Reflecting on 2010: Digital Story Highlights

Wishing you all light and love in the New Year!

The year is ending on a definite high note.  I am writing this post as the final assignment for my digital storytelling class, which I am taking through Empire State College.  The reason I mention the course is because it has had such a significant impact on me.  It helped me integrate the seemingly disparate elements of my life in to a more comprehensive whole.  It seems appropriate, then, to finish this course and this year with a reflection on my favorite digital stories, and what they have taught me. 

But first, I have to thank my friend and digital mentor, David Truss, and my instructor,  Nicola Martinez.  David started me on this pathway over a year ago, and lit a fire under me to re-engage with a creative part of myself that had long gone dormant.  Professor Martinez has been a most helpful guide in exploring the terrain of digital storytelling.  She provided a rich environment of readings, discussions, digital “field trips” and assignments that made me think deeply, work hard and create meaningful content.  Her standards are high, and both my successes and failures in meeting them taught me a lot.  

Secondly, I have to give a nod to my favorite story tool website:  Alan Levine’s CogDogRoo.  This list of fifty plus story-telling tools not only provides a very helpful description and analysis of the tool’s ease of use, but also provides example stories.  The Dominoe story that Levine tells with each tool helps show the variations in functionality.

 So, let’s start this journey through digital storyland! 

The first digital story that really showed me the power of the medium was a creative and delightful story from a fourteen-year-old boy in Wales named Neil Fitzgerald.  His story, Which Witch, introduced ideas from the pagan religion.  The subject is not what struck me most.  It was the medium, Neil’s engagement in it, and his ability to engage me, a middle-aged American woman in China, in a culture with which I am almost wholly unfamiliar.  The story is part of the BBCs project, Capture Wales, which introduces “average” people in a short time, and made me feel like I knew them like neighbors.

The next big breakthrough for me was Jonathan Harris’ work.  His TED Talk on Collecting Stories showed me a whole new universe of story possibilities.

And speaking of “universe”, here are a few examples of his work to play with and learn from: Universe, We Feel Fine, Love Lines.

The publisher Penguin introduced compelling digital fiction to me, and gave me a “visceral” experience of the many layers and richness of the medium.  They introduced six different works of digital fiction over six weeks in We Tell Stories.  Here, a mystery-suspense thriller is told through a Google map.  The blogs of a fictional teenager and her parents reveal a frightening tale of terror.  A fairy tale is told with your input. All six stories are examples that begin to scratch the surface of possibility in digital fiction.  I look forward to exploring this area much more, and possibly even contributing to it.

A few other sites deserving mention are: The Center for Digital Storytelling and Interactive Narratives.  Both contain collections of engaging and touching storytelling, and are updated often with new stories.

Several sites were helpful in considering how to use digital storytelling in the classroom.  They are The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, from the University of Houston, and Digital Stories @ UMBC, from the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus.  Their examples gave me confidence to introduce digital storytelling to my own students, and I am proud of their work

Digital stories can inspire:

They can be sobering:

They teach me things I didn’t know I wanted to know.

Digital stories are personal stories, biographies, non-fiction or fiction, or they combine all of them.  They are often interactive, and you find them on the internet, on CDs, DVDs, on television and in movie theatres.  They are used for entertainment, promotion, education and training, an even personal transformation. I have only just begun to explore this world, so this list of highlights is missing many examples worthy of mention. The field is brand new and is wide open for development and growth.  This is an exciting time for me.  The next year will help define my place in the field, and I am looking forward to the journey.  I hope you all have a learning-filled new year as well, blessed with stories of all kinds.  Check back here soon for my next installment, and the first of my Virtues in Digital Story challenge.

Wordle: Digital Storytelling in 2010


Reflecting on Purpose

Louis Gregory, champion of justice

There are so many stories I want to tell!  I think of amazing women like Martha Root, Lua Getsinger or Tahirih.  How many people really know their stories?  What about Louis Gregory or George Townsend?  These names are completely unfamiliar to most of the world, and absolutely beloved by a small, but growing number of people.  Their stories are worth telling in a way that engages and transforms, because that is what these people did.  And I keep learning new stories that are ideally suited to digital storytelling.

But here I am, stumped for whose story to tell first.  I have learned many wonderful things about digital storytelling.  There are so many options!  This is both a blessing and a challenge.  Now I am also stumped for how best to tell the stories.

So I here is what I think I will do.  I will re-focus my blog on reflection.  This is Looking Glass Stories, after all.  But what I want to reflect are the qualities that make human beings so extraordinary: love, courage, honor, humility, truthfulness, compassion, justice.

Martha Root, lioness of courage

Over the next year, I will choose virtues in alphabetical order, then find stories that reflect those virtues.  Because the virtue is pre-determined, I can choose the stories as I find them, and match them with the right virtue.  I can begin to plan the method of telling the story ahead of time.  This will be an exercise in discipline, especially if I give myself  deadline of one per week.  This means I have to research the story, choose the storytelling tool and create the content in a consistent manner, no matter where I am or what I am doing.  It reminds me of that great movie (that came from a blog, incidentally) called Julie, Julia.  In that story, Julie Powell gives herself a challenge to make every recipe in Julia Childs’ cookbook, and write about it, one recipe each day.  Pretty intense discipline, if you ask me.  But that’s essentially what I want to do.  I want to create something and then present the story in this blog, as I have done to some extent with Mona’s story, and with The Heart Stone.  I will begin the first week of January, 2011, and finish the last week of December, to include 52 virtues, and 52 different stories.  And in doing this, maybe I will begin to reflect more discipline!  Ah ha!  Double bonus!

Let me know if you have stories that you think reflect these virtues, listed by the week covered.  (Special thanks to The Virtues Project for helping me come up with this list, and with learning more about them):

George Townsend, beacon of faithfulness

  1. Acceptance
  2. Assertiveness
  3. Beauty
  4. Caring
  5. Compassion
  6. Confidence
  7. Consideration
  8. Courage
  9. Creativity
  10. Detachment
  11. Determination
  12. Diligence
  13. Enthusiasm
  14. Excellence
  15. Faithfulness
  16. Flexibility
  17. Forgiveness
  18. Generosity
  19. Grace
  20. Helpfulness
  21. Honesty
  22. Honor
  23. Humility
  24. Idealism
  25. Joyfulness
  26. Justice
  27. Kindness
  28. Love
  29. Loyalty
  30. Mercy
  31. Moderation
  32. Modesty
  33. Obedience
  34. Orderliness
  35. Patience
  36. Peacefulness
  37. Perseverance
  38. Purposefulness
  39. Reliability
  40. Respect
  41. Responsibility
  42. Reverence
  43. Self-discipline
  44. Steadfastness
  45. Tact
  46. Thankfulness
  47. Tolerance
  48. Trust
  49. Trustworthiness
  50. Truthfulness
  51. Unity
  52. Wisdom

In the mean time, I will reflect in my next post on my favorite digital stories to date, and what they have taught me.  This will tie this year up, and prepare me for the next year of focused, disciplined reflection!  Wish me luck.

Reflecting Learning: A Classroom Experiment

 I teach conversational English to sophomore college English majors in Dalian, China.  We have been working on a lot of things this year, one of which has been “conversational presentation style”.  It has not been easy.  My students tend to be very formal when assigned a topic.  What I have instructed them to do is prepare an introduction to the main issues of the topic, different perspectives about it, and then their own opinions.  They should also include discussion questions for the class.  But most have only presented chunks of text they found on the Internet about the topic, either through memorizing it or reading.  I finally found a way for them to get talking!  Using a web-based audio-visual program called Yodio, I had my students create and present personal stories from their lives.  What a winner this experiment has been! 

Yodio displays photos with audio you can either record by calling their 1-800 number, or by uploading a file.  Each photo requires a separate audio file.  There are both advantages to this and disadvantages. One major advantage is that it helped my students to create storyboards.  First, they were to write a script of their personal story, then break it in to pieces and plan images to go with those pieces.  After that, they needed to find pictures and record their audio. 

Students recording practice stories with their mobile phones

This was the first time many of them had heard their voices recorded.  It was also the first time they had heard themselves speaking English.  The need to record small chunks of audio helped prevent them from getting to overwhelmed with the “record-delete-record” cycle.  That cycle is also very helpful.  They did their very best to make sure their pronunciation was as good as it could be.  Some forgot to check whether they wrote grammatically correct scripts, but they worked very hard on making the recordings sound good.   One student said he recorded his audio 50 times.  His English benefitted from his efforts.  The main disadvantage to having one audio file for every photo is that the students want one continuous audio line so they don’t have to worry about variations in their recordings.   They also have a more difficult time including music, though some did it with some creative problem solving. 

When the students deliver their Yodios to the class, I ask them to introduce it by answering these questions:

  • What inspired you to tell this story? Why is it important?
  • What technical considerations helped or hindered the project?
  • What did you find most challenging? What was the highlight of the experience for you?

Students listening to their own voices telling stories in English

I also allowed the students who have not yet presented their Yodios to ask questions of the students who had just presented so they could learn from each other.  It turned about that the students learned a great many more things than I expected.  After a whole year of trying to get them to work together, they were seeking each other out to ask for help.  Those with more experience using computers were offering help.  One girl said that she had a great reluctance to do the project because of her fear of the computer.  After the project, and help from her classmates, she found it was much easier than she expected, and though she hasn’t completely overcome her fear, she is much further down the road.  They learned the benefit of planning work through the storyboard.  Many reported that the highlight of the experience was going through the struggle of creating, and then the feeling of accomplishment. 

Here are some of the great examples.  I wish I could post all 90 students’ work here.  Some worked harder than others, but they all put their hearts into their work. 

Rose – tells a story with a moral
Martina – created hand-drawn pictures with Microsoft Paint for her story
Cornelia learns to fly – a charming story from childhood
Felix tells a horror story!
Izzy donates blood
Una goes to Tibet

On a final note, one of the most heart-warming things about these stories is that they show the real China.  These students tell stories from their childhoods, their studies, their failures and their triumphs.  They are utterly human.  Over the past 16 weeks we have discussed the purpose of life, truthfulness, the media, the war on terror, globalization. and other such topics.  One conclusion that they keep coming to is that the earth is one country, that we are all its citizens, and should behave as such.  I am honored to be associated with these students, and hope that you will explore their home from their perspective, through their stories.  I will share your comments with them.