About digital storytelling

Digital storytelling

Digital storytelling is a relatively new term which describes the new practice of ordinary people who use digital tools to tell their ‘story’. Digital stories often present in compelling and emotionally engaging formats, and can be interactive. The term “digital storytelling” can also cover a range of digital narratives (web-based stories, interactive stories, hypertexts, and narrative computer games); It is sometimes used to refer to film-making in general, and as of late, it has been used to describe advertising and promotion efforts by commercial and non-profit enterprises. One can define digital storytelling as the process by which diverse peoples share their life story and creative imaginings with others. This newer form of storytelling emerged with the advent of accessible media production techniques, hardware and software, including but not limited to digital cameras, digital voice recorders, iMovie, Windows Movie Maker and Final Cut Express. These new technologies allow individuals to share their stories over the Internet on YouTube, Vimeo, compact discs, podcasts, and other electronic distribution systems. One can think of digital storytelling as the modern extension of the ancient art of storytelling, now interwoven with digitized still and moving images and sound. Thanks to new media and digital technologies, individuals can approach storytelling from unique perspectives. Many people use elaborate non-traditional story forms, such as non-linear and interactive narratives.  Simply put, digital stories are multimedia movies that combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and often a narrative voice. Digital stories may be used as an expressive medium within the classroom to integrate subject matter with extant knowledge and skills from across the curriculum. Students can work individually or collaboratively to produce their own digital stories. Once completed, these stories are easily be uploaded to the internet and can be made available to an international audience, depending on the topic and purpose of the project.


The most important characteristics of a digital story are that it no longer conforms to the traditional conventions of storytelling because it is capable of combining still imagery, moving imagery, sound, and text, as well as being nonlinear and contain interactive features. The expressive capabilities of technology offers a broad base from which to integrate. It enhances the experience for both the author and audience and allows for greater interactivity. With the arrival of new media devices like computers, digital cameras, recorders, and software, individuals may share their digital stories via the Internet, on discs, podcasts, or other electronic media. Digital storytelling combines the art of storytelling with multimedia features such as photography, animation, text, audio, voiceover, hypertext and video. Digital tools and software make it easy and convenient to create a digital story. Common software includes iMovie and Movie Maker for user-friendly options. There are other online options and free applications as well. Educators often identify the benefit of digital storytelling as the array of technical tools from which students may select for their creative expression. Learners set out to use these tools in new ways to make meaningful content. Students learn new software, choose images, edit video, make voiceover narration, add music, create title screens, and control flow and transitions. Additionally, there is opportunity to insert interactive features for “reader” participation. It is possible to click on imagery or text in order to choose what will happen next, cause an event to occur, or navigate to online content. Additionally, distinctions may be drawn between Web 2.0 storytelling and that of digital storytelling. Web 2.0 storytelling is said to produce a network of connections via social networking, blogging, and YouTube that transcends beyond the traditional, singular flow of digital storytelling. It tends to “aggregate large amounts of microcontent and creatively select patterns out of an almost unfathomable volume of information,” therefore the bounds of Web 2.0 storytelling are not necessarily clear.

Another form of digital storytelling is the micromovie, which is “a very short exposition lasting from a few seconds to no more than 5 minutes in length. It allows the teller to combine personal writing, photographic images or video footage, narrative, sound effects, and music. Many people, regardless of skill level, are able to tell their stories through image and sound and share those stories with others.”  Telling a digital story combines a narrative, whether it be fiction or non fiction, personal or general, and digital media. Digital media includes imaging, video, sound and all other forms of media then can be portrayed visually, the most simple of digital stories can even be a power point. The point is to convey a message through imagery, which a lot of times can be more effective then if just conveyed through sound. In my opinion a digital story can even be told by some social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, where you are constantly posting images accompanied by captions in order to portray the story of your life. “A story can be as short as explaining how you misplaced your keys this morning or as long as a multivolume autobiography”, the wonderful thing about telling a digital story is that there really are no rules. Like any story you want to capture your audience so it is important when telling a digital story to “sell your story, as a write, filmmaker, dramatist, you as often as not ask yourself what stories compel me and where might I find a profoundly dramatic story”.


Uses in education

The Center for Digital Storytelling model has also been adopted in education, especially in the US, sometimes as a method of building engagement and multimedia literacy. For example, the Bay Area Video Coalition and Youthworx Media Melbourne employ digital storytelling to engage and empower young people at risk.

Uses in primary and secondary education

“The idea of merging traditional storytelling with today’s digital tools is spreading worldwide.” Anybody today with a computer can create a digital story simply by answering such questions as “What do you think? What do you feel? What is important? How do we find meaning in our lives?” Most digital stories focus on a specific topic and contain a particular point of view. “These topics can range from personal tales to the recounting of historical events, from exploring life in one’s own community to the search for life in other corners of the universe and every story in between.” For primary grades the focus is related to what is being taught, a story that will relate to the students. For primary grades the story is kept under five minutes to retain attention. Vibrant pictures, age-appropriate music and narration are needed. Narration accompanied by subtitles can also help build vocabulary. Content-related digital stories can help upper-elementary and middle-school students understand abstract or layered concepts. For example, in one 5th grade class a teacher used digital storytelling to depict the anatomy of the eye and describe its relationship to a camera. A fifth grader said, “This year I have learned that places are not just physical matter but emotional places in peoples’ hearts. iMovie has made all my thoughts and feelings come alive in an awesome movie.”

These aspects of digital storytelling, pictures, music, and narration reinforce ideas and appeal to different learning types. Teachers can use it to introduce projects, themes, or any content area, and can also let their students make their own digital stories and then share them. Teachers can create digital stories to help facilitate class discussions, as an anticipatory set for a new topic, or to help students gain a better understanding of more abstract concepts. These stories can become an integral part of any lesson in many subject areas. Students can also create their own digital stories and the benefits that they can receive from it can be quite plentiful. Through the creation of these stories students are required to take ownership of the material they are presenting. They have to analyze and synthesize information as well. All of this supports higher level thinking. Students are able to give themselves a voice through expressing their own thoughts and ideas. When students are able participate in the multiple steps of designing, creating and presenting their own digital stories, they can build several literacy skills. These include the following: Research skills by finding and analyzing information when documenting the story, writing skills when developing a script, and organization skills by managing the scope of the project within a time constraint. Technology skills can be gained through learning to use a variety of tools, such as digital cameras and multimedia authoring software and presentation skills through the presentation of the story to an audience. Students also gain interview, interpersonal, problem-solving and assessment skills through completing their digital story and learning to receive and give constructive criticism. Software such as iMovie, Photo Story 3 or Movie Maker do all that is required.

Faculty and graduate students at the University of Houston have created a website, The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, which focuses on the use of digital storytelling by teachers and their students across multiple content areas and grade levels. The National Writing Project has a collaboration with the Pearson Foundation examining the literacy practices, the values, attitudes, beliefs and feelings, associated with their digital storytelling work with students.

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Uses in public health, healthcare, social services, and international development

 The development of the Silence Speaks project in 1999 under the direction of Amy Hill (who joined the Center for Digital Storytelling in 2005) led to the expansion of digital storytelling in public health. Projects developed with the Centers for Disease Control, the Open Society Foundation, work in gender-based violence prevention with groups in California, Texas, New York, Minnesota, and with the organization Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa, the broad use of digital storytelling with Foster Youth, and finally the connection to digital storytelling to public campaigns in substance abuse prevention and community mental health programs. Digital storytelling is being used to raise awareness of the “human” factor in healthcare. The Patient Voices programme is the product of Pip Hardy and Tony Sumner. Commissioned in 2003, by the Royal College of Nursing in the U.K. their project provides a means for people (patients, families or healthcare workers) to tell their stories which might affect clinicians, managers and decision-makers in the healthcare arena. These digital stories are available at The Patient Voices. Additionally, the project provides a free accessible resource to anyone who desires to improve the quality of health and social care. The stories have contributed to the understanding of patients’ experiences and their role in their illness.

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Use by teachers in curriculum Teachers can incorporate digital storytelling into their instruction for several reasons. Two reasons include 1) to incorporate multimedia into their curriculum and 2) Teachers can also introduce storytelling in combination with social networking in order to increase global participation, collaboration, and communication skills. Moreover, digital storytelling is a way to incorporate and teach the twenty-first century student the twenty-first century technology skills such as information literacy, visual literacy, global awareness, communication and technology literacy.

The educational goals for teachers using digital storytelling are to generate interest, attention and motivation for students of the “digital generation” in classrooms. The use of digital storytelling as a presentation tool also appeals to the diverse learning styles of students. Digital storytelling also capitalizes on students’ creative talents and allows their work to be published on the Internet for others to view and critique.

A handful of teachers around the world have embraced digital storytelling from a mobile platform. The use of small handheld devices allows teachers and students to create short digital stories without the need for expensive editing software. iOS devices are the norm nowadays and mobile digital storytelling applications like The Fold Game have introduced an entirely new set of tools for the classroom. With an emphasis on collaborative learning and hands on teaching, this website offer an in depth look at how to integrate 21st Century Skills with the objectives of a rigorous academic program: http://nafcollaborationnetwork.org/curriculum-instruction/ci-pbl-ds.html

Uses in higher education

Digital storytelling spread in higher education in the late nineties with the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) collaborating with a number of Universities while based at UC Berkeley. CDS programs with the New Media Consortium led to links to many campuses where programs in digital storytelling have grown; these include University of Maryland Baltimore, Cal State Monterey, Ohio State University, Williams College, MIT, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The University of Colorado, Denver, Kean University, Virginia Tech, Simmons College, Swarthmore College, the University of Calgary, University of Massachusetts (Amherst), the Maricopa County Community Colleges (AZ), and others have developed programs. The University of Utah offered its first class on digital storytelling (Writing 3040) in the Fall of 2010. The program has grown from 10 students the first semester to over 30 in 2011, including 5 graduate students. Chicago journalist Mark Tatge started a Digital Storytelling program at DePauw University in 2011. Students learned journalistic-style storytelling techniques and published the resulting stories on a class website.[21]

The distribution of digital storytelling among humanities faculty connected with the American Studies Crossroads Project was a further evolution through a combination of both personal and academic storytelling. Starting in 2001, Rina Benmayor (from California State University-Monterey Bay) hosted a Center for Digital Storytelling seminar and began using digital storytelling in her Latino/a life stories classes. Benmayor began sharing that work with faculty across the country involved in the Visible Knowledge Project including Georgetown University; LaGuardia Community College, CUNY; Millersville University; Vanderbilt University, and University of Wisconsin–Stout. Out of this work emerged publications in several key academic journals as well

Digital storytelling is also used as an instructional strategy to not only build relationships and establish people’s social presence online but also as an alternative format to present content.

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