My adventure with digital stories began in 2008 at my first AATE/ALEA national conference in Adelaide titled Stories, Spaces, Places.
Daniel Meadows spoke engagingly about the BBC project titled Capture Wales. He outlined the beginning rules for the multimedia narratives he created with willing Welsh: 250 words and 12 images would produce two minutes of digital story. From schools, community centres, retirement homes and public spaces came stories of humour, poignancy and imagination.
The originating narrative is paramount in valuing our own stories. Meadows questions whether documentary makers are predators or collaborators, and suggests that people should ‘be’ the media rather than consumers. Technical skills are less important. When time was limited, the rules were adapted: ‘shoebox’ stories were created in one day from a single item and edited interview.
Finally, Meadows believes it is vital to share the finished product. Stories from the people had a tendency to elegance and gave courage and support by sharing knowledge.
The next day, I participated in a workshop with two enthusiastic sisters, Eulea and Suzanne Kiraly, who followed the Lambert model from the Digital Story Centre in Berkeley. They explained that one minute equals 100 words, 15 images and approximately 10 hours of work. Suggesting that the simplest software made the best story, we were urged to resist self-indulgence!
Again, we were urged to screen and celebrate our stories. They suggest presenting the good, the bad and the ugly versions to encourage improvement. I participated in a story circle and my narrative of Shannon and his sad start to the day emerged.
When developing a digital story, the narrative should be able to stand alone – at its best, it will work without images. Image selection and justification are of course subjective.
In March, 2010 I attended Susie Pratt’s presentation with a colleague. We were inspired by her use of digital stories as reflections of student learning in the Faculty of Commerce at the University of Wollongong. She also outlined a transition project where preschoolers were making digital stories to introduce themselves to their primary school teachers.
Then in Perth in July, Christopher Walsh explained his use of technology with students who had limited English literacy skills. After reading a novel, each had been given paper and watercolours to illustrate the most powerful moment. These images were later uploaded to a website for wide viewing.
I was prompted to produce my own digital story after failing to find suitable examples for use in the year 10 pilot project. The production of No Joke was a steep learning curve, but gave me skills to assist students. Unfortunately, after the launch and several lessons with two inconsistently committed year 10 classes, the project was abandoned. There were many reasons why the project failed, yet, believing in the merit of the proposal and with typical teacher patience, I decided to build interest by starting with my year 7 mixed ability class.
Forms and Features
Classic Digital Story
250 words 10-15 images 3 minutes
Script – final draft 2.03 minutes
Every school day begins with roll call.
I, the teacher, sit out the front and record all students who are present.
I read out the ‘green sheet’ of notices and news and send everyone off to their first lesson.
I became bored. If I was bored, how did the students feel? What did they think of this sad start to the day?
One day, I noticed Shannon.
An angry slice of man.
Sour, lumpish, slow moving.
He kicked and shuffled his way to the back corner and took up surveillance sneering scowling
I learnt from the welfare team that he had many difficulties. That he lived with his grandmother. That he was being threatened with boarding school and discipline.
I decided that everyone has a right to start the day happy.
I wanted to see Shannon smile.
I started ‘joke of the day’ in roll call.
Knock. Knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupting who? Mooooooo
Jokes came from everywhere to aid my mission.
Corny Christmas crackers. From teachers friends and Sunday papers
Can a match box? No, but a tin can.
But still Shannon sat. Sad and sour
There were two pies in an oven. One pie said “Gee, it’s hot in here” and the other pie said “Wow! A talking pie!”
Slowly. Surely. Shannon smiled.
Well, really, it was a smirk at first. Then a grin. Then he smiled.
Later that year, Shannon left our school. Smiling sunnily.
Word count: 242
Blueback, by Tim Winton, offers a bounty of rich descriptive moments. After reading the novel, I challenged the class to think of their favourite moment and locate a single descriptive sentence.
Much re-reading and consultation occurred before students created illustrations. Images were scanned, then each sentence was read aloud and recorded individually. Collating all elements within iMovie allowed the final project to be exported as a QuickTime movie. On completion, students received their own copy of the retold novel on DVD.
In term four, I asked students to write reflectively on their first year in high school. Different moments in many subjects were discussed before it came down to two ideas: what did you most like and dislike?
The final movie is made up of one individual photograph, taken in the same setting, and separately recorded responses. The school emblem and colours were used in the titles and transitions to create a resource for screening at school information sessions.
I continued in the director’s role by incorporating a version of the ‘shoebox’ story into the year 7 unit Introducing me – Introducing High School. The class explored different interview texts and techniques before composing questions that led to a series of informative lessons. Students were then asked to bring in something (no bigger than a shoebox) that was important in their lives.
This time, I took three photographs of each student outside the classroom. Recorded interviews were later edited to approximately 40 seconds, which allowed for 20 seconds of opening and closing titles. Different openings and transitions allow for a more individualized project.
The year 7 narratives unit Myths and Legends offered a perfect opportunity to extend student skills while allowing me to step back from an overt creative role. In pairs or small groups, students chose a fable to retell as a digital story. Storyboarding began and images were drawn. I issued instructions on how to search Google images using ‘labeled for reuse’ limits and students quickly realized that original illustrations were a better option.
Beware! Some students will find it hard to resist using the full range of editing options.
For the year 8 Life Stories unit, students were given a choice of assessment tasks: create a website or a digital story based on either a biography or autobiography.
Before computer lab lessons begin, each student must submit a final draft of no more than 200 words that details a moment in their chosen person’s life. Only two students chose the digital story option, and were given a further three computer sessions during English classes, as negotiated with the librarian. Students were reminded of the need to appropriately acknowledge sources.
Planning is underway for a term four transition project involving pupils from our primary feeder schools and skilled year 7 students. It is hoped that the digital stories created at these workshops will foster community and introduce high school to new students in an enjoyable learning opportunity.
As our collection of stories builds, future students can critique and improve on early examples. Other possibilities for class work in term four include the production of digital stories from original creative writing, particularly Stage 5 students using Adobe Premier on the Lenovo laptops.
Useful Links and Websites
Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Digital Citizenship: games, lessons and videos for safe use of digital technology
Kiraly,E and Kiraly, S, 2008 In First Person: digital storytelling in a community context. Workshop: ALEA National Conference – Stories, Places, Spaces. Adelaide.
Mantei, J and Kervin, L. 2010 This is Me! Empowering children to talk about their learning through digital story. Presentation Paper: AATE/ALEA National Conference – Away with Words, Perth.
Meadows, D. 2008 New Literacies for the Digital Age. Keynote Speaker: AATE/ALEA National Conference – Stories, Places, Spaces. Adelaide.
Pratt, S. 2010 Empowering voices in the classroom: A process based approach to facilitating digital storytelling. Presentation: South Coast Branch of ALEA. Corrimal.
Walsh, C. 2010 Teachers as innovators with digital technologies in the 21st century. Presentation: AATE/ALEA National Conference – Away with Words, Perth.