Aug 26, 2015
Everyone tells stories: journalists, politicians, scientists and entrepreneurs. Conveying information in a coherent and compelling way is vital to success in the real world, and it’s our job as educators to prepare our students to share their ideas in effective ways.
The emphasis is on empowering students to create authentic products that they can share with others beyond the classroom walls.
We used to do this with papers, posters and dioramas, but digital tools at our disposal now allow students to create authentic stories that allow for audience interaction and a wider impact on the world. Here are some tips for transforming storytelling assignments in your classroom, no matter what subject or grade level you teach.
What is Digital Storytelling?
Digital storytelling uses video, audio, social media, blogging and other tools to convey ideas and information effectively. The emphasis is on empowering students to create authentic products that they can share with others beyond the classroom walls, and to allow for audience interaction and feedback. And so, why should we inspire students to be digital storytellers? Here are five key reasons:
How to Educate Digital Storytellers
1. Focus on content, not the tools
It’s always about the ideas, not the technology. Apps and hardware change rapidly, so its important to not fixate on gear that might be obsolete in 12 months. It’s true that the medium affects the message (video is much different than Twitter, for example), but begin with what students want to convey, then choose the appropriate platform(s) to do that. That being said, some of my favorite apps for digital storytelling include: iMovie for iOS ($4.99, free with new iOS device), Storehouse (free), Creative Book Builder ($3.99), and StoryCorps (free).
2. Take it to the next “SAMR level”
There are many ways teachers use technology, and some are more transformational than others. The SAMR model is a way to gauge how deeply and effectively you use technology, and in this case, how tech can transform how we tell stories.
Take advantage of the unique aspects of digital storytelling and multimedia tools to transform learning, rather than just replace old analogue models. These include collaboration, audience feedback, interactivity, and video and audio. Consider a blog with links, and share posts via social media, or publishing a collaborative ebook that collects student projects around a theme. Require students to leave comments and feedback on online posts.
3. Develop expectations and outcomes
What do you want to accomplish? And what volume/frequency/quality of work do you expect from your students? Push students to their limits by requiring them to utilize multiple media in each project.
For a high school media project that explored Surrealism, I had students create short videos over a period of several weeks, then compile them into a cohesive “story” that added other elements like text, photos and additional video. Rather than focus on technical aspects (which I covered in earlier projects), this one was all about story, interpretation, and demonstrating an understanding of Surrealism. (See PDF of the project here.)
4. Start small
It can take time for students to master a particular skill or for teachers to develop effective storytelling projects, so don’t take on too much with your first assignments. Increase the difficulty of the project by slowly adding complicated media like video or audio to assignments. Like any assignment, scaffold skills and techniques over time so that they build on one another to increase complexity.
5. Evaluate early on and often
Share your rubrics and expectations early in the process, and be realistic about student outcomes for both content and technical achievement. Have separate evaluations for content and technique, and reward originality and audience interaction. It’s a good idea to have multiple forms of evaluations, including self-evaluations, class critiques, and teacher oral and written feedback.
Subject-Specific Ideas for Digital Storytelling
English Language Arts: Create a video poem or photo montage as a visual interpretation of an existing poem being studied by the class. Rather than a literal interpretation, consider visual metaphors and interpret what colors, sounds or locations might associate with a particular phrase. Post the work on a public platform (blog, social media site, etc) and encourage students to leave comments.
Science: Document scientific phenomena in the field and present the data and findings in a coherent and compelling way. This could be published in a class iBook or blog.
Social Studies: A visual anthropology project where students create a visual documentation of changes in your community. Students use photography, video or sound to record older family members’ reactions to changes in specific elements of local history.
Digital storytelling is a great way for students to share their ideas and demonstrate their knowledge. Rather than a test or an essay that no one really cares about, students now have the ability to creatively engage the world through authentic projects--and that makes everyone more excited to teach and learn.