Heighten Learning through Digital Storytelling

Social media has revolutionized communication by allowing anyone to easily broadcast ideas and creations to a broad audience. Whereas creative expression through media was once owned by a select few movie studios, television networks, and radio stations, now thousands of people have YouTube channels that they use to broadcast homemade shows on anything from news to entertainment to peer advice, etc. Dozens of these people are making a full-time living from the advertising revenue from their homemade shows.

This turn has also radically challenged the LMS-centric tradition of online education. Instead of passively consuming the content delivered to them through the learning management system, now students can become content creators and in doing so radically extend their learning.

Digital storytelling is a powerful yet simple and inexpensive way to harness this newfound power by forcing students to express their understanding within the context of a coherent narrative. Students choose a topic, whether a personal experience or a persuasive essay, then find images to illustrate the topic and add a voice narrative. The experience teaches students how to understand the underlying significance of experiences and issues and how to express that significance to an audience.

Students’ attention and imagination come alive when they are able to put their thoughts into images, video, and sounds using simple and often free technology. Instead of their work being seen by only their teachers, students can now publish their creations to gain recognition and feedback from others, which further adds to engagement and motivation.

A research project by John Sandars and Gareth Firth at the University of Leeds compared the results of digital storytelling assignments in four very different types of classes—theatre, medicine, education, and dietetics. The results were encouraging. Students felt that the projects allowed them to express “more obscure ideas that could be better understood when accompanied by image/sound.” One interesting example was a medical student who included in his story a picture of a brick wall “because I felt the patient had just put up a brick wall.” The students’ tutors also saw the value of digital storytelling, reporting that “the students involved in digital storytelling demonstrated much deeper reflection.”

Simple and free software such as Windows MovieMaker, iMovie, and Audacity make creating a digital story easy. Plus, social media and video sites such as VoiceThread, Action Stations, Stories for Change, and Information Stories allow publication of student work and feedback.

With minimal training, any teacher can adopt digital storytelling as a powerful learning medium. First, it involves understanding the pedagogical benefits and purposes of digital storytelling and how it can be used to exercise types of thought that draw students up to higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Next, it involves understanding the steps involved in creating a digital storytelling lesson and the types of assessment standards that are appropriate to it. Finally, it involves understanding the different types of software that are available for creating and hosting digital stories and how students can use this software to develop their own work.

Excerpted from, Online Classroom, 12.11 (2012): 2,7.

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