Digital Storytelling: From a Professional Endeavor to a Homework Assignment
If you could time travel and be transported to the early 90’s, is very likely you would be producing professional videos with Betacam. You would need to use huge cameras, half-inch magnetic tapes, and large machines for postproduction. The editing back then was linear: you needed to find the chosen shot on one tape and transfer it to another one. If you needed to change something at the beginning, you had to start again. I compare this process of editing with an old typewriter. It was quite troublesome to move, add, or change shots or audio once you have started the process.
Fast forward to 2018 and it is easy to see how technology has advanced tremendously, and how simply with your smartphone, you have the tools and capability to embark on a multimedia production. The cameras on new phones are so advanced that you could record videos in 4K high-resolution with incredible contrast and details. Then, with the raw footage, you can use apps such as iMovie, WeVideo, Magisto, Clips for post-production (see more options, here). It is as simple as cutting and pasting the different scenes, adding voice-over, text, transitions, and music. In a little over 20 years, we have gone from having a small number of people monopolizing multimedia equipment — and, therefore, telling their story — to having ubiquitous technology which has the potential to empower everyone to share their unique perspectives of the world.
But, is having the tech tools enough?
If we dissect a short story, a novel, or a memoir, we would be able to identify characteristics that grasp the reader’s attention — or the listener. There should be no difference when we bring images, text, and music to convert the written story into a digital one. Tiziana Saponaro in her blog, Digital Storytelling: An Efficient And Engaging Learning Activity, supports this idea:
Although the concept of digital storytelling is closely linked to the use of new technology, we shouldn’t forget that it is always the story and not the technology that teachers should focus on. We should merge the digital skills with the literate education; this is where teachers still have a role to play, even in the digital age.
So, teachers continue to be crucial at guiding students through the steps for creating digital stories. As with everything in education, it requires planning and various stages of deep probing to make sure students are on track. Here is a video that summarizes the following steps in the process:
Start with an idea
Write your story
Create a storyboard
Research and gather elements (recording original footage)
Build your story
Share it and receive feedback
Now, let’s go back and focus on item number four:
Research and gather elements (record original footage)
Here is where teachers need more explicit instruction. With the intention of using non-traditional ways to assess learning, we often assign video projects to students without a real notion of how much time it would take from beginning to end. Very few teachers have embarked on the process of videomaking themselves, so it is hard to judge a realistic timeline for students to follow. In addition, not many educators have learned video composition, the use of lighting or the different guidelines that the language of cinematography offers to convey the message that we intend. Therefore, teachers must learn along with students and become knowledgeable about visual literacy in order to teach basic principals and to be able to evaluate what their students produce. I found the resources below useful, and, before starting a digital storytelling project, I would share them with students (whether posting them in the (LMS) Learning Management System, or via other means).
How would I use digital storytelling in the classroom?
There are unlimited ways to use digital storytelling in schools, such as an end product in a PBL project. Students can use video production to communicate, to document and to make any learning more visible. One example where I witnessed high student engagement was in a Spanish class. Students wrote scripts for a production of a short film. “Alto y Claro” written by Tony Vallés y Emilio Martinez — middle school students — had very little dialogue. They had to convey the mood of the story with the use of light and shadows, camera framing, editing and startling music. The students were clearly knowledgeable about framing the scenes, using the 180-degree rule (to not confuse the viewer), and how to combine elements in the story to create suspense. Without the rubric, I am unable to judge if the students met all the criteria required by the teacher; however, as a viewer, it certainly kept me on edge. The students were not only engaged in learning but were applying visual literacy at its best.
For the writing of this blog, I also found the website Story Center which provides public free webinars to whoever wants to learn more about digital storytelling. I signed up for the upcoming one here.
What other resources have you used or intend to use when incorporating digital storytelling in your classroom? No matter what they are, don´t forget to think about the entire process you are asking your students to undertake. Your own clarity and realistic expectations will help lead to their success in visual communication.