To be honest, digital storytelling is not the most dazzling form of multimedia presentation out there, compared with some of the popular rock-video–style projects students like to make with Web 2.0 tools.
But take a closer look (and check out some examples in the Links section below). When done well, with well chosen images, well written narration, a well thought-out structure and just the right sound and effects, digital storytelling can surpass many flashier, faster-paced formats in terms of effectiveness.
As a medium for storytelling it's a powerful art form to be reckoned with. What is a digital story?
It depends on who you ask.
- It's a story told through the creative use of digital tools.
- It's like a slide show or media collage turned into a short film.
- It's used to tell a story (fiction or nonfiction), explain a math problem, or document a science experiment.
- In short, it's a format of presentation used for stories and a whole lot more.
It mixes voice narration (usually your own) with still images (photos or hand-drawn artwork), and often weaves in music and moving images as well.
To many, Ken Burns' "Civil War" series on PBS is the quintessential example. Archival photos mixed with recorded narration and period music made for vivid, poignant storytelling and created an effect that many have sought to replicate ever since.
For K-12 classrooms, digital stories range from simple to complex. Here's a clip that explains the concept and process well:
Digital Storytelling in Plain English
The same as above, but with exciting new possibilities for collaboration and sharing. The latest online technology is taking this decade-old genre to a whole new level with multiple prongs of participation, rich layers of collaboration, and innovative ideas like GPS-enabled place-based storytelling.
Today's digital stories can be created by individuals or collaborative groups and shared online with parents, peers and people all over the world.
What if I'm not ready?
Again, you can keep digital storytelling as simple as you like, based on time factors and grade level (and your own comfort level)--or you can kick it up a notch with added features. The latest online tools make it easy to test the waters.
What's it good for?
Digital storytelling advances literacy (multiple kinds) in multiple ways. Traditional writing, reading and listening skills are reinforced while 21st century ones (digital, information, visual and media literacy skills) are developed along the way. Core subject matter is explored from different angles for deeper understanding; interdisciplinary connections add new layers of context for critical thinking. It's all good stuff.
In addition to first-person narratives and a variety of fiction and nonfiction projects, the digital storytelling format is also used to chronicle historical events, explain step-by-step problems and procedures in math and science. Teachers can also use it to introduce a new unit or liven up a lecture.
Check out these examples to get your own ideas flowing:
All About Abe Lincoln (elementary social studies)
An Egg-cellent Experiment (middle school science)
VoiceThread Digital Library (K-12 examples categorized by subject)
In this animated clip on Digital Storytelling (scroll down to the yellow box), "Miss Hoffman" teaches a valuable lesson: [ http://hubforteachers.discoveryeducation.com/taking-it-digital/examples.cfm ]"A great digital story doesn't come from the computer, it comes from the story itself."
Rule number one: Focus on the storytelling first, then move on to the technology. Your tech tools are there to support the content you want to teach and stories you want to tell--not the other way around. Storytelling is about words, ideas, emotions, spinning a yarn good enough to make people want to hang on 'til the end. There are no bells or whistles, tricky transitions or split-screen effects grand enough to turn a flat story (or presentation) into a compelling one.
Which brings us to rule number two: the audio-visual effects should never overshadow the story. Engage your viewers with the content, don't distract them from it.
Technology comes second
Don't get me wrong. Of course the technology is critical and integral in both the process and the product. It's just that with digital storytelling, the story is paramount, which means the technology takes second place. Okay, a close second.
The process incorporates many useful tech skills: scanning photos and hand-drawn pictures, using a digital camcorder with finesse, experimenting with different online applications, recording (and re-recording) narration, importing music, carefully editing the final product.
The great thing about Web 2.0 is that the technology is now so easy to use, it's become an integral part of the creative process, rather than a separate and potentially frustrating exercise with a steep learning curve.
Best tools for schools
You'll find a range of online tools and software for digital storytelling. But not all have that ability to add voice narration, which is what often makes digital storytelling so effective and authentic.
VoiceThread is one tool that seems to have it all. Along with the audio component, it has clever features for sharing and collaboration. You can add text, images (hand-drawn pictures or photos) and video to build a creative media collage, narrated in your own voice. Next the project takes on new layers as visitors (peers, teachers, parents, relatives) add their own comments by recording voice with microphone or cell phone or even adding video with a web cam.
Other popular tools come courtesy of Microsoft and Apple. PhotoStory 3 lets you add panning and zoom effects, voice recording, and background music. Movie Maker has easy-to-use templates, a drag-and-drop feature that lets you draw pictures and add music or video from your own files. iMovie comes with numerous features plus tutorial videos to walk you through each step of the process.
These and other tools are surprisingly easy to use, even for elementary students. See the links below for more digital tools, creative ideas, classroom examples, and step-by-step instructions to get started.
- Do prep work upfront. Don't make it up as you go along!
- Outline your story idea on a storyboard or a plain piece of paper. Or try an online storyboarding tool. Make sure you have a beginning, middle and end.
- Gather all your print and digital images, drawings, props, video clips, audio files, etc. Make a list of all your media assets and then try to explain why you chose each one. Make sure images are purposeful and relevant, not gratuitous.
- Pare down your media assets (teachers might want to set a limit for number of images and number of transition effects, so that students put more thought into the selection process).
- Okay, now get started with the digital storytelling tool of your choice and create!
Cool 2.0 Concepts
Digital Storytelling with Google Maps Tips and instructions on place-based storytelling.
Flickr: Six Word Story Collaborative word-based storytelling.
Flickr: Tell a Story in Five Frames Collaborative photo-based storytelling.
Google Lit Trips Collaborative place-based storytelling brings literature and world geography together for K-12 classrooms.
"Life Round Here" Digital Storytelling Project A collaborative project designed to help students around the world understand what school is like for others.
ShowBeyond A multimedia slidecast creator, online publishing platform and story-sharing community.
Storybird Collaborative art-based storytelling tool that reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and "unlocking" the story inside.
StoryMapping Place-based storytelling projects using GoogleMaps, Flikr, Windows Live virtual tours, GPS, cell phones and more.
Audacity (sound editor)
iPad Apps for Digital Storytelling (Apple)
KidsVid (storyboarding tool)
Movie Maker (Windows)
Photo Story 3 (Microsoft)
Teacher Tips + Resources
Art and Digital Storytelling in Education
Digital Storytelling Cookbook
Digital Storytelling Guide
Down and Dirty with Digital Storytelling
KQED's Digital Storytelling Initiative
Microsoft's Digital Storytelling eBook
Sample Rubrics and Storyboards for Digital Storytelling (Discovery Education)
VoiceThread 4 Educators Wiki
VoiceThread Digital Library of Projects
Web 2.0 Storytelling: The Emergence of a New Genre
K-2 VoiceThread examples
Grades 3-5 VoiceThread examples
Movie Maker – elementary student examples
The Monster Project
Weather Picture Writing
Grades 6-8 VoiceThread examples
Streetside Stories – YouTube channel – 6th grade?
Tech Tales – digital stories by 7th graders
Grades 9-12 VoiceThread examples
The Journey – 9th grade student
Book Trailers by high school students