Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Digital Storytelling

The Purpose

For the technology component of the Master of Arts in Teaching program at the University of Alaska Southeast we all had to create a digital story in our respective content areas. Given the research showing the effectiveness of the story format in teaching and the easy overlap between storytelling and history, I was excited to create something I could later use as an example for my students.

Currently I'm teaching history in a sixth grade classroom where we're studying ancient Rome and I as the quarter progresses I'm interested in having my students create a digital story of their own. The storytelling process was, to me, both challenging and thought provoking and yet also very engaging and creative. The major benefits of storytelling as a teaching and learning tool is that the storytelling process requires students to:
  • Have a clear understanding of the subject matter.
  • Think imaginatively to create their own story.
  • Think deeply about how to integrate their knowledge of the subject into their own personal narrative.
  • Reflect on the storytelling process and on what makes a good story.
The digital media component of digital storytelling enables students to interact and create in a medium which is both familiar to them (in that they are constantly exposed to digital media) and yet exciting and exotic (in that they may have never created anything like it). Digital media also has the added bonus that it forces the student to use multiple intelligences to create a finished product that is well written, flows smoothly, is well narrated and which is visually appealing. The student must therefore effectively integrate multiple facets of presentation, including the following:
  • The written word
  • The spoken word
  • Relevant / evocative images
  • Appropriate narration, sound and music
In doing so, the student is forced to think more holistically, making connections between the verbal, auditory, and visual realms in order to create a product which seamlessly unites the three into a compelling whole. Having to think in this way and making connections between different areas of understanding can be a very powerful learning tool and offers students a creative way to truly show what they know.

The Process

Before I break down the process I used to create my own story, perhaps I should tell you where you can view my digital story. It's here.

The basic idea I had was to illustrate the process of building a Roman aqueduct and to highlight some of the technologies the ancient Romans used to accomplish this. Personally, I've always been impressed by the graceful arched arcades the Romans used to span valleys and astounded by the extraordinary engineering and the sheer blood, sweat, and toil it would have taken to build such phenomenal structures. Even so, I could tell that a straightforward "this is how you build an aqueduct" story would be pretty boring.

In our tech class we talked about how good stories generally incorporate emotion, tension centered around the potential for success and failure, and some sort of personal transformation in the main character. This last part is perhaps the most important because, as humans, we seem most compelled by stories in which the protagonist, through his/her experiences, undergoes some sort of a personal transformation or growth. My aqueduct story, in its early documentary phase, had no such transformation, no real tension, and no emotion. Clearly there was work to be done.

My inspiration finally came while discussing substories. I decided that I could tell the story of building an aqueduct through the eyes of the fictional Roman in charge of its construction. Through his eyes, we could learn about the process of building an aqueduct, about the obstacles in the way and the human ingenuity and determination that overcame them. By telling it in this format, however, I could also incorporate emotion and personal transformation. Issues of race and class have always resonated with me, and so I decided that my fictional Roman aristocrat builder could begin the story as an elitist disgusted with having to oversee his crew of slaves, lower class Romans, and legionaires. As the story progressed and he saw these men work and overcome hardship and tragedy, he would be moved to reconsider his notions of human worth based on race and class and would come to respect his men simply for who they were, regardless of their status in society.

Now I finally had an idea that incorporated emotion, tension, and personal transformation. Next I set out writing the story. First I sketched a rough outline of the interplay between the plot (building an aqueduct) and the subplot (the transformation of my Roman aristocrat). Once I had this I wrote out the story in diary format, which you can see here. After a few proofreads by Dr. Ohler and my classmates, I was ready to start making my digital story. The basic process is as follows:
  1. Record narration of the story.
  2. Select and incorporate pictures that help bring the narration to life.
  3. Work with transitions and effects to give the movie a polished feel.
  4. Cite sources and include credits.
Though it looks simple, there's a lot that actually goes into this process. Getting the narration right took time, and achieving the proper inflection and emotion was a challenge for me. It was also difficult to find pictures that showed exactly what I'd hoped to get across but I was able to achieve the basic effect that I'd hoped for. Adding transitions and effects went very quickly and smoothly on Windows Movie Maker, as did adding credits. The process of actually making the video was considerably less involved than that of creating the story. My experience bore out completely what Dr. Ohler had been telling us all along, that it is much easier to create a reasonably polished movie than it is to create a well crafted story, and that for that reason it is especially important to spend the time to think critically about how to create a compelling story. In the end, I learned a lot about how to make a movie on my computer, but I learned immensely more about how to think about what makes a good story and about how to create one myself.

1 comment:

Dissertation help said...

Wonderful article,thanks for putting this together! "This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here. Keep it up!"