Sunday, November 4, 2012

Digital Storytelling: Giving Voice to Student Stories

ruaha_jonarensenOne of my most memorable classes as an undergraduate student was the Intro to Anthropology class I took with a professor called Dr. Arensen. Having spent over half of his life in East Africa, Dr. A., as the students called him, had a wealth of knowledge and experiences to share and was an incredible story teller. Most of our lectures consisted of a story or series of stories that illustrated the aspect of culture we were learning about that day. Gender roles. Rites of passage. African Traditional Religion. Although I've forgotten a lot of what I've learned in my undergraduate college classes, I still remember vividly many of the stories Dr. A. told and the cultural lessons that accompanied them.

There is something incredibly compelling and memorable about storytelling as a medium of communication. This week, I learned about a tech tool that can be used to both capture stories and share them with a digital audience: Digital Storytelling. As defined by the Educause Learning Initiative, "digital storytelling is the practice of combining narrative with digital content including images, sound, and video to create a short movie, typically with a strong emotional component."

With its range of formats, digital storytelling holds endless possibilities for use both in and outside of the classroom. The University of Houston's Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling site suggests how this medium might be used in an ESL classroom for the purpose of vocabulary building, with the instructor creating a slideshow that presents an image of each new vocabulary term accompanied by both the written and spoken form of the word. This slideshow could be viewed individually by students for further practice, either on the classroom computers, or possibly, on their computers at home. Or, assuming the classroom were equipped with the appropriate technology, the instructor could have the students themselves participate in the process of creating a digital story, like Maria's. I imagine it could be a very empowering experience for students to be given the tools to to share stories about themselves, their families, the countries they come from, or their experience in the United States with their peers using the multiple modalities available in digital story telling.

Student in the Computer Room

Another aspect of digital storytelling that intrigues me is its potential for being used outside of the classroom to educate individuals about issues and causes. The nonprofit organization I work at, Jericho Road Ministries, has used digital storytelling with images and audio to give voice to some of the incredible individuals in our community who have come as refugees from countries like Burma, Congo, Somalia, and Bhutan, and to share these with the wider Buffalo community on the following blog. More recently, our medical branch has also launched an audio-documentary series on the website, sharing the stories of patients and community members to advocate for healthcare reform. These stories, like Raleigh's below, are a much more compelling way of educating voters about the impact of healthcare legislation on individuals with the least access to medical care than a list of statistics about the inequities of the current healthcare system.


Similarly, the Center for Digital Storytelling works with various groups and organizations to raise awareness and educate individuals about issues such as discrimination, gender-based violence, volunteerism, and HIV/AIDS through the sharing of digital stories. As sharing stories connected to issues like these can be a sensitive matter, I appreciated that this site also included a page on Ethical Practice in Digital Storytelling. I think these issues of ethics are especially important to keep in mind when working with vulnerable populations and with those whose stories include traumatic or deeply personal experiences. This page suggested that digital storytelling may not be appropriate with individuals displaying symptoms of PTSD, which makes me think it should be used with caution with students who are refugees.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the links from the Jericho Road Ministries. It sounds as if this center is provided a valuable service to the community.