CTLT Dialogues

The Blog of the Center for Teaching & Learning with Technology

Digital Storytelling

Posted by ctlt on June 6, 2008

Peter Burkholder, an Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and History at Becton College, taught the Institute’s final hands-on session, on “Digital Storytelling.” What is “digital storytelling?” Peter offered a few examples of student work from his courses, in two main categories: history music videos and digital narration projects.

He also discussed why he assigns such a project in his courses: because the project asks students to synthesize what they’ve learned from more traditional course materials and to translate that into video form, a form many seem more comfortable and perhaps more fluent with.

The music videos and narrated videos his students produce may use various software options, including MS PowerPoint, Apple’s iMovie and Moviemaker. an editing application that’s now part of the installation for MS Windows operating systems.

Peter began working with digital storytelling as part of a scholarship of teaching and learning project while he was teaching at his previous school. At that time, he received help from the Visible Knowledge Project at Georgetown University.

While Peter says writing is certainly an important skill, he thinks the digital storytelling projects give students a chance to work with other skills, and highlights students’ non-traditional abilities. Another advantage he’s found is that working with digital storytelling methods is more meaningful and memorable to students, and makes the pop culture they’re immersed in more relevant. Anyone can do it, he says, at some level.

There are drawbacks. Inevitably, there are always technological problems. Presenting information using digital storytelling techniques is not particularly conducive to treating complex topics, so instructors may have to change their expectations somewhat. Further, the process is very time-consuming. It requires substantial in-class preparation time, students need several class periods to work on group projects and to present their final projects. Peter also noted that the instructor has to be available to troubleshoot problems with the students, to overcome whatever difficulties they may encounter. Digital storytelling also requires different evaluation techniques, which may also prove time-consuming.

Peter believes there are additional advantages to digital storytelling:

  • Completed projects are sharable with classes in the present, and also future classes.
  • The assignment is potentially applicable to any course, in any discipline.
  • The project pushes the instructor to learn new evaluation skills.

Is it good pedagogy? The projects themselves should demonstrate the sort of mastery that students can achieve, but Peter also points to various student evaluation results he’s obtained. The digital story often scores at the top or near the top of the list students have made to rank how each type of assignment helped them learn the course materials. It also ranked highest in terms of the workload that students took on, so they spent a lot of “time on task” working on their projects.

Peter shared several examples of student projects with the workshop, and then led participants through a couple of short activities to demonstrate important methods for constructing digital storytelling projects. Peter’s “Technical Guide to Digital Storytelling” may be downloaded here.


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