Digital Storytelling - Embrace Simplicity

See the post in it's original context here.


Although no one's actually challenged me yet I've often felt I should be ready to answer questions about whether digital storytelling is too insubstantial to be a worthwhile academic or personal development activity. How, after all, can you say anything of any depth when you only have a few minutes of combined media to get your message across. It all looks very nice and was probably a lot of fun to make but shouldn't we be spending time doing something more weighty?

Here are my thoughts:


Digital storytelling is not going to replace  more traditional academic activities like the essay. It does a different job. Have a look at my previous posts for a more in depth explanation.

Tip of the iceberg

A digital story can be the culmination of an extensive piece of work. Topics have to be researched, the audience considered, the script written or storyboarded, media thoughtfully selected, appropriate delivery methods chosen, all of which is part of the learning process. What's more, these production activities can be captured and reflected on to make a more diverse learning experience.

Sometimes in life, it pays to be brief

If we're helping learners develop transferrable skills then surely the ability to put across an idea in a succinct and engaging way is one of those skills. It's the idea of the elevator pitch; if you can engage someone's interest in a big idea by putting it to them in simple terms then they are more likely to want to go on and find out more. It's also a good way of communicating with people beyond your core audience, people that perhaps aren't familiar with your subject but who you want to get involved.

Knowing what to leave out is hard

I love this little film about the properties of Oxygen.

The quality of the animation is way beyond what non-experts could create but it's fascinating to see how they've taken something very some complex ideas and presented them in a simple way. In order to do this properly you need to have more than a superficial understanding of your topic. You need to be able to select what is fundamentally important to your message and discard what is less important.

It's a bit like triage for ideas.

Here's an example I did as a demo for a secondary school that was doing digital storytelling to explore poetry.

The idea was to take the full poem and extract the key phrases that contain what I felt the poem was saying then add images and music to support this interpretation. As a teacher you could then ask the student to justify these choices and create their own critical commentary.

Stories ARE superficial!

The point about a story is it relies on what your audience brings to it. A well-told story will point towards larger meanings without having to express them explicitly. Most people recognise that Toy Story 3 is a film about friendship, ageing, grieving and the like but they don't need to put it on the poster or have some character come right out and say it.

Have a listen to these stories of life in Wales. They're very personal snapshots of people's lives but they tell us an awful lot about social issues, feelings of identity and more. It's down to us as the audience to complete the picture and we'll all do it in different ways because our experiences differ, but that's half the fun. There's unpredictability with storytelling.

This is the third in a series of posts on digital storytelling. These will cover some thoughts on why stories are a powerful way of communicatingfor education, moving beyond slideshows, 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.

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