Digital Story Telling and Michigan’s Immigrants

The Minnesota’s Immigrants website hosts a video collection of stories told by immigrants and the immediate descendants of immigrants. While the website design is clean and attractive, the organization of it does not make much sense and the visible metadata was inconsistently written, particularly the descriptions. Some of these videos have been curated into a “Stories for the Classroom” exhibit.  The exhibit is divided up into several categories.  For this evaluation I decided to focus on the Art, Music, and Dance category.

Phommasouvanh with her students, as seen in the illustrated poem portion of her video.  Minnesota’s Immigrants, “Banlang Phommasouvanh”, 2015.

The first video was by Banlang Phommasouvanh, a teacher who came to the US as a refugee from Laos.  In the video Phommasouvanh talked about her efforts to help Laotian students in the U.S. and she read an illustrated poem about her experiences growing up in Laos, studying in France, and immigrating to the U.S. during the war.


The content was good, but the video production was lacking.  The audio recording was not very clear and during the illustrated poem the camera would pan so that the text on the page was not visible.  At the end of the video the concluding text slides were difficult to read because they were cropped off on either side and the metadata was slightly confusing.  The date is attributed as 2015 but the description references the teacher only in the past tense.  Did she die?  If so, why are her birth and death dates not listed with her name or on her creator page?

Shell with his great-grandmother Rozario “Sarah” Christianelli.  Minnesota’s Immigrants, “Justin Schell”, 2014.

The second video was by Justin Schell and it told the story of his Sicilian-immigrant great-grandmother, Rozario “Sarah” Christanelli though documents and artifacts.  Once again, the content was interesting but the video was disappointing.  The background music cut in and out abruptly and although the images of documents and family photos were clear, the stock images of a record player and M&M candies were jarring and out of place.


The oddest bit was that the central artifact of the narrative, the recording of Sarah Christianelli singing, was talked about through most of the video but only a few seconds of the recording were actually played and the song was not named. The description was confusing as it kept switching between the third-person voice and the first-person voice.

Magnolia Yang Sao Yia dancing.  Minnesota’s Immigrants, “Magnolia Yang Sao Yia”, 2015.

The third video was by Magnolia Yang Sao Yia, a French-born Hmong immigrant.  In terms of videography, this was the best of the three videos in the Art, Music, and Dance category.  That said, the narrative leaves something to be desired.  The subtitles brought on screen were “What is Hmong” and “What is Hmong Dance” and after watching this video I honestly could not give you a substantial answer to either of those questions.  According to the narrator Hmong dance is everything from existence itself to the patriarchy.  It is worth noting that in this five minute long video there was less than one minute of actual dancing and it did not actually explain who the Hmong are, where they came from, or why Hmong families immigrate to the United States. This particular narration tried to lean into the artistic element so much that it essentially lost the bulk of its educational value.

The description of the video is well written, though it is only a brief description of who the narrator is rather than any explanation for what message this video was trying to convey.

While each of the three videos in my selected category were listed together on the Classrooms page, there was no indication in their visible metadata that these videos were related.  Likewise , there was no way to navigate directly from one video to the other.  To move between videos I had to return to the Classrooms page and scroll back down the Art, Music, and Dance category.  This seems to be an awkward navigation method that would be inefficient for a teacher (I’m imagining a K-12 classroom) trying to show their students this specific category of videos on a classroom projector.

Screenshot of Minnesota’s Immigrants video format

Below the video player on each there are three un-labeled buttons with vague icons.  One restarts the video, another shows a static image with no context or description, and the third opens a .pdf version of the transcript available in the side bar.  The first two buttons don’t really seem necessary and the transcription button really should be labeled because I had no idea what I was opening when I clicked on it.  As anyone who has accidentally downloaded a virus can attest to, it is generally a bad idea to open files blind.

Overall this is an interesting project, but the website does it a disservice.  The metadata is not consistently written, the video quality is hit-or-miss, and the navigation is inefficient.  I do not think it is a particularly good tool for classrooms unless the teacher knows exactly what they are looking for and has sufficient outside information to contextualize the videos.

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