The Learning Institute Project Day 2 – Digital Storytelling

This is day 2 at the Learning Institute at the American School of London led by the esteemed Leah Treesh. Our big project of the last couple of days has been Digital Storytelling. Now, I had heard of digital storytelling, and played with a few examples but had never really sat down and played with it. I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to do so because there’s a lot of cool stuff that I plan to implement in the next academic year!

The goal of digital storytelling, at least broadly (teachers will need to develop their own immediate and focused goals), is to enable story to use images, text, video, audio, etc to present a topic or idea. It allows for greater creativity and, from the experience in class, focus and investment. It’s a lot more engaging than a simple oral report and combats my problem with students giving PowerPoints presentations (they all want to write their report on the slides). We were given a step-by-step process (I’ll go over it here) that you can tweak for individual needs. I’ll even put in here my finished product.

The overall step-by-step process was published by the University of Houston’s Digital Storytelling webpage (a great resource and tool – if you’re interested at all in Digital Storytelling, this should be your first step).

Part One: Define, Collect, Decide

  1. Select a topic for your digital story
  2. Begin thinking of the purpose of your story – are you answering a question? provoking a response? informing your audience? etc.
  3. Create a folder in your documents in which to store, text, pictures, video, etc.
  4. Start locating resources such as music, photos, text, etc.

I decided to specifically choose and write a project that is directly related to my course content. Leah Treesh brilliantly suggested that we build our projects around an existing lesson plan and then we could use it as a demonstration to our students for what we are looking for in their projects. Since I will be teaching U.S. History again this Fall, I decided that I would adapt my lesson plan on Civil War Battles and focused specifically on the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead of having my students do an oral presentation (with PowerPoint or other visual aid) on a battle of the Civil War, I will have them present a Digital Story along this model.

I then proceeded to collect a number of resources, images, audio, etc. To ensure that there wasn’t a copyright issue, I used a website called Creative Commons. This website searches for license free (or educational license) content, to ensure that copyright is not violated. Being the Battle of Gettysburg, and the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, there was a lot  of material available – photos, videos, music, and more (all at a professional level) for free! It was very cool.

Part Two: Decide, Select, Import, Create

  1. Decide on the purpose and point of view of your video.
  2. Select Select the images you would like to use (you may want to edit them)
  3. Select the audio you would like to you.
  4. Select the content and text you would like to use for your digital story.
  5. Modify number of images and/or image order, if necessary.

The way that we did this was with story-boarding. Apple’s Pages actually has a story-board template. However, you can easily use Keynote or PowerPoint to the same purpose. Because I didn’t have access to pages on my loaner computer, I wrote a story-board (think of it as an outline with pictures) using Keynote.

A quick shot of my story-board

It essentially serves the same purpose as an outline for an essay and ultimately can be tweaked and changed. I moved the order around in mine and completely removed the reference to Vicksburg. I also, when seeing how the timing worked, put in a few additional photos.

Part Three: Write, Import, Record, Finalize

  1. Write a scrip that you will use for the narration in your digital story.
  2. Import images into your chosen application (e.g. GarageBand, iMovie, Keynote, PowerPoint, JayCut)
  3. Use your microphone (many computers already have it built in) and record the narration of your script.
  4. Finalize your digital story and then save it in the appropriate format (hint – you can even upload it onto YouTube to share!).

I took about an hour or so to write up my script. I’ll attach a copy of it here: The Battle of Gettysburg Script. If you want to read it, it’s a simple Word document. If I had had a little more time, I would have spent more energy editing it and likely given a copy to a friend or colleague for review. Still, not bad considering the time constraints.

I then used iMovie (yay for loaner-Macs) to make the final product. I find it a lot easier to use and it present a much more professional looking final product. Most of my colleagues that used iMovie for the first time found it very easy to adopt-to and the process itself wasn’t overwhelmingly time-consuming or cumbersome. Others in the group used PowerPoint or JayCut – but the process there was less straight-forward. Clearly, your actual creation process is dependent on the software you elect to use. However, thanks to intuitive modern software, google, and patient friends, most of us can make a pretty solid product with little investment and a shallow learning curve.

Part Four: Demonstrate, Evaluate, Replicate

  1. Show your digital story to your colleagues.
  2. Using a rubric, gather feedback about how the story could be improved, expanded, and used in your classroom.
  3. Teach your students how to create their own digital story.
  4. Congratulate yourself for a job well done!

When we all finished, we then took turns showing our presentations. As we’re all at different divisional levels and have various responsibilities (e.g. administrators, educators, tech people, etc), we all had different topics and presentations. The level of creativity in the room was amazing!

We had a sample rubric that we used that had been developed by UMass (and readily adaptable to every classroom). Another great rubric developer, also free for teachers is Rubistar.

So, here is my finished product. It’s not too bad (although I can still think of ways I could improve – especially the sound). Still, I was pretty happy with how it turned out and think it will be a great resource in my classroom and am excited to see what my students come up with.

I thought I would also include a video created by my friend and colleague Jane Cooper who not only made her first video, but did it her first time using a Mac computer!

You should also check out Karen Arrington’s blog, where she highlights her experience.

22 thoughts on “The Learning Institute Project Day 2 – Digital Storytelling

  1. Pingback: The Learning Institute Project Day 2 – Digital Storytelling (via jenniferlockett) « survivingandthrivingteachers

  2. Pingback: Nice DIY Post: The Learning Institute Project Day 2 – Digital Storytelling « jenniferlockett « Transmedia Camp 101

  3. Michael Hulshof-Schmidt


    Wow! What an impressive piece of work you have here. I love the script and am amazed at the videos, the text, and the rubric provided. I love the art of story telling and you have done a marvelous job of bringing an ancient art form into the 21st century. Brava!

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Thanks Michael! I tried to outline the objectives up there as well. I hope that we will have the resources necessary next year so that I can assign this in lieu of my traditional ‘oral report.’ Mine (the Gettysburg) is for Upper School. However, the Irish one is by my friend Jane who is a lower school teacher. You can also check out Karen Arrington’s blog (I posted a link at the bottom). She’s the lower school tech specialist.

  4. Jim Wheeler

    OK, Jennifer, I have now read up a little on “digital storytelling”. As a bona fide geezer I have to tell you that it seems like an old concept dressed up in new media. What’s the old concept? It is called a “memoir”. I think it’s fine that your profession is using new media to tell memoirs better, but at its core is either a personal experience or an essay on a personal interest. I am frankly a little concerned that concepts like digital storytelling might actually distract the students from learning how to express themselves.

    Just as students learning mathematics need to be able to manipulate numbers mentally, understanding for example exponents and fractions, so students of self expression need to understand the rules of self-expression. Research, outlining, more research, syntax, vocabulary, grammar, being able to take either side of a debate, historical context. All these things are mental gymnastics that require mental work but no particular medium.

    I find jargon off-putting, being from the E.B. White school of writing. I prefer “use” to “utilize”, for example, and “title” or “heading” to “rubric”. My b.s. meter pegs when arcana begins to float around.

    I understand that your sabbatical is all about media. Have a good time. Just hope it doesn’t distract from real learning.



    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      @Jim – First, I think that you might be confusing ‘jargon’ with ‘new terminology.’ For example, a rubric is not a title or a header, not in the least. A rubric is a grading model that outlines the goals, objectives, and requirements of the assignment. It’s a more explanatory framework for grading (rather than just an A, B, or C – you explicitly tell a student their strengths and weaknesses in the assignment). It’s actually not even a new concept. Teachers have been building grading rubrics for as long as we’ve been grading. I included it on here because I included a full lesson plan, along with the step-by-step process. It’s always nice to see what other teachers are incorporating into their own lessons and grading procedures – you can then tweak them for their own.
      In terms of “memoiring,” we would call it “journaling” (at least that’s the term I grew up with) and it was solely reserved for English class. Still, from your description, I think that you’re talking about writing a term paper or research paper. One thing to keep in mind, is that this is not a project in lieu of a research paper – I still believe in the ability for long, research paper writing. I still keep that in my class. However, this is a different element and concept. We know, for example, that students learn faster and more thoroughly when they are engaged and invested in the material that they are learning. Additionally, the more senses that a person is using in the process of learning, the more they absorb and retain. So, with digital storytelling (which yes, is ‘jargon,’ it’s just ‘story-telling’ with digital added on – which I would call more descriptive), incorporates the core basics – research and writing (if you noticed, I included my research process as well as the scrip that I wrote up which, excluding the Gettysburg Address, was over 700 words). However, then you have the added dimensions of visual components, auditory, as well as tactical (perhaps the most powerful). Even more so, students are engaged in all of this [italic] at once [/italic] not individually – which is a greater mental exercise.
      I’m not sure how much you looked at the SAMR model (in my previous post). It actually addresses the adoption timeline of new technology. This is not what you were stating, purely a substitution model (with distraction), but rather is a whole new integration model (a few levels up the SAMR model) that incorporates some traditional models, but then builds on them providing students an element of creativity (with leads to greater investment, interest on their end), add in more dimensions (that requires greater mental exercise and is a proven method by which students retain more conceptual information), and ultimately leads to better understanding and more thorough learning.
      So, what we are looking for here with these tools is not a ‘flashier’ way for students/teachers to present traditional methods and materials. In fact, we’re looking at evolving methods that lead to better student understanding and comprehension. I think you might be falling into the trap, that I see a lot, thinking that students are somehow losing traditional learning models rather than building from them. Think about how you use your blog. “Back in the long long ago” of 2007, you likely distributed your thoughts and ideas around the dinner table, at the church/neighborhood, perhaps compose it in an email or a *gasp* letter, maybe a phone call… etc. However, with your blog it allows you to reach a broader audience and one that is specifically *interested* in the topic (not just those we subject to our opinions and passions at events), it enables you and others to engage in conversations and debates (honing your assessment skills), and it doesn’t eradicate your abilities to write, persuade, engage, research, and so forth. So it isn’t just a ‘replacement’ (like the ball point pen was for the refillable one). It’s a meaningful evolution that improves on the basic model and builds (simultaneously) multiple skills.

  5. leahrtreesh

    Good points, Jennifer. I think that the term we educators use, digital storytelling, can be misleading to those not familiar with the terminology or how it is implemented. Good teachers have always know that if you can/or have teach (narrate, explain, etc.) something that the direct and independent interaction with the content deepens understanding.

    So yes, it is a modernization an educational tactic that is proven. The modernization comes in the form of engaging more of the senses, which we also know further solidifies the learning experience. Whether a student is explaining the process of solving an equation or analyzing a battle strategy or a poem, those facilitating digital storytelling are utilizing proven research and practice in a culturally relevant way.

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  7. Jim Wheeler

    Partial definitions of “rubric”.

    (my computer dictionary)
    2. a statement of purpose or function. 3. a category.

    (Merriam Webster, 2003)
    1b. Category. 1c. An explanatory or introductory commentary : GLOSS; specif : an editorial interpolation. 2 : a heading of a part of a book or manuscript done or underlined in a color different from the rest. 3. an established rule, tradition or custom.

    Conclusion: pedagogical arcana. 🙂

    You are right, however, that I was viewing digital storytelling as something you were trying to teach the students to do. I gather that it is methodology for the teachers’ use, and in that sense I can see its utility because I have heard that many students do not like extensive reading assignments. Is that true? If so, let’s hope the terrorists are unsuccessful in attacking the power grid, or we will be unable to communicate with each other.


    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Yes, it is true that students (and even us grown ups) are more likely to read shorter snippets of material than longer ones. Back in my day (when we rode dinosaurs to school) we used Cliff Notes.
      I’m convinced that when Skynet launches the attack we’re all doomed. I’m still trying to figure out if Skynet is Google or Apple….

  8. Jennifer Lockett Post author

    Just landed in Edinburgh and was reviewing my ow notes. Put rubric in your MW 1c – explanatory framework. We usually call it a “grading rubric,” aka explanatory grading framework. Conclusion – terminology 😉

    And I realized that in my ready leap to neediness, i left out a key element. Part of the focus in this workshop was building off of skills that students already have (like their grasp of modern technologies) and give them some platforms in the classroom.

    Hope that you’re well! I’m off for dinner. Can’t wait to get back to a real keyboard so that I can compose a bit better and check out your blog as well!

    1. Jim Wheeler

      Very good, Jennifer. Hope you have a safe trip back home. Any observations you might have on culture differences these days would be of interest to me. 🙂

      1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

        I’m currently working on figuring out their obsession with Justin Bieber… It is not going well. I’m working on a theory of mass hypnosis and hallucinogenic drugs in the water. It’s the only reasonable explanation…
        I’m up in Edinburgh for a few days doing some archaeological research and been granted reader privileges at the university of Edinburgh. Very excited. It wont be too in depth. But keeping up with my archaeological roots.

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Then you should totally understand my confusion! I mean… Why!? Drugs/hypnosis is the only reasonable answer! 😉

  9. Tim

    I really like the incorporation of technology here–I think it would be really cool to see what students could do with an assignment like this one that involves creating a youtube video. I could see this working really well for history, but it is possible that I could incorporate students (doing group work and assigning each of them a specific task–whether it be scripting, finding the pictures, etc.) digitally retelling certain acts/scenes from Shakespeare. Well done, Jennifer!

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      @Tim – the head of the workshop was an English teacher and she showed us some examples of her students’ work where they did some dramatic readings from literature, poetry, plays, etc and incorporated imagery – so they had to process the emotions of the reading and then express them using auditory and visual stimuli. It was very cool.

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