Building a Community Learning Laboratory Through Digital Initiatives

How can digital initiatives help to build a community of life-long learners? How can we build partnerships that create opportunities that lead to new methods of teaching, learning, and digital collaborations? It begins with creativity, trust, and some play! About 3 years ago, Stephanie Carmona, who leads the Community Education Program Initiative (CEPI) out of the Education Department at Whittier College and I met to think about how we might create learn-by-doing assignments for her computer skills class. Her classes are made up of adult learners which include parents who’s children attend local K-12 schools. Mostly informal and born out of our friendship and willingness to help the many Spanish-speaking parents that we had been interacting with, we started to lead some community-based workshops on building digital literacies. These workshops were guided by topics that our participants suggested: social media and the apps their children are using, how to manage the vast amounts of photos they are collecting on their mobile devices, and Internet safety. The workshops were successful because our adult learners were invited to help in the design process and of course it helped that they bonded quickly and became friends, some even comadres. We also had an undergraduate student intern that helped with the workshops. While trying something new at the computer, our adult learners would summon our intern by calling out, “teacher, teacher!” Although we didn’t necessarily plan for it, we soon found that we were building a community learning laboratory- where we all interchanged roles as teachers learners, and creatives. One workshop on managing photo storage turned into a traveling photo exhibition we call “Nuestro Arte”, still active after two years. (insert flyers) We also created a Story Map based on this Photovoice project. Read more

Digital Storytelling in Digital Humanities?

This past summer I taught a workshop for DH@Guelph titled, “Digital Storytelling for Humanists.”  It was a course similar to one I had helped teach the year before at DH@CC, the Claremont College’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute. Both workshops were made up of faculty and grad students who wanted to incorporate digital storytelling into their research or teaching practices.  We spent nearly a week together, not only learning about tools and editing software but fully engaged in the process of creating a digital story.  Of course, the highlight of every digital storytelling workshop is showcasing each person’s story.  Some written as personal narratives and others as digital essays but we all learned more about each other, our work, our connections.  And, because this was a professional development opportunity, all had a deliverable. 

In late June I attended the Digital Humanities 2018 Conference held in Mexico City.  I was chatting with a new friend who was presenting his poster on digital storytelling from Houston Community College. It was then that the question was asked by a visitor, how does digital storytelling fit in with digital humanities?  My answer went something like this:

Digital storytelling shares the ethos of the digital humanities: the willingness to collaborate, to experiment, to share, to fail, to be transparent, to iterate, and to make public. Digital storytelling like DH is modular in its ability to remix and alter the format to fit different disciplines.  Digital storytelling is less about expertise and making expert knowledge public or leveraging open data for research and more about centering teaching and learning experiences. As a field of study, the humanities focus on the cultural record of human experience and the preservation of this knowledge- in many ways recorded through stories.  In this fashion, digital storytelling provides new opportunities for humanities scholarship and teaching. 

Poster presentation on digital storytelling by Rubèn Duràn from Houston Community College at the
2018 Digital Humanities Conference in Mexico City. 

Digital storytelling is simply using computer-based tools to tell stories. These can include pocket documentaries (using mobile devices to capture moving images), digital essays, mapped memoirs (embedded digital stories on a map), interactive storytelling (gaming) and even podcasts.  They involve sharing the idea of combining the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia, including graphics, audio, video, and web publishing.

I teach digital storytelling because I believe it leads to transformative learning experiences.  There is also much potential in expanding digital humanities perspectives, research, and scholarship.  In his article, Digital storytelling: New opportunities for humanities scholarship and pedagogy  John Barber states: 

“If we grant that humanities scholarship and pedagogy may be grounded in stories of human cultural and creative endeavors, then the use of digital media to help create and share such stories may help engage academic research with creative practice to promote critical thinking, communication, digital literacy, and civic engagement.”

Perhaps an affordance that digital storytelling has over other digital humanities practice is that it is relatively low-tech and anyone can do it because everyone has a story to tell.  

Check out some of the digital stories created at DH@Guelph Summer Workshop:
“Digital Storytelling for Humanists.”

It’s here! The Digital Storytelling Guidebook!


After nearly a decade of implementing digital storytelling into 18 different disciplines including study abroad courses and facilitating a range of community-based projects, I created the Digital Storytelling Guidebook.  It is filled with information and best practices for faculty and students who want to explore digital storytelling as a pedagogy and as a tool to open transformational learning experiences.

Tutorial: Using iMovie version 10.0.6

What is it? iMovie is a Free Video Editing Software Application which is only available on Apple Products such as Mac and iOS (Macbook Pro, Air, iPhone, iPad).  If are more comfortable creating your movie on a PC, refer to our WeVideo tutorials.  For this tutorial I used the 10.0.6 version but all versions are …

Raising the Parent Digital Comfort Level

Recently I joined the amazing staff from the Parent Education Center for the Whittier City School District to give a workshop on creating digital storybooks using iPads. My goal is to help parents become familiar with the technology tools their children are using in the classroom but I also like to chat about larger questions involving navigating digital platforms and the Internet.

Before we got started on creating digital storybooks I asked parents to tell me why they chose to attend the workshop. Most said they feel their kids know more about using mobile devices than they do. Other parents want to learn to use mobile devices like the iPad to encourage their children to learn creatively outside the classroom.  Some parents expressed concern about having their kids spend mindless time playing online games after school.

The school district now provides iPads for children to use in class and some of the higher grades can also take them home. Most parents in attendance do not have mobile devices at home other than smartphones.

After introductions we chatted about the new Common Core State Standards which outline that students must develop digital media and technology skills.  This is in line with some of the initiatives I’m involved in at the college level to help increase digital literacy and support 21st century learning.

The iPad is a tool that can help.  Children are familiar with using touch-screen technology found in mobile devices.  They like to use these tools to socialize, communicate and contribute to online communities. Teaching a child with a tool they have a personal interest in can help to get buy-in from them to engage in lessons and activities.

 During our workshop some parents remarked that they felt uneasy about their children spending “too much” time on digital devices.  Another parent commented that while she wasn’t sure how much time her child was spending with the device in the classroom,  at home she sees digital devices as a distraction from doing other activities like playing outside or solving puzzles.  Balancing the physical and virtual world is important. True.  My mother worried about too much TV when I was a kid.   She too saw the “boob tube” as a distraction from socializing with the neighborhood kids and running outside to get exercise.  Innovation, technology and gadgets always bring competition for our attention.  

But playing online games can be productive.  My son says he likes to play computer games because it’s his way of unwinding after a long day at school.  Some online games provide a distraction but they also have teaching elements that are woven into the fun. They can also help children develop their digital citizenship.

Back at the workshop I spoke about an example I had observed the day before in my household:

My son loves multi-player games that involve building virtual worlds.  Last summer, while attending our annual family reunion he recruited new members to join his ‘clan’ in the virtual world he was building.  

His first day of middle school this past fall was filled with the angst of attending a new school district where he didn’t know anybody and had to make new friends.  He quickly bonded with other kids who also played the game of ‘clans’ and soon they joined his world (the world of middle schoolers as well as the virtual one).

“So, all those little viking-looking characters represent a real person” I asked as I inquired about his online gaming.  “Yes!” he said, “there used to be more but some have gotten kicked out.”  “Who kicks them out” I asked.  “I do” he said,  “I’m the leader, I created this world.”   “Why do you kick them out?”  “Well, if they’re mean to other members or are cussing in the chat- I warn them and if they continue I kick them out.  Sometimes players destroy what we’re building in our community and then I kick them out too.  I don’t always know when these things are happening but the other kids will tell me.”

Interesting.  Sounds a lot like traditional communities.

I think about how online games can teach children about leadership skills, participation and collaboration, working in groups and how they check their behavior in online communities–perhaps much the same as they would check it in a traditional classroom setting.

This also reminds me of a story I read a few years ago when the new director for the Media Lab at MIT mentioned how his experience in playing World of Warcraft shaped his professional development:

… and a guild leader in World of Warcraft. “My feeling is that what we are doing in WoW represents in many ways the future of real time collaborative teams and leadership in an increasingly ad hoc, always-on, diversity intense and real-time environment,”

As we regrouped our thoughts at our workshop I thought more about how we want to better understand the impact digital learning is having on our kids and how to raise the comfort level for parents.  Perhaps a way to do this is learn by doing.

We continued on to digital storybook creation using iPads.

“Why do we tell stories?” I asked our participants.

“To pass down information, to explain traditions!” exclaimed a parent and another parent said “to teach a lesson, to give a moral of a story.”

Yes, we tell stories to entertain, to record an experience, to share knowledge too.

Each parent was provided with an iPad that has the Haiku Deck application installed.  I chose Haiku Deck because of it’s simple format that focuses less on learning the platform and more on creative presentation creation with pictures and words.  Creating an account to use this application used to be completely free (useful, given our budgets) but now the company has a limited free account option and pushes users to purchase a ‘premium’ account for more features.

I asked parents to create 5 slides with pictures and words that describe what they like to do with their families or how they spend time together.

The parent center staff and I walked around the room helping parents create accounts in the Haiku Deck app.  The app requires an email address to sign up.  Some parents did not have an email address and we helped them create one first.

Haiku Deck has a helpful search function for pictures that recognizes photos tagged in different languages.  For example, some parents said they liked going to the beach on weekends with their kids.  Our workshop was bilingual so when they typed “playa” into the search bar the results came back with similar tags for “beach” in English and Spanish along with images of sandy beaches and sunsets.

As we wrapped up our workshop you could see lots of tapping on the screens to find the menus to add slides, add pictures, and writing of text. Then there was “look at this” giggles from some parents working together. Fun!

To finish our workshop I asked participants to share their stories.  We heard and saw stories from a mother who likes to run in the park with her kids.  Another mother who likes to attend baseball games with her children and grandchildren! Another parent expressed her love of reading bedtime stories to her young child.

One of the final stories was created in the format of a letter from a mother to her son. The room was clearly touched by her story as everyone ‘awwwed’ and clapped.  

Oh, the power of stories!

At the end of the workshop parents commented that they would keep working on their stories since they could access their accounts on their mobile devices or through Some said they couldn’t wait until their children got home from school to show them what they created in class!  

PhotoVoice: Participatory Photography as a Digital Storytelling Tool

Photo of our 9/22/16 class workshop on PhotoVoice from Whittier Daily News:

This semester students from the paired course “Medical Sociology and the Science Behind Obesity” are engaging in a new way to do digital storytelling.  The method known as PhotoVoice is borrowed from a movement that aims to use participatory photography as a self-advocacy tool.  This assignment asks students to use photography and video as a way to tell a story about the relationship between their environment, their community, and their health. Professor of Sociology Julie Collins-Dogrul and Professor of Biology Sylvia Vetrone first taught this course together in the Spring of 2012.  Students worked in groups to create video projects that explored and documented both negative and positive resources surrounding local parks and corner stores.  The student digital stories were then placed on a map that collectively told a richer story of the neighborhood structure.  You can see the stories from 2012 here by clicking on each pin on the map.

Professor Julie Collins-Dogrul wanted to revisit this project but with a slight difference of focus. She is asking students to choose a public elementary school attendance map (a proxy for a neighborhood) to document positive and negative resources in the neighborhood like safe ways to walk to school and options for healthy lifestyles like nearby parks or abundant fast food.  “The PhotoVoice projects aim to document lived experiences, communities, resources, and challenges in a digital story” says Collins-Dogrul.  “The technique gives voice to local people (including Whittier College students) rather than experts, and enables locals to evaluate their own community needs and advocate for social change.”

An important part of this project will be the interaction of students with community members. “Because of the public nature of our PhotoVoice projects students must get consent from people they wish to photograph if these people can be identified.  Photovoice projects are not scientific research, but they are public, and therefore we require consent” says Collins-Dogrul.  “Students, likewise, give consent for their projects to go public.”

The goals of this project are to enable students to record and communicate their views on Whittier’s food and physical activity, strengths and concerns, to facilitate praxis; a way of connecting theory and action, to promote dialogue and knowledge about obesity through discussions of the PhotoVoice process and final digital story and to use visual methods of knowledge production to advocate for policy change.

Fall 2016 digital stories will be added to update the map from 2012.

Spotlight: Rosemary Carbine

This past spring, Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies Rosemary Carbine taught her course Green Religion at Whittier College but this time she introduced some new digital elements.  DigLibArts asked her to share her digital pedagogy experience: Tell us about the class that you taught and how you worked with DigLibArts. How do you normally …

Digital Storytelling in Study Abroad: Taking the Show on the Road!

May Term 2016 Study Abroad

This May we took our ‘show on the road!’ Instructional Technologist, Kathy Filatreau and I traveled to Denmark with professors of social work, Paula Sheridan and Lisa Ibanez and 19 Whittier College students.

This study abroad course is designed to bring students to Denmark to research and understand how this country runs its welfare and workfare state.  Our course was filled with site visits, lectures by invited guests, and a digital storytelling workshop that included faculty partners from Metropolitan University College in Copenhagen and a class of international students visiting from different countries throughout Europe.  Together with our Whittier College students, the EU students worked in teams to create digital stories that reflected their collective thoughts on articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how each relates to youth in their respective countries.

Over the last five years, Kathy and I have been working with the social work department at Whittier College to create various digital assignments including collaborative community resource maps, digital magazines, capturing community stories with digital presentation tools and digital storytelling. Thrilled with the success of seeing students actively engaged in this process of crafting personal narratives filled with evidence-based knowledge of what they have learned and how they will apply their experiences as emerging professionals, we wanted to share our pedagogy with international partners.  These narratives juxtaposed with images, sound, and graphics can be powerful ways to communicate– in ways that perhaps traditional ‘papers’ cannot capture or translate.

The digital storytelling assignment is rigorous!  Students go through a series of writing and peer review sessions before a final narrative is formed. It’s an exercise in the economy of writing and communication forcing them to be concise in the usage of their words.  Digital stories are typically three minutes in length and students must also learn to use visuals that correspond to their recorded words.  We coach students on techniques to capture photos on their mobile devices for use in their digital stories. For students that want to use work created by others we explain the use of creative commons licensed media and the responsibility of properly giving attribution for borrowed work.

This academic process of combining personal narratives with stories of achievement have produced compelling student-produced digital stories that are too good not to share!  With student permission, we have compiled an online archive of digital stories created by Whittier College students here.  

Taking the Show on the Road

When we designed the digital storytelling assignment for study abroad in Denmark we had to keep in mind that we didn’t have a whole semester to work on it like we normally do. We had to scaffold the assignment in a way that made sense to our Danish partners and the classes they were teaching.  We would also be working with a group of students from an international community that we wouldn’t meet until the day of the digital storytelling workshop.  The success of our project was based on what we did know:

Digital Storytelling is Relatively Low-Tech

Editing the Digital Story: Yes, we needed wifi to create projects. But we were prepared to go offline if necessary.  We checked with our Danish partners in advance to make sure all of our students would have access to an internet connection.  We use the web-based video editor WeVideo because of the collaborative editing options and assigned administrators can manage student accounts and projects. It also makes digital stories easily shareable.  Our Whittier College students were asked to create accounts in advance to save time and avoid tech hiccups before our workshop.

Photos for the Digital Story: We scheduled a field trip with a local photography expert while in Denmark who explained technique and use of lighting.  Our photography expert had a very nice DSLR camera with multiple lenses but we had cell phones.  We shifted our lessons to iPhone/cell phone photography (which has become quite popular).  Most students have cell phones with cameras that take great photos!  They are portable and the photos can be easily transferred into WeVideo through a free app.

Recorded Audio for the Digital Story: We purchased $15 microphones on Amazon to record student narratives on our cell phones.

Sharing the Digital Stories: At the end of our workshop day, we shared student digital stories in class.  The advantage of using technology to create these stories is that the finished products can be saved in multiple platforms and they are easily accessible. The playlist for our Denmark digital stories is here.

We also did quite a bit of  pre-planning before we left the country.  We met with the Whittier College students who would be joining us on study abroad nearly six months before departure.  On various dates we discussed the digital storytelling project and what the expectations would be.  As plans and events were confirmed we communicated this with our students. We also wanted to make the topic they would be writing about in their digital stories simple but meaningful.  As I explained before, we didn’t have a full semester to work on this so it was important to create a writing prompt that our students were exposed to and could discuss with a group of international students.  We required the stories to only be a minute in length.  We had to keep them short but meaningful. We also created an agenda for the workshop that included breaks and lunch schedules to make sure we were on task as needed.  As the day progressed during our workshop, we noticed that some students completed their stories ahead of time while others required more time.  Perhaps this was because of varying levels of skill or experience but our thoughts in debrief were to ask these students to help others who required more assistance.

What We Hoped for But Didn’t Expect

Students bonded!  They wanted more in-class time together to talk and discuss their ideas.  It really sparked discussion and engagement.  They cheered each other on as we introduced each story for viewing.  They also hung out after class socially.  On the day of the last meeting a class party was organized and all of the students attended.  Surely they’ve found ways to keep in touch via social media.  

We see the value of digital storytelling in teaching and learning.  Students learn to use technology in meaningful ways to create and communicate powerful stories of awareness, discovery, and reflection.  As educators, we see the need to build critical thinking skills in our students.  In her study, Digital Storytelling for Reflection and Engagement, Catherine Boase states “The process of constructing a story requires numerous cognitive strategies to come into play, such as comparing, selecting, inferring, arranging and revising information.  Making a digital story is a process that is interesting and valuable in its own right. Intellectually and emotionally, creating a story involves cognitive processes of reflection, evaluation and creation, while technically the production of a digital story can require some degree of new media literacy.”  Cognitive processes of reflection, evaluation and creation–this is the strength of the digital storytelling assignment! If telling stories are a way to transfer knowledge then we are all partners in teaching and learning.  Digital storytelling also fits the High-Impact Educational Practices that we strive for.  I am grateful for the opportunity to take our digital storytelling assignment into a study abroad course and to share our pedagogy with international partners.  I am especially thrilled to showcase the collaborative work we do here at Whittier College and DigLibArts!

See and read more about Digital Storytelling in our study abroad course at

Destination Denmark: Digital Stories as Pocket Documentaries

I recently found a picture taken of me on a hill overlooking the Krak des Chevaliers in western Syria during a 2003 trip.  I am pictured with my video camera, tripod and a bag strapped to my waist that holds brick-like backup battery packs and as many mini DV recording cassettes as I could carry.  I was filming a documentary on women, history, and the middle east.  I remember the challenges of the heat and the altitude along with the heavy gear I had to trek on some of the expeditions. But once I got the shots I wanted: Magic! Exhilaration! So many ancient stories to tell, beginning with one picture.
I’ve held on to this feeling and I’m thrilled to begin an idea I’ve had in the works for some time: pocket documentary filmmaking.
Krak des chevaliers, 2003
Later this spring, Kathy Filatreau (Instructional Technologist & partner in Digital Storytelling projects) and I will be traveling with 20 students from Whittier College’s anthropology and social work 300 course to Copenhagen, Denmark.  The course taught by Professors Paula Sheridan and Lisa Ibañez are studying the ways in which welfare and workfare states contribute to the well-being of children and families.  For many of the students in our group, this will be the first time they are traveling abroad.  Along with their excitement to visit a different part of the world they also bring specific topics they would like to research.  Some of these include education systems, clean energy plants, and the Dane’s renowned culture of happiness.  Their main assignment is to create a digital story that reflects their research and findings.  In 2016, the tools students will use to create their digital stories are all in their pocket.  We will use our mobile devices, including phones and tablets to take photos and gather interviews and footage to edit with a personal narrative.  The result will be a series of pocket documentaries that students will share with each other and a group of Danish faculty and students.

Our trip will include class meetings hosted by Metropolitan University College’s Social Work Program and we will share workshops on creating digital stories with our Danish partners.  Students will take part in field visits relevant to course content and cultural excursions that will include a photography tour of the city focusing on techniques for capturing images and sound that will add dimension to student narratives. We will be blogging our learning adventure and sharing our digital stories on  We hit the ground running on May 20, 2016!

Storytelling, Creativity, and Learn By Doing

Anthro 211
Students creating digital stop motion stories in Jenny Banh’s Anthro 211 course. 1/8/16

Why do we tell stories?  “To transfer knowledge” replied a student in the Anthro 211 course as he read off one of my slides.  Yes, but thinking creatively, how can we make information transfer more story-based I asked?  Crickets.  I find that teaching information is more engaging when you invite the audience in with a story. I asked students for some examples of storytelling in their everyday lives and some mentioned that they call their parents to update them on things they are working on. Others tell stories about their day at the Campus Inn where they have their meals with friends.  There are many ways to tell stories.  What about social media, I asked?  I wouldn’t consider myself to be a Yelper I continued but I had a meal last night that warranted a review because I wanted to share information, as in tell others that they should eat at this place too.  “The food tasted like it was made with love” I read from my posted online review.  That’s a story or at least the beginning of one as I described the events that brought me to that restaurant the night before.

 I don’t know if students consider themselves to be storytellers but they are.  We all are.  In my workshops I often instruct that stories should be more personal and less instructional as a way to invite the audience into the story.  But how do you make an instructional video interesting with story elements?  This is the challenge for the Anthro 211: Peoples and Cultures of Asia courses taught by Jenny Banh.  Professor Banh is teaching two sessions of this course during Jan Term (one in the morning and one in the afternoon).  The assignment is for students to create digital stories using stop motion tools to illustrate the information they’ve learned on given subjects like; Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Tokyo Disneyland, chopsticks  and Power Rangers.  

Before we looked at digital tools we discussed story. Some beginning stories read like Wikipedia entries.  The interesting stories were informative with facts and figures on the subject but they also included insight and evidence of knowledge about the content taught in class.  This is an assignment that asks students to create a story using digital tools.  But more importantly it’s asking them to write a well-thought out, informative and entertaining narrative.

At the end of this week we will work on storyboards and record student narratives to be used as voice overs for their digital projects.  Students then have the option of using stop motion apps on their mobile devices (one group created this in our first class: chopsticks video) or to create illustrations and edit them on WeVideo.  My hopes are that students will learn by doing projects like these that asks them to demonstrate knowledge through storytelling that is informative yet engaging and in the process they can also discover the enhancement that digital tools can provide.  I’ll post completed digital stories at the end of Jan Term.

I believe creativity is an important part of this assignment which leads me to new questions: how do you teach creativity and how do you measure it?  To be continued…

As promised, student/stop motion animation projects on our YouTube Channel!