Technology Integration In K12 Education/Digital Storytelling in Social Studies

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

"We must teach communication comprehensively, in all its forms. Today we work with the written or spoken word as the primary form of communication. But we also need to understand the importance of graphics, music, and cinema, which are just as powerful and in some ways more deeply intertwined with young people's culture. We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all the forms of communication, not just the written word.

When people talk to me about the digital divide, I think of it not being so much about who has access to what technology as who knows how to create and express themselves in this new language of the screen. If students aren't taught the language of sound and images, shouldn't they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read or write?"

-Filmmaker George Lucas

School children today are bombarded with images, video, sound and other media from a variety of sources including television, radio, the world wide web, and even their own cell phones. The current generation of school aged children are consumers of media in unprecedented means and amounts (Cuban, 2001.) Digital storytelling in the classroom offers potential for teachers to combine content learning, various discipline-specific processes (revising, editing, inquiry, analysis, etc.) and 21st century skills in student-centered engaging ways. Challenging students to demonstrate their understanding of a course topic through the creation of digital movies not only engages them in the "language of their generation," but also shifts children from consumer of media to producer (Hofer & Swan, 2006).

Digital storytelling allows students to learn with technology. According to Hofer and Swan, "[in] contrast to using technology as a tutor or practice partner, digital storytelling utilizes technology as a means for students to demonstrate and share their understanding, empowering learners in engaging and authentic ways. The creation of digital stories can give students voice in ways that are not possible without the technology. Rather than limiting students to static expression of understanding, the creation of digital stories provides students with opportunities to leverage the use of images, music, video, and perhaps most importantly, their own voice through narration to tell their story." Digital storytelling gives students a chance to use their creativity and own voice when developing a story. It can also be used in the classroom as an open-ended, divergent means for students to share their understanding of course content (Hofer & Swan, 2006).

Digital storytelling is not a new concept in education and no longer only accessible to affluent school districts as it was in the past. The advancements in technology today have made creating digital narratives available and affordable for many school districts. The level of difficulty in creating these narratives has also decreased making it very user friendly. Educators, who are looking at new ways to engage and motivate today’s digital natives, find digital storytelling a powerful tool to reach students, especially those who may be turned off by traditional text-based learning. Students learn to write, research, collaborate with others and express themselves creatively through these narratives. By incorporating these digital tools into their lessons, teachers are energizing their lessons and preparing children with the necessary information and communication skills they will need for everyday life and future careers.

What is Digital Storytelling?[edit | edit source]

Digital storytelling is much like traditional storytelling but with a multimedia twist. According to the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS), a digital story is a short, first person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds. It incorporates the traditional writing processes of selecting a topic, conducting research, writing a script and developing an interesting story. The person then uses software such as Animoto, Movie Maker or PhotoStory to create a short movie by utilizing photos, digital scans, movie clips, music, voice recordings, etc. which can be viewed by computer, uploaded to a website or burned on a DVD. A good digital story typically has a strong emotional component. In order to create a successful digital story, seven elements must be present: point of view, a dramatic question, emotional content, the gift of one’s voice, the power of the sound track, economy and pacing.

Elements of a Good Digital Story

Originally described by Joe Lambert in his Digital Storytelling Cookbook and summarized by Bull and Kadjer (2004), the seven main elements of digital stories can be described as follows:

  • Point of View: "... the goal of digital storytelling is to allow a writer to experience the power of personal expression. Therefore, students' digital stories need to be constructed from their own experience and understanding. Using the first-person pronoun "I" rather than the more distant third-person point of view is essential."
  • A Dramatic Question: "A story that holds the attention of the audience has a dramatic question that is resolved by the end of the story. This characteristic distinguishes the digital story from a travelogue. Narratives that lead the reader to become invested typically pursue a compelling question that evokes interest and commitment."
  • Emotional Content: "The most effective digital stories evoke an emotion from the audience. We often see laughter, tears, and expressions of pleasure from the audience when digital stories are screened. This can be tremendously rewarding to student writers, validating the effort and investment they have made."
  • The Gift of your Voice: "The pitch, inflection, and timbre of the storyteller's voice convey meaning and intent in a very personal way. This has proven to be one of the most essential elements that contribute to the effectiveness of a digital story. There is no substitute for using your own voice to tell your story."
  • The Power of the Soundtrack: "Properly employed music can enhance and underscore the accompanying story, adding complexity and depth to the narrative."
  • Economy: "Modern digital editors offer a plethora of special effects and transitions. It can be tempting to replicate the visual onslaught of music videos on MTV. We have found that the effective digital story uses only a few images, a few words, and even fewer special effects to clearly and powerfully communicate intended meaning."
  • Pacing: "Monotonous refers to an unvaried inflection and pace. The word has become synonymous with boring because an unvaried pace will not hold the audience's attention. For student writers, pacing means pulling back or racing forward when the story calls for it, as opposed to when the time limit approaches."

Another determination of a good digital story comes from Take Six: Elements of Good Digital Storytelling (Porter, 2004). According to Porter, a good digital story includes:

  • Living Inside Your Story—The perspective of each story is told in first person using your own storytelling voice to narrate the tale. Rather than a detached telling that this happened and that happened, viewers experience you living inside this story.
  • Unfolding Lessons Learned—One of the most unique features of this specific digital storytelling style is the expectation that each story express a personal meaning or insight about how a particular event or situation touches you, your community, or humanity.
  • Developing Creative Tension—A good story creates intrigue or tension around a situation that is posed at the beginning of the story and resolved at the end, sometimes with an unexpected twist. The tension of an unresolved or curious situation engages and holds the viewer until reaching a memorable end.
  • Economizing the Story Told—A good story has a destination—a point to make—and seeks the shortest path to its destination. The art of shortening a story lies in preserving the essence of the tale—using the fewest words along with images and sound to make your point.
  • Showing Not Telling—Unlike traditional oral or written stories, images, sound, and music can be used to show a part of the context, create setting, give story information, and provide emotional meaning not provided by words. Both words and media need to reveal through details rather than named or simply stated.
  • Developing Craftsmanship—A good story incorporates technology in artful ways, demonstrating craftsmanship in communicating with images, sound, voice, color, white space, animations, design, transitions, and special effects. Ask yourself whether your media resources are decorating, illustrating, or illuminating.

Types of Digital Stories

There are three types of digital stories: personal narratives, stories that inform/instruct, and stories that examine historical themes and events. Personal narratives allow educators to tap into each of their students' personal experiences and can take many forms. One form of personal narrative, as described by the CDS, is a character story. This type of narrative "explore[s] how we love, who we are inspired by, and the importance of finding meaning in our relationships" (Robin, 2008.) A second type of personal narrative is a memorial story. In this form of storytelling, students "deal with memories of people who are no longer with us. These stories are often difficult but are emotionally powerful and can help with the grieving process" (Robin, 2008.) Stories about events in our lives is a third style of personal narrative an educator can use in the classroom. These types of stories can come in two varieties. Adventure stories revolve around places we visit and the adventures we experience in our travels. Accomplishment stories deal with achieving goals and understanding the defining moments in our lives (Robin, 2008.) A fourth type of personal narrative is a story about places in our lives. In these type of stories, students "examine the important places in our lives: our homes, our towns, and our experiences that connect us to our communities" (Robin, 2008.) A fifth type of personal narrative is a story about what we do. These stories "allow us to talk about our jobs, professions, and careers in terms of how we value and find meaning in the work we do" (Robin, 2008.) Other personal narratives that can be explored using digital storytelling include recovery stories that deal with how we overcome obstacles and challenges in our lives; love stories that provide us with an opportunity to share some of the most meaningful parts of our lives with the people we most cherish; and discovery stories that let us reflect on what we have learned and illustrate our journeys of discovery (Robin, 2008.)

A second type of digital story is one that can be created to deliver instructional content on many different topics. This instructional flexibility allows for digital stories that inform or instruct to be used in a wide range of classrooms, from mathematics and science, to history and literacy. These digital stories allow students the opportunity to present an extensive variety of content in an entertaining, multimedia format.

A third type of digital story is an examination of historical themes and events. Hofer and Swan (2006) describe guidelines for digital stories that examine historical themes and events that state they need to be based on material students explore, need to facilitate research and organizational skills, and need to go beyond the digitized "MTV video" or the "Encyclopedia Entry". Even though digital storytelling has been around for awhile, it is a great way to grab student’s attention, increase their interest in new information, enhance current lessons and incorporate 21st century information literacy skills.

History[edit | edit source]

Digital storytelling was created in the late 1980s by Joe Lambert and Dana Atchley. As cofounders of the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) in Berkeley, California, they assisted people who were interested in creating their own personal narratives. They also developed the Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling which are still used today to help guide people through the process of creating a digital story. Technology has changed dramatically since those early days and has also become more affordable for the average person. Software programs can be downloaded freely from the internet. New devices such as digital cameras, microphones, computers, scanners, etc. are readily available to the public. New Web 2.0 technologies are also accessible via the internet and can be incorporated into digital stories such as Voki, Wordle, Wikis and Animoto. Digital storytelling is becoming more popular in education because of these reasons, but it also fits perfectly in today’s curriculum in providing students with the information literacy skills they need to be a citizen in the 21st century.

Advantages/Disadvantages[edit | edit source]

Using digital storytelling in the classroom has numerous advantages. The greatest tangible benefit of digital storytelling is seen in terms of student engagement. Research (Hofer & Swan, 2006) in both elementary and college classrooms has shown that students enthusiastically surpassed teacher expectations. Students spent much more time than was required working on their digital story, the effects, and the overall aesthetic of their projects. Student engagement was not only limited to the moviemaking process, however. Engagement in the course content itself was improved as a result of the digital stories. Teachers reported that students did more detailed, broad research for these projects than they did for other course assignments. When presented with an engaging question, students went far beyond the textbook in researching and telling their stories. Students in these projects went beyond the textbooks not only because they were encouraged to by their teacher, but also because they were more heavily invested in their stories than other previous classroom projects. "Designing and communicating information requires students to deepen their understanding of content while increasing visual, sound, oral language, creativity, and thinking skills" (Porter, 2004). Yet another benefit of digital storytelling is the creativity they stimulate in students. Unlike many other student-centered projects, students are not limited to mainly text and images. Rather, digital stories offer a multi-modal, open-ended forum for students to present their understanding. Just as in a well-crafted film, student digital storytelling products are far more than the sum of their parts. The choices students employ create a synergistic effect in which the multiple forms of media amplify the message and leverage the dual coding nature of how people learn (Clark & Paivio, 1991).

When used in education, digital storytelling can be a wonderfully motivating, creative, instructional tool for students. Today’s Generation Z students (1990s-2000) are the first generation born into the digital age. They utilize technology on a daily basis with their cellphones, iPods, computers, and socialnetworking sites. This generation is a very visual generation and digital storytelling is a very powerful tool for educators to promote higher level thinking skills, collaboration among students and creativity.

Digital storytelling:

  • motivates students in new ways versus a traditional research paper
  • helps improve writing skills by having students learn how to write from a certain point of view
  • encourages research skills
  • helps develop organizational skills
  • leads to deeper understanding of the material being taught
  • can be used with many different learning styles
  • incorporates 21st century information skills

Digital storytelling is not without its drawbacks. According to Hofer and Swan, pedagogical challenges have the greatest impact in determining the success of a project. They argue "[the] way a digital storytelling project is framed will help determine the quality, focus, and direction of student products. It is essential, given the divergent and open-ended nature of digital storytelling, that the teacher carefully frame the activity and explicitly tie the project to the core content and process goals encompassed in the curriculum... The challenge is for teachers to frame the exercise in an engaging way that leads to the kinds of knowledge, understanding, and experiences desired." Another aspect to take into consideration is how to support the wide range of abilities present in the classroom. "Oftentimes digital storytelling projects encompass a range of skills, processes, and content goals... [Students] had to undertake research, engage in creative writing, editing and revision, and consider the potential and impact of images, music, and narration on the mood and tone of their stories. And this all had to take place before ever actually sitting down at the computer to create their digital [stories]" (Hofer & Swan, 2006) Teachers need to provide the proper pedagogical scaffolding to ensure all students can succeed. In addition, teachers need to present a clear and concise assessment tool of student learning. The best form of assessment for digital stories is a rubric that clearly states the requirements of the project. The constraints of the modern classroom must also be considered. More and more teachers are feeling pressure to "cover" course content and ensure student mastery of course material. Time is at a premium for teachers and extended projects can be difficult to work into the unit plan. As a result, it is important to design digital storytelling projects in such a way that they align closely with state standards and encourage mastery of the content in a reasonable time frame.

According to Bernard Robin at the University of Houston there are some disadvantages of digital narratives that educators may encounter with their students. Educators should involve their ITs or Library Media Specialists if possible, when planning their digital storytelling projects. Being proactive and knowledgeable about their systems and digital tools would help alleviate difficulties during the project development. Educators need to be aware that their students may have:

  • difficulty formulating a sound argument
  • more interest in the technology and not the storytelling
  • access to technology hardware and software
  • limited ability to save from the internet
  • time consuming
  • copyright and intellectual property issues

Issues/Problems[edit | edit source]

One of the main issues in creating a digital story is the lack of training for educators utilizing these technologies. Many educators are uncomfortable with technology and lack confidence in applying it to their lessons. They also feel that they do not have the extra time to incorporate such technology into their curriculum because they need to cover materials for standardized testing. Digital storytelling is a very time consuming process and can take up to an entire school year to complete, if done properly. In conjunction with the lack of training, teachers also need to have support from their school districts on how to use these technologies with their students and make it meaningful in their curriculum. Another issue is the lack of current technology and “tools” for students to use. School districts across the nation are suffering from various budget issues and many times hard choices have to be made between eliminating teaching staff and technology budgets. On the other hand some school districts purchase new technologies ( iPods, iPads), but then do not utilize them in their curriculum.

Technology can present its own set of problems while creating digital storytelling projects. Even though most of the software used to create these projects is free to download, the programs are impressive enough to lead to a problem of excess. The programs contain so many options and capabilities that students can get bogged down in small details like transitions between images and developing the perfect Ken Burns zoom effect as opposed to focusing on content. Hofer and Swan found that "[while] the aesthetic value in both student and audience engagement cannot be disputed, there is a delicate balance between incorporating effects and elements that enhance a movie and those that either add no value or even distract from the story ... It is a challenge for the teacher to select the software to be used in the project to provide enough, but not too many, features for students to create their movies." File management and storage and management is another issue to consider when starting a digital storytelling project. Managing the multitude of image and sound files can be difficult. Once students begin constructing their projects, file sizes become quite large, often requiring devices with large storage capacities. Finally, teachers need to keep copyright laws in mind when students are searching the world wide web for media to be utilized in their digital storytelling projects.

Uses[edit | edit source]

Digital storytelling can be used in many subject areas and for various activities. A good starting point for educators interested in using digital narratives in their classrooms would be The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling website through the University of Houston ( This website has a plethora of information from hardware/software usage to assessment. It sorts digital stories into three major categories: personal/narrative stories, stories that inform/instruct and stories that document historical events. Here educators can view examples how other students and teachers K-12 globally are using the technologies in their classrooms. It is not only a great resource for planning a project, but the examples are an excellent way to hook students on the creative possibilities through storytelling.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The benefits of digital storytelling far outweigh the disadvantages. Educators and students who have participated in creating digital narratives in the classroom find it to be a powerful communication tool. Such projects not only reinforce writing and research skills, but help students to work together, critique one another’s work through discussion and help students gain 21st century literacy skills by utilizing today’s latest technologies. In doing so, educators are not only engaging their students on multiple levels, but also preparing them with the skills for the world beyond their K-12 education.

References[edit | edit source]

Bull, G. & Kajder, S. (2004). Digital Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32 (4), 46-49. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Center for Digital Storytelling. (n.d.). Center for Digital Storytelling. Retrieved November 22, 2010, from

Clark, J. & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory and education. Educational Psychology Review, 3 (3), 149-170.

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused computers in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling. (n.d.). Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling. Retrieved November 22, 2010, from

Hofer, M. and Swan, K.O. (2006). Digital Storytelling: Moving From Promise to Practice. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from

Kieler, L. (2010). Trials in Using Digital Storytelling Effectively With the Gifted. Gifted Child Today, 33(3), 49-52.

Marrion, E. (2010). Capturing Moments in Time: Student-Produced Digital Stories. Library Media Connection, August/September, 52-53.

Payne, A. (n.d.). The Digitization of Learning -- THE Journal. THE Journal: Technological Horizons in Education -- THE Journal. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from

Porter, B. (2004). The Art of Digital Storytelling- Part I: Becoming 21st-Century Storykeepers. The Creative Educator. Retrieved on November 23, 2010, from

Riedel, C. (n.d.). 5 Ways To Enhance Instruction with Digital Narratives -- THE Journal. THE Journal: Technological Horizons in Education -- THE Journal. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from

Robin, B.R. (2008). The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling PowerPoint Presentation. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from

Robin, B. R. (2008). Digital Storytelling: A Powerful Technology Tool for the 21st Century Classroom. Theory Into Practice, 47, 220-228.

Sheneman, L. (2010). Digital Storytelling: How to Get the Best Results. School Library Monthly, XXVII(September-October), 40-42.

Vandenbroek, A. (2010). Rtl: The Librarian's Fairy Tale?. Library Media Connection, October, 48-50.