August 24, 2016

Watchworthy Wednesday: Spreading Storytelling Through Photography and Connecting Educators

Categories: Digital Learning, Equity
Student takes a photo with a mobile device

As a documentary photographer, Andrea Birnbaum is a storyteller. But, she emphasizes, “I am very aware that I cannot tell other people’s stories for them. I can only show my perspective on what I see in the world.”

So, when she discovered Phonar Nation, the online photography class immediately appealed to Birnbaum, also an educator, as it teaches students how to tell their own stories. Designed by award-winning photographer, Jonathan Worth, Phonar Nation was built to be taught from a mobile device for a mobile device user, and it’s an open course that any student can take anywhere, anytime.

Birnbaum is teaching Phonar Nation’s curriculum at the Farber Center, home to the Dresner Foundation Soul Studio and Soul Cafe where adults with special needs learn painting, ceramics, sculpture, weaving and photography. In September, she’ll also teach Phonar Nation to 5th- and 6th-graders at a school that values connecting its students globally, empowering them to tell their stories.

“It is so empowering, not just for young students, but for anyone, and works really well for adults with disabilities, who are so often marginalized in society,” Birnbaum says. “Phonar Nation gives them a vehicle to share their experiences and raise awareness about what they care about.”

That’s Phonar Nation’s goal, Worth declares. “It’s a standalone resource for teachers, mums and/or community leaders to pick up off the shelf and run a series of structured activities that encourage learners to more effectively participate in their own representation and that of their communities.”

With the help of Open Lab, Newcastle University, Worth says, the successful Phonar Nation is serving as inspiration for a new teaching practice and research project called Connecting Classes.

“We’re now working with educators and community leaders worldwide to unpack the design principles from our open and connected classes so that anyone will be able to apply them in their discipline and with their cohorts,” he explains. “We’ve run a path-finding first iteration and are just about to start a second round so any educator interested in delivering some of their classes this semester in a connected fashion is wanted to join us for co-support and guidance exchange or, indeed, just to connect our classes! We’re growing networks of peer-supporting connected teachers and super connected peer learners so it’s a great time to get involved.”

For more information on Connecting Classes, visit the website or send Worth an email at

Banner image credit: Jonathan Worth

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting DML resources and appear in DML Central every Wednesday. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to