Digital Storytelling: Learning in a Networked World

Click the image for the full prezi, as it was re-presented at a later conference.

In this post, which originally appeared in NITLE’s Techne blog on February 14, 2011, I describe the origins of this digital storytelling working group in the NITLE network.

At the 2011 annual meeting of AAC&U I had the pleasure of organizing and moderating a panel called “Crossing Borders and Creating Culture: Digital Storytelling for Study Abroad.” This panel culminated years of work that NITLE has contributed to advancing digital storytelling. It’s an interesting phenomenon to me because digital storytelling seems like such a narrow pedagogical tool but it has many different applications and responds to diverse qualities of liberal education.


Bryan Alexander's, The New Digital Storytelling

Since I’m talking about storytelling, let me start with my own narrative of NITLE’s involvement in digital storytelling. Bryan Alexander has been NITLE’s evangelist extraordinaire in this area. He began teaching his multimedia narrative workshop in 2003 after learning at the feet of the masters, the Center for Digital Storytelling(CDS). The CDS advocates a particular format—the three-minute personal narrative composed of pictures with a voice over and perhaps some music. Bryan and others have worked to transfer this format for the purposes of liberal arts colleges. In addition, Bryan has branched out to other forms of storytelling as described in, “Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a Genre,” (EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 6. November/December 2008.) Bryan’s book, The New Digital Storytelling came out earlier this year.

In the meantime, our story continues with two other evangelists, Doug Reilly and Tom D’Agostino of theCenter for Global Education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Doug attended one of Bryan’s workshops and realized the potential of digital storytelling as a reentry activity (helping students process and reintegrate) after study abroad.  Beginning in 2008, NITLE and Hobart and William Smith Colleges collaborated on a series of workshops to promote digital storytelling for study abroad including one at the Forum for Education Abroad in 2010, the results of which Bryan describes in this blog post.  NITLE also convened a community meeting in Summer 2010, that produced this mind map of digital storytelling.

Austin College and Beloit College were two of the campuses that took up digital storytelling after the 2008 workshop, and they joined us for our AAC&U panel, which included the following presenters:

  • Thomas D’Agostino, Associate Dean for Global Education, and Doug Reilly, Programming Coordinator, Center for Global Education, Hobart and William Smith Colleges;
  • Truett Cates, Professor of German and Director, Center for Global Learning, and Brett Boessen, Associate Professor of Communication, Media, and Theatre, Austin College;
  • Elizabeth Brewer, Director, Office of International Education, Beloit College;
  • Moderator: Rebecca Davis, Program Officer for the Humanities, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE)

Our prezi is now available online: Digital Storytelling for the Liberal Arts Campus. In addition to outlining the features and benefits of digital storytelling, it also includes several examples from students.

And our story is not over. My fellow panelists and I are meeting to figure out how to meet the demand for digital storytelling workshops within our community. We’re also think about ways to connect those in our community interested in digital storytelling. If you’re interested, let me know.  As my story has shown, digital storytelling has great appeal at small liberal arts colleges.

Learning in a Networked World

So why has digital storytelling been so popular in the NITLE community and beyond? I think there are several reasons. First of all, it responds to recent interest in multimedia literacy by offering an alternative to traditional writing assignments. Students can combine a variety of media, including text, image, voiceover, music, video, etc. Students find it engaging, in part, because it reflects trends in popular culture. One faculty member had her first-year seminar students use digital storytelling to reflect on their learning throughout the semester. She found that they were recording their ongoing reflections in the style of video diaries popular in reality TV. The opportunity to share their personal voice engages students, especially when so much academic writing is required to be impersonal.

Digital Storytelling also responds to several qualities of liberal education as outlined in AAC&U’s “Liberal Education and America’s Promise” (LEAP) initiative. This initiative has defined high impact practices to help students achieve essential learning outcomes. I’ve already mentioned examples of digital storytelling for two of these high impact practices—first year seminars and study abroad. It can also be used with others like service learning, community-based learning, and internships, all of which fall under the rubric of experiential learning. Experience is a great teacher, but it requires some help. To paraphrase my fellow panelists Betsy Brewer and Truett Cates:

Reflection turns experience into learning.

That, I think, is one of the key benefits of digital storytelling. It offers a way to get students to think about what they have done, to make sense of their experience and to integrate it with their classroom learning. Now a journal could do the same thing, but digital storytelling goes farther because it offers the opportunity to share that learning with others. For students returning from study abroad, it becomes a communication tool, a way to talk about their experience and, in turn, a tool to teach other students. By encouraging collaborative, participatory learning using contemporary modes of communication, digital storytelling becomes emblematic of teaching and learning in a networked world.


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