Archive for the ‘digital storytelling’ Category

What Dinosaurs Taught Me about Media Literacy


In preparation for my digital storytelling session in Anaheim, I wrote this short reflective piece. However, the workshop involved a much different exercise than I anticipated, so I wasn’t able to develop the script any further. Thus, I’m sharing it on the blog in case I ever want to translate it into a digital narrative later on. Here it is:

“Everything I learned about media literacy, I learned from dinosaurs. Throughout my childhood, I was obsessed with them  – I couldn’t get enough of the rich, expansive, seemingly mythological world. So I read book after book from the library, re-watched movie after movie, and collected an array of cards/toys/and merchandise. It wasn’t long until I could tell you exactly which dinosaurs were prevalent in the Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous periods. I could tell you about any species’ diet, behavior patterns, and mating rituals.  And I would definitely tell you that there is no such thing as Brontosaurus – it’s an Apatosaurus. Brontosaurus was the result of incorrectly matching the head of Camarasaurus on the body of Apatosaurus, a blunder which took 100 years to correct. These kinds of stories were so exciting for me. I became a kind of information archaeologist,  hunting down and uncovering  data from an array of sources and piecing together the clues to formulate my own interpretation. We might think of those skills as the beginning of literacy today, but not the complete picture.

Dinosaurs became not just a personal hobby, but also a subject for connecting and collaborating with other people.  At my Dinosaur themed birthday parties, I expected guests to research and act like their favorite dinosaurs. The idea was that if we each reenacted a different species, we could explore some fascinating interactions together.  This was great fun, until one time I caught a supposed herbivore eating pepperoni pizza. (There’s the door)  I also put on various dinosaur shows for my parents, complete with balloon props, colorful hats, and sound effects cued up on the tape player. My parents would film me prance around, rattling off factoids and roaring loudly. I then could share the video with my friends and family, despite a lack of any clear coherence.

Nevertheless, the important lesson was that rather than merely consuming media for myself, I was producing it, sharing it, and performatively demonstrating my findings. I could teach an audience as the expert on a topic. This turned out to be a powerful learning tool for mastering the dinosaur universe, contributing to my success in the classroom later on.  And now, with the ubiquity and accessibility of digital media technologies, it’s never been easier to tell stories to and with people from around the world. So even though I’ve grown past dinosaurs, (and given my height perhaps into one) , my passion for storytelling, media technology, and digital literacy allows me to re-experience that same sense of excitement, creativity, and imagination all over again.”


Digital Story: The PSA


In my previous post, I examined video’s unique storytelling potential. Now I’d like to focus on specific variations of digital narratives, beginning with the public service announcement (PSA). A PSA is a short 30-60 second commercial that informs the audience about a public concern, while also triggering an emotional reaction (ideally leading to action).  In the United States, the Ad Council is perhaps the most famous producer of such content.  To demonstrate how a student might think about translating raw information into a story, I’ve tried to outline the creative process here. In this case, I tackle the danger of Hypertension (High Blood Pressure).

Step 1: Do the research.

Ex: -About 1 in every 4 American adults has high blood pressure, also called hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart and kidney diseases, stroke, and heart failure.
-People are most likely to develop Hypertension when they are over the age of 35, overweight or obese, not active, drink too much alcohol, eat too many fatty or salty foods, excessively stressed.
-High blood pressure is especially dangerous because it often gives no warning signs or symptoms.
-You can find out if you have high blood pressure by having your blood pressure checked regularly.


Step 2: What message do you want to get across? Try to articulate it in a single sentence.

Ex: High blood pressure is a silent killer.

Step 3: Brainstorm general ideas, taking into consideration style (music video, documentary, interview-based) and tone (comedic, dramatic, shocking).

Ex: We see a man go about his everyday life while hearing the sound effect of a ticking time bomb. A narrator provides some information about blood pressure as we see the man eating breakfast, going to work, greeting his children, cleaning his house: he’s living a normal life. However, whenever he eats salty foods or drinks caffeine or decides not to work out, the ticking gets faster and faster. This builds up until the end, when the timer suddenly ‘Dings’ and we cut to a black screen. Text: “High blood pressure causes heart diseases and strokes without any warning. Take the time to check it, before time is up.”

Okay, it’s a little morbid, but I think it would get the message across.

Step 4: The next step is to write a working script, exactly what we see on the screen. You don’t have to use screenwriting lingo, just write cinematically–so only things the audience will see and hear. This might be a sample:

Ex: Scene 1: An older man, about 40 years old, wakes up in his bed. We hear the noise of a single tick while soft orchestra music plays in the background. The man glances at the treadmill in the corner of his room. It’s dusty and dirty. We hear another tick. He hesitates, as if he’s going to use it, and decides to shower instead. Again, another ticking noise.  The man sits down at the kitchen table, dressed in a suit, eating breakfast with his kids. He eats a McGriddle delightfully. The ticking noise now gains a steady pace.

Step 5: This is the storyboarding phase. Envision what your video might look like. You don’t have to be a talented artist (or an artist at all, as you can tell), just include enough information so that when it’s time to start shooting, you have a clear plan. Even better than drawing, take a camera and shoot photos of how you want to frame your shot. You can also use any clip art at your disposal.


Then you’re ready for production! Maybe someday I’ll get around to actually filming this PSA, but in any case, I’ll leave you with one of the most effective and provocative PSAs I’ve ever seen:

Integrating Digital Storytelling into the Classroom


Chris Millet recently wrote a post about how Digital Storytelling can enhance college students’ ability to retain information and synthesize research. He argues that creating effective narrative-based videos–ones that elicit an emotional response from the viewer–can be a powerful tool for teaching and learning across disciplines.

To understand why, and Millet outlines a number of reasons, we might look at our response to a natural disaster from across the globe. Reading about the number of fatalities from an earthquake may startle us, but it’s not until we see the photos from the destruction and hear people’s stories on the news that we respond to the tragedy on a visceral, gut level. This potent combination of narrative and imagery, what I’m referring to here as “digital storytelling,” humanizes factual statistics, giving them real meaning. And so rather than having students robotically regurgitate dates, or rush through an essay for a single reader, we are asking students to dive deep into their topic, discover the most compelling narrative elements, strategize how their message can best be conveyed through video, and convincingly show a public audience why we should care. Thus, the students become more than the experts; they become the teachers.

This may see like an intimidating task, but the learning process involved is multi-layered, collaborative, and often times, enjoyable. In fact, faculty who already incorporate digital storytelling into their coursework have told me the most challenging aspect of the project has little to do with technical knowledge. Indeed, with user-friendly Media Commons equipment (flip cams, iMovie, Kaltura) and user-friendly Media Commons support, students quickly learn how to shoot and edit moving images. The real problem occurs on a more abstract level—how to conceptually develop an engaging video narrative. This issue deserves significant attention. Just as students need to be able to string together sentences in a coherent fashion, they need to be able to organize multimedia content meaningfully, especially now.

In light of this, there is a crucial step in the planning phase of digital storytelling that I think we need to emphasize more as educators. Most students begin with some sort of written essay that they then must adapt into their final movie.  This process of translation, from text to video, is not a manner of recording one’s voice reading over the essay and then inserting random images. Because video operates differently as a medium than print, students must understand its unique limitations and affordances. And to maximize a video’s storytelling potential, students must rework their papers so as to “translate” it for the language of cinema.

The Case for Digital Storytelling


Next January, I will be co-teaching a workshop on Digital Storytelling (DS) at Winterfest 2010. In just two hours, we will cover everything from writing the story, to gathering images from Creative Commons, to publishing the final video on the web. Because we can’t possibly delve into the intricacies of DS during one brief workshop, I’d like to share some thoughts on the craft over next few posts here. So consider this the teaser trailer for the training session…

Though the definition is purposely open-ended, digital stories are generally considered to be 2-5 minute videos featuring multimedia elements, such as still-images, music and voice-over narration, as well as video-clips, animation, and comics. Many organizations, like the Center for Digital Storytelling, specialize in the aesthetics of this craft, recognizing its potential for driving introspection and formulating communities. At its finest, DS merges a compelling, well-written story with an engaging vocal performance and visual style. Scissors, by Daniel Meadows, is one that caught my eye. Whether a story is about family histories, personal discoveries, cultural practices, or social movements, a person’s unique perspective can inspire some truly inventive, surprising, and astonishing work. The key is to provide students the opportunity and the platform to create it.

I like to think of digital storytelling as representing a culture in opposition with that of YouTube. To be sure, both involve amateur videos. Yet instead of instilling quick, instant hits of satisfaction and entertainment, digital stories aim to promote reflection and contemplation. We might look towards Ohio State’s excellent digital storytelling showcase for some examples.

Indeed, we live in a world that is saturated with media and overflowing with information. Rather than using technology superficially, as a means to multitask through life at warped speed, digital storytelling requires you take a timeout, pause, and utilize the tech tools to think critically and express oneself meaningfully.

Digital Stories are also about perspective, about seeing experiencing the world through someone else’s eyes and hearing listening to their message. For example, in the story “Take a Walk in My Shoes,” Jamaine Del Rosario describes what it’s like to care for a family of seven, all of whom live in a one-bedroom apartment in the projects.

If you’re that person who says, “I don’t really have any stories worth telling” then, well, you are incorrect. Everyone has their own individual experience, their own point of view, moral values, beliefs etc, yet we also share together a collective experience by virtue of being human–our curiosity, emotionality, self-consciousness etc. The trick is to capture our own personal journey in order to convey a universal truth. Thus, digital stories are about understanding other people, about learning how they view the world, and realizing that is there is far more that unites us than divides us. And that is a story worth telling.