Session Six—Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytellingby Zanetta Hardy
This session looks at the various permutations of digital storytelling and how institutions of higher education across the country incorporate this technology into the academic experience. The popularity of podcasting, a medium that can integrate audio, video and text, has exploded over the past few years. Our readings focus not only on their successful adoption into the curriculum but also on some of the caveats and controversies that surround their use. As the Carnegie Mellon white paper shows, whether it’s podcasting, screencasting or an interactive slideshow, each is, after all, merely a tool whose success relies on its alignment with instructional goals.

In class we’ll try out several web applications that make it easy to create, share and collaborate on digital multimedia narratives and as always, work on our wiki and classroom project.


In this week’s discussion pieces, the digital storytelling piece was extremely interesting, especially as a potential pedagogical tool in language instruction. I found particularly significant the combination of virtually limitless creativity – as images, sounds and video are integrated into a cohesive whole – with the development on the student’s part of evaluative critical skills regarding online content. What truly made me jump out of my chair was the notion that the students’ could express themselves in the own voices, not just words. It seems obvious that grading a digital storytelling assignment is difficult precisely because of the artistic content. Nevertheless, if we as language instructors could use this technology here at UConn, and not necessarily limit its use to the more advanced classes, I firmly believe that it would be a benefit to our students and very interesting to keep in our archives (though on a much smaller scale, akin to what NPR is doing with their StoryCorps). The only thing I did not agree with was the need to open digital storytelling to shared content: if it is an authentically artistic endeavor, then opening it up to change might bother the producer of the piece.

Brock Read’s piece re-iterated one of my major concerns regarding the use of Podcasts in class: the elimination of any need for class time at all. I see the peril that in-class lectures/lessons might become obsolete, a “dead time” which both student and instructor might use more efficiently. A semester’s worth of lectures available for downloading would, I believe, lead inevitably to a drastic reduction in attendance and kill all class discussion IF the material were not supplementary in nature. This, however, would logically entail more work – hence a possible opposition – on the instructor’s part. The suggestion of taking attendance is also untenable with larger class, e.g. my ILCS 101 which has 100 students. Lastly, I was not at all convinced by Jackson’s statement that students cannot endure to sit through an hour long class but “want to gather information on their own terms and spend their class time in discussion.” The first half of the statement seems widely exaggerated and the second, for any instructor who has asked a question in class and heard crickets in response, rings of gross generalization.

Finally, I felt the enthusiasm of the iPod Course Design piece, especially with its emphasis on the use of Podcasts in language teaching at Elmira and Middlebury, was perfectly counterbalanced by the healthy dose of cynicism regarding Podcasts in the McCloskey article.

Live long and prosper.



Many of the articles included in today’s session emphasized the characteristics of iPods. Carie Windham, for instance, reminds us that “the iPod is small, it’s mobile, and it stores everything from songs and podcasts to photos and games”, while in another article the Ipod and its related set of technologies were described as “bringing a freshness, spontaneity, and engagement to learning experiences that we haven’t seen in a while.” Other articles stressed the importance of related programs and technologies such as digital storytelling,course casting and screencasting. While I agree with the general content of these articles and, in particular, with the general call for implementing the usage of technologies in our classrooms (so that we can finally speak our student’s “language”), I have to say that I am not completely sure that certain kind of technologies or programs could really be useful. I am in complete agreement with the conclusions’ section of Carie Windham’s article and, in particular, with all the benefits podcasting technology offers students (the ability to access course content 24/7, the chance to make their learning mobile, the creativity factor, the ease of access, the possibility to get “intimate” with course material, the possibility to showcase their projects to the rest of the community, the opportunity to review course material anytime they want, the chance to learn new technical skills). Nonetheless, I believe that certain kind of technologies may help students only at a superficial level, and might end up damaging the instructor and ultimately compromise the students’ learning experience. I do not want to sound too defensive, but I think that screencasting (or the usage of screenshots) and digital storytelling could be a great help for students, but I do not share the same feelings about coursecasting. Even though I agree with one of the people interviewed by Brock Read, Professor Jackson, who described his “speaking style as blitzkrieg speed and his student as voracious consumers of technology”, I have to admit that I am not in favor of broadcasting entire lessons or lectures for the students’ benefit. Why? Well, first of all, because I really do not believe that if you put everything online the students will still be coming to class. Secondly, because while screencasting offers them extra material or extra knowledge, and is in no way a substitute of the classroom experience, coursecasting is, in fact, a real alternative to waking up early, coming to class, prepare the readings, participate in the class discussions, etc. In the end it could almost be unfair for the students actually coming to class. Additionally, while screencasting and digital storytelling create products that are pre-organized and predetermined, coursecasting wants to be the replica of something unique (a lesson or a lecture) that happens that way only in a specific moment in time and with the help of other factors that are virtually unaccountable for. In other words, to me screencasting is like cinema, while coursecasting is like recording a theatre piece. One loses the spark and it’s simply not the same thing. Although, I am afraid that students will still prefer coursecasting rather than coming to class.


13 Responses to “Session Six—Digital Storytelling”

  1. Barbara Says:

    In episode 86 of his Connect Learning podcast, aptly titled, “You are the Center of the Universe”, David Warlick interviews Leroy Vincent of River Valley Middle School, Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick, Canada about the International River Valley Student Video and Photography Festival. K-16 students from all over the world submit their photos and videos for evaluation by a group of international judges. With an interdisciplinary focus that engages students collaboratively and stresses communication, this festival, now in its fourth year, provides students a venue to share their stories with their peers, beyond the limits of their geographical boundaries, to receive feedback from experts in the field and to serve as witness to their cognitive, sociocultural and emotional development. Could we learn from them?

  2. felicebeneduce Says:

    Live long and prosper.

  3. orsitto Says:


    While reading Felice’s comments, I have noticed that he shares many of my concerns regarding the use of Podcasts in class and especially, I believe, the use of coursecasting. As Felice says, “a semester’s worth of lectures available for downloading would, I believe, lead inevitably to a drastic reduction in attendance and kill all class discussion.” If every lesson or lecture were to be available online, as somewhat suggested by Brock Read’s piece, there would not be any need for class time at all, and this should definitely be a concern for all of us working in this field. Moreover, even though I am in favor of all possible innovations that could improve the students’ learning experience, I am afraid that screencasting, coursecasting, etc, could actually implement the instructors’ workload rather than reducing it. In conclusion, even though technology is definitely “a good thing”, I would like to repeat one of the most important of Paul McCloskey’s statements: “the pedagogical value of podcasts depends almost entirely on student motivation and the learning context of the application.” That is to say that the “educational outcomes depends largely upon how the technology is put to use.”

  4. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    I agree with Fulvio and Felice. Experience show that only a few students are extremely responsible, and there is a big chunk that usually does assignments at the last minute. (There are the ones that don’t care, of course). The point is: the material being available everywhere, does not mean they will be eager to start working as soon as they wake up. As always, there are many other options (less “boring” than school, any way). So at the end they will be watching the “coursecast” at the last minute, just as they do the assignment.
    I don’t mean not to use tecnology, I just agree with Fulvio and Felice that at times, some of the writers of the articles soung too optimistic. Most likely the tone is intended for bringing attention to the issue, but the way I see it is that being over optimistic leads to dissapointment. The success of technology integration would come from a wide amount of factors: the instructor showing enthusiasm, well planning, and of course, the use of technology, combining this way the “best of both worlds”.

  5. martinawp Says:

    I agree that the authors of the article’s sound often very enthusiastic or “too optimistic” (Alfonso). As mentioned before I am more critical concerning the amount of technical input and the intellectual outpout -not to mention the already mentioned concerns about plagiarism, the often tempting power of pictures and fast pseudo-information etc. Also, there is not much time left if one teaches, works on a dissertation, and is determined to have a private/social life far from academics as well. Nevertheless, I consider technical tools such as digital storytelling as opportunities that can and should be added to the “regular” classroom since it can support the context of a class. Also, in my experience student’s want to be and should be involved as much as possible. Digital storytelling can be a wonderful tool in order to have more social activies in class than in a 50 minute lesson. In a comfortable distance to the classroom, student’s can be as creative, add personal ideas to the class context, and enjoy and get credit for their technical skills. Thus, my class can be more student oriented. To make sure that my overall class goals are not “endangered” my planning and my objectives should be clear, well organized (which is of course always the case :O)), and closely linked to the classroom context. Also, support for those student’s who need additional technical help should be provided. Then, the integration of technology could help my in a more student-oriented and successful teaching. And I am looking forward to learn more about the skills and ideas of my students!

  6. felicebeneduce Says:

    I have to say that I share Martina’s concerns on the relationship between technical input and the intellectual output. Moreover, these instruments may be powerful modes of instruction, but the preparation time and effort required to implement them AS THEY SHOULD BE would considerably increase the amount of time dedicated to a course. And the possibility of “recycling” previously used material clashes with the notions of a. keeping updated on changing trends in the field and b. creating new courses through the semesters. Furthermore, as Martina quite correctly points out, our private/social lives are already somewhat eclipsed by our academic responsibilities. The contextualization of the material – in our case linguistic and cultural – could possibly entail a greater response from our students who are much better versed in these matters than we are (at least at this stage of our careers). Always the contrarian, I question however Martina’s implication that the students will enthusiastically (there’s that word again) embrace the concept of extracurricular class activities. We already have our hands full trying to enforce a nominal attendance policy when none officially exists. Getting them to do ANYTHING outside the classroom is iffy at best and often produces unsatisfactory results (the Italian section experimented unsuccessfully with online chatting several years ago). Perhaps if digital storytelling could be included into our syllabi as a part of the final grade there might be a greater incentive on the students’ part. The hub of it all is indeed organization and the time needed for it. I am all for technology used in a “student-oriented and successful teaching” program: I just question our success in getting the students to actually do it and our chances of implementing it.

  7. Barbara Says:

    What if we put these tools in the hands of our students? In other words, instructors wouldn’t necessarily need to create the content each and every semester, but rather students could complete their assignments using tools like VoiceThread or podcasts much as they now use power point presentations. Students in Eduardo Urios-Aparisi’s Spanish Linguistics course create podcasts that explore the different dialectical regions of the Spanish speaking world. Maha Darawasha’s second semester Arabic students use their iPods to reinforce aural/oral comprehension. Manuela Wagner’s German students use VoiceThread to introduce their Tufts classmates to UCONN. Although many of these are group activities, it is still possible (and desirable) to assess individual contributions as well.

  8. Barbara Says:

    Take some time to check out Nathalie’s French 270W class blog and Señorita Conlon’s Grade 3 blog with student podcast. Nathalie posts a question of the week based on class discussions for her students to respond to. Dorie Conlon is a graduate of the Neag School of Education teaching Spanish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. You can find them linked on our blogroll, too.

  9. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    I just took a look to Nathalie’s French class blog, and have a comment on the following question of the month:

    Sept 24th: Short films…why aren’t they popular in America whereas in Europe, they are more common? Of the films we watched, which one did you like most and why?

    I liked the answer of almo4002, first saying it is strange, since this is a fast society that wants fast food, etc. The conclusion that it is because a short film requires more thinking, since it demands more completion by the viewer is very accurate.

    Here I have a question for Nathalie, how do I get access to these short films? you have them in DVD, or in digital format? Let me know, I am interested. I wonder if in Latin America there is someone doing something similar. although I’ll tell you, for sure it doesn’t have that much of an audience.

    The answer posted by Nathalie’s student, it is for me a good example about using a blog for class purposes… It is not that everybody is dying to write a comment, but even one smart comment makes a communication between the profesor and … at least one student. Is it mandatory, or is it an extra-point activity?

  10. martinawp Says:

    Dear Felice, dear Contrarian :O),

    I liked you comment and the question you rise about the enthusiasm of our student’s about extra class work. I think it is a very important question. As we discussed in class and as I later reflected, in my opinion three steps are crucial: a) to give clear assignments; b) have open questions and topics; and c) show student’s how they can benefit. I will give examples for these 3 steps. Concerning a): When I assigned my LTL student’s to participate on a discussion on the movie “Good bye, Lenin” on google.doc I assumed that it would be enough to explain the concept and invite them. Nevertheless, I learned that they need more detailled information, e.g. how to sign up for google. Concerning b) I provided a lot of pictures and two open questions in the google.doc. So far, it seems to be a good “playground” for the exchange of ideas, questions, discussions etc. – but we will see if this is just the beginning enthusiasm. I am sure if one narrows a topic too much, that student’s might loose interest and creativity. Concerning c) This is extra-credit work for my student’s. Since we watch movies in class and discuss them, there is not much time for written tasks. Thus, this tool allows extra-credit for writing skills.

    I agree with you Felice that it is not easy to motivate students for this extra work that is outside of a classroom (and, if one thinks about the own situation in a tight schedule small extra work can pile up, particular during the second half of a Fall semester)(the longing for coffee and espresso beans is definitely increasing :O). Overall, I think the ideas I mentioned might be some suggestions for a successful extra-class assignment, that, at least from my experience so far, worked.

  11. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    Since I am in charge of “Digital Storytelling” for the Wiki, I’ve been trying out some of the options covered. Today I realize how easy and at the same time the possibilities opened by voicethread. On a personal level, I got the idea of creating single “threads” for my nephews: that way I get in touch, and improve my technique at the same time!

    On summer I got a digital camera, and I still has 1,000 features I don’t know how to use. But I found out that clips recorded can be edited. I wonder if a simple but nice video can be created. Again, I use my nephews as an excuse for my ideas: if showing for example, photos of my apartment in voicethread so that they see where I live, a next level would be to shoot the apartment, edit the video, include sound, and send it. (The low quality shooting is good for sending it as an e-mail). Or, it can be downloaded to youtube: digital storytelling meets the virus (but just for a small group: I still don’t like the idea of myself appearing in the other end of the world, without my permission). So my next step is to read the camera’s instructions, and try it out…

    This last option can be use in a course that emphasises creative writing (which I have taught, by the way). The students are aimed to write a short story, with the idea to also think of it as a script. The grade depends on the average of both the story quality (this having more weight) and the video quality (both in its technical and imaginative aspects). Last semester both profesor Seda and I taught this creative writing course, and she asked native Spanish students to go for the video option. I didn’t since I had no experience whatsoever with digital cameras. But I think the idea is fun and would like to implement it. The videos can be shown on class, of course, but also can be downloaded into youtube for getting feedback, commentaries (which can be part of the grade, or extra credit for comments with a high level of analysis). And of course, some of this videos can be included in your e-portfolio, with the student’s approval, of course.

  12. Barbara Says:

    You’ve hit on two important contexts for engaged communication that well serve us as educators, Alfonso—interactions that are meaningful and authentic. In creating Voicethreads for your nephews you are able to connect and communicate with them about your life here in Connecticut and they, in turn, have the possibility to continue the dialogue with their written and/or oral comments. Like the serial radio and television shows of old, you can give your family updates that they can ‘tune in to’ on a regular basis. The pedagogical possibilities for student-created projects are intriguing! What a great idea to practice a new tool with family and friends before implementing it in your classes.

  13. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    I have a few comments about using podcasts, just before the semester ends…
    I got into downloading from time to time the daily podcast of news from BBC, in its Spanish version: 15 minutes, on which I would listened to a guy speaking in funny Spanish [from Spain, of course], while I would wash the dishes.
    Well, the idea is that you can use this podcast as a listening exercise for a class. For an beginner class, you can just prepare an easy multiple choice exercise. In advance courses you of course can prepare a much harder one… or can ask to write a journal based on a podcast from a specific day. Or you can ask them to listen to a specific podcast, that will take place on a test as well… the use depends on the instructor’s proficiency.
    The advantage: you don’t have to prepare a listening activity yourself, students get in touch with some issues that are taking place right now… and also, get to practice aural skills with different accents… BBC is not the only radio station offering podcasts in Spanish, so the choice is limitless.
    Maybe they can also wash the dishes, and make their beloved ones happy as well, or just create a neat environment for themselves…

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