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Getting started with digital storytelling

Page history last edited by Phil Gravestock 14 years, 7 months ago

Getting started with digital storytelling

It is often stated that digital storytelling can be a very simple technique to employ.  Its flexibility does mean that it can be used in a wide variety of ways for very different purposes.  However, as Dush (2009: 261) points out it is 'deceptively complicated'.  It is therefore important to give careful consideration to how this technique is to be used. 


As a starting point, consideration of its use against pedagogical and theoretical models is to be recommended.  There are also useful tools which provide starting points for getting started with digital storytelling.



Two other frameworks that could be drawn upon for guidance when considering the use of digital storytelling are first the Design Model for Podcasting developed through the IMPALA project (Edirisingha et al, 2008), which classifies digital storytelling as a form of podcasting.  The second source is the extensive list of continua developed by Ohler (2008) which provides a structured framework for discussion around the reasons for the use of digital storytelling.  Together these two frameworks provide an extensive range of prompts for helping to plan use.  However, taken individually these frameworks do though have some limitations.  The IMPALA model contains ten design factors, these include fundamentally important design considerations such as the pedagogic rationale, as well as other useful considerations such as style.  The full list, presented in the table below, is though aimed primarily at staff generating content for student consumption.  Digital storytelling represents a social pedagogy in which learner generation of narratives, rather than content consumption takes priority.  The IMPALA model does therefore require some adaptation and careful selection to be used as a means of helping to produce the student generated application of digital storytelling. 


Table: Podcasting 10-factor design model (Edirisingha et al, 2008)




Example options

Pedagogical rationale

Limitations of lectures in teaching complex and difficult topics

Limitations of conventional approaches in teaching use of software tools

Limitations of conventional feedback approaches

Issues faced by first-time online learners

Developing competency in:

  • collaborative skills
  • active learning skills
  • presentation skills
  • essay writing skills
  • reflective skills
  • research skills
  • articulation and communication skills

Improving the usefulness and attractiveness of teaching and learning resources


Audio podcasts

Audio and vision podcasts


Integrated with other media such as VLE


Authors and contributors to podcasts

Subject or module lecturer

University teachers

Other university staff

Fellow students

Senior students

Other stakeholders

Structure of podcasting


Multiple sessions

Targeted podcasts for specific sessions, such as assessments or exams


Temporary or reusable


Short (less than 10 minutes) or long


Formal or informal; style of presentation; monologue/dialogue/interview or other


Signposting, navigating, planning

Access system


A feeder service (RSS)



Ohler’s range of 18 continua provides a more expansive list of factors to consider.  These are grouped into three categories; Story type, purpose or impact; Story elements; and Story production.  This is a comprehensive list that can, as Ohler (2008) recommends, be used as starting points for discussion on the use of digital storytelling.  It is though a long list to work through when planning any application and does include some overlap between categories.  In addition it could be argued that there are still some gaps.  The table below shows an adaptation of Ohler’s continua by Gravestock & Jenkins (2009), expanding the list up to 22.  These additions, shown in italics, include for example consideration of whether it is the process of creating a digital story that is most important or the final product.  Such a consideration will obviously be context dependent. 


Table: Continua for use (from Ohler, 2008).  Text in italics represents additions to the Ohler, 2008, continua (from Gravestock & Jenkins, 2009).


Story type, purpose, or impact

Clear, like an essay



Challenging, like a poem

Metaphor, genre clear



Not clear

Universal resonance

Niche resonance

No resonance





Passive viewing



Active viewing

About author



About content








Not assessed

Story elements

1st person involved



3rd person, detached

Emotionally engaged



Detached, objective

Tone boundaries

Appropriate tone diversity

Unclear boundaries

Narrative a focus



Narrative not a focus

Music supportive



Music distracting

Performance, video info



Still images, voice over

Creativity, originality valued



Not valued

Constraint, economy valued



Economy not valued





Story production

Low production values



High production values

Media grammar sound



Media grammar unsound

Technology low end, available



High end,  not readily available

Help is part of the process



Help is not allowed








Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling



The Centre for Digital Storytelling (in Robin, 2008: 222) have created the Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling, which could be used as a starting point when working with digital stories.  These are:


  1. Point of view: what is the main point of the story and what is the perspective of the author?
  2. A dramatic question: a key question that keeps the viewer's attention and will be answered by the end of the story.
  3. Emotional content: serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the story to the audience.
  4. The gift of your voice: a way to personalise the story to help the audience understand the context.
  5. The power of the soundtrack: music or other sounds that support and embellish the storyline.
  6. Economy: using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer.
  7. Pacing: the rhythm of the story and how slowly or quickly it progresses.








Software for creating digital stories



There is a range of software packages that can be used to create digital stories, some of which are freely available and straightforward to use, such as those listed below.






For users of Windows based computers the following software can be used:






Windows Movie Maker: freely available on all Windows computers using XP or a later operating system.  Movie Maker is the software that can be used to put together the audio narrative, images and other materials.






Audacity: a free audio editor which can be downloaded.  A simple guide to using Audacity is available in Mobbs, Salmon & Edirisingha (2008).






PhotoStory 3 for Windows: free software downloadable from Microsoft for creating digital stories.  It incorporates the capability to record audio and add music, including providing its own music generator.  It does though place the emphasis on the images rather than the narrative and so is not necessarily the best tool for creating digital stories for educational purposes.






For Apple Macintosh users:






iMovie: free software on Apple computers which can be used to put together the component parts.






iPhoto: free software that can be used for image manipulation.





Audacity: a free audio editor which can be downloaded.  A simple guide to using Audacity is available in Mobbs, Salmon & Edirisingha (2008).




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