Making a Case for Digital Storytelling

We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves. That has always been true. But personal narrative has become more prevalent, and perhaps more urgent, in a time of abundance, when many of us are freer to seek a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose.

Daniel H. Pink
A Whole New Mind

Everyone has stories. Stories represent who we are, portray our life experiences, and when presented to others, help connect us to others through common shared experience. As such, telling a story is a powerful way to communicate with others. Any teacher knows that when he or she tells a story about themselves in class, every student is “dialed in,” waiting on every word. The teacher becomes more ‘real’ simply by relating a personal anecdote.

But what if we gave students the opportunity to tell the stories of their lives? Would our students have stories to tell? What kind of learning experience could we create through storytelling? And most importantly, could we teach students to have a voice that would enable them to communicate rich, meaningful stories in a compelling manner throughout the rest of their lives?

We can, and we can do so by combining story telling with a set of powerful digital tools. This process, known as digital storytelling, merges a personal story with video, still-frame imagery, music, and voice to create a personal multimedia story. Students begin by composing their narrative story, and from that, strip the narrative to its essence to develop a script. The script is then rebuilt into a digital story by the inclusion of multimedia in a highly engaging process that merges composition and creativity to extend the story and make it come alive.

This is a truly authentic learning experience that represents value-added technology use, and develops many different types of intellectual skills in students. But most importantly, it helps students to develop a competitive voice, and gives them a creative palette to compose in a language familiar to them (technology). Here are some examples:

  • A student who never talks in class develops a digital story about being afraid to talk. He describes how he likes being talked to, how he is misunderstood and lonely, and how he had to develop a new identity. He shows how this was accomplished through the Internet, and as a result, found some true friends. For a student who says nothing, he has much to say.
  • A student who has a handicap and is selectively mute tells a story and makes a breakthrough by recording the voice-over.
  • A student who is mildly autistic actually tells a story about his favorite hobby.
  • A student reconnects with her estranged siblings through her digital story.
  • A student tells of the importance of her childhood drawings as representations of her life, and what she wants that life to become.
  • And there are other stories — tales of first-loves, of the death of loved ones, of personal sacrifice, of accomplishment, of the importance of a place, of challenges overcome, of important moments in a life, and of the value of parents and grandparents.

Digital storytelling not only empowers a student’s voice, but has the potential to create a competitive voice. A competitive voice is one that can be heard, and with the digital publishing resources available today, such as DigitalStories, students have the capability to distribute their story to a worldwide audience. Additionally, a competitive voice delivers a rich, deep message that is capable of delivering a powerful message. The multimedia elements of digital storytelling provide the necessary elements to make this a reality.

Today, students have many options for communication ranging from instant messaging to blogging to podcasting. Whatever the medium, our students have important stories that need telling. Digital storytelling helps students explore the meaning of their own experience, give value to it, and communicate that experience on multiple levels to others. An educational experience that includes digital storytelling not only promotes the development of life-long learners, but life-long communicators as well.

Email:Dave Jakes