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

Teachers and/or technology

8 02 2010

Although I initially created this blog to document my thoughts and findings for a Secondary English Education class at Penn  State University, it is quickly becoming my place to reflect, share, better develop my own beliefs and teaching philosophy, grow, and in many ways begin creating my own digital education portfolio.

One of the most valuable blogs in helping me to organize and develop my own views on education and technology has been The Thinking Stick. Education and technology – these are two subjects I’ve been reading an immense amount about lately – so much so, that I’m often left at the end of the day overwhelmed with snippets of thoughts, uncertain of what to blog or much less focus on thinking about.  This is where The Thinking Stick comes in – a recent post entitled “You mean the teacher still matters?” gave me some ideas to focus on, some more awesome links to check out, and most importantly, some fresh mental food to feed off of. Utecht’s post begins, “Four great articles have come to light lately that point to research being done and what many of us in the Ed Tech community have been saying for a long time might just be on the horizon. That is that this technology stuff can improve education.”

I’ll admit that at the end of this paragraph I started to get excited,  pulled my coffee mug close and prepared for a serious time-chunk of blogging. Then, off I went in search of more support, evidence and information to this idea – that “this technology stuff can improve education.”

“The Thinking Stick” featured a link to a Mashable post by Josh Catone entitled “What is the Future of Teaching?” where he wrote: “No longer is online learning just reading a module and answering questions — it can now include synchronous or asynchronous discussions and peer-to-peer learning exercises. As a result, online learning is becoming a more useful tool as both a replacement for and enhancement to traditional face-to-face learning.”

A similar point found in both of these posts is that while technology has the ability to enhance traditional learning, it does not have the ability to completely replace the teacher. Personally, this is a point that gives me hope; for as amazing as technology can be, I do not want my future ten year old child being educated from a screen everyday while sitting at home. In the conclusion to his post Catone writes, “Online education may never completely replace face-to-face learning, though as the Department of Education study shows, with enough time and under the guidance of a good teacher, online learning environments can produce results that are just as good or better than classroom learning. Online learning is likely to be used more often to enhance face-to-face learning in the future, however, and in communities where classroom learning is infeasible due to lack of funds, online learning is an adequate stand-in.”

Several weeks ago Will Richardson – owner of the blog Weblogg-ed, author of  Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, and “Learner in Chief” at Connective Learning – featured a post discussing the need to teach technology. His post featured a link to the 21st Century Collaborative blog by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. Richardson writes of Beach, “One of my favorite things that Sheryl says when she talks about the challenges that schools face right now is that this generation of kids in our schools is the first not to have a choice about technology.” In his post Richardson features a powerful quote from a new Kaiser Foundation report entitled Daily Media Use Among Children and Teens Up Dramatically From Five Years Ago: “Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.”

Richardson closes his post by saying, “Right now, most schools are making what I think is a bad choice by not immersing their students into these online learning environments which are creating all sorts of opportunities for us to learn. In doing so, they’re implicitly saying that technology is an option. It’s not.”

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I’ll end this post with an interesting video I discovered through the Curriclum 2.0, New Literacy Wikispace. The Wikispace “Curriculum 2.0” is a project created for schools and designed by teachers. The essential question to the Wikispace and the video is, “How does an information and technology curriculum stay relevant and meaningful in the 21st Century?” The video shows through a series of statements and facts the reasons why being able to answer this question is both important and necessary for educators and learners in the 21st Century.  It is a very interesting Wikispace – definitely worth checking out.

Upgrading the wishing stick

29 01 2010

Before every performance on my high school stage, my drama teacher would have all the cast and crew circle up in her class room and pass around “the magical wishing stick,” a  plastic baton-like tube filled with gaudy purple metallic sequins. We would each silently make a wish on the “wishing stick,”  a stick that had been passed around for many years before us, wished upon by dozens of other high school actors and actresses, and that as legend had it, held all the wishes from the past and present (cheesy, I know). Anyway, when I recently stumbled across The Thinking Stick blog, in my quest to self-educate myself on the wonderful worlds of teaching and technology, the wishing stick was the first thing to cross my mind. Similar to the wishing stick, however, I’m finding The Thinking Stick just as useful (and more) in helping me to understand the importance and advantages of using technology in the classroom (while keeping balance, of course) – and also, in helping me to form my own views on technology and how to incorporate them into my personality, vision, and future pedagogy. I first came across the post, Four Strands of an Educational Technology Position. Now, although I am not currently planning to become and Educational Technologist, Jeff Utecht, author of The Thinking Stick, offers four strands that he feels one needs to think about when preparing for an educational technology position and interview  – and that I found incredibly useful when preparing for a Secondary English Education position and interview that will most likely require me to incorporate technology into my classroom.

Four Strands of an Educational Technology Position

First and foremost an educational technology position that is looking to integrate learning into the classroom needs to be about personality. You can not, will not, get into classrooms if you can not create positive relationships with other educators. You must have a willingness to help others, to be patient with people as they learn something new, and just be an all around likable person. Without having the interpersonal skills nothing else in this position matters. Teachers will not invite you into their classrooms, they will not want to work with you and both you and educators will be frustrated with your work.

Believe in something! There are many different views on the pedagogy surrounding educational technology, and you need to show that you have a view, that you stand for something whatever it is. Make sure you believe in it and be passionate about it. I might not have the best pedagogical view on educational technology, but I believe in what I believe passionately, and I believe that comes through in the interview. Know what you believe in, what you will help teachers achieve and how you plan on achieving it.

You need to be familiar with technology, the latest trends, and tools, but honestly this is the least important of the four strands. Technology skills can be taught. In fact you’re going to have to learn new skills anyway. Whether a new e-mail system, a new student information system, etc. More importantly, is to show that you know how to unlearn and relearn skills quickly and that you have a network of educators via your PLN to help you out.

This is one I did not think about but came from the high school principal as I was interviewing. Having a visions of where you believe the school should be in a given amount of time in important to school leaders. Be it 3 years or 5 years, they want to know that you have a purpose, that you have something you are working towards. Again believe in something and be passionate about it.

In the end passion is what sells a good interview. Of course these strands do not only apply to educational technology positions and neither does passion. Being truly passionate in what you believe in, what you feel you can offer, and allowing the joy of doing your job show will win over school administrators. They want to be excited by you, they want to feel the energy you’ll bring to their school. Get them excited about you, about what you believe in and what you feel you can bring to their school.

When I go into interviews I don’t worry about answering a question correctly, I worry about answering it honestly. If you don’t like what I believe in, what I’m passionate about, then I’m not a fit for your school or  organization and that’s OK. But if we “click” and are on the same page then I want you to know that I’m passionate about what I believe in and am excited to work at your school.

If you are interviewing for an educational technology position I think you can frame your answers around these four strands. Talk about your pedagogy, talk about how you build relationships with peers, how you use your PLN and that you have a goal for yourself and for the school. Focus your responses on these strands, and then put them to practice once you get hired.

In the last three technology positions I interviewed for I have spent little time talking about technology, the questions always fall into these strands. Administrators want to know if you are a likable person. They want to know that you stand for something and have a goal. Nobody really knows what we do on a day to day basis and they have to feel confident they are hiring someone who is self-motivated, is passionate and has a goal of where they want to take the school. Very rarely do I ever get asked a technology question…whether it’s because administrators don’t know what questions to ask or that they believe in finding passionate people no matter the job title, brushing up on your tech lingo won’t do you much good.

In the end….be yourself….because if you do get hired that’s who they will be expecting to show up to work every day.
A few other posts on The Thinking Stick that I’ve found incredibly useful regarding education and technology include: Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom, Technology to push teachers, and Teachers and Technology featuring this lovely visual:

“If administrator ask questions that allow them to understand a teacher’s beliefs and skill set around technology, then they can find what they are looking for as a ‘fit’ for their school. One thing is for sure, with as much focus and money schools spend on technology it cannot be a bonus question when looking for teacher candidates. It has to be just what we do.” – from Teachers and Technology

Balancing the feed

27 01 2010

Taking two blog-demanding classes in one semester (an education technology class & an adolescent literature and media literacy class)  has already, by week three of the semester, left me feeling a bit like Violet in the book Feed by M.T. Anderson – I’m about ready to throw my hands up and scream too: “Look at us! You don’t have the feed! You are feed! You’re being eaten!”

As much as I loved technology and social networking before taking these classes, the more time I spend working with it all, the more I find myself questioning how much of it is really necessary – and how much is just a nuisance. There’s email, Blogger, Twitter, Diigo, Netvibes, a gazillion education blogs, the English Ning, Piccle, TED, Facebook, Youtube, Tumblr, MySpace – and I’m beginning to wonder how many more sites I will “need” to add within the next two years – much less five, ten, fifteen, thirty to forty years before I’m ready to retire from teaching.

So tonight, instead of embracing the attitude that education is impossible without all sorts of awesome technology (an attitude I feel I’ve had for the last couple of weeks, if not more), I’m instead wondering if we as teachers could have too much, or at least, how much of it really is necessary? Of course, to research this question I, as Violet puts it, “caved in.” I used technology to research this question… “They’re really close to winning. I’m trying to resist, but they’re close to winning.”- from Feed.

As sat thinking and blog searching about my mental dilemma – technology vs. nature, how to resist becoming the Feed world, and how to instill in our future students the desire and understanding to create iMovies, play educational games, make web portfolios and social network while also instilling in them an understanding of nature, finding beauty and enjoyment in a hike in the woods or in a hardcover book, and creatively thinking for themselves… I came across this post on William F. Aicher’s blog, author of The Trouble With Being God. Aicher discusses the need for balance between these two worlds – a lesson I feel many of our students today, and teachers are not being taught. Aicher writes, “I’ve always been a lover of both, but beyond personal interest I am a strong believer that finding an equilibrium between the two of them is key in having a prosperous existence in today’s world.”

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” – Lao Tzu

Continually inspired

21 01 2010

Unlike most nights where for the last twenty minutes or so before I go to bed I allow my mind to go to gush as a check my email, facebook and wedding blogs for one last time – last night I instead spent my time blog-surfing and learning (this, of course, stretched my twenty minute ritual into two hours of learning) – my tired brain didn’t even have a chance to turn to gush. And in this time that I spent searching and learning, I came across several different new and exciting teaching blogs; the most exciting being the blog Fifty-Nine Minutes – written  and maintained by English teacher, media and technology specialist, and ongoing learner, Randon Ruggles. The blog, which he started during his first semester student teaching as a tool to record his personal reflection and growth as an education, has gained a great deal of attention since his first post in December of 2008. Although I could write a great deal about each one of his posts and how they’ve inspired me (from the ones I have read so far), for now I will just mention that the most inspiring post I found, for me personally, was Partnering, Sharing, and Hamlet. This post discussed the amazing collaborate sharing and working processes that can occur between teachers and students, and between teachers and teachers in the classroom. I really love the last quote in Randon’s post, which he borrowed from a fellow teacher and writer, Marc Prensky: “…when we share, we truly are halfway there. Halfway there to creating powerful, engaging, content-driven, and amazing lessons in which partnering can thrive – both for the instructors and the students.”

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Scott McLeod, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Educational Administration program at Iowa State University, posted the youtube video below to his blog several weeks ago. It’s a “59-minute webcast of a forum on what kids learn when they create with digital media. The forum was sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the National Writing Project, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.” (This took up the majority of my two hour learning session – but, it was totally worth it). Through this webcast I was really able to see for the first time some of what we’ve been discussing in my education classes – that it’s not about what you spoonfeed or give students, but what they get from it – and how they are able to create and make content on their own. More.

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I also found a great list  entitled “The Purposes of Learning Technology” by Joshua Kim which provides a very succinct and accurate explanation to why learning technology is important:

–To challenge the status quo in teaching and learning.

–To make big classes act and feel like seminars.

–To help move courses towards an active learning model, where students construct their own learning.

–To help the faculty teach to their strengths.

–To allow our students to play to their strengths rather then worrying about correcting their weaknesses.

–To move the development of courses to a team approach that combines subject matter, librarian, technical and pedagogical professionals.

–To create learning environments that are appropriate for multiple intelligences and learning styles.

–To funnel inputs directly into the learning and teaching process.

–To provide mechanisms to evaluate and improve learning.

–To increase educational transparency.

–To develop mechanisms to share teaching materials with our communities and the world of life long learners.

–To help make the curriculum and the method of teaching relevant to the lives of our students.

–To move students from consumers to creators of knowledge.

Presentations Worth Watching

17 01 2010

As both a student and a future teacher, TED and the other technologies available to show inspiring presentations, videos and podcasts, and use them as educational tools is so exciting! If used properly, living in the digital age can be such a blessing! I have a passion for learning about other cultures and being an optimist – trying to see goodness and God in all situations. Researching my first unit building activity, I stumbled upon the book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope,” by William Kamkwamba, and his presentation featured on TED entitled, “William Kamkwamba: How I built my family a windmill”. As a lover of traveling, diversity, hope, and a believer in endless possibilities, God, constantly learning, and seeing the big picture (how we are all interconnected across the world) – William’s book, presentation and story strikes a certain lovely and passionate chord in my body. As a future teacher, this is one book that I would undoubtedly enjoy teaching – and one story that deeply touches me. With an interest not only in English education, but also in counseling – especially high school counseling – I find “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” exciting not only because it is an English or literature book, but a cross-subject and cross-cultural book. With mind to guiding adolescents, it is a story that says “you can,” no matter where you come from. It is a continual story (follow his blog), that shows in a direct way how someone can go far by learning, trying, building, exploring, and believing in themselves and their ideas.

Another amazing, “I can bug,” presentation featured on TED is by Kiran Bir Sethi entitled, “Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge” – “Kiran Bir Sethi shows how her groundbreaking Riverside School in India teaches kids life’s most valuable lesson: “I can.” Watch her students take local issues into their own hands, lead other young people, even educate their parents.”

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Another awesome presentation featured on TED is Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”) February 2009 presentation on “Nurturing Creativity.” While this may not necessarily be a presentation to show high school students (although you certainly could), it is certainly a presentation I feel all adults, especially those attempting to embark in the world and art of creativity should see.

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And more… All I can say is whoa – all this social networking and hard-core education blog following is getting pretty crazy. Just three days ago Kate Klingensmith’s blog featured a guest post by Karen Schweitzer entitled, Ten Free Web 2.0 Tools for the Classroom – and the post appeared through my RSS feed widget on my Netvibes page. I checked out some of the links/tools, and Diggo bookmarked the post under the tag “education” so that I’ll be able to find these resources with ease again in the next year when I begin my student teaching. The website Cramberry is pretty cool (cute title too) – it allows students and teachers to “create, study and share flashcards.” It can also build “a studying schedule for you based on your progress on each card, letting you study more quickly and efficiently,” and it has thousands of pre-made cards – plus, its FREE! The website Academic Skill Builders is also pretty neat – it advertises itself as THE place for education games. And let me tell you, is it ever! I’ll be completely honest here and admit that I got a little carried away playing an awesome English game, Verb Viper (believe me, it’s really as cool as it sounds) which would be great for anyone from little kids to non-native English speakers to play to gain practice, and a better understanding of verbs and tenses. It’s fun, educational and… there’s a giant verb viper – whoa!

Exploring the great blog sea

14 01 2010

I am constantly amazed by the immediate ways learning new information can impact one’s life. My discovery of Diigo, Netvibes, and Firefox is currently redefining my virtual life – and making it a hundred times more simplistic. Kudos to Professor Jason Whitney and also to Kate Klingensmith (her blog on making a personal learning network is excellent) for opening me up to the much more intense but also extremely organized worlds of online blogging, social networking and personal learning networks. My desktop and Firefox is currently more organized than my own room. If only there were a Diigo to organize your room – I’d pay a monthly fee for that!

In only a few hours I was able to transfer all of my Mac bookmarks to Diigo (an incredibly monotonous task, by the way) and create a beautiful Netvibes page. In that time I also added, explored and eventually deleted both a Yahoo account and a Delicious account (I’m slowly trying to clean up the online mess that I’ve made exploring and discovering over the last several days. Evidently, I’m such a neat freak that   even my virtual spaces to be clean, orderly and extremely well-organized).

Like building friendships or making a homemade pie, creating a blog, exploring  technology and creating a personal learning network also takes time, patience, undergoing bouts of frustration and taking risks. So, am I anywhere near a complete understanding of the great blog sea? Absolutely not – I don’t even comprehend HTML language yet. But, I’m at least in the waves (or maybe waist high in the water), an accomplishment considering before I was, metaphorically speaking, wading in the mucky, brown tidal pool left by the ocean, but no where near being in it.