The Story in Digital Storytelling (and other digital projects)


I’ve noticed that most if not all of the digital projects that I’ve worked on have one thing in common–there is a story, a narrative that runs through each one.  The story, not the technology behind the digital project is what brings initial interest to audiences. This has prompted me to think more about story when helping to design digital projects.  This semester we’ve created workshops to jazz up presentations through design and technique, make public service announcements with video and infographics, and my favorite: digital storytelling.  On any assignment, before we begin working on things digital we talk about forming a narrative.  What are we trying to communicate?  What is the message? How does the technology or tool that we choose enhance, contribute to or disseminate our message?  How does the medium influence the message or as Marshall McCluhan has said, “the medium is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.”

Below are some excerpts from a workshop (slides embedded above) that I do with students who are creating digital stories but I think these points can apply to any digital project. This is my spiel on why story is important and why narratives matter.

The Heart is the Narrative
The narrative is the heart of a digital story (or any digital project).  Whether it’s demonstrating knowledge of a competency in a course or presenting data gathered in a research project, the narrative is the glue that holds the ideas in projects and presentations together.  Stories are how audiences connect and recall information. This story arc formula: INTRODUCTION->DEVELOPMENT->CLIMAX->RESOLUTION usually works best.  Think also about Aristotle’s modes of persuasion: emotional appeal (Pathos), Ethical appeal (Ethos), and Logical appeal (Logos). Simply giving the audience facts and instruction is not a story.  Narratives are best crafted when the audience is invited to connect to a story of shared values or common experience through ethical appeal.  Data and evidence can be presented through logical appeal.  Emotional appeal stirs audiences to feel and connect making narratives in a digital story or digital project compelling.

Inside the Narrative
Why do people tell stories?  Why do we tell stories? Perhaps as a way to transfer knowledge, make sense of experience, teach values, beliefs, have a moral outcome.
Narratives are a way to make stories more personal rather than instructional. They invite the listener into the story, to become a part of it rather than telling the listener what to believe or what to do.  Stories are our attempt to explain, understand, and account for experience. Experience does not automatically assume a narrative form. It’s constructed through the process of reflection on experience. It’s a process of socialization; a reciprocal agreement of sorts where we give our stories and receive other’s stories to increase understanding of each other.
Narratives address the listener, reader or viewer (as in a digital story) as a human being rather that as a member of a class or society.  This allows us to relate to each other as another self.  It increases understanding of others.  Narratives are written with the anticipation to communicate to others.  The narrator is the subject of their own story–>their narrative identity is subjective and inter-subjective–>what others/outsiders perceive of them and how the narrator sees themselves.

Story Organization:  What’s the Point, the Plot, the Hook?
What are stories made of? Beginning, middle, end. Yes. They must have a point, a plot. What is the hook of your story?  How will you capture the audience’s attention?  How will you keep it going throughout your story?  Stories don’t have to be linear (this takes practice!) There is an opening or introduction and a closing or conclusion, a resolve.  Stories can work best when they are book-ended:  the challenge of the story is presented at the beginning and the ending gives the resolve or the conclusion to the challenge introduced at the beginning.  Think about the plot’s capacity to reconfigure the narrative to speak meaningful about the human action.   

The Digital in Digital Storytelling (and other digital projects): Enhances, Storing, and Dissemination
The digital in digital storytelling gives it wings.  I like to think of it as a story on steroids. You still need a well thought-out and sharp written story to turn into a compelling narrative but digital tools can make the story powerful.  Tech tools can help enhance and further personalize a digital project.  Perhaps the most powerful way technology contributes to digital projects is to help make them visible to a variety of audiences by sharing them in new ways.




Portfolio site from Advanced Fiction: Digital Creative Writing

Here is a link to my students’ work from Spring 2016.

Digital Creative Writing Portfolio site

Reflections on Digital Pedagogy from a Tech Pusher, Part 1

Sonia's office robots.
Sonia’s office robots.

I spent a week in early August of this year attending the first Digital Pedagogy Lab, held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  This summer institute focuses on how pedagogy happens with digital technologies and in virtual spaces.  Our gathering in Madison asked us to think critically about the work that we do and to explore our roles within these new spaces.  The fall semester began here at Whittier College and our work in DigLibArts took off!  Now that I’m in the middle of helping to facilitate courses that are using digital tools for assignments I’m starting to reflect on the lessons and advice from #digpedlab, specifically how we use technology to teach and learn.  A bigger question is how we might use technology to change education in meaningful ways.  

I am a human tech pusher.  My job is to create programs and projects that promote teaching with technology.  When I join a class to talk and workshop digital projects I describe a process that is collaborative and creative and hope that it will lead to new methods of research and learning.  An ed tech tool cannot do this alone. The pedagogy must drive the technology.  It’s easy to get lost in the many tools that are open source or proprietary that offer ways to make flashy assignments and automate learning.  

There are additional challenges for a tech pusher who is looking at digital pedagogy for meaningful ways to integrate ed tech tools .  We work with a new generation of learners who are in desperate need for digital literacies. From basic computing skills to understanding how information is coded, curated and delivered, the Internet as a learning environment can be confusing.

But it’s also an opportunity to develop new forms of inquiry and knowledge production.  This is where the tech pushing can be most useful!  A tool can increase the visibility of scholarship as well as renew energy and excitement to hands-on, project-based learning.  We’ve added new assignments this semester including one that involves students doing research in the college archives.  Students searched through yearbooks, journals, and freshmen manuals to examine gender roles through the decades beginning with the 1930s.  We’ve also held workshops on presentation techniques and tools for students to organize and present their findings.  Our Flickr page shows our students sharing their work.  

This week our campus will be visited by Jim Groom, co-founder of Reclaim Hosting and a big shaker from the Edupunk movement.  Jim will be speaking about taking control of your digital identity, producing digital scholarship and will give a workshop on Domain of One’s Own which DigLibArts is piloting this semester.  

So how does digital pedagogy influence the tools we use?  In reflection, it’s not about tech pushing but rather the choices we have and the opportunities we give students to learn. This can happen in the classroom, in virtual spaces, through the Internet and within social networks.  Empowering students to understand the web and encouraging them to become active participants in our networked world can be the best tool!

Copyright and Creative Commons

Copyright & Licensing – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Notes for teaching students about Copyright and Creative Commons.

Slide 1: Introduction

Slide 2: Copyright: A form of intellectual property. Grants legal, exclusive rights given to the creator of any original work to use and distribute, especially for commercial use. Copyright is automatically granted to the creator of a work.

Slide 3: Works covered by copyright (listed). All are creative and original works.

Slide 4: Copyright isn’t for everyone. Some view this as too proprietary and commercial. There is an alternative.

Slide 5: Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that offers their own set of licenses that work alongside traditional copyright: “Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

Slide 6: Public Domain: Public Domain content is “free from barriers to access or reuse usually associated with copyright protection.” This comes into effect when copyright runs out but you can also voluntarily remove barriers to access your work.

How to license your work for Public Domain: You can freely license using the GNU Free License or the Free Art License.

More info:

Slide 7: Anonymity: You can also give up claim to authorship/ownership of work, which will most likely put it into the Public Domain (unless it is part of a larger collection, owned by another organization, etc.)

Slide 8: Choosing your license:

Things to consider:

  • Do you want to be linked to this content in the future?
  • Are you planning on building a larger portfolio? Curating an identity as an artist/photographer, etc.?
    • You can also host your work at multiple places, including Flickr and DeviantArt, your own site, etc.
  • Consider how you want to represent the license: CC buttons, watermark, signature, etc.
  • Who do you want to be able to use your work and how? In what contexts?

Slide 9: Links to more information