Digital Storytelling: It’s More Than Just Software

from Educators' eZine

"We've been working here for an hour. Am I in the right room? I signed up for Digital Storytelling…but we still haven't turned on the computer…"

Whenever I conduct a DST — Digital Storytelling — workshop, I usually get this reaction from participants. Digital Storytelling is one of the most powerful, yet misunderstood applications for the classroom. If your district is deciding how to develop staff to take the plunge into the "movie" world, you need to begin by clarifying one point: Digital Editing is not Digital Storytelling.

We use Pinnacle Studio in our district, and I often am asked, "Could you teach me that Digital storytelling program?" Now, I know what they mean, and I'm happy to teach them the ins and outs of the program; however to say Studio (or iMovie, or Photo Story 3) is "Digital Storytelling" is like saying Word is a "research paper" program. Now don't get me wrong, digital editing software is a powerful tool for students (and adults) to create professional grade hi-light films, visual scrapbooks, film-making endeavors, and numerous other projects. However digital storytelling is a process that culminates in digital editing. If you decide to explore staff development for Digital Storytelling, congratulations! You won't regret it!

Staff training

Interested staff members will serve as a pilot group to learn the process. In the pilot group, several departments should be represented, including teachers, administrators, librarians, and tech specialists. Usually, a three- to four-day workshop with someone trained in digital storytelling is enough for educators to get the hang of the process, create their own story, and brainstorm possible classroom applications. Most workshops consist of five phases: "Finding your story," "Drafting and revising," "Collecting and preparing images," "Storyboarding," and "Digital editing." Also, it's a good idea to view many examples from a wide variety of subjects. The Center for Digital Storytelling is the Mecca for DST, and Joe Lambert and his staff provide expert training with state-of-the-art equipment. However, a five-day trip to Berkeley for ten faculty members might be out of the question. Instead, consider contacting a local experienced DST trainer. Downers Grove Illinois H.S. Dist 99 and the Niles Illinois H.S. District are currently very active in using DST in their curricula.

Software/ peripherals

First, the editing software you select is determined by a variety of factors: format, price, and student (don't forget teacher!) ability level. For Mac users, the popular choice is iMovie. For PC users, bigger is not necessarily better. Adobe Premier is the standard for professional editing but is costly and very complicated, although (ed. note) Adobe Premier Elements 3.0 is reasonably priced and works quite well. Pinnacle Studio 9+ offers a good mid-priced product that is relatively user-friendly, but still very powerful. Make sure to download all the patches. Note: I recommend staying away from Version 10 until the kinks get worked out. Moviemaker comes loaded on XP machines and is easy to use but it has one major weakness—only one audio track is available. You get music OR narration. A relatively new addition, Photo Story 3 is a free download from Microsoft that is also intuitive, and powerful enough for most DST applications. Although some have reported problems using it with the new Vista operating system, Microsoft is working to solve that issue. Access to scanners becomes critical, since students will be bringing in hard copies of photos that need to be "digitized." Also, a set of headsets with noise-canceling microphones is needed to record voice over and review projects.

Logistical concerns

When DST gets "unleashed," a school usually goes through some growing pains. The two major issues are time and space. Teachers could easily spend weeks working on a single project. But with computer time as precious as it is, this is impossible. Much of the drafting, revising, and storyboarding can be done before even coming into the lab. With regards to storage space, depending on the software and the method of saving, these files can be deceptively BIG. In Studio 9, for example the finished, three-minute product file may be only 150 k. However, when that file is rendered to a Windows Media file, it balloons to nearly 10 Mb. The reason is that, while the original file consists of just links to images and audio files, the final product contains the actual images and sounds. This need for space can cause your network person incredible stress. Saving rendered projects to flash drives, teacher web pages, or CD's can alleviate some of the storage issues.

Follow-up training

During the expansion of the process to students, it is imperative that the original "pilot group" meet regularly to support each other and share victories, concerns, and possible solutions. At the end of the first year be ready to document a summation of the successes and problems. At that point, the pilot group can serve as trainers to the rest of the staff who want to get on board.

Remember: Digital Storytelling can be rewarding for both you and your students. And adequate staff training helps ensure that outcome.

Here are a few other resources:

Center For Digital Storytelling

Digital Stories


Email: Jon Orech