(Photo source: Pixabay)
Digital Storytelling: The What, Why, and How (Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle)
In our previous article, Collaboration is a Mindset, Heartset, and Skillset, we discussed the ways in which the two of us came together to effectively co-plan and co-teach a multi-grade, multi-disciplinary unit on digital storytelling. Since that article was focused more on strategies for successful collaboration and less on the nuts and bolts of digital storytelling, we decided to write a follow-up article that was more targeted at explaining the what, why, and how of digital storytelling.
The timing of our first article publication was right before the earthquake that devastated parts of Syria and Turkey on February 9, 2023. Many students in the hardest-hit areas are now facing disruptions to their education that will have long-lasting effects. It is with our deepest sympathy and hope for recovery that we now offer the following explanation of the power of digital storytelling as a tool for self-expression and healing.
The What: What is Digital Storytelling?
According to the University of Wollongong’s digital storytelling site, “A digital story is a multimedia presentation combining a variety of digital elements within a narrative structure (a story).” It can be about any topic so long as the creator is passionate about it, and it comes from the heart. The most important part of any digital story is the message that the creator wants to share with the world. If the story has a clear purpose and direction, then the rest will come easily.
To create a digital story, you follow a process similar to the writing process. You brainstorm ideas, create a storyboard, write a script, add images, music, voiceover, and text, and edit your work. Programs like iMovie, CapCut, or Vivacut can be used to create digital stories. These apps are all user-friendly and work easily on phones or laptops. This guide from the University of Guelph explains the steps more fully and provides additional resources as well.
The Why: Why use digital storytelling?
Once you understand how to create digital stories, you can do so in any classroom, with any age group. Digital storytelling is a powerful way to foster project-based, deep-inquiry learning in the classroom. It gives students voice and choice in the curriculum and lets them know that their ideas are valued and important. Digital storytelling creates a space for students to advocate for issues that are important to them. It also promotes reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in any language.
Digital stories can be shared easily. They can build connections between peoples and nations and encourage us to think beyond our local contexts. We were inspired recently by a few digital stories that were disseminated on Whatsapp by participants of the 2023 Goals Project. As part of the Goals Project, students research one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and then create a project to foster awareness of that SDG.
Megan’s Model United Nations students in Laos were looking at SDG #4, along with students in Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere. The teacher in Syria shared a few digital stories that her middle school students had created about their experiences during and after the earthquake. In those digital stories, the young Syrians asked their Global Goals group members to share their videos and work together to ensure that all children have access to quality education moving forward. These stories were heartbreaking and also full of hope. They were a wake-up call to us. If we do not listen to and honor children’s voices, what kind of world will we leave them?
The How: How does digital storytelling encourage healing?
Digital storytelling allows students to express themselves in multimodal ways that involve more than just writing. With the advent of artificial intelligence tools like Chat GPT, moving beyond the standard five-paragraph essay is going to be critical if we want students to speak their truths and avoid plagiarism. Digital storytelling asks students to curate photos, video clips, and music clips to help them tell their stories. The power of using one’s own images and content cannot be understated here. What fosters empathy and understanding is being able to see into someone else’s life (if only for a few minutes).
The digital storytelling unit we did together last spring was called “Your Story Matters.” We believe this could also be a powerful unit title for students who have recently experienced traumatic or life-changing events, such as the recent earthquake. Digital storytelling provides students with a venue to process and reflect on what has happened. In fact, a few students in our classes created digital stories about COVID-19 and the effect that the pandemic had on their lives. Other students shared their experiences of moving to different countries and not knowing how to speak the language of instruction in their new schools. By thinking back on important experiences from their lives and how those experiences shaped them, students were able to reclaim their narratives and integrate these experiences into their identities moving forward.
Why digital storytelling now?
The Danish author, Isak Dinesen said, “To be a person is to have a story to tell.” We believe that telling stories is not just natural and at times cathartic, but also helps us hold on to moments that are fleeting, but extremely significant in the way they shape us, our values, our outlook, and ultimately our choices. Digital storytelling enables us to share those pivotal moments and experiences without having to be together in person.
Some stories are better told from behind the lens, especially stories of grief, stories of devastation, and stories of despair. So, while the world makes a united and sustained effort to support, comfort, and provide aid to the people of Syria and Turkey, we hope that the children of these two nations, and all those afflicted by crises, can find the strength to speak their truths, heal, advocate, and overcome adversity through storytelling.
Megan Vosk teaches the middle years program individuals and societies at Vientiane International School. She is also the chair of the AMLE teacher-leader committee.
Shafali is a multilingual learner specialist who currently teaches Grade 5 at the American Embassy School.