Teaching is an art that includes storytelling at its core. Stories are an essential part of our nature as humans. Stories are how we pass on our history, our culture, and our heritage. The brain does not remember isolated facts, but makes connections with other ideas, often in the context of stories.
Stories have been around longer than recorded history. Cave paintings that are tens of thousands of years old have been found depicting ideas that were important to the ancient people who made them. This was before written speech, so the stories used drawings. It is right that it is so. Whereas storytelling is the vehicle by which history is passed down, art is often the language. Art is a universal language that is accessible to anyone at its most basic level. Combining the language of art with the medium of storytelling can be incredibly powerful.
That is the goal of digital storytelling. It combines art, in the form of pictures, drawings, and/or videos, with the medium of storytelling, in the form of text, narration, and/or music. It generally assumes publication because a story needs an audience to fulfill its purpose. There are many tools to accomplish this in very different ways, but they all subscribe to this basic, underlying idea.
The instructional implications of digital storytelling can be vast. Every content uses stories. It is obvious in Language Arts, where the curriculum is often built around reading different types of stories, but storytelling pervades all content areas. Social studies looks at stories of humanity. Science looks at stories of how people can interact with, understand, and manipulate nature. Math is often about processes and how to handle abstract concepts; stories help students to understand and internalize those processes. Art and music tell stories, even though they often do not use words.
Digital storytelling can help students to master content in a variety of ways. For students to write an original story, there has to be a certain level of autonomy. If the teacher guides the students more than is necessary, then it really becomes the teacher’s story more than the students’. One of the pedagogical ideas built into this type of assignment is social constructivism. Students are creating or discovering their own knowledge through the creation of the stories, which almost universally require some level or research, and sharing that knowledge and gaining feedback through publication. Through research, planning, writing, and creating, students’ knowledge of particular topics or ideas can oftentimes become quite deep and possibly even surpass the teacher’s own. Furthermore, communicative, presentation, and writing skills are also embedded throughout the process.
This book will look at free tools that allow students to make several different types of digital stories with lesson ideas that fit the distinct tools:
- Stories told through pictures and video clips with audio narration – Voicethread.
- Slides with pictures set to music – Animoto.
- Animation and text-to-speech – Xtranormal.
- Comic Strips – ToonDoo.
There is generally more than 1 tool that can accomplish each of these functions. These particular tools were chosen because they are both free and excellent at what they do. It should be noted, both Windows and Mac computers have built-in programs to aid in digital storytelling. Movie Maker and iMovie respectively work well and are fairly user-friendly; to have the widest appeal to users of any platform, online tools that can be used from anywhere are being focused on.