"This One's for the Children"
Telling a story has been used almost since the beginning of time as a means for sharing and interpreting experiences, as a means of instruction, as a means of transferring knowledge from the expert to the novice. It is universal, it is engaging, it is effective, it is relevant, it is personal. And it is making a comeback as a 21st century educational technique by taking advantage of the digital possibilities available.
• In terms of form, Digital Storytelling is “the art of telling stories with a variety of digital multimedia, such as images, audio, and video. Just about all digital stories bring together some mixture of digital graphics, text, recorded audio narration, video and music to present information on a specific topic.”
• In terms of content, Digital Stories are similar to traditional stories in the sense that they revolve around a familiar and relevant theme, usually chosen to match the interests, the social and cultural background of the listener.
In particular, typical Digital Stories can be categorised into three major groups:
“1) personal narratives – stories that contain accounts of significant incidents in one’s life;
2) historical documentaries – stories that examine dramatic events that help us understand the past, and
3) stories designed to inform or instruct the viewer on a particular concept or practice.”
The educational value of this practice is straight forward if we consider the degree of personalization and engagement that can be afforded by the storyteller to both form and content in order to maximize the effectiveness of its use. It is certain that personalization and engagement alone cannot and do not guarantee learning.
However, it is equally certain that they can help the learner become involved in a transformative and empathetic experience. By adapting the content, choosing the forma and creating a suitable presentation, the learner can relate to the content, build lasting connections to his own reality, discover different layers of meaning and test assumptions and hypotheses. The educational value of storytelling is also enhanced by the fact that it addresses or makes use of multiple intelligences.
Furthermore, Digital Storytelling supports and enhances a new type of learner “Twenty-first Century Literacy,” which Brown, Bryan and Brown (2005) describe as the combination of:
• Digital Literacy – the ability to communicate with an ever-expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and seek help;
• Global Literacy – the capacity to read, interpret, respond, and contextualize messages from a global perspective;
• Technology Literacy – the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance;
• Visual Literacy – the ability to understand, produce and communicate through visual images;
• Information Literacy – the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information.
There are two main principles to consider before embarking on teaching or training our learners to create and present their own digital stories:
• Simply adding digital media into a poor, ineffective or unsuitable story will not make it successful.
• Copying and pasting is not the recommended way to create digital stories if personalization and engagement is what you have in mind.
In other words learners – and their teachers – need to be trained how to select, synthesize and formulate content in addition to creating their own. This can be a time-consuming process, but what is not, if it is to be done properly? Also, perseverance is key. Initial attempts may not be as successful as envisaged. However, practice may not always make perfect, but it definitely makes better.
An additional consideration needs to be Internet access at school or at home and the necessary restrictions and precautions that come with age consideration: the younger the learners, the greater the need for supervision when (re-)searching the Internet. Finally, even the most basic types of word processing or presentation software will produce amazing results if the Seven Principles involved in creating effective (digital) stories are observed.