistants, Magali Forte and Gwénaëlle André, both PhD students in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies doctoral program in the Faculty of Education. In speaking with the two emerging researchers and by interacting with the display, I learned that Scribjab is a multilingual and multimodal website and application for language learners, created in 2014 by research and design teams (including Drs. Diane Dagenais & Kelleen Toohey) at SFU working in collaboration. This original website and free iPad app enables learners to read stories created by others, as well as build their own one-of-a-kind imaginative, bilingual tales in French or English plus another language. The creative process involves writing, drawing, and recording their own voices. Through observations of Scribjab in use, the purpose of the study is to gain an informed perspective on the environments (homes, libraries, and classrooms) that support multilingual and multimodal literacies through detailed analysis of encounters between digital tools and school-aged language learners.

Displayed at the booth about this project were posters addressing how Scribjab challenges two popular myths concerning multilingual learners and digital technologies. The first claims that multilinguals are less competent than monolinguals in their literacy practices, while in fact the research shows that “multilinguals have access to a wide range of resources (including but not limited to languages, accents, registers, genres, gestures, etc.) as they engage in literacy practices”. Moreover, research shows that maintaining family languages and using multiple languages and forms of expression supports learning school languages and literacy practices. With this in mind, Magali Forte wishes to understand how multilingual identities are constructed in human and digital relations. Magali wonders, “What impact does story creation with Scribjab have on school-aged children’s sense of identity and literacy practices? Is it constraining or liberating?”

The second myth considered asserts that humans project their subjectivities onto digital technologies, which are neutral artifacts. Challenging this generally accepted notion, researchers have argued that digital technologies do indeed have immense influence and affect how humans think and engage with the world. This is of particular interest to Gwénaëlle André, who is concerned with the digital, technical, social, cultural and material conditions of young Scribjab users.

Breaking down these two myths, the researchers confront widely held assumptions and misinformation concerning multilingual learners in relation to digital technologies. As an observer, I found this exercise helpful in simplifying the research approach and methodology and contextualizing the rationale behind this important research project.

Beyond the “myth-busting” posters, the exhibit provided an interactive display of the Scribjab app. Initially, I was drawn to the website/app’s colourful and inviting landing page which affords users the option to tour the site, read books, or create stories of their own. Clearly, the researchers were passionate about communicating the intentionality of Scribjab as a safe, entertaining and accessible space for learners to take ownership of their stories, advance their digital literacy skills, and celebrate the plurality of their languages and cultures.

I decided to create my own Scribjab account, a quick and intuitive process. This handy tool not only allows you to create your own digital stories, but you also receive access to what others have published. A story that first caught my attention was entitled, “How my family came to Canada”, a recounting in English and Chinese of a child’s experiences of separation and reunification with their family. One page of the story reads, “Some minutes later I was at my house, and everyone was there in my family. That is how my family came to Canada.” From reading this story, I could understand Magali and Gwénaëlle’s enthusiasm for the project and the potential it contains for supporting the development of young learners’ sense of self, their creativity, and digital literacy skills. A number of noteworthy features convinced me of just how accessible, safety conscious, and community-oriented this project is. They include: icons that allow you to save stories in your library, comment, share, or flag a book if there is any inappropriate content.

From my exchange with Magali and Gwénaëlle, as well as my own practice playing with the Scribjab website, I found many relatable elements in my personal and professional life. Although I am only fluent in one language, I am an intermediate French language speaker, and my learning experience has helped me to understand the value of this application for those that are acquiring a second language. First and foremost, Scribjab offers an authentic learning approach that encourages monolingual and multilingual users to think, write, and speak beyond their primary language.

As a coordinator of community youth programs, I am pleased to have been introduced to this effective tool, and I would recommend it in a heartbeat for workshops or group sessions for youth. Relating to my own research interests in Indigenous storytelling as methodology, I brought up the possible use of Scribjab for Indigenous oral language revitalization; Magali informed me that a few Indigenous languages are currently included in the list of available languages on the website/app, however, there are few stories that have been written in them and therefore would be a positive addition to the site.

In light of the heavier (albeit necessary) conversations that took place that evening on misinformation in the digital age, the Scribjab project offered refreshing possibilities for the creation of alternate futures, in which young people in particular are using their creative voices to craft their own truths and counter-narratives through the act of digital story creation.

To learn more about the project and to download the Scribjab App, visit their website: