The Power of Storytelling Digitally

Stories. The story is a cornerstone of humanity. Telling stories is a tradition that can be traced across our history. Over time, the art of storytelling has evolved as the tools and resources available with which to tell stories evolved. We have told stories orally in person, via the written word, through artwork and performance, through radio, through television shows and movies. As media rich technologies have evolved and become more widely accessible, a new medium of storytelling has emerged: digital storytelling.

Digital storytelling involves using a variety of technologies to blend together audio, video, and images to tell a story. The digital format allows the storyteller the freedom and flexibility to experiment with developing a story without a high cost or loss of content. The ease of sharing stories online provides an opportunity to distribute content quickly and easily to the intended audience.

There are many ways to craft a digital story. An often-cited starting point is The Center for Digital Storytelling. Joe Lambert developed the Digital Storytelling Cookbook, which outlines the process of crafting and producing a digital story, following seven key elements: point of view, a dramatic question, emotional content, the gift of your voice, the power of the soundtrack, economy, and pacing. Stories can be created by a group of people, but tend to be more meaningful and best suited to individual work. Scripting and storyboarding are important elements to crafting a good digital story. In general, digital stories should also be short: no longer than 10 minutes, preferably in the 3-5 minute range. It is important to take into account copyright laws and regulations when considering the use of non-original content in the digital story.

Technology drives the production of a digital story and the options available are limitless. Popular video editing tools include iMovie and Final Cut Express. Audacity is a freely available audio application. Garageband can be used for creating music. A wide array of imaging editing programs, such as Photoshop Elements, GIMP, or web-based editors such as Sumo Paint are obtainable. There are even applications such as Cartoonist and Bubblr that allow you to create stories in the form of comic strips. Useful hardware for creating digital stories can include digital camcorders, digital cameras, and microphones.

Digital storytelling has developed significant roots in popular culture and in primary, secondary, and postsecondary education settings. The format has yet to develop a strong foothold in corporate learning environments. Digital stories offer an opportunity to help learners develop skills in communication, organization, and technology, among others; skills valuable in any organization. Digital stories offer an opportunity for careful thought and reflection and could be particularly valuable in programs related to communication, interpersonal skills, and personal and leadership development.

As a facilitator, careful thought should go into designing a digital storytelling assignment for learners. It is important to consider and lay out the purpose, scope, and objectives of the assignment. Learners will need appropriate access to not only applicable technologies, but also resources on how to use them; these two items can pose one of the greatest challenges to implementing digital storytelling into learning. How the stories will be shared is important. Finally, how to evaluate and provide feedback on the stories is important, even if there is not a formal grade attached to them. We all stand to benefit from learning how to hone our skills for the future.

Stories are powerful. Digital storytelling is an exciting medium that blends an integral human tradition with modern technologies. The medium is an opportunity for self-reflection, expression, learning, and growth. Digital storytelling challenges learners to learn in a way that is both natural and challenging. As you contemplate ways to engage with learners deeply in your learning programs, consider whether a digital story may be an appropriate component of your program.

Joshua Mathews Ailsworth currently serves as Informatics Educator Lead at Sidra Medical & Research Center in Doha, Qatar. Joshua is an experienced learning and development professional with a background in higher education, long-term care, and medical centers. Joshua is passionate about the philosophy and psychology of learning, learner engagement, and the role of technology in enhancing the learning experience.

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