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Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling: 20 Revelations Part 2

Jan 12, 2018 2018-01-12

By Jason Ohler

Here is the second set of Jason Ohler’s revelations about digital storytelling. If you missed the first part, you can read about it here. From using digital stories to educate students and letting them pursue their goals, he explains how digital storytelling can be a powerful education tool to help students mature, grow, and think critically.

Storytelling is one of the oldest human activities. People want to tell stories to convey beliefs, share adventures, and create a voice. I have had 20 revelations about digital storytelling and its development and I would like to share them with you.

11. Stories provide a powerful metaphor and framework for resolving issues, educating ourselves, and pursuing our goals
Stories are more than just tales. They are essential to our survival, to our education, and to our progress in life. Life without stories is an overwhelming mass of individual and unrelated pieces; we need to find a way to put those pieces together, bring them into context, and make them relate to each other—and to us. Stories give us meaning and a sense of community.

12. Students need to become heroes of their own learning stories, as well as of the stories they tell with their own lives
For teachers and educators it is essential to understand the structure and process of stories. Stories shape curricula, they build instruction, and they frame academic arguments. Constructive learning is when students become masters of their own stories and “learning adventures.”

13. Stories help us remember
Storytelling is an important learning tool. Structure and rhythm of a story help us remember the important information and organize it so it can be retained.

14. Combining storytelling and critical thinking defines an important pedagogical frontier
What makes a successful story? It captures our attention; it hypnotizes us. If you have ever started reading a book and suddenly looked up to find all the daylight gone without you ever noticing it, you know that story had you under its spell. We need to let go of our preconceptions and experience the story with little critical assessment. But therein lies the danger. In education, we need critical engagement. We need students to be thinking critically and applying sound judgment. The challenge is to blend the two together, the spellbound of the story experience and critical thinking. This is one of the new pedagogical frontiers: educate our students in a way that engages them in the story, but offer them the tools to critically navigate within the story.

15. Digital stories allow today’s students to pursue academic content in their own language
Digital storytelling offers students a unique opportunity to speak their own language. They can express themselves in a digital world using technology that resonates with them and they are familiar with. We need to remind ourselves that students are not passive consumers. They use digital tools to develop and share their stories through videos, photographs, chats, and music. This digital landscape is where they feel at home.

16. Digital storytelling helps students develop transferrable planning skills
Digital stories require scripts like all other stories, including visual maps, storyboards, lists, and other planning tools. Students develop planning skills by creating digital stories. This is called the “media creation process,” and students are actively engaged in it. These skills can be transferable into other fields because it includes creativity, critical thinking, research, and imagination.

17. Digital stories combine traditional and emerging literacies, engaging otherwise reluctant students in literacy development
Digital storytelling is the best tool I have found to blend traditional and emerging literacy development. Clear and concise writing is a key element of both the digital and the traditional story. But I have received feedback from teachers telling me that they suddenly saw students who were not so strong on traditional essay writing attack planning and narrating digital stories. If possible, digital storytelling should also include other literacies like speaking, writing, and digital production. The digital story is just the visible tip of the iceberg, with traditional literacy elements hidden underneath the surface.

18. Digital story creation offers an effective means to teach media literacy
Another advantage of digital storytelling is that it includes learning about a new and increasingly important kind of literacy: media literacy. I define media literacy here as having the skills to recognize, evaluate, and apply the persuasive techniques of media. In today’s world, story-based media overwhelms us and we want our students not just to learn with media, but about media. Students can be easily persuaded by media, but digital storytelling offers them a powerful media literacy learning opportunity.

19. Digital storytelling helps students develop creatical thinking skills
Producing digital media can help students grow and mature. And it can help them steer and drive their creativity in a certain direction; I like to call it creatical thinking—combining the creative process with reflective and critical thought when producing original work.

20. Tech doesn’t make teachers obsolete
Quite the opposite! Students need guidance, perhaps more than ever before. They need someone to help them master and understand the technology and to teach them how to tell meaningful and concise stories. Teachers do not have to be technology wizards themselves. What they can offer their students is teaching them how to manage their time and productivity, and where to apply their talents. Students look for teachers who guide them and help them make choices, apply technology wisely, and create their own stories. So, what is the advice I recommend teachers give their digital storytelling students? Focus on the story first, technology second—everything else will fall into place.

Dr. Jason Ohler is a professor emeritus, speaker, writer, and a lifelong digital humanist who is well-known for the passion, insight, and humor he brings to his writings, projects, teaching, and presentations. He has been helping community members, organizations, and students at all levels understand the ethical implications of being digital citizens in a world of roller-coaster technological change. His most recent book, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future, reflects on his 35 years in the world of educational media and innovation in order to chart a course for a future. He is first and foremost a storyteller, telling tales of the future that are grounded in the past. Find Jason on Twitter @jasonohler or visit his website:

Digital Literacy 21st Century Themes Reading/English/Language Arts Media Literacy

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