A lot is made of the various options for technology in the classroom. Blogs, Moodle, Blackboard, social media for organizing students, YouTube for creative expression and beyond. Another powerful platform has been quietly working in relative obscurity – the Digital Story.
I’ve been working with Digital Stories in the classroom for six years and they are inspirational, motivational, and a great tool to help people to think deeply and broadly about themselves and their story. Institutions and businesses can benefit from Digital Storytelling, more on that later.
A digital story is typically two to ten minutes in length and uses media such as music, still images, video, voice, and whatever is necessary for the teller to communicate the message. Programs like iMovie are popular for production, along with free music and image sites such as Freeplaymusic.com and Creative Commons. Sounds like a pretty typical You Tube offering, right? Not really. Digital stories go deeper than funny cat videos. By virtue of their time horizon, they are long enough to be better than pithy, but short enough that the teller must get to the point quickly to make a strong impact on the viewer. You can see what I mean by going to www.storycenter.org.
The real beneficiary of digital storytelling is the storyteller. While other platforms such as blogging and YouTube have a strong outward-looking aspect that considers the audience, digital story telling is more introspective and forces the teller to confront their chosen subject matter in a profound and sometimes transformative way. I’ve witnessed such change first hand through the stories that I’ve asked students to create in the RJ Fellows program at Muhlenberg College. Student-created themes have included the deaths of high school classmates, treasured memories with a grandparent, dealing with the health concerns of a parent and racism in school.
As a teacher, it is the process that makes it all work. Unlike hastily shot and posted videos from a phone camera, digital storytelling demands attention to detail and quality production. This takes time and effort and is a good corrective against what was described above – hastily created video that walks a line between empowering and embarrassing; usually embarrassing. Digital storytellers have to think about what they are doing, how music and images complement the story, and how difficult it is to tell a story in two minutes.
Digital storytelling is emerging from beyond the classroom as a tool for colleges and universities. Consider the case of Lawrence University and their “This is Lawrence” series. Neither commercial nor caricature, Lawrence produces a new digital story every week or so to focus on one aspect of college life. The videos don’t immediately strike one as commercials or fluff pieces, but honest glimpses into the life of the University and its people. To be sure, however, the videos are noticed by prospective students, alumni, and donors with a positive response.
Additional University applications could be a department using a story to introduce their work to incoming students, a Greek-letter organization providing a story for new members during initiation, student testimonials for the Admission or Development offices, and students creating a story as practice for the interview process.
From a business viewpoint, imagine customers creating two minute testimonials about your product and your business or creating a story to show to potential customers. Digital stories, by their nature, can generate an image of success and commitment to detail that other platforms don’t provide.
Other digital media make a great impact in their place. There is no denying that YouTube has revolutionized that way we share and evaluate video, and that Facebook makes sharing personal information as easy and common as drinking water. Don’t underestimate the digital story as a perfect mix of technology, delivery, and communicating identity or brand.