This is the second in a series of posts on digital storytelling I’ll be doing over the next few weeks. These will cover some thoughts on why stories are a powerful way of communicating for education, answering concerns about superficiality, suggestions for assessment and bringing together my favourite links. It’s an attempt to get my thoughts in order, not state anything revolutionary.
Please feel free to share your experiences, good or bad of using digital storytelling particularly with the 14-19 age group or in higher education.
If you have any background in literary criticism you might want to look away now as this geographer tries to grapple with ideas of narrative!
To think about what form digital stories can take, I’ve found it helpful to try to describe narrative according to a continuum with strong narrative at one end and lose narrative at the other.
- Strong narrative – These are stories that employ a very definite structure. You can identify a beginning and an end and a clear sequence of events or ideas in between. Think of Jaws or Lord of the Rings. You are led by the author through a carefully constructed series of steps. The meaning beghind the story is usually pretty clear.
- Loose narrative – These are stories where the structure is a lot harder to identify. Imagine walking into a gallery that has an exhibition of Anthony Gormley sculpture. You are presented with the artwork and perhaps there is some supporting information like a guidebook but other than that you are free to wander round the exhibition and to decide for yourself what the meaning is. It’s a much more abstract, personalised experience.
(I used to call it “weak” narrative but this sounded a bit too pejorative.)
Creating a strong narrative is a highly skilled process that requires a great deal of planning and creative flair. Creating loose narrative still isn’t easy as careful thought has to be applied to it but the outcomes are very different and open up lots of opportunities for presenting stories in interesting ways.
The “traditional” view of digital storytelling is basically a slideshow of images with text, voiceover and perhaps music which can be incredibly effective.
See the example on this page by Charea Batiste called Chocolate Innocence from Georgetown University.
But many more different types of tools are available that are specifically for telling stories or can be co-opted for the task.
Google Earth is a great example. It’s a mapping tool but because you can embed media and other objects it becomes a way of presenting stories in a spatial way. Take a look at these (you will need Google Earth installed to view them):
Nagasaki Archive – A collection of first hand accounts from survivors of the atom bomb (the “Hibakusha”) as well as images and map overlays.
Putting these examples together must have been a major undertaking but constructing your own story in Google Earth is using more basic media is quite easy. See the Advanced Use page of the Google Earth Guide for the UK Google Teacher Academy (managed by Doug Belshaw) for guidance on how to do this.
So if places can tell stories, what else can?
Stories of Objects
With an app like Sticky Bits on your smartphone you can scan product barcodes and tag it with text, images or video. Another Sticky Bits user will be able to scan the same barcode and see the information you left meaning you can create mini stories to attach to everyday things. Adding QR codes to things, people, websites allows links to other information and media on the web so you can give other people access to the stories about those things. The technology can means that extra layers of meaning can be added to the physical world.
For examples of how QR codes can be used, particularly in schools have a look at the draft 26 Interesting Way to use QR Codes in the Classroom, managed by Tom Barrett.
Those are only 2 examples but we could also talk about blogs, ePortfolios, AudioBoo, AR apps, and so on as ways of telling stories.
So, if you take a looser approach to narrative, avoid thinking that stories have to have a beginning, middle and a happy ending there are suddenly many more possibilities for telling those stories than just putting together a slideshow.
Image: I Am a Bird Now by Tony Blay on Flickr – By-NC-ND