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Digital Storytelling and literacies


Digital storytelling challenges traditional forms of textual practice (Dush, 2009: 261).  The creation of a digital story involves a range of cognitive strategies on the part of the learner.  The process of creating the digital story, including identifying the story, producing the script, selecting and collecting the images and producing the final product itself provides students with 'a strong foundation in 21st Century Literacy' (Robin, 2008: 224).  There has been much written on the development of these literacies - also called digital literacies - in schools, which may also apply to higher education environments.


Robin (2008: 224) sees the act of creating a digital story as drawing upon a range of literacies, such as:

  • Digital literacy: the ability to communicate, discuss issues, gather information and be able to seek help in a digital world.
  • Global literacy: having a global perspective in information gathering and interpretation.
  • Technology literacy: to be able to use technology effectively for learning and improving performance and productivity.
  • Visual literacy: to be able to communicate, including the production of, visual images.
  • Information literacy: to be able to locate, evaluate and synthesize information.


The written essay has become a standard and expected form of presentation, to both staff and students, in many higher education disciplines.  The reliance on this mode, which Oppermann (2008) sees as reflecting the desire to move the student from novice to expert using the accepted form of academic presentation, fails to recognise variations in how students learn.  Using approaches such as digital storytelling forces both staff and students out of the 'verbal framework' (Coventry, 2008: 212).  It also recognises the increasing expectation in students for the use of technology and the cultural shift that is occuring and evidenced through the use of social networks such as YouTube, Facebook and MySpace.  However, research does show that the current situation is one of a 'complex picture of minorities' (Jones et al, 2009) with varying uses of different technologies and software.  Students are though likely to welcome the use of technologies that are accessible and they are familiar with, Beetham et al, 2009: 26) found 'evidence that learners benefit from being able to use their own technologies for learning'.


The multimedia nature of the digital story means that students are being asked to communicate their message in different forms: word, image and audio.  Coventry (2008: 206) observes that 'as students move between traditional writing assignments and multimedia narratives they are communicating across familiar and unfamiliar languages'.  This means they are having to continually 'recreate' their understanding in different ways which leads to a reinforcement of the learning.  The different 'languages' also mean that the process is slowed down (Leon, 2008: 221) as the routinised norms of the written essay can not be relied upon.  Oppermann (2008: 179) observed that a consequence of this composition strategies are made explicit, which means that students become more aware of them and this then feeds back into written assignments.


Ohler (2008) discusses the multiple literacies associated with digital storytelling: digital, art (visual), oral and written.  Processes such as evaluating, selecting, rejecting, structuring, ordering, presenting, synthesising, assessing the message to be conveyed, and appreciation of the audience, apply not only to the story narrative itself but also to the other aspects of the production such as the images and sound.  It is true that many of these processes are involved in the development of other teaching, learning and assessment strategies, such as the development of poster or oral presentations, but digital storytelling has yet to be considered by many as one of the tools that can be used to support students to develop these skills (Jay, 2006).  


Engagement with a wide range of media is now a norm rather than the realm of specialist areas.  At the same time, students' expectations, and the skills they bring with them, are changing; however, research indicates that whilst the use of digital technologies might be high amongst students, they lack criticality and effective strategies for using technology in their learning (Beetham et al, 2009).  There can also be an assumption that the level of students' digital literacy is higher than it actually is. The Capture Wales project illustrated how the supportive environment, created using the CDS approach, helped to develop a space for participants to increase their skills and comfort with the technology (Meadows & Kidd, 2009: 109). However, the experience from this BBC-supported project was that these skills were not necessarily transfered into other usage.  The CDS approach, combining experts with the public, which some might argue is leading to co-production rather than consumer-produced, does present a sophisticated model.  Daniel Meadows, who led the Capture Wales project, acknowledges the need for forms of digital storytelling that are 'less difficult to master' (Meadows & Kidd, 2009: 116). 

Examples of digital story use for literacy development

[table of examples/case studies below]


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