Why Digital Storytelling?

Storytelling has always been a significant part of history, but the means through which the stories have been told has evolved with each civilization. From the oral histories presented by bards in ancient courts, to the works of scribes during the Renaissance, to newspapers, CNN, and now the Internet, personal narrative has been used to communicate the events of the past. Digital media now combines tradition with technology and allows students to tell stories through voice, text, images, audio, and video.

Digital stories allow students to take a linear series of events and turn them into a multidimensional experience. It encourages them to communicate, collaborate, and research as well as to infuse media into the process. A plethora of tools exists to create these projects – both in terms of software as well as hardware – and all of them enable students to gain a deeper understanding of history as they explore the most effective way to retell it.

Digital Storytelling Tools

Creating a digital story could be as simple as using a presentation tool such as Apple’s Keynote or Microsoft PowerPoint, or as complex as a full video project with Apple’s iMovie or Microsoft MovieMaker. However, there are also a variety of web-based tools that enable students to create unique user experiences as they tell their stories.

  • PowToon – A free web based animation platform that work in a simple to edit drag and drop setting.  Select from a wide array of images, characters and icons that are then dragged onto a template.  Each element that is selected can be animated with movement and a time duration can be added to each to tell a story.  Include text along with the animation to tell a complete digital story.  An added feature allows mp3 audio files to be uploaded. This option allows a customized recording to be created, uploaded and animated.
  • PhotoStory3 – A free download for Windows computers, this program provides an easy way to edit videos. More information can be found on the Microsoft site.
  • Animoto – This intuituve and powerful web-based application provides basic but impressive multimedia features. Animoto offers music and professional-looking special effects to add to your photos and text. Students can sign up for a free account and access Animoto from any Mac or PC with an Internet connection.
  • ComicLife – With this program, students can easily tell their stories through their own comics. This program works on all platforms and is relatively inexpensive. For a quick project, a 30 day free trial is available.
  • StoryBird – Another free, web-based application, StoryBird allows students to read, write, and collaborate on digital picture books. Thousands of illustrations have been contributed to this online community, and all authors can integrate them into their written pieces. Completed stories can printed as books and shared via the Internet.
  • Digital Vaults – This new tool from the National Archives allows students to create their own accounts and then build a story using digital resources directly from the National Archives. They can search through historical collections and even build their own collections of resources. Each image contains historical information that can be added as captions. The movie making tool includes soundtrack options as well as basic editing functions. With a free login account, students can save their work, and completed projects can be emailed or shared via hyperlink.
  • VoiceThread is a great Web-based digital storytelling program that enables users to upload pictures or documents, record accompanying audio (or video) commentary, and invite others to record commentary as well. Its simple combination of visual and recorded media is perfect for creating multimedia presentations in a relatively short time frame using simple tools. With VoiceThread teachers and students can create virtual tours, report on books they’ve read, comment on historically significant photographs, debate a topic, and more. Its uniqueness lies in the ease in which audio commentary can added to images and documents and the ability to add multiple commentaries to a single artifact.
  • Glogster is a powerful online poster creation platform with an easy drag-and-drop interface and enables students to create interactive, aesthetically appealing, and media-rich posters. With Glogster students create “Glogs,” an online multimedia poster made with text, images, graphics, music, video and more.Glogster EDU is an advertisement-free educational community wherein educators set up a ““virtual classroom” for their students. By default Glogs are private unless a teacher designates them as “public,” and students are assigned randomly generated login information and passwords. No student is identified by name. As such, Glogster EDU helps address issues of inappropriate content and undesirable contact with those outside an educational community.
  • Kerpoof Create fully animated comics online with Kerpoof. Choose from a library of scenes and characters, add animation, movement, as well as music and speech bubbles to bring a story idea to life. Extremely intuitive menu bar and helpful video tutorials make this tool quite useful. A key feature is a Teacher Account that allows teachers to register students and create classes where students can collaborate on creations.

Digital Storytelling Examples

  • 5th Grade Ellis Island Narratives This VoiceThread project was designed to enable students to truly feel the immigrant experience. Students closely examine images looking for clues to foster understanding.
  • “Telling Their Stories” – Oral History Archive Project of the Urban School Visit “Telling Their Stories” and read, watch, and listen to perhaps the best student-created oral history project in the country. High School students at the Urban School of San Franciso have produced three impressive oral history interviews featured at this site: Holocaust Survivors and Refugees, World War II Camp Liberators, and Japanese-American Internees. Urban school students conducted, filmed, and transcribed interviews, created hundreds of movie files associated with each transcript, and then posted the full-text, full-video interviews on this public website.
  • Youth Producing Change – Human Rights Watch International Film Festival Adobe Youth Voices and Human Rights Watch present Youth Producing Change, an innovative program of youth-produced short films from across the globe.

Media Resources

Rich media is the key to a good digital story. The resources below will help students find what they need in terms of content. For more information about working with copyrighted and Creative Commons licensed media, visit the Creative Commons page.

  • Wikimedia Commons – a wiki database of Creative Commons or Public Domain images.
  • Flickr – a photo and video sharing site where most works are licensed under Creative Commons. The Advanced Search allows students to search only for Creative Commons licensed media.
  • FlickrStorm – another way to search through Flickr that provides even more results. There is an option to search for only images that have been licensed for reuse.
  • Jamendo – a music sharing site of all legal to use songs.
  • Google Advanced Image Search – setting the usage rights shows images that are labeled with a Creative Commons license
  • Library of Congress – an online catalog of thousands of prints and photos currently archived at the LOC. Most of the resources can be published without having to seek permission, and they provide terrific digital artifacts for historical stories.
  • National Archives – billions of images, videos, and digital documents can be found and integrated into projects.

How to Integrate Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling can be integrated in any number of ways:

  • Create a virtual tour of a country or historical place.
  • Create a public service announcement on an important local or world issue.
  • Simulate an interview of a historical character.
  • Simulate a debate on an historical topic, such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Create a presentation based on images of local artifacts and architecture.