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Digital Storytelling in the Higher Ed Classroom

February 22, 2012

Since I’m off to present at a conference on digital storytelling this weekend, here’s a quick summary of what digital storytelling is. As instructors, we are always on the hunt for new assignments and projects that can engage students and most effectively meet the learning objectives of the class. Something you might consider using is digital storytelling.

Georgetown University has a fantastic site that overviews the research behind the process, gives some examples of digital stories and gives some reasons why digital storytelling might be useful in your classroom. Their definition of digital storytelling is this:

“Digital stories are multimedia projects combining text, images, audio and video files into short film clips…. In recent years, digital storytelling has turned college and university classrooms into spaces of creative critical multimedia production. Digital stories have proven to be a powerful medium for students to represent a theoretically-informed understanding of texts and contexts in a form other than “traditional” writing.”

The Center for Digital Storytelling adds the ‘nuts and bolts’ to the description:

“A digital story is a a 2-to-4 minute digital video clip, most often told in first person narrative, recorded with your own voice, illustrated mostly with still images, and with an optional music track to add emotional tone.

More and more, students are comfortable using digital media such as video and music editing software and it is free and available on almost every computer, smart phone and online. It engages students with new media and with what they’re comfortable with. Tired of iPhones in class? Put them to work for your next class assignment!

How can you use it? Connect an important moment in family history to a major world event. Connect a childhood memory of school to how the student writes/wants to teach/sees authority/etc… Get the students to document a 2min clip of their week to highlight how politics or power affects them in material ways. Obviously, there are more fits with humanities and social sciences but I would be curious to see someone utilize it in more ‘rigid’ disciplines – the possibilities can be endless.

Beyond the media aspect of this, one of the great benefits of these storytelling projects is the chance for students to bring their own voice and stories into class, recognizing that students carry knowledge and experience prior to stepping into the class. It is a chance to collectively bring and share knowledge that is personal and important to the students. Often we expect students to remove the personal, to be objective learners and researchers, to scrub any taint of their personal opinion from their papers – this is a chance to flip the script, to show that their personal experiences, their histories, and their memories are an important part of the project of a collaborative learning place and of a pedagogy of inclusiveness.

To read more about digital storytelling, check out these texts:

J.B. Ohler – Digital Storytelling in the Classroom – New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning and Creativity (2008)

J. McDrury & M. Alterio – Learning through Storytelling in Higher Education (2003)


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