MET:Digital Storytelling

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ETEC 510
Revised by Kari Matusiak ETEC 510 65C (Jan 2018) Revised and Edited by Heather MacLellan ETEC 510 65C(Jan. 2011)

This page is was originally authored by Sabrina Fonagy, Beverley Knutson-Shaw & Alix Burdett.(January 2010 ETEC 510 65B)

{{#ev:youtube|dKZiXR5qUlQ|650|right|An Overview of digital storytelling}}Author: JAGTKD

What are Digital Stories?

The Center for Digital Storytelling provides the following definition for a digital story: "A short, first person video narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds." This is digital storytelling (DST) as originally envisioned by Dana Atchely one of its creators and a founder of the Center for Digital Literacy. Since its birth, DST has grown to be so much more! Jason Ohler states that because it is such an expansive concept, DST is inherently difficult to define and offers the following description: "Digital Storytelling uses personal digital technology to combine a number of media into a coherent narrative." In their original form Digital Stories included a voice-over narrative along with still images, music and titles. Today, digital stories are likely to include video footage, animations, and a variety of other mediums made possible by the latest technologies.

Digital Storytelling Definition Film

History & Pioneers

DST grew out of the Community Arts Movement popular in the 1980's. The Community Arts Movement focused on drawing attention to the underprivileged and the voiceless in hopes of bringing about positive social change. Traditionally, only those who had access to often expensive resources were able to tell their stories, while ordinary people were excluded. In an effort to provide a medium for "ordinary" people to tell their stories, video producer Dana Atchley, and theatre director, Joe Lambert developed DST workshops. With the availability of new and inexpensive technologies like digital cameras, scanners and personal computers, everyone could create and broadcast their own message! In 1994, after providing a series of workshops for different groups, Atchley, Lambert and Nina Mullen established the San Francisco Digital Media Center (now known as the Center for Digital Literacy). Over the next five years digital storytelling workshops provided training to many groups including youth, the disabled, veterans, and a variety of arts groups. The Center for Digital Literacy branched out and established offices in New York, Arizona, and Colorado. They established partnerships with groups in England, Germany and Denmark. By 1996, the digital storytelling process had been formalized with the “Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling,” and hands-on training workshops were being held on a regular basis. In 1998, the San Francisco Digital Media Center moved to the UC- Berkley campus, and changed its name to the Center for Digital Storytelling. Also in 1998, pedagogical materials for DST were developed for K-12 by educators such as Bernajean Porter, Alan November, Mark Stanley, and Jason Ohler. Slowly DST was introduced into our public schools and institutes of higher education. In 1999, the Center for Digital Storytelling founded Silence Speaks, an “international digital storytelling initiative that supports the telling of typically silenced stories and promotes the use of these stories for educational, awareness-raising, community mobilization, and policy advocacy purposes." Since its early beginnings, DST has provided a medium for the voiceless including abused women, at-risk youth, and people from developing countries to tell their stories. It is an emerging medium that has changed and continues to change as new technologies develop. What remains constant is the power this medium gives people; the power to communicate their stories!


Ohler, an advocate of educational technology, shares a philosophy of Digital Storytelling which follows the "DAOW" of literacy. All four parameters combine to form a cohesive teaching and learning tool.

D is for Digital

Ohler contends that it is imperative for students to use digital technology as a platform amplifying their own creativity while teaching critical evaluation of that technology. Through their creations, students learn how digital media lends itself to give a voice by expression while powerfully conveying a message. The final product has the ability to change, morph, and inspire others.

A is for Art

Art is a form of expression that when blended with technology and writing, weaves itself a place in learning. Understanding the appropriate use of art within presentations helps to send out a powerful message.

O is for oral storytelling

Good teaching is good storytelling.

W is for writing

The organization and planning of digital stories first occurs in written format. I had to plan out the sequence of my words along with the appropriate pictures. I felt as though I was creating a play, directing the music, words, and images to become synchronized.

Why use digital story telling?


DST has multiple applications including the following list provided by Joe Lambert(2009 p. 91-103).

  • Tell an organization's story
  • Provide for personal and professional reflection
  • Discuss important health and human practices
  • Make intergenerational connections
  • Speak for and to the disabled
  • Give youth a voice
  • Celebrate diversity and identity
  • Activate communities
  • Encourage international development
  • k-12 and higher education curricula
  • Team building
  • Journalism
  • Technology training

Pedagogical Affordances

Why tell stories in school?

Storytelling is an ancient pedagogical strategy used to make sense of the world and pass on values, knowledge, and beliefs (Coulter et. al. 2007). Indeed, oral stories are still an important part of many aboriginal cultures. Many educational theorists have advocated for use of storytelling in conventional school settings. For example, Egan (1989) contends that “information with high emotional colouring within a story is much more easily remembered by humans then a random list”. Bruner (1990) describes the following pedagogical affordances of using storytelling in classrooms:

  • Assists us in the sharing of our human diversity
  • Assists us in understanding human action, intentionality and temporality by facilitating the understanding of the past events of one’s life and the planning of future actions
  • Aids us in the building of persuasive arguments
  • Facilitates the attainment of vicarious experience by helping us to distinguish the positive models to emulate from the negative models to avoid
  • Mediates in the process of articulating our identity so that we can explain to others who we are with a series of interconnected stories

In addition, Dr. Helen Barrettexplains that learning best occurs when we engage multiple parts of our brains and that story telling engages many brain centres. This process can lead to “deep learning” as compared to “surface learning”. Finally, by engaging students in telling their own personal stories and then writing them down, they gain valuable experience with writing and verbal communication skills. Dr. Barrett provides the following diagram of student centered learning:

Why use digital media to tell stories?

Not only does digital storytelling help students to gain interpersonal skills, personal and social responsibility and basic literacy, but also fosters technological literacy (Czarnecki 2009). In order to be successful in the digital age, 21st century students need to develop technological literacy. The International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) ISTE, has recommended six educational standards that should be met by 21st century students.

1. Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.

2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.

3. Research and Information Fluency
Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.

4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making

Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.

5. Digital Citizenship
Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior

6. Technology Operations and Concept
Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.

The process of digital storytelling provides opportunities for students to practice skills help them to build technological and digital literacy in addition to information literacy, and media literacy. (Robin 2008).

Limitations and Project Design Strategies

There are several well documented limitations to digital storytelling that a teacher should be aware of before implementing their use into the classroom. An awareness of the limitations means that they can be marginalized through careful planning so that digital storytelling becomes a successful learning medium for more students. A large part of using Digital Storytelling effectively evolves from the clear and detailed design of the project prior to its presentation to students. A well organized project will enhance the learning process and minimize the limitations of DST.

1. Access to the necessary technologies

When planning the scope of a digital storytelling project in the classroom, teachers need to consider the level of access to technology that is required. The minimum technological requirements for a digital story include an internet connection, computer, and editing software but there are many other hardware options for enhancing the product. For use of student created images, still and video cameras may be required, as well as a scanner to digitize older pictures and drawings done by the students. Students may also use microphones to add their own narration to the story.

Planning and Organization Considerations:

It may be preferable for classroom organization to have each group or individual work on a separate computer so that all groups can work collaboratively, however a limited number of computers may encourage other forms of organization. Before presenting the project to the class, it is advisable to do an inventory of computers and equipment to make sure that the project scope is possible using the materials available. It is also a good idea to check what free software is installed on school computers and to have an accurate count of student owned laptops and equipment that could be used for the project. If creating project groups, take into account computer access for each group. If there aren’t enough computers for everyone, an option may be to have a print based ongoing assignment that students can work on when they can’t use a computer. If the teacher chooses to display and discuss the stories online, it is advisable to check in advance about any student privacy policies that may apply. These privacy requirements may mean that parent permission forms may be needed and/or the completed stories may need to be hosted on a secure password protected site.

2. Time spent

In his 2008 study, Sadik found that the time spent creating a digital story is the number one concern for teachers. The digital story format is much more time consuming that the traditional paper bound story format. As with a paper story, students must expand their knowledge of traditional literary forms to write a high quality story. But, they must also employ digital literacy skills to find or create all of the necessary audio and visual components as well as use editing software to present it in a multimedia format. This may mean that an inordinate amount of time will be spent on one small learning outcome.

Planning and Organization Considerations:

In order to fully use the learning time and maximize the connections to the learning outcomes, it is important to consider your project design carefully so that it is relevant to a big portion of the curriculum. Because of the nature of Digital Storytelling, it is very easy to plan a project that crosses through several subjects. Depending on teaching schedule, class time for different subjects could be used to complete one project that meets the learning outcomes for all areas.

3. Teacher knowledge of technology

Many teachers feel intimidated by using digital editing software and multimedia formats in the classroom. They worry that they will not be able to teach the software or troubleshoot for students.

Planning and Organization Considerations:

Judge, Puckett and Cabuk ( in Robin, 2008) say that teacher confidence and skill with technology is dependent on training time and self directed exploration. Before starting a project, take the time necessary to make sure that you have a working knowledge of the editing software that you are using with your class. An option is to create your own digital story before you present the project to students. You can then use your digital story as a model. Another aspect to consider is the changing role of teachers in the classroom. There is an increasing focus on teachers as mentors instead of as experts and authorities. In the role of mentor, you job becomes less about knowing all the answers and more about facilitating learners in their effort to synthesize and integrate new knowledge into contexts (Laird, 2011). Many students are well informed about computer software and are comfortable learning new software by building on prior computer knowledge. You can assign a mini project to allow students to learn the technology and, as you move from group to group facilitating their knowledge building, you can learn from the students as they explore the programs. Working with students to build a community of knowledge changes your role in the classroom to that of a facilitator and minimizes the pressure on the teacher to know all the answers. Which is not feasible or necessary in our ever changing technological world where information is simply a mouse click away.

4. Bells and whistles instead of content

Using the editing software creatively is important but a potential pitfall can occur when ‘the medium outweighs the message’. This occurs when the students get caught up with the bells and whistles of the storytelling software and produce a technological event with a weak story (Ohler 2006). The research done by Sadik (2008) backs up the idea that students use too many effects. He found that students enjoyed using the pan and zoom features but they tended to overuse them so that they became distracting.

Planning and Organization Considerations:

Ormiston (in Standley, 2003) suggests that the focus on bells and whistles is the result of an inefficient plan. Robin and Pierson (2005) and Ohler (2006) agree. They suggest that if the teacher stresses the planning, research, and organization aspects of a project, the quality of the content will be higher in the final product. Focusing on the story first and setting a clear goal to use the digital story as a means of enhancing critical thinking,writing and media literacy skills will produce a better result (Ohler 2006). Robin and Pierson (2005) also suggest that sharing the digital stories with the world through an online site may encourage students to do their best work. This fits into the context of creating an authentic, meaningful activity that students find stimulating.

5. Lack of student Collaboration within groups

In a study examining the extent to which students were engaged in authentic learning while using DST, Sadik(2008) found that in most groups, one or sometimes two dominant students actively participated in the preparation of the DST and that those students did not include other’s views and opinions into the presentation. This problem can be exaborated when students use their personal laptops because the laptop owner has more access to the work than the others.

Planning and Organization Considerations:

To minimize this problem, students need to learn how to work together in group settings. In general, providing students with more opportunities to work together will give them the skills that they need to establish viable learning communities (Sadik 2008). For the Digital Storytelling project, it is beneficial to use smaller groups of no more than three students and design a project that clearly divides the work and holds each student individually responsible for a part of it. Giving the students time to get to know the technology is also important. Sadik’s (2008) study indicated that teachers observed an increase in the collaboration of students as they became more comfortable with using the technology. The comfort leads to more confidence in sharing their ideas with the group.

6. Copyright infringement:

Finally, as with all media productions, copyright issues can arise when students use images or audio from other sources. It is important that students understand copyright policies and learn to use internet sources appropriately.

Planning and Organization Considerations:

There are many websites that let students and teachers use their content royalty-free for educational purposes. When searching the Internet, students can learn to check on the usage rights for each site they browse, and be sure that the material can freely be shared. The issue of copyright can be avoided completely if students only use images that they have created personally. Regardless of where the images originate, discussing what types of images are appropriate for upload is of highest priority in any classroom. These understandings can provide invaluable ‘life’ lessons for our digital natives.

Fair Use Checklist and Copyright Guidelines can be used as starting points to create a lesson that helps familiarize students with procedures for appropriate use of text, video and images.

Development of a Digital Story

Having students create digital stories follows ‘good practices’ as highlighted in Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) framework; this creative process enhances the educational environment by ‘respecting diverse talents and ways of learning.’ Creating a well-thought-out digital story will invariably enable students to gain proficiency in reading, writing, research, visual literacy, critical thinking, and collaboration. When considering how to build your digital story, The Center for Digital Story Telling (2005)suggests seven elements to keep in mind. Review the seven key elements in practice by watching a short digital story that was developed employing each element. Watch Digital Storytelling: The Case of the Missing Bees

These are:

1. Point of View

Requiring students to research a particular topic and then pick a point of view can serve to enhance motivation and capitalize on student creativity. Through this process, students learn that stories can develop through various points of view.

2. A Dramatic Question

This is the conflict created between the main character's desire and the resolution. Common dramatic questions include: will he get the girl?, and will the character reach the goal?.

3. Emotional Content

The student must decide on the underlying tone of the story and maintain the consistency of that tone through choice of audio and visual media.

4. The Gift of your Voice

Voice is a way to personalize the story and help the audience more clearly relate to the context. It provides intonation, inflection, and expression to further reinforce the message behind the story.

5. The Power of the Soundtrack

Choosing appropriate music and sound affects can support the storyline can set the appropriate mood.

6. Economy

It is important to keep the piece short and stay on topic. Include just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer/listener with too much information.

7. Pacing

This specifically deals with how slowly or quickly the story progresses.

The Development Process

Step 1 - Use writing skills to create and edit a script. Emphasize the three part story structure with a beginning, middle and end. An overview of script writing suitable to provide teacher background knowledge is here

Step 2 - Learn about the technology needed to create your digital story. If using cameras or film, it is helpful to teach camera angles and their uses so students will know what is possible and effective when they plan their storyboard. Different camera shots and the rationale for using them is explained here

Step 3 - Create a storyboard. Depending on student age, the teacher may want to provide students with a template. Tammy Andrew created a great overview of storyboards including what they are and how to create them. It can be found here

Step 4 - Collect and create visual and auditory media.

Step 5 - Edit the storyboard and finalize the product.

Step 6 - Create, Publish, Revise, Publish.

Step 7 - Present the final product.


Students use digital media to communicate and collaborate with others around the world. Creating digital stories provides us with important opportunities to practice and master a number of specific 21st-century skills, as well as demonstrate knowledge of content, and technology standards. The set of standards to emerge include:

  • Auditory and Visual Literacy.
  • Communication using various technologies.
  • Use of tools that produce high-quality knowledge products.

Salpeter (2003) suggests that by recognizing "technology is, and will continue to be, a driving force in workplaces, communities, and personal lives in the 21st century," we can emphasize the importance of emerging technology within our current education system.

Tools for Digital Stories

Editors Macintosh OS X Windows XP Web 2.0 Hardware


Computer's iMovie
Computer's iPhoto
Felt Tip Software
Quick Time Player Pro
Final Cut Express
LG Graphics

Microsoft's MovieMaker2
PhotoStory-Digital Media
Pinnacle Studio
Adobe Premiere Elements

Voice Thread

Digital Camera





Microphone & Mixer


Adobi Photoshop

Adobi Photoshop
Paint Shop Pro

Avery Tools
Slide Flickr

Camera or Scanner

Web 2.0 Sharing tools
Web 2.0 Hosting Tools
You Tube


In a 2005 interview, Jason Ohler (Professor of Educational Technology and International Educational Speaker) describes how, with the use of digital storytelling, ‘we are in between two very powerful models: storytelling, with its powerful ability to engage and teach students, and critical thinking, with its ability to turn students into thinking, reflective people, consumers, voters’ … and that by blending the two, we can offer a ‘powerful pedagogy’. After presenting their own digital story, and viewing their peers’, as well as critiquing their own work and that of others, students will gain confidence in their own abilities. This process also promotes social learning; by adding a group component, students are further introduced to collaborative brainstorming, designing, and executing of the digital story.

Upon developing digital stories, one has to consider whether the assessment should be summative or formative. These two assessments are interconnected, each rarely standing alone. However, Sanders (2008, 18) suggests that “the current educational system is heavily biased towards text based assignments and the use of a multimedia digital artifact is unlikely to be acceptable for summative assessment, especially for high stakes assessment.”

Ohler (2008) provides the following list of assessment considerations:

  • Set clear goals- did the students meet the goals.
  • Assess the story- was it an affective story
  • Assess all the artifacts the students create especially the written work.
  • Assess media grammar and student use of media.
  • Assess student understanding and presentation of content.
  • Assess student team work and use of resources.
  • Assess their performance.
  • Have students self-assess their projects. (p. 65)

Formative assessment, though generally an informal evaluation, may have the greatest impact on active learning. Formative assessment “… is essentially used to feed back into the teaching and learning process” (Tunstall and Gipps, 1996). Formative assessment is the process of gathering information during the learning process. The social aspect of developing digital storytelling affords itself to peer and self-evaluation where students can explain their choices of digital artifacts (Sanders, 2009). The exact nature of the assessment must reflect the desired learning outcomes.

While summative assessment is valuable to compare, analyze, and evaluate results, these very acts do not affect the actual growth process. However, as a final product, digital stories could be used, for example, as a final e-portfolio.

Summative & Formative Assessment Comparison
(Adapted from Dr. Helen Barett)

Summative Assessment Formative Assessment

Institution defines the purpose of the digital story

Institution along with learner agree upon purpose of digital story

Artifacts are prescribed according to the learning outcomes.

Artifacts are selected by the learner to support their story.

Time constraints as digital story would be developed at the end of a unit or term.

Time flexibility.

Digital story reviewed and scored according to rubric. Final assessment usually completed by the instructor or external influences.

Portfolio reviewed by learner, peers, and instructor and the information is used to improve the development of the digital story.

Final product used in high-stakes decision making.

Digital story is not involved in high stakes marking.


The exact nature of the assessment must reflect the desired learning outcomes. Regardless of the type of assessment, it should be on-going and interactive, where the students are invited to reflect upon their own individual progress, and not limited to a single expulsion of information. It is imperative for students to know how they are going to be assessed. Using digital story is but one way to allow students to showcase their understanding of the concepts.


Ohler contends that there are three components to consider when creating a rubric for digital stories:
a) the educator should set clear goals for the digital story;
b) the educator should assess all aspects of the digital story, not only the end product, but also the process;
c) educators should encourage and support peer review and self-assessment.

Ohler also suggests that basic assessment areas should be refined to include:

  • Writing
  • Story
  • Research
  • Digital Craftmanship
  • Media Grammar
  • Did the project meet assignment criteria
  • Voice, Creativity, Originality.

Rubric Examples based on the Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling


Digital Story Stop Motion


Examples of Digital Stories

General Websites

Summary: 50 tools are showcased using an original digital story about a dog called Dominoe.

Summary: Various examples of digital stories are showcased.

Summary: Showcases Personal reflective stories.

Student Narratives on YouTube

Student Life
Matt's Story
Mendy's Story

Subject Specific


ESL & Language Learning

Health & Medicine

Language Arts


Religion & Culture

Social Studies

Important Resources

Center for Digital Storytelling

[ Digital Storytelling Festival

Digital Storytelling Cookbook

The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling

Ohler, J. (2008). Digital Storytelling in the Classroom. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, CA.



Story Boarding
Storytelling Storyboard ‐ Building the logical events of a story/process

Creative Commons Image Websites (Images saved as jpeg)
Copyright Friendly

Creative Commons Music Sites (All music must be saved as MP3


Agency for Instructional Technology. (2008). Technos interview with Jason Ohler. Retrieved from Agency for Instructional Technology:

Barrett, H. (2006). Researching and evaluating digital storytelling as a deep learning tool. In C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2006. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Bates & Poole. (2003). A framework for selecting and using technology. In Effective teaching with technology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Bull, G.& Kagdir, S. (2004) Digital Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom. Learning and Leading with Technology, 32 (4). 46-49 Center for Digital Storytelling Website. (2005).

Coulter, C., Michael, C., Poynor, L. (2007). Storytelling as pedagogy: An unexpected outcome of narrative inquiry. Curriculum Inquiry. 37:(2), 103-121.

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Egan, K. (1988). Teaching as storytelling: An alternative approach to teaching and the curriculum. London: Routledge.

Hartley, J. and McWilliam, K. (2009) Computational power meets human contact. In: Hartley, John and McWilliam, Kelly, (eds.) Story Circle : Digital Storytelling Around The World. Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA . Retrieved from on Feb. 15.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2008). National educational technology standards for teachers. Retrieved from

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