Introducing the Concept of Digital Storytelling to Students
Most students would benefit from seeing two or three examples of digital stories at the beginning of the semester OR when the assignment is initially introduced. Ideally, examples from a previous semester are helpful if available. The main purpose would be to simply clarify what a digital story is (in the way you are referring to it) and what it is not (e.g., video editing, slide show of somewhat random images).
What to highlight at this time?
The use of images to convey meaning and to communicate a clearer message.
Video editing is not necessary nor recommended.
Do not worry about collecting images throughout the semester (will gather stock images from the web).
Rest assured you will be taught how to create these (later in the semester), no experience in video editing is necessary. And, there are resources on campus to assist you if necessary. Put them at ease about the technology (especially freshman).
How to plan digital storytelling into your curriculum (before the course or program begins)?
In general, the “just-in-time” approach works well here, which usually means you spend one class period (60–75 minutes) approximately two or three weeks prior to the due date. However, this may vary depending on how you have created opportunities for feedback. See example course agendas and comments on when to give feedback on the script and storyboard below.
Several factors may influence the best way to structure the process and associated deadlines. For example, if you are using this within a service learning course and students aren’t scheduled to complete their service activity until the end of the semester, how realistic is the deadline and feedback for the reflection, storyboard, and how-to class session going to work given any other assignments/activities you might have toward the end of the semester?
Ultimately, it depends on what you are asking them to reflect upon and the timing and structure of other reflection activities that happen in the course that this assignment is intended to build upon. See some example course agendas for both freshman (need more feedback) and capstone courses.
On average, students will spend two to three hours outside of class on a digital storytelling assignment, which is above and beyond what they would likely spend on a traditional reflection paper. In addition, you will be allocating two to three classes to this activity. This raises several questions for consideration:
How is the amount of time given to this activity weighted or valued in your course?
Maybe you need to eliminate other activities or alter the requirements for other assignments in light of these changes?
What is realistic to accomplish during the course of a semester given all of the other outcomes you are trying to achieve?
How many credit hours is this course?
Consider how you might want to use these digital stories in the future (e.g., research, assessment, share with your class next semester, and marketing your program). You do not need to get IRB approval for any of this ahead of time. However, it does help if you give students an informed consent outlining the various ways you might want to use these in the future and ask them on the last day of class if they would identify which, if any, they are willing to agree to. If you decide to do a research project or some scholarship of teaching and learning activity in the future, you can tell IRB that you will only use those students who gave consent. See CSL's example and feel free to edit as needed.
We recommend asking students to upload their videos to YouTube and simply send you the link, the details of which are covered during the how-to class session. The reason for this is that depending on the size of the video file, it may not be possible to be uploaded to the course site or attached to an email. Putting it in an e-portfolio or uploading it to YouTube (or any other program that can convert videos to URLs) ensures you will be able to access it.
Some faculty have created a YouTube channel for the course so that students who do not have a G-mail account (required in order to create an account/upload a video to YouTube) can submit the video there. In addition, this ensures that all of the videos are in one place, which may be more convenient for some.
NOTE: The most common mistake students make when trying to upload their videos to a website is choosing the wrong file. They need to upload the .wmv file. Rarely is there actually a problem with YouTube. In fact, if it takes more than 5–10 minutes for YouTube to upload it, there is something wrong with the file.
Preparing Your Students for Digital Storytelling
Giving students feedback on their stories/reflections is important because it leads to deeper learning. When our ideas are challenged or questioned, it causes us to think more deeply about them, which is sometimes called "critical storytelling."
If you want students to dig deep into the experience and make sense of what has happened and what they have learned, supporters of critical storytelling say that it’s not just that we ask students to consider multiple perspectives, but be willing to turn the stories on their heads, looking quite differently at the potential, most likely hidden, meanings that have been pushed to the corners, or swept under the rugs. We need to investigate the nooks and crannies of our experiences, our memories, and our histories that the status quo intentionally attempts to suppress or rewrite for us (Norris, Siemers, Clayton, Weiss, forthcoming).
Who gives students feedback (instructor or peers)?
If students give each other feedback, what sort of guidance are you giving them? We don’t want them to give light copyediting or look for typos. How can you ask them to play a role in critical storytelling?
Do your students have the capacity to give the type of feedback needed? How do you build their capacity? This may depend on the discipline and course level.
At what point in the semester is it realistic for students to have a draft of their reflection ready for feedback? Key questions to ask yourself:
Do you expect them to have a draft before or after they are taught how to create a digital story?
Is this due at the same time their story board is due?
Do you want them to have a solid draft BEFORE they start working on the storyboard? This is ideal, but may not be realistic depending on when the experiences they are being asked to reflect upon occur in the course (see sample course agendas for possible recommendations).
The storyboarding process is where students need to identify key words or phrases that are important in their story/reflection. Often times, students struggle with this, especially freshmen. And, students often avoid the more complex statements and instead jump to words that would be easier to find an image of (e.g., door).
There is value in having a dialogue about what key words or phrases are selected and why. Additionally, there is value in having someone ask you why you are thinking about one image or another. For example, if the key phrase is “seeking out truth,” students are more likely to grapple with what that means if someone can talk to them about why they might choose an image of walking through a dark cave with a flashlight versus someone reading lots of books. In that dialogue there is an opportunity for students to make deeper connections and meaning of their experiences.
Who should give the feedback (instructor or peers)?
Consider students’ capacity to challenge each other and how you prepare them for this role.
When does this feedback need to be given in relation to other deadlines around the assignment?
Recommendation is approximately two weeks before the due date.
Can this feedback happen at the same time as feedback on the story/reflection?
Yes, but prepare the feedback on the writing ahead of time.
Can this feedback happen via comments/track changes or does it need to happen in person to allow for a richer dialogue?
If time allows, ideally this would happen in person. Start by allotting 30 minutes per student feedback session and adjust the next semester as necessary.
Approximately how much time does it take to give this feedback?
It is not likely that every image lends itself to a deeper dialogue and it certainly depends on the richness of the story and the language used. It can take as little as five minutes or as much as an hour, depending on the length of the story and the content.
Acknowledging student accomplishments at the end of the semester has been noted as a best practice or characteristic of a well-designed high-impact activity. This often takes the form of a showcase event or public presentation where others are invited. The reason this is important is because it gives students a chance to celebrate their accomplishments and to learn from each other. It also allows others to help validate what the student claims to have learned or to supplement by sharing other potential things the student may have overlooked or failed to recognize. Historically, students WANT to see each other’s digital stories.
Option 1: During the scheduled final exam time
Pros: Gives you two hours instead of 75 minutes. Students are really ready to celebrate, and this is a great way to end the semester. Potentially allows for more time to scaffold the deadlines and feedback.
Cons: Doesn’t allow time for us to interrogate or challenge each other’s stories. May not be an option if there is a common final or if you MUST give a final exam. Students may be less inclined to show up (do they NEED to be there to share their video or get credit?).
Option 2: Last class of the semester (before the final)
Pros: Allows you to still have a final exam (doesn’t force you to make this the final project). It's a great way to end the semester; student attendance and participation can be expected.
Cons: Less time, and must fit the deadlines into a tighter timeline. May not allow time for us to interrogate or challenges each other’s stories.
Who to invite
Consider inviting anyone you think might like to use these digital stories in the future either for research, assessment, marketing, or communications purposes. Invite community partners if this was part of a community-based learning activity.
Creating a safe space
Splurge on some food and drinks. Make it a movie day. Have a plan in place for students who are not comfortable sharing their digital stories with the group. Discuss how we will or will not react to each other’s stories and that we are not judging them for the production aspects, but rather the evidence of learning. If you have been giving them feedback throughout the semester on their digital stories, this is easier than trying to make it happen on the last day of class.
Options for managing large class sizes (more than 12 to 15 students)
Most digital stories will last four to seven minutes; plus, it takes time in between to get them set up. Recommendation is to allow 8-10 minutes per student.
Save some time by asking students before the class starts to get it loaded so they just have to click to play.
If you don’t have enough time to watch everyone’s video, consider creating groups of four to six and build in a requirement that they must share their digital stories within their groups prior to the showcase event and within their group they must vote on which one video they will share with the entire class.