The evolution of digital storytelling

In 2005, I joined the Discovery Educator Network and became immersed in the social learning experience that the network provides. The DEN, as it is affectionately called, was a forerunner in the digital storytelling movement, and most of the professional development I attended as a DEN member in those first years was devoted to learning how to incorporate digital storytelling in my classroom.

Back then, it was all about creating quality videos – learning proper lighting techniques (remember AFI’s Lights, Camera, Education!), hoping for a free copy of Adobe Premiere Elements, and putting at least one green screen shot in every video. Everything was all ooohs and ahhhs, and we loved it.

The reality, though, turned out to be that these high-quality videos took too much time to get students prepared for and for each minute of video, you could count on at least an hour of editing.

I started presenting sessions as conferences and local events on how to do digital storytelling in one class period – using tools like Voicethread, Animoto, and PhotoStory (the six-picture story), but the overall preference for most teachers, it seemed was to hang on to the bells and whistles of a more professional feel to their student’s digital stories.

I find it interesting that earlier this month, while attending TCEA, digital storytelling was all about content, not quality. I attended a session presented by Steve Dembo that was all about ways to use quick, no-frills digital stories in the classroom. Harkening back to the six-photo video era, his presentation gave the audience ideas on how to create meaningful digital stories using tools like screencasting and Google Search Video Creator.

While I have to admit the really cool videos were always fun to watch, I tweeted an “amen” to Steve’s message. With every activity we choose to have our students participate in, we must remember the focus has to be on the content. If a technology project is going to take two weeks and only a day or two of those two weeks are devoted to learning the content, then something is wrong. Rubrics that grant a majority of points to “creativity”, “used proper lighting”, “used five scenes with three shots per scene”, and “incorporated the rule of thirds” have missed the point. If a student must be given a grade, that grade should always reflect how much content mastery the student has demonstrated.

In many ways, I believe using these no-frills methods could raise the critical thinking level of an activity. Having to rely solely on their story, students won’t be able to mask their gaps with fancy shots and special effects. How much more rigorous would it be to have a student retell a story from the perspective of one character’s Google searches? Picking out the highlights of the story, then coming up with a way to deliver the content without copying and pasting storylines certainly incorporates higher Bloom’s levels than performing the story in a high-quality video.

If you are not convinced, just take a few moments to imagine the story of your life your Google searches would tell.


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