Focus on Digital Storytelling.

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“This One’s for the Children” [i]

T elling a story has been used almost since the beginning of time as a means for sharing and interpreting experiences, as a means of instruction, as a means of transferring knowledge from the expert to the novice. It is universal, it is engaging, it is effective, it is relevant, it is personal. And it is making a comeback as a 21st century educational technique by taking advantage of the digital possibilities available.

In terms of form, Digital Storytelling [ii] is “the art of telling stories with a variety of digital multimedia, such as images, audio, and video. Just about all digital stories bring together some mixture of digital graphics, text, recorded audio narration, video and music to present information on a specific topic”.

In terms of content, Digital Stories are similar to traditional stories in the sense that they revolve around a familiar and relevant theme, usually chosen to match the interests, the social and cultural background of the listener.

In terms of use, Digital Storytelling [iii] “includes the telling of personal or personalised tales, the recounting of historical events, or providing information or instruction on a particular topic”. In particular, typical Digital Stories [iv] can be categorised into three major groups: “1) personal narratives – stories that contain accounts of significant incidents in one’s life; 2) historical documentaries – stories that examine dramatic events that help us understand the past, and 3) stories designed to inform or instruct the viewer on a particular concept or practice:.

The educational value of this practice is straight forward if we consider the degree of personalization and engagement that can be afforded by the storyteller to both form and content in order to maximize the effectiveness of its use. It is certain that personalization and engagement alone cannot and do not guarantee learning. However, it is equally certain that they can help the learner become involved in a transformative and empathetic experience. By adapting the content, choosing the forma and creating a suitable presentation, the learner can relate to the content, build lasting connections to his own reality, discover different layers of meaning and test assumptions and hypotheses. The educational value of storytelling is also enhanced by the fact that it addresses or makes use of multiple intelligences.

Furthermore, Digital Storytelling supports and enhances a new type of learner “Twenty-first Century Literacy”, which Brown, Bryan and Brown (2005)[v] describe as the combination of:

  • Digital Literacy – the ability to communicate with an ever-expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and seek help;
  • Global Literacy – the capacity to read, interpret, respond, and contextualize messages from a global perspective;
  • Technology Literacy – the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance;
  • Visual Literacy – the ability to understand, produce and communicate through visual images;
  • Information Literacy – the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information.

There are two main principles to consider before embarking on teaching or training our learners to create and present their own digital stories:

  • Simply adding digital media into a poor, ineffective or unsuitable story will not make it successful.
  • Copying and pasting is not the recommended way to create digital stories if personalization and engagement is what you have in mind.

In other words, learners – and their teachers – need to be trained how to select, synthesize and formulate content in addition to creating their own. This can be a time-consuming process, but what is not, if it is to be done properly? Also, perseverance is key. Initial attempts may not be as successful as envisaged. However, practice may not always make perfect, but it definitely makes better.

An additional consideration needs to be Internet access at school or at home and the necessary restrictions and precautions that come with age consideration: the younger the learners, the greater the need for supervision when (re-)searching the Internet. Finally, even the most basic types of word processing or presentation software will produce amazing results if the Seven Principles[vi] involved in creating effective (digital) stories are observed.

These are:

  1. Point of View – what is the perspective of the author?
  2. A Dramatic Question – a question that will be answered by the end of the story.
  3. Emotional Content – serious issues that speak to us in a personal and powerful way.
  4. The Gift of your Voice – a way to personalize the story to help the audience understand the context.
  5. The Power of the Soundtrack – music or other sounds that support the storyline.
  6. Economy – simply put, using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer with too much information.
  7. Pacing – related to Economy, but specifically deals with how slowly or quickly the story progresses.

When embarking on storytelling learners and their teachers may want to consider McDrury & Alterio’s model of reflective learning[vii]. They identify the following steps:

  1. Story Finding: identifying what attracts your attention or excites your interest, i.e., the plot, the characters, the setting, etc.
  2. Story Telling: making sense of what you have discovered, i.e., understanding character relations, plot twists, action repercussions, etc.
  3. Story Expanding: meaning making of what you have identified and relating it to your personal experiences, i.e., similar situations and reactions, character behavior and story moral, etc.
  4. Story Processing: working with meaning by identifying different layers, implications, drawing conclusions, making assumptions, etc.
  5. Story Reconstructing: trans-forming and recon­structing the storyline select­ing addi­tional information, providing different conclu­sions or end­ings, etc.

Digital stories come with an added benefit.

The digital nature of these stories makes them ideal for storage and easy retrieval, thus making them available for review at regular intervals to make personal and group development explicit, and become part of an organised collection of evidence of reflection.Jenkins and Lonsdale 2007

Simply put, they are ideal for inclusion in a learner portfolio offering a wide range of educational and assessment possibilities. Digital Storytelling can be used across the curriculum [ix] and the following are just some indicative, though not exhaustive, examples:

  • Social Studies:  Explorers: Tell the story from their perspective.
  • Science:  Simple machines: How have they changed the world?
  • Reading/Language Arts:  Take a character to court. Students are the judge, jury, etc.
  • Mathematics:  Math is all around the town. Really? Where?
  • Specials: P.E., Art, Music: History of a sport: How an artist/musician changed the world.

Point of view.

What is the perspective of the author? Or simply, put on your coloured glasses and look at the world from a different angle.

This could include recounting of personal experiences, the recounting of historical events from another hero’s point of view, describing how different pieces of equipment work or explaining why they are important.

Drama.

Does the story / question appeal to the heart or to the head? Is the storyteller focusing on the factual or the sentimental aspect of the story? Do the lives, experiences, actions of the characters in a particular story have repercussions for a larger group of people?

Emotions.

Stories can be the starting point for the consideration of serious issues that speak to us in a personal and powerful way. Think of your favourite fairy tale and how you felt the first time you were told that story. Consider your feelings and reasons for listening to it again and again. Similarly think of how long this particular story has stayed in your memory. Part of the storyteller’s duty is to create similar emotions to his listeners.

Voice & Sounds.

A storyteller can use his voice to add a dramatic effect to his presentation, to make the delivery of the story more interesting and engaging.  The presenter’s voice is a simple, yet a very effective way to personalize the story, to help the audience understand the context.

In a digital environment, the presenter can use additional sound effects, music or other sounds that support the storyline. Both narration and sound effects can be incorporated into the software used to create the digital story.

In addition, the storyteller can use a storyboard to plan and organize his story. He can create similar storyboard templates using the PowerPoint/Print Handouts function. As a rule of thumb, he needs to remember that six frames allow for approximately a 2 minute narration. The total length of the story will depend on the length of the narration and the length of the video and audio files.

Economy.

The story will definitely benefit from an economical approach. Simply put, using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer with redundant information.

The storyteller should offer enough information to excite the listener’s imagination, yet allow the listener to develop his own understanding and assumptions about the story, its characters, their motives, the plot development and the like.

It is important to remember that economy does not only apply to content. It applies to effects as well. A presentation overloaded with audio and visual effects can generate interest and involvement for the wrong reasons.

Pacing.

Speed of delivery is important. A storyteller can lose his audience either because he is going too fast or because he is going too slowly. The story needs to progress at a pace that the audience can follow comfortably. They need time to take in the information offered, process it and start developing their own reactions.

This loop will be happening repeatedly for the duration of the presentation.

As a rule of thumb variety is key. Vary your pace as the story develops using, for instance, a faster or slower rhythm to add dramatic effect to events.


i] A 1989 single from New Kids on the Block. The lead vocals were sung by Jordan Knight and Donnie Wahlberg. Taken from the group’s holiday album, Merry, Merry Christmas, the single peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 Singles Chart in December, and #9 on the UK singles chart. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_One’s_for_the_Children [Accessed March 26, 2013]

[ii] Robin, Bernard R., The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, University of Houston, http://digitalliteracyintheclassroom.pbworks.com/f/Educ-Uses-DS.pdf, [Accessed March 23, 2013].

[iii] Robin, Bernard R., The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, University of Houston, http://digitalliteracyintheclassroom.pbworks.com/f/Educ-Uses-DS.pdf, [Accessed March 23, 2013].

[iv] Robin, Bernard R., The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, University of Houston, http://digitalliteracyintheclassroom.pbworks.com/f/Educ-Uses-DS.pdf, [Accessed March 23, 2013].

[v] Brown, J., Bryan, J., & Brown, T. (2005). Twenty-first century literacy and technology in K-8 classrooms. Innovate 1(3), http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=17 (Retrieved March 13, 2013).

[vi] Center for Digital Storytelling, 2005.

[vii] McDrury, J.& Alterio, M.G. (2003) Learning through storytelling in higher education: using reflection and experience to improve learning. London: Kogan Page.

[viii] Evaluating the effectiveness of digital storytelling for student reflection, Martin Jenkins and Jo Lonsdale, Centre for Active Learning, University of Gloucestershire, UK, Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007.

[ix] Digital Storytelling Manual,
http://www.badger.k12.wi.us/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/45449/File/Tech%20Academy/DigitalStorytellingWorkshopManual.pdf, [Accessed March 23, 2013].