Digital Storytelling Activities and Tools for the Classroom

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Storytelling facilitates connections between people and ideas, and links the past, present, and future. Storytelling also can advance understanding of complex ideas, facilitate language learning, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

On this page, we offer some guidance and examples for structuring, building, sharing, and assessing digital storytelling projects.

Structuring Digital Storytelling Activities in the Classroom

Prep Ahead by determining:

  • learning goals
  • topic(s) or guiding question(s)
  • target audience
  • what platform will be used for sharing and/or publishing
  • whether stories will be publicly shared, shared only with you, or shared with the class at large
  • whether students will work solo or in teams
  • assessment and feedback strategy

See also: Digital Storytelling in DLINQ’s Asynchronous Cookbook

Do you want students to develop and create digital stories in order to engage in:

  • Close/critical analysis
  • Creative expression
  • Deepening content understanding
  • Collaboration & interaction
  • Data analysis
  • Public education & communication

We recommend sharing the learning goals with students, and using a rubric that assesses those chosen learning goals.

Include guidelines for students about:

  • Story length
  • Story topic
  • Story focus
  • Story audience
  • Story organization/structure
  • Modality
  • Source citations
  • Sharing (public, private, group)

Assessing digital stories can be a challenge since instructors may be new to multimodal assignments and digital stories can take various forms.

We recommend you provide students with assessment criteria and rubrics for their digital storytelling project. Social annotation, peer review, and self-reflection can all be powerful strategies for assessment and feedback in digital storytelling.

Some considerations for assessment:

  • Use a detailed rubric with assessment criteria
  • Assess process + content + product (not just final product)
  • Provide formative + summative feedback (revise & resubmit)
  • Make use of peer review
  • Incorporate self-reflection + self-assessment
  • Consider using social annotation for peer reviews & self-assessment. Two tools to which Midd has free access:
    • Hypothesis for annotation of web-based content & PDFs
    • GoReact for annotation of video content

Additional assessment guidance and example rubrics:

If the class will all be using the same delivery tool:

  • introduce the tool & explain why you’ve chosen it
  • build in a low-stakes activity (or activities) to allow students to play/explore/practice with the tool before they start building their digital stories

If the class will be given a choice of delivery tool:

  • provide guidelines & expectations of what features the final shared story needs to include (are there modality / accessibility / privacy concerns to keep in mind?)
  • allow time for students to play/explore/practice with a variety of tools before they choose one & start building their digital stories

Answer these questions and provide students guidance about:

  • Can students restrict access to their work? Or does it have to be public?
  • If the work is public, can students remain anonymous?
  • Seek explicit permission before sharing student work
  • Consider using a permission form

Example sharing options for some different tools

  • StoryMaps
    • Can be private, shared to a specific group, shared with Middlebury writ large, or public
    • Students lose login access after they graduate, but they can transfer their StoryMaps to another account (including a free ArcGIS account) before they graduate
  • Pressbooks
    • Can be set to public or private (can invite specific people to contribute to a private book)
    • Can set a copyright (e.g., all rights reserved, creative commons)
    • Students lose login access after they graduate, but can export content & import to a different Pressbooks account (including a free account)

Storyboarding

Along with drafting a narrative for a digital story, it’s helpful to build a storyboard. A storyboard is an outline of the story that includes all the elements that will be included in the story. This outline can vary in detail level, but typically includes mention of all visual, textual, and multimedia elements.

We recommend asking students to create a storyboard before they begin building a story using the chosen digital tool.

Storyboards help organize thoughts, identify gaps in a narrative, and allow for feedback and revisions before investing too much time building with a digital tool. They can also strengthen collaboration skills + inspire new ideas.

Students can build their storyboard using:

  • a pen and paper
  • a spreadsheet, document table, or slide deck
  • a free digital tool like Canva or Google Slides, or
  • a range of Adobe Creative Cloud tools, available for free for Middlebury students and faculty

A storyboard should be “big picture,” providing organization, flow, order, and content components for a digital story. Possible items to include in a storyboard:

  • the focus of each “scene” within the story
  • Captions / descriptions / narrative (doesn’t have to be word for word, just an outline or concept)
  • Media (could be a description and/or a link to specific media)

Start-to-Finish Storyboarding (from the Grad School of Journalism at UC Berkeley)

  • Walks through the storyboarding process with examples

Planning and Outlining Your Story: How to set yourself up for success (from ESRI)

  • Walks through some of the major steps to take in the pre-production phase of the story crafting process, including:
    • Identifying a target audience
    • Defining key takeaways
    • Creating a content inventory
    • Drafting an outline

Digital Storytelling Tools

  • Cost
  • Accessibility / size / bandwidth
  • Data privacy
  • Data security
  • Complexity of the tool and how much time it’s going to take to learn it, if it’s new to you and/or students
  • Aim for tools that won’t take too much time and cognitive load away from the activity’s key learning goals

Some options available free to Middlebury students, faculty, and staff include:

AUDIO RECORDING

CONCEPT MAPPING TOOLS

DATA VISUALIZATION / INFOGRAPHIC SOFTWARE

Assessment Rubrics

Assessing digital stories can be a challenge since instructors may be new to multimodal assignments and digital stories can take various forms. As Jason Ohler notes, “When students prepare written work you can always judge the quality of their writing, whether you know much about the subject or not. But when students prepare new media like digital stories, this fallback position vanishes because most teachers don’t feel comfortable assessing new media narrative.” Ohler advises instructors to set clear goals; assess everything (this means scaffolding the assignment and assessing smaller components); assess the process, not just the final product; and include peer review and self assessment.