Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 29 April 2012





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Digital story telling

A challenge for teachers is finding strategies that motivatestudents to seek knowledge and connect information in the past with their lives in the present. The readwrite web provides powerful opportunities for the development of a productive and creative relationship between students and scholarship, ideas and interpretation.

Stories are part of human history. They offer experiences that transcend our daily lives. In analogue environments, parents tell stories to their children about rules and responsibilities, offering hope and warnings. Digitisation has transformed how we shape and structure the tragedies and joys of our lives.

We use songs, films, photographs, Twitter, blogs and Facebookto piece together a version of reality. Through social networking sites such as YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr and Pinterest - the online pinup board - we not only consume stories, but produce them.

In the past five years, an innovative range of hardware and software has assisted digitally literate men and women in creating and disseminating new ideas in innovative ways.

Often termed digital storytelling, this phrase is defined as narratives created by amateurs, not professionals, and built through the creation and selection of digital objects such as photographs, video footage and sounds. These 'born digital objects,' as they are called, are shaped into a narrative that presents and resolves an idea or argument.


Digital storytelling has advantages when capturing the experiences of family and friends, logging important birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.

But it is also of great value in education for staff and students.

A photographic series can be overlaid by an academic voice-over, making an event, building or idea meaningful for new audiences.

Digital storytelling is not an abstract theory. It is applied knowledge. To create the best work, students must move through a series of eight stages.

Students develop an idea, argument, problem or question to resolve.

They storyboard their idea, creating a narrative arc and moving an idea from a beginning to end.

Students define an audience and explore how this group is best reached through the project.

They create, capture and organise varied media, including photographs, films, audio and sound effects.


Students select the most appropriate software and hardware.

They explore whether or not a voiceover is appropriate for this project.

Titles are written to create the transitions between the disparate sections of the project.

Editing and alignment of all media into a narrative and pattern concludes the project.

The goal of this process is to shape narratives from the building blocks of digital objects, including sounds, still images, moving images and digitised text. Digital storytelling crafts information with meaning and emotion to create warmth and engagement. The goal is to find a way to organize knowledge. Problem-based storytelling positions a central challenge or question. This problem gives the propulsion of a narrative. The use of hypertext in digital stories also creates some alternative navigation modes. References and evidence can be presentedto verify the data.

I have found digital storytelling particularly appropriate to assign for student assessment when exploring emotionally and politically volatile topics such as colonialism, terrorism, war and migration. These abstract and controversial ideas can be rendered real and personal.

Students must translate other histories and experiences into their context and their lives. One of my former students, Laura Kinsella, is currently completing her PhD on the use of digital storytelling for migrant communities in Ireland. Her doctorate brings visibility to the invisible and allowsthose silencedto be heard.


There has never been an easier time to use digital storytelling in education. There are so many options for hardware and software. PowerPoint is one choice. Blogs are useful as they enable the embedding of screen shots, sound files and YouTube videos.

Sound is important to digital storytelling. While what we see dominates what we hear, listening to the voices and views of others can frame and shape photography and film. The software for editing soundincludes the open source Audacity, but there are other options, including Acoustica's Mixcraft 5 and Apple'sGarageBand, which now has an application for the iPad.

Beyond learning to use software, students gain new skills when thinking about sound. If a voiceover is deployed, then students must create a precise script and focus on the delivery of those words, adding emotion. Therefore it is necessary that students learn about their voice. Students explore how to make sounds attractive and compelling for listeners, while building productive relationships with images.

With the proliferation of mobile phones, almost every event in our lives can be photographed or filmed. The question is how to render such material fresh and relevant for formal education. The software for editing images includes Adobe Photoshop, iPhoto for Apple and - for video editing - Apple's iMovie, Windows Movie Maker and Magix PhotoStory. Hosted by YouTube, Google Search Story is a video-creating toolthat transforms Google searches into a video presentation.


These are simple methods through software to create integrated packages for sound and vision. A new possibility, using hardware rather than software, is Fotobox. Looking like a USB stick on steroids, the SD memory card is inserted in one end, with a USB connector on the other. When attached to a computer, the programme runs from FotoBox. Software is resident on the platform.Themed templates are available. Voiceovers may be inserted, pictures edited and background music attached. The resultant videos can be converted into MPEG4 for mobile devices, uploaded to social networking sites or burnt to a DVD. Being based in hardware rather than software, Fotobox moves between computers and is ideal for laptops.

There are more professional Photostory options available, but for convenience and mobility, Fotobox is effective. For students in schools and universities who are beginning to create and shape digital material for assignments, this is a fine option.

Through such hardware and software, digital storytelling provides teachers and learners with great gifts. Teachers and students can bring the world into the classroom and the classroom to the world.Digital storytelling expands communication skills, project development and media production strategies, applying academic ideas in new ways.

While 'new media' may distract students from core skills in reading, writing and thinking, digital storytelling grants students the ability to learn and apply knowledge. The personal can be made political. The abstract becomes applicable.


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