Introducing digital storytelling


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Handout to accompany Chris Thomson's presentation to RSC London's Digital Creativity event on 23rd May 2012

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Introducing digital storytelling

  1. 1. Introducing Digital StorytellingDigital Creativity, RSC London 23rd May 2012Why are stories important?Stories play an important part in learning as well as life in general. Stories are:Universal – we seem to have an innate understanding of story which makes them a good tool forcommunicating, especially between different groups.Social – stories are meant to be told. In doing so they enhance communication between people, buildrelationships and create opportunities of social constructive learningSense Making – we use stories to make sense of a complicated world. For millennia we’ve used myths,parables, fables etc. to communicate highly nuanced messages in a simple way. Telling stories helps usto explain ourselves or what we have learnt.Memorable – remembering abstract concepts is difficult but by presenting ideas in stories we deliverthem in a package that someone can easily remember and recall later.Entertaining – stories should be about getting an audience to respond emotionally.What is digital Storytelling?Simply, it is the telling of the story by combining various pieces of digital media. That’s all there is to it.The idea was first developed in the US by Joe Lambert and Dana Atchley at what would become TheCentre for Digital Storytelling (CDS - http:// They saw the possibilities ofusing simple technology to help people tell their stories without having the skills to use the complicatedequipment and software professional media producers used.So long as you are telling a story through digital means it qualifies as digital storytelling. Here are a fewof the more common formsNarrated slideshowsThis is the most common view of what DS should be. It’s the model that was developed by CDS. Usingsoftware like Moviemaker or iMovie you can layer images on top of a recorded piece of narrative and addin other elements like text, sound and music. Traditionally, these tend to be around 2-5 minutes long anddon’t use video, just still images.
  2. 2. Introducing Digital StorytellingGroup storytellingVoicethread ( allows users to upload documents, videos, images and sounds intoa basic slideshow format, then other users can add their own comments via text, webcam or mic so thata group commentary is created around the uploaded mediaMap storiesGoogle Maps and Google Earth allow you to annotate places with text, simple diagrams and embeddedmedia. It’s possible to build up narratives about places, for example following a field trip, or creatingvirtual guided tours.Social Media StorytellingReflective blogging is a form of digital storytelling, albeit one that can rely quite heavily on text. LikewiseFacebook, Twitter and Linked In can be a repository for stories. Consider using a tool like Storify( to collate Tweets, Facebook updates, Youtube videos, Flickr Images etc and create astory out of them by adding interpretive text.Stories of ThingsCombining QR codes attached to objects and digital media hosted on the internet you can create simpleaugmented reality stories. Tools like Aurasma ( have object recognition technologythat can dispense with the need for QR codes.© JISC Netskills 2012 1
  3. 3. Introducing Digital StorytellingCreating a conducive atmosphereFor most people, expressing themselves in story doesn’t come naturally but usually because of lack ofpractice. Don’t try storytelling as a single one off activity. Build up towards it using smaller creative activities. Repeat the process as well. People get better at it the more they try. Keep early activities “low focus”. People can find sharing their creative work with large groups intimidating. Gradually encourage people to share with larger audiences. Welcome liberal interpretations of the brief. So long as it meets things like assessment criteria, is done ethically and has minimum acceptable standards it can be good to encourage creative approaches. Encourage peer to peer feedback and assessment. Storytelling is a community activity. Play to your learners’ digital strengths. They need to focus on the story and if the learning curve for the technology is too steep then this will detract from that. Take your time – creating a short digital story of about 2-3mins can take days. A good rule of thumb is to spend 1-2 days working on the script, then 2 days creating and refining the digital media. Be a storyteller – the best way to understand the process is to do it yourself. Also, if your learners see you incorporating into your own practice it will give them confidence in you.Inspiring storiesIt can be difficult to identify where people’s stories are. Some techniques to try:Start with a single image or object – what is about the thing or the picture that is important. Does itspark a memory of a person or significant event?Draw a timeline or temperature graph – if you are dealing with a long stretch of time you don’t want toget bogged down telling the story of the whole thing. A temperature graph can be used to show moodover the course of an event. Ask where were the sudden dips or highs were, where did you move fromnegative to positive or vice versa. What happened at each of those points? That’s usually where the mostinteresting stories can be found.Where was the point of no return? With historical events or personal narratives outcomes depend on arange of choices and circumstances. Try asking someone to pick what they thought was the point of noreturn, where was the crucial choice made after which what happened was inevitable.Describe a journey – Tolstoy said that great literature is made of 2 stories: a stranger comes to town or aperson goes on a journey. At the end of the journey the person is transformed somehow. Some of the bestreflective storytelling is about this transformational journey; what happened and how did it change you?Unsung hero, hidden villain – stories rely quite heavily on people other than the storyteller having aneffect on the narrative. This could be a kindly mentor that imparts important information that equipssomeone to succeed (think Yoda) or it could be someone whose actions put hurdles and dangers in theprotagonist’s way (think Darth Vader). Who has had that effect on you?Before and after – ask your leaners to describe a current situation and then predict what it will be like inthe future; next week, next year, in 100 years? Good for thinking about personal learning goals.Constrain the story – deliberately put limits on how a story can be told. Tell a story in 3 pictures or 50words for example. Sometimes these limits can inspire creative solutions2 © JISC Netskills 2012
  4. 4. Introducing Digital StorytellingStory-Writing TipsFocus on people or events - Your audience will relate to the story better than if you focus on abstractideasTell small stories to make a big point – rambling stories that try to cover everything are both difficult towrite and harder to listen to.Leave space for the audience – the audience is an active participant in the story. Don’t try to answerevery single question or solve every mystery. If the audience stills has questions at the end of a story itcan make it more memorable.Nail the first and last sentences – You need high impact at the start, so start with a question orsomething that doesn’t quite make sense on its own, that needs the audience to pay attention to thestory to make sense of it. The last sentence should resonate with your audience; if possible it should besomething which encapsulates the whole story.Leave pauses – a relentless barrage of talking can be overwhelming. You need space to breathe as doesthe audience!Create tension - Your audience will want to stick with the story to find out what happensProvide resolution… - Satisfy the audience by resolving the tension with a clear ending.…or don’t! - Leaving things hanging can spur someone on to do something or raise more questions.© JISC Netskills 2012 3
  5. 5. Introducing Digital StorytellingProducing your storyThese are basic guidelines for creating CDS-style digital stories. Depending on what software you usesome of these steps will vary. Make sure you have thoroughly gone through the process yourself and beprepared for the unexpected!Drafting the script – go through this at least 2 times, each time sharing stories with peers and gettingsuggestions and encouragement.Record the final draft – using software like Audacity, create an MP3 of the spoken story. Record in a quietplace and try multiple takes until you think you’ve got the best one. Keep old versions just in case.Storyboard the digital story – what images are you going to use at each point? What other media(sounds, text etc.) are you going to add in.Upload the audio – using a timeline-based editor like iMovie, Moviemaker, Adobe Premiere Elements,upload the audio and drag it onto the timeline.Upload images and sync to the audio – without worrying about transitions and effects for the momentjust get the pictures appearing at the right place with the audio.Add effects – add transitions between images, “Ken Burns” effects and titles. Keep it simple. Dramaticstar wipes and fancy fonts will end up detracting from the story. Warning: this is usually the place whereeverything goes screwy depending on the software you use. Pictures will end up out of sync or glued toeach other and difficult to re-sync. Leave plenty of time for sorting this out and warn people it mayhappen.Render – while you’re working on your movie it’s effectively a collage of digital media that hasn’t beenstuck down properly. You won’t be able to share it or upload it online. You’ll need to “render” the finisheditem as a movie file like .wmv, .avi, .mpg, .dv, .mov etc. Choosing the right one depends on the softwareyou have and where you’ll be storing the stories. There’s plenty of advice available online.Share – spend time showcasing the finished stories. It’s important that people have recognition for whatthey’ve done. It can be an emotional process!4 © JISC Netskills 2012