I am a digital storyteller. This is what I now say when people comment on the number of pictures I take. I have always taken many pictures. When I was younger, I would capture and archive my memories on film and compile them in photo albums. Reflecting back on these albums, I recognize the ways I captured a time in my life, connections to others and visual evidence of the details that make memories significant. Today, however, I tell digital stories. I remember when I first heard the term Digital Story – my research led me to the pioneering work of Joe Lambert and the Center for Digital Storytelling – now called the StoryCenter – a non-profit digital arts organization at UC, Berkley. This group’s tagline is:
Listen deeply – tell stories.
Their mission includes
Methods of group process and story creation [that] serve as a reflective practice, a professional development tool, a pedagogical strategy, and as a vehicle for education, community mobilization, and advocacy.”
It was this interaction that helped me connect to the robust value of digital storytelling in my writing classes. These were things I was already doing – teaching the reflective processes, community engagement, and the relationship between text and image to communicate meaning. I have emphasized the processes of essaying in which events and experiences – narration and exposition – work together to tell stories and communicate ideas to others. Today, with our multitude of digital affordances, we all are already digital storytellers. Much of our work with social media is about sharing stories in this way; Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (among others) have pushed storytelling into mainstream formats inside and outside of the writing classroom. As Lambert and members of StoryCenter acknowledge, “The process of creating digital work is just as meaningful as the stories created."
Lambert’s model shaped a methodology that emphasized stories with a personal, narrative focus and the possibilities for storytelling to transform, but the genre has expanded to include other purposes as well. There are countless educational uses for digital storytelling as described on the University of Houston’s Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling site, which broadly defines Digital Storytelling as
. . . the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories. There are a wealth of other terms used to describe this practice, such as digital documentaries, computer-based narratives, digital essays, electronic memoirs, interactive storytelling, etc.; but in general, they all revolve around the idea of combining the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia, including graphics, audio, video, and Web publishing.
Digital storytelling goes beyond just taking pictures. It encompasses narrative structures and theory that involve beginnings, endings, context and meaning. When students tell digital stories they must consider rhetorical components such as invention (storyboarding), arrangement (order and selection), style (composition, point of view, transition, connection), memory (content and reflection) and delivery (genre, multimodal combinations). They must take into consideration the rhetorical situation that allows them to tell a story in different ways for different subjects, contexts, purposes, and audiences. Digital stories get students to think about the relationship between form and content, or as John Seely Brown, digital culture analyst says, digital storytelling has writers “sculpture the context around the content.” They go beyond traditional storytelling as they combine text, image, sound, and motion.
- Introduce students to the concept and history of digital storytelling.
- Conduct an online search to find digital stories. Students can start exploring examples on the StoryCenter or the Educational Uses for Digital Storytelling site. Both of these sites include many examples and allow users to search by category. I also send students to the Web to find digital stories of their own to expand our definitions and recognize the types of stories.
- As a class, discuss the ways that we already tell digital stories. Ask students to share some of their own rough stories created through social media sources such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
- Introduce Lambert’s 7 steps of effective digital storytelling:
- Point of View
- Dramatic Question
- Emotional Content
- The Gift of Your Voice
- Power of the Soundtrack
These elements are explained in detail in the Digital Storytelling Cookbook (check out the PDF preview for an introduction) and Lambert’s Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling presentation to set up a framework and a process for building the story.
- Students engage in the process that includes developing story topics, composing their stories, creating storyboards, gathering images, organizing and recording soundtracks, and editing their stories together. Note that there are many possible media options for accomplishing this task such as presentation software, video editing software or other online applications.
- Share story drafts with others and take them through peer revision workshops. Revise and post to individual or class blogs.
You can organize this assignment within the boundaries of a couple of class periods, an extended unit, or over the course of a semester. It works well as either an individual or a collaborative project. Students can draw from a range of possible approaches that involve “personal narratives rooted in their own experiences,” such as defining moments, education, community, personal or intellectual journeys, sense of place, accomplishments, family, identity, relationships or many more.
Ultimately, it helps students realize that today we all are digital storytellers – we all have stories to tell and many new ways to tell them.
Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website Acts of Composition.