Digital Storytelling

The digital revolution has created new ways to tell and share stories, and a change in methods can mean a change in expressive possibilities. Stories can now include graphics, sound, music, animation, and interactivity—and story form is stretching to accommodate them.

CTL supports the development of digital storytelling in the classroom in several ways. We have sponsored a Faculty Learning Community on the topic, offered workshops on digital storytelling, and generally made our knowledge and resources available to instructors interested in using digital storytelling in the classroom.

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What are digital stories?

The brief answer is:  short movies.  They are distinguishable from other short movies (independent cinema, home movies, small art films, music videos, etc.) by their style, intent, and cultural provenance. 

Stylistically, they often consist of images—photographs, graphics, public and/or personal images, bits of video—presented in a short film with a voice-over narration.  Sometimes there is a musical intro or background, sometimes only the voice.  They usually last from 3 to 5 minutes. 

Daniel Meadows, a British digital storyteller, has defined them as “short, personal multimedia tales told from the heart.”  This identifies their usual intent, which is to express a feeling as much as to present a story or an idea.  All stories express emotion, of course, one way or another.  But digital stories, because they are so personal in both execution and imagery, favor direct expression of the creator’s feelings. 

Digital storytelling is, in itself, a community and a social movement; it is also part of the broader digital transformation of culture, and loosely tied to progressive political aims.  In the last twenty years it has become increasingly easier for amateurs to take photographs, make movies, record music, publish their efforts, and take part in international communities of like-minded others.  Digital storytelling makes use of this to empower people who otherwise might not have a voice—through lack of access to expensive tools or as members of a marginalized group.   

How can digital storytelling serve the goals of university instructors and students?  Higher education tends to privilege writing over speaking, and print over images; it seldom rewards direct emotional expression.  Digital stories cannot easily replicate the virtues of an essay or theme paper.   However, they can be a venue for many traditional academic goals, and provide opportunities that traditional methods sometimes miss. 

Instructors using digital storytelling can:

·      Appeal to diverse learning styles;

·      Capture the attention of students who are already immersed in digital media;

·      Encourage creativity in student projects;

·      Provide a space for students to share their work with each other (and the world) in a way that the academic essay cannot match—students tend to put more work into projects that will be seen by their peers.

              Students creating digital stories can practice skills requiring:

·      Research (story documentation);

·      Writing (the creation of any kind of ‘text’ is a form of writing); 

·      Organization (project management);

·      Technology;

·      Presentation experience;

·      Group participation;

·      Problem solving; and

·      Self assessment.

The use of stories in general, whether in or out of digital form, can be a powerful teaching and learning tool.

Stories can:

·      Gain attention

·      Illustrate points

·      Connect with learners

·      Situate content

·      Make content memorable

Examples of Digital Stories

·      Center for Digital Storytelling

·      The Things They Lost

·      Engineering Education for the 21st Century

·      Photo Opportunities


Digital storytelling tools

·      Photo Story 3(Windows—free download)

·      Movie Maker(Windows—free download)

·      PowerPoint/Keynote

·      Soundslides  ($40 - $70)


Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community by Joe Lambert.  Digital Diner Press, Berkeley, CA, 2002.


·      Creative Commons

·      Ira Glass on Storytelling

·      Learning from YouTube

·      Ultimate Guide to Storytelling


Where to put finished stories

·      USG Podcast server

·      iTunes U

·      YouTube UGA

·      YouTube



Instructors should consider themselves to be executive producers of digital stories by their students.