THE STORY ENGINE
The Story Engine is a collaboration between the Ministry of Stories, The Workshop, a creative consultancy, and research partner the UCL Institute of Education. Together they won funding to investigate how a successful offline writing mentor programme can be translated for digital spaces. Download the final report from the Digital R&D in the Arts site.
The UCL team consisted of DARE members Professor Andrew Burn, Professor Dominic Wyse, and Dr Steve Connolly. They explored the young participants’ prior experiences of writing, analysing the online writing and dialogue with mentors produced during the project. The work complements the 3-year UCL longitudinal study of creative writing supported by the Ministry of Stories.
The Story Engine team designed a new digital story-writing and mentoring platform aimed at children in the first year of secondary school. Working with school students and teachers to co-design the website, they are discovering how young people can benefit from remote access to trained writing mentors’ encouragement and support as part of an online writing experience.
A PILOT WORKSHOP SESSION FOR THE STORY ENGINE
The online writing platform was designed to help young people write creatively – specifically short stories. It includes fun, interactive and varied writing tasks and each young person had access to a trained writing mentor.
The project was supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts (established by Nesta, Arts Council England and the Arts & Humanities Research Council). By exploring the use of digital tools the Ministry of Stories learned valuable lessons about how story writing and one-to-one mentoring can inspire more young people to improve their writing, particularly those who can’t visit the Ministry of Stories in east London.
The project’s findings and outputs have been widely shared to benefit educators, researchers and other arts and cultural organisations. The platform launched (initially as a closed beta) in late spring 2015.
Lucy Macnab, Co-Director of the Ministry of Stories said: ‘We want to give children the opportunity to write with the one to one attention that we know makes a huge difference. We have seen how children’s motivation to write, creativity and resilience improves when they attend our workshops. The big question is whether we can achieve that remotely, with all the possibilities that digital offers.’
Oci Stott, year 7 English teacher from Langley Park School for Boys said: ‘The first workshops went down a storm with my year 7 class. They responded enthusiastically to the idea of an offline mentor and were excited by the prospect of a website that gave prompts and inspiration, particularly as they got the chance to feed into exactly how it would work and look. I have no doubt that such a digital tool would help support the work that teachers do encouraging children to write creatively. My students and I are looking forward to trying out the finished product!’
Professor Andrew Burn for the Institute of Education said: ‘This extension to our 3-year study of creativity and writing at the Ministry of Stories gives us the chance to do three things. We can explore more deeply what creativity looks like and how it can be supported; we can see how the varied skills of volunteer mentors complement the expertise of teachers in schools; and we can see how mentors can work with children in the age of the participatory internet to forge creative language.’
Mark Pearce, Managing Director, The Workshop said: ‘Story Engine will support young writers in London, Yorkshire and Brighton with simple writing tools that possess magical qualities. Mentors and rewards will help to develop the stories and once they’ve been submitted to the Editor stories will be published and shared by the Ministry.’
The project is now concluded, and the full report is published through the Digital R&D in the Arts website. It can be downloaded here.
For more information, interview requests and images, please contact Lucy Macnab at the Ministry of Stories, firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7729 4159, or Mark Pearce at The Workshop, email@example.com or Andrew Burn at the IoE: firstname.lastname@example.org