Tell Me a (Digital) Story

October 7th, 2010 by Steph.

This year, I’ve heard more about ‘Digital Storytelling’ than ever before.

I had faculty members ask me about it (can we do it? how? is anyone else doing it?). I’ve seen presentations on it.

Is it weird that I didn’t know it wasn’t just a concept, but an actual structured *thing* until now? I always just thought that ‘digital storytelling’ was simply the use of certain media to convey a story. I thought it could be bent and crafted to suit the needs of a project. Unfortunately, it seems I was wrong. Someone owns the term, and has come up with a methodology. This is great for folks that like the structure, but it isn’t for me. I think Wikipedia might even be confused about this, as their description sounds more like what I thought it was. (Not to be negative about official “Digital Storytelling” – I simply want to describe my exploration of the topic)

So I guess I am not actually doing “Digital Storytelling”.

Not sure what to call what it is that I am working on with faculty who want their students to convey a story and make a connection using various media. Multimedia storytelling? eStories? Heh. Maybe it doesn’t need a name, we just have to actually do it.

So what exactly are we doing here?

1. Set a Goal

The Instructor really needs to define a purpose for this project (not just using technology for technology’s sake). Usually, it is to have the student convey a piece of their experience using various media (audio, video, photographs, text, animation). The message is really the most important part, and has to be developed before the technology comes into play. Consider whether the final project will be viewed by the Instructor, by the class and/or by the public – plan to discuss with the students how the chosen audience should influence how they develop their presentation.

Also keep in mind that students may be resistant to: a) being creative and/or b) using technology. Some students have got the paper writing down and are a little bit afraid of having to open up to a new idea. Some people are naturally more creative than others, or more comfortable with technology than others. All of this will have to be taken into account so that there is a level playing field for all students. This is why I’m focusing on the message – the technical and creative abilities should not overshadow the student’s ability to get the story across. A glossier video production should not automatically equal a better grade.

2. Develop the Stages of the Project

Work with the Instructor to outline the various stages of the project. In most cases, you will have: a topic submission stage, storyboard, final project. There may be other stages, such as a list of media to be used (photos, videos, sound that has already been collected, but not yet assembled). The following are some of the common stages of a project like this.

  • Topic Submission – have the students think about the topic and come up with the ‘story’ they are going to tell. This stage ensures the instructor can keep the students on point with the topic, before getting involved with the technology.
  • Storyboard – the students should start to map out what will actually happen in the sequence. This stage helps the student to prepare for what visuals, audio and text they will need to generate for the project. At this point, the student should have a good idea of what combination of audio, video, photography and text they will be using. They don’t need to actually HAVE it all at this point.
  • Media Collection – an optional stage that is really more of a check point for the student. Has the student been able to collect all of the media they need to complete the project? If not, what changes need to be made to the scope of the project? (i.e. if the student had a hard time getting particular video content, maybe they need to plan to use still photograhy instead.
  • Final Project – assembly of the media, possibly including transitions and motion to add some interest (or not), delivery of a final file in a specified manner (i.e. post to blog, post to Youtube, hand in on USB flash drive).
  • Class Presentation – Present in-person, in front of the class, describing the goal of the project and how it was achieved. Another alternative is to have a virtual presentation where the student posts the final “video” to a blog, and adds a couple of paragraphs of description. Comments from the class could be encouraged.

3. What are the rules?

I like to keep things as free as possible, as you might have guessed. The rules should be based mostly around the message portion, deadlines for creating certain phases (topic, storyboard, final project). I don’t think the rules should force students to use certain technologies/media, or restrict them – provided they are “getting the job done”. It may just be that the end format has to be web-ready, and must be in a format that can be posted to whatever delivery system the class is using (a blog, a Youtube channel, etc.). Generally speaking, text-only is not an option, as it doesn’t follow the spirit of the exercise.

4. What media/technology?

I think that the students should be able to choose from the technologies, based on what they have access to and their comfort with the technology. Some students will do amazing work with simple stills and text, while others may get hung up on adding too much “technology” and miss the point altogether.

Some students will have no trouble with this part – many have access to basic equipment (cell phones / computers that can record audio to WAV and video, etc, comfort with the software – maybe they’ve even posted to Youtube before). Other students will be uncomfortable with the technology and need some extra help finding equipment (recording equipment, scanners) and the software to assemble the final presentation (iMovie, Adobe Premiere, Windows Movie Maker).

We’re currently trying to assemble a list of what resources Ryerson students have, from borrowing equipment to editing in the computer labs. (*Note: Students should be aware that they will likely need an external USB hard drive to save their work-in-progress if working in a lab – they won’t be able to store their files there!)

5. What delivery method?

I think that posting the final “video” to a class blog would be a great option, because it can accommodate the various authors, media types, allow for some commenting, etc. We’re lucky enough to have a blog system at Ryerson that can house blogs that are public or private, so we don’t have to worry about sites hosted on servers in other countries. Another option is to have the videos posted on a public site like Youtube – there are pros and cons to a publicly hosted site, but other schools are doing it. A great thing about the blog option is that students could choose to post their video on Youtube and simply embed it into a blog post on our server.

So… at the end of my long post… this is the framework I’m working with right now. I’m sure this will evolve with more ideas and more input from different people. Whatever it’s called, I think it could be an interesting exercise for all of us!

More on this topic later.

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