Listen deeply; tell digital stories

16 02 2010

I love sitting down to research something – a word, a thought, a lead – with my coffee by my side having no idea where this “lead” will take me, and ending up with eight awesome tabs at the top of my browser within ten minutes thanks to following links and Google searching.

I began researching “digital storytelling” with only a very basic understanding of what it actually was. I had no idea there was an entire “digital storytelling” world and ongoing conversation already in process… a world filled with digital storytelling festivals, digital storytelling nings, digital storytelling summer camps, digital clubhouse networks, digital storytelling companies and programs, tons of awesome digital storytelling examples and so much more! And yet, somehow, I’ve made it twelve years of primary education and three years of secondary education as an education major being completely unaware of the digital storytelling community surrounding me. Although I began researching digital storytelling to gain a basic understanding of the concept, and to discover some examples so that I could begin creating my own digital story for an educational technology class at Penn State University, my interest in this creative way of telling stories led me to learn and discover a whole lot more.

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The first thing you see before entering the Center for Digital Story Telling‘s main site is: 

The Center describes digital storytelling as this: “While the term “digital storytelling” has been used to describe a wide variety of new media practices, what best describes our approach is its emphasis on first-person narrative, meaningful workshop processes, and participatory production methods.”

“The Center for Digital Storytelling is an international not-for-profit community arts organization rooted in the craft of personal storytelling. We assist youth and adults around the world in using media tools to share, record, and value stories from their lives, in ways that promote artistic expression, health and well being, and justice.”

University of Houston has an entire site dedicated to digital storytelling. They describe digital storytelling as, “the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories. As with traditional storytelling, most digital stories focus on a specific topic and contain a particular point of view. However, as the name implies, digital stories usually contain some mixture of computer-based images, text, recorded audio narration, video clips and/or music. Digital stories can vary in length, but most of the stories used in education typically last between two and ten minutes. The topics that are used in Digital Storytelling 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 literally, everything in between.” Their website features an awesome video introduction to begin learning about digital storytelling. This introduction is not only useful for learning what digital storytelling is, but the many ways in which teachers can use digital storytelling technology to enhance learning in their classrooms is also immediately evident through this video. Found on the University’s site is also another definition of digital storytelling, given by British photographer, educator, and digital storyteller, Daniel Meadows. He defines digital stories as “short, personal multimedia tales told from the heart.” The University writes that Meadows goes on to describe digital stories as “multimedia sonnets from the people” in which “photographs discover the talkies, and the stories told assemble in the ether as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a gaggle of invisible histories which, when viewed together, tell the bigger story of our time, the story that defines who we are.”

Under the tab “digital storytelling” on Daniel Meadows’ own website, he has some great examples of digital storytelling – I found his story Painted Skies especially awesome. This video alone got my creative juices flowing: Students could create digital stories about the meanings and/or significance of their name in their own lives and/or in history. Students could create digital stories on their heroes – telling the story of not only their own lives, but also their heroe’s life: their grandfather’s, their father’s, their sister’s – and with old pictures, or real images and video footage of their Grandfather’s war regalia, or real video footage of their mother tandem skydiving when she was twenty (which we have at my home). defines digital storytelling as “the art of turning a personal narrative into a multimedia experience.  It can combine music, video and/or still images with your creative voice.  The results are an original production that engages the viewing audience in ways that are often surprising and powerful. Digital storytelling can be used to introduce or reinforce the power of writing.  Through the writing process and its refinement, students often discover the power of personal expression and greater creativity with digital tools at their aid.”

As I discovered, digital storytelling can be an exciting, educational form of multimedia. Creating digital stories could be a way for your own students to display their understanding of a topic, or as a way to show their comprehension of a combination of skills including but not limited to writing, reading, art, speaking, technology, poetry and being creative and forward-thinking. Because most, if not all, digital stories should have some form of “script” before being recorded, creating digital stories really does allow for that writing and refining process discusses in the quote above.

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Several different digital storytelling websites and digital stories really caught my attention while I was doing my research, besides the ones already listed above. Stories for Change is an online meeting place for community digital storytelling facilitators and advocates. It features some awesome digital stories, resources, events, forums, news, and “featured stories.” The current feature story is entitled “Take A Walk in My Shoes,” and it’s a true story that was written for a class project by the storyteller, Jamaine Del-Rosario. “It uses spoken word and repetition of the phrase take a walk in my shoes, to emphasis his feelings of disappointment of having to move to a one bedroom apartment in the projects with his family of seven… The story includes both photos of his current housing development and himself, in order to help you put yourself in his place.” The repetition of the title/phrase throughout the story and the rhythm of Del-Rosario’s spoken word gives the story a very poetic feel. This story got me thinking about just how awesome it would be to have students put poetry to pictures and tell a story through verse in the digital story medium!

Lynne Zalesak is a Social Studies Teacher in Houston who uses digital storytelling to engage her students in the classroom. In her story below, found on YouTube, Zalesak explains in detail how she began working with computers and incorporating digital storytelling into her classroom, and how she feels it’s benefited her students. She says in her own story, “All kids love stories. They love to tell stories. They love to write stories. This is their chance to do that, and also get the curriculum in there… A lot of these kids have no idea just how creative they can be and how they can expressive themselves in different ways.”

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Lastly, through Stories for Change I found a Checklist for Completeing your Digital Story. This checklist added by Danielle Martin would be an awesome resource and guide for anyone looking to create a digital story, or for teachers to give to their students. Martin, who was the original Project Manager for the site and is now a recent graduate of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning with Master in City Planning program, breaks down the creative process of making a digital story into easy to understand bullets:


  1. Brainstorm an IDEA for your Story
  2. Write Script
  3. Record Audio Narration
  4. Storyboard
  5. Collect Images
    1. Digital photos you take yourself
    2. Photo prints (that you need to digitize by using a scanner)
    3. Images from Web (copyright free, of course!)
    4. Artifacts (flyers, objects, etc you scan)
  6. Manipulate images
    1. Get images to 720 by 480 pixels, 300 dpi, Landscape (4:3), and .jpg
    2. Adjust brightness, contrast, cropping or add effects
  7. Find/create background MUSIC (again, copyright free)
  8. Build/Edit your video file (using Windows Movie Maker)
  9. Rough Cut (get some feedback from others)
  10. Final Cut
  11. Export (as DV/AVI for DVD and a web version)
  12. Distribute (on DVD, on MySpace, and/or on



4 responses

23 02 2010
Jason Whitney

I think that storytelling is at the heart of the human experience, and I thank you for bringing such an array of resources to bear on the topic. Our discipline is especially well positioned to get to the heart of meaningful and worthwhile inquiries into all sorts of human processes (intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, etc.) I often think that storytelling would make a really great overarching year-long course concept, with instructional units breaking it down with fiction and nonfiction, and with semester projects including creative writing and nonfiction. You have so many resources here to add to that conversation, and this will certainly be a “go-to” Blog post for me. Really great.

23 02 2010
PLN Day 42: An impressive week in Blogtown « Whitneymeister's English Education Blog

[…] with English Companion Ning.”  Laura Young blogged about digital storytelling in her post “Listen deeply; tell digital stories.“  Caitlin Mulroy went philosophical with her post “The Omnicompetent Individual- […]

18 03 2010
PLN Day 64: LLED 420 Blog Digest « Whitneymeister's English Education Blog

[…] of the issues facing art education in the current academic environment.  Her post before that, “Listen deeply; tell digital stories” creates an overview of the value of digital storytelling, posted some videos and related resources, […]

6 04 2010
Self-assessment « Teach Simplicity

[…] looked at page, followed by my About me, my passions, my words page, followed by my blog entitled Listen deeply: tell digital stories page, and then Writing out of the blog rut, and so […]

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