#dLRN15: Collaboration as Praxis

In mid-October, I got to attend and present at the awesome #dLRN15 held at Stanford. The conference brought together many friends in the fields of education technology, digital humanities, and academic computing. Some of these are new friends, some long standing, and some friendships existed largely online or via Twitter before the conference. It was a blast to connect with so… Read more →

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.




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!

About Me


I am the Instructional Media Designer and co-coordinator for the Digital Liberal Arts Program at Whittier College.  My focus is to build programs and projects that blend pedagogy with digital technologies.  I teach digital storytelling as a pedagogical tool to engage students in higher order thinking, deep learning, and to build digital literacy skills. My teaching and learning interests are also mapping, blogging as scholarship, wearable technologies, and augmented reality tools.  I’m also interested in learning more about how technology can enhance study abroad opportunities for students.  In May 2016 I helped lead a series of digital storytelling workshops at Metro University College in Copenhagen. Collectively, our group of international students spoke over 13 different languages! You can read about our study abroad experience and watch student digital stories here: denmarkds.soniachaidez.com.

For the 2016-2017 academic year I want to keep exploring how we use mobile technologies creatively–from consumers to creators with technology. From pocket documentaries to iPhone photography and augmented reality techniques; how does this shape what we see and how we share our experiences?
Last fall I worked on a series of community workshops at the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier on mobile phone photography.  From snapshots to photo editing to photo archiving and sharing.  What do the pictures we capture; the filters we use and the subjects we choose say about us? How do we see our community through photos?  Our workshops turned into an awesome community photography exhibit hosted by Whittier Public Library.  Read more about this project here.
The photographs will be on display in Wardman Library at Whittier College in Spring 2017.

Now, a little #TBT : It all started when…

I was 10 years old, my dad let me borrow his JVC video camera to create a “Goonies” style movie starring my friends, the neighborhood kids in search of buried treasure.  I was instantly hooked to the storytelling power this mid 1980s technology gave me! In high school I enrolled in a newly offered broadcast journalism course that allowed me to write, direct and edit a news program that covered local activities, sports and events. It was my entry point into video editing -analog- which was frustrating!  If you got an edit wrong you had to start all over!  A year later our student-produced ‘news’ show got picked up by the local access cable channel and then it got serious- our audience wasn’t just our classroom but the larger community.  Our scripts got tighter and our stories became more critical.  It was our early 1990s version of open scholarship.

In college I enrolled as a Communications major envisioning myself as a news reporter or a film editor. My first internship gave me access to an AVID editing suite and my first taste of digital video editing. I just about lived in the lab exploring new ways to cut video clips instantly. It was awesome!

After graduating I joined my college’s instructional technology and academic computing department.  I worked with a creative and technical team to launch academic programming that focused on science and technology.  In grad school I partnered with a documentary filmmaker and soon I was traveling to places like Mexico, Cuba, Syria and Iraq to create films about women, cultures, space and place.

I am fascinated with how technology can create authentic learning experiences and I’m always game to experiment with a new project!