Library:Digital Storytelling

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Want to learn about digital storytelling? Start here..

  • what is digital storytelling
  • why create digital stories
  • what technology you will need
  • how to publish your digital story

What is it?

Due to its relative novelty, the term "digital storytelling" has no universally accepted definition. Laura Hilliger, who co-facilitated a Massive Open Online Course on Digital Storytelling, believes that any story that makes use of digital media qualifies as a digital story.[1] The Center for Digital Storytelling founder Joe Lambert argues for a more restrictive definition, which is that stories are narratives told with photographs from the first person perspective, and are less than three minutes in length.[2] I've adopted Lambert's definition because the limited time frame, combined with the complexity of personal memory, will give you practice paring your project down to its essentials. As today's digital communication trends toward the concise, this is an important skill to develop.

The following video shows an educator's take on digital storytelling and includes tips on effective digital storytelling. Oliver Dreon[3] looks closely at what constitutes a personal story, and expands his definition of digital storytelling to include historical and informational stories. He also analyzes the benefits of learning to create a video.

Why create it?

According to statistics from Pew Internet and American Life Project, [4] people spend more time looking at online videos than visiting social media sites.


A case can also be made that digital stories are more engaging than other forms of media. In a study of textbooks, educational psychologist Richard Mayer and his team discovered that students were best able to retain and solve problems with information when it was presented with both text and images. By contrast, students struggled to remember text-only and image-only presentations.[5] And due to the limited number of images, Lambert's version of digital storytelling shares with comic strips the "rich empty space [between the images] for the reader to project causality" (a phenomenon observed by comic strip scholar Hillary Chute). [6] Arguably, engaging the viewer's imagination makes it more likely they will be impacted by the presentation.

In his thesis on digital literacy, Douglas Belshaw argues that digital literacy is "only meaningful within a social context and involves having access to the cultural, economic and political structures of a society".[7] By creating engaging videos, you are better positioned to become a visible and fully participating web citizen. You will also have a better sense of how stories are constructed, which can help you critically assess the digital stories you encounter on the web.

Why publish it?

In Lambert's workshops, a digital story can be a process where "the author is aware of a new insight,"[8] and he emphasizes this process over publication. However, he interviews Amy Hill, who runs a digital storytelling program called Silence Speaks and notes that publishing can spark a dialogue that can bring to light previously ignored issues.[9] If sparking dialogue is your intent, a social media site such as your Facebook page can be a good venue for publishing.[10] This also has the benefit of limiting your exposure to potential trolls and other negative people. By contrast, if your intent is to gain as wide an audience as possible, you might want to upload your video to a video-sharing website such as YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler or Dailymotion. The following TED talk describes three elements of a viral video:[11]

How create it?

  1. Write a script. Joe Lambert from the Center for Digital Storytelling recommends that you initially aim for 500-1000 words, then pare that down. For inspiration, Oliver Dreon, a professor who teaches digitial storytelling suggests finding some photographs to write your story around, and Lambert devotes an entire chapter to inspiration in Digital Storytelling [12]to this subject. Both recommend talking your idea through - either by yourself or with other people.
  2. Storyboarding - Storyboarding is a way to plan out your presentation. One way to do this is to put six post-it notes on posterboard and to sketch your video's important moments into those post-its. Underneath, you can identify the voice-over, transitions (how one image fades into the next) and the soundtrack that will take place during each sketched moment.
  3. Get the media you will need to put together your video. Record your voice-over, import your images and music, and edit your files as necessary.
  4. Next: assemble your media. Put the finishing touches on how it will look. If you want ideas on how to refine your presentation, check out chapter nine in Lambert's Digital Storytelling book [13]

Check out Oliver Dreon's video on creating a digital story:

Choosing tools

The primary technology you need to create your video will be a video-editing software. A video camera is not necessary as photographs can provide visuals. There are many kinds of video-editing software, including Adobe Premiere Elements, CyberLink PowerDirector, iMovie, Quicktime, Sony Movie Studio Platinum, and Windows Movie Maker.

Selecting a tool is not an easy process, but it helps if you create a criteria and test out trial versions. Here are some questions you might want to consider:

How easy is it to use?

  • Can you import images and audio clips easily?
  • Is the editing interface intuitive?

Does it let you share your videos?

  • Does the software have the ability to upload your video? Which social media does it upload to?

What editing tools does it have?

  • Do you prefer a timeline or storyboard display?
  • Does it have enough effects and transitions for your purposes?
  • does it let you make subtitles?

Is it expensive?

  • video editing software can cost as much as $600.


  1. Hilliger, Laura. "Introduction to Topic #2: Digital Storytelling". Accessed July 17, 2014.
  2. Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge, 2013: 37
  3. Dreon, Oliver. “Digital Storytelling Overview.” YouTube video, 4:56. March 27, 2010.
  4. Currier, Alyce. "One Nation Under Video." Accessed July 17, 2014.
  5. Mayer, Richard E., William Bove, Alexandra Bryman, Rebecca Mars, and Lene Tapangco. "When less is more: Meaningful Learning from Visual and Verbal Summaries of Science Textbook Lessons." Journal of Educational Psychology 88, no. 1 (1996): 72.
  6. Hillary L. Chute. Graphic women: life narrative and contemporary comics. Columbia University Press, 2013: 8.
  7. Belshaw, Douglas. "What is' digital literacy'? A Pragmatic Investigation." PhD diss., Durham University, 2012: 206
  8. Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge, 2013: 37
  9. Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge, 2013: 143
  10. Visser, Jasper. "How to Tell a Story that Stands out in the Digital Age?" Accessed July 17, 2014.
  11. Allocca, Kevin. "Why Videos go Viral." TED Video. 7:16. November 2011.
  12. Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge, 2013: 88- 96)
  13. Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge, 2013: 105 - 116


This section will look more closely at a video editing software called Windows Movie Maker. I choose this software because it is free, and the videos can be emailed and posted to Facebook, YouTube, OneDrive and Flickr. In my view, the editing interface is quite intuitive, and presents your film as a series of images, any of which can be clicked for further editing. For example, you can insert new images into the video or adjust the volume during particular moments.

There are two ways to import your files into the Windows Movie Maker: from a device or from a file on your computer. Movie Maker only permits the import of certain files ( .WMV/.ASF, .MPG (MPEG-1), .AVI (DV-AVI), .WMA, .WAV, and .MP3), but other file formats can be imported if appropriate programs are installed.

Windows Movie Maker


  • Uploading is made easy with an easy-to-find upload button. This brings up your file browser and prompts you to select the file of your choice.
  • You will be able to rotate videos that have been shot sideways. The rotate buttons are featured prominently under the "edit" tab.
  • When you replace one image on the video with another, you can apply a variety of transition effects to make this process more interesting. Movie Maker includes effects such as fades, sweeps, shatters, curls and more.
  • If you were shaking when you held your video camera, the resulting shakiness of your image can be distracting for the viewer. Movie Maker has a feature to correct this shakiness.
  • To record your voiceover, click the "narration" button and begin speaking - the program will automatically link to the microphone in your computer. Later, you are able to move your voiceover to different parts of the movie.
  • If you've uploaded background music, you can edit it to determine when it starts and stops.
  • There are many options to customize the title page, including a large variety of fonts and colours. You can also animate the movement of the words (ie. have them fly into the screen).
  • There are a variety of artistic effects that can give your images a different look. Some can blur your image, intensify the colours, or make it look like it was drawn by hand.


  • While you are working on Movie Maker, the program may crash and freeze. It is for this reason that Joe Lambert prefers to use commercial products when leading his Digital Storytelling workshops. [1]
  • iMovie is also a free software, and it also offers more themes that can change the appearance of your movie.
  • While Movie Maker offers many transition and visual effects, commercial products have a larger set of options.
  • If there is unwanted background noise in your video, you can remove it with some programs, but not with Movie Maker.



  1. Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge, 2013: 80

Case Studies

Digital Storytelling in Health


Roberto and Nely Morales's story about sex and pregnancy in Indigenous Guatamala

Jimmy experiences a fall in a hospital that goes unobserved and leads to a severe spinal injury.


Patient Voices is a non-profit organization with a mandate to redress the dehumanizing experiences of the UK healthcare system. This organization facilitates the creation of digital stories by medical professionals, medical students and patients which explore the link between health and dignity. They show these videos to students in medical schools and to policymakers with the hope of affecting change.

Health-related digital storytelling is arguably more effective in a digital form than a paper-based form. For one, digital stories can be widely disseminated via the web, which can foster dialogue with a variety of people. Two, the format of a story can be very appealing. In focusing on the experience rather than expressing anger or attempting to get people's attention, stakeholders can come together over a common ground. [1]


  1. Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge, 2013: 171

Further Reading