Digital Storytelling

Is digital storytelling right for your course or program?

Digital storytellingcan, if attention is given to course design, be a useful strategy for critical reflection. However, in order for you to see evidence of critical reflection, it is important to consider what lens you are asking your students to use in their reflection and guide them throughout the semester using a critical reflection approach. There are several articles and resources available around critical reflection.

Critical reflection is a learning approach where students are asked to question granted assumptions and common sense wisdom, examine ideology and hegemony structure thought and action, embrace alternative perspectives, and explicitly question power and self-interest in relation to harmful practice, systemic oppression, and marginalized communities (Cipolle, 2010; Friere, 1970, 1973; Kiely, 2002, 2004, 2005; Mezirow, 1991, 2000). See also Brookfield (2009).

Digital storytelling cannot be used to replace good reflection strategies. Having a good prompt is helpful, but how reflection is structured throughout the course of the semester is important, including feedback you give students on their reflections. Digital storytelling will not replace a well-designed reflection strategy.


  • Good for replacing end-of-semester presentations where PPs were traditionally used as long as they were individual presentations.
  • Best when used as a meta-level reflection when you are interested in understanding how students made meaning of an experience.
  • When reflection is a repeated and iterative part of the course.
  • When you want students to consider who their audience is, which is often a challenge for students in higher education; they consciously or unconsciously see the faculty member as their only audience. In general, this process expands their thinking, and you should encourage your students to think about who they might share this with and how they would do that (e.g., embed a hyperlink to it in their cover letter, as part of their e-portfolio).

Not ideal

  • Not ideal for group projects.
  • When there is no reflection involved; you can take advantage of the use of images and technical pieces of the process, but that is not how this is intended to be implemented.
  • If multiple voices need to be at the table. For example, if trying to capture someone else’s words as in an interview process. Instead, the only voice should be that of the student.

Note: Hearing-impaired and students who are blind have been able to create digital stories. This project requires additional services from AES, but is possible.

Start by reclaiming reflection—it’s not about navel-gazing or the touchy-feely unsubstantiated reflection. Reflection should be an integrative, analytical, capacity-building process (Ash et al., 2008b; Clayton & Moses, 2006; Clayton et al., 2008; Zlotkowski & Clayton, 2005). Students should be given an explicit set of questions that prompt them to examine their ways of knowing, assumptions, privilege, and their roles as active members of society to address social issues (Brookfield, 2009).

Create a safe space for reflection in your course that allows others to not only share their stories but also to be open to having it interrogated. Ideally, you would create space to examine students’ reflection/stories for hidden meaning—to look at history, experiences, memories, and the status quo that may attempt to suppress the richness and potential meaning making (Norris, Siemers, Clayton, Weiss, forthcoming). Recognize the importance of stories and consider encouraging your students to tell a story as opposed to reflect.

Stories allow us to create recognizable patterns, and we use them to find meaning in the world around us; we see ourselves in them, and the stories we hear can become personal to us. In recent neurological studies, it has been found that when listening to impactful stories, our brains develop thoughts, opinions, and ideas that align with or challenge the person telling the story (Regeve, Honey & Hasson, 2013).

  • If replacing or enhancing an existing assignment, what is the approximate length of the student products (400–600 words)? If you are looking for more than two pages (approximately 400–600 words), you will need to scale back on the learning outcomes you are trying to gain evidence of.
  • Can you give up three class periods (e.g., how-to session, showcase, peer feedback)? Are there areas you are willing to make trade-offs?
  • What are your motivations for using digital storytelling?


  • Provides evidence of learning in a way that is appealing to others (beyond traditional forms like text or PowerPoint).
  • Enables demonstration of skills that may otherwise be difficult to articulate (e.g., civic skills).
  • Allows for creativity and personality; is a powerful form of communication (McLellan, 2006).
  • Forces one to practice responses to likely interview questions (e.g., “tell me about your experiences as a Sam H. Jones Service Scholar”).

  • Facilitates the reflection process in a more meaningful way.
  • Provides authentic evidence of student learning.
  • Results in deeper levels of learning.
  • May provide evidence of community impact and impact of the use of service learning pedagogy.

  • Students are more likely to recognize and identify with the opportunities provided to them by their institution and are more likely to share their experience with others.
  • Provides authentic evidence of community impact for accreditation and award applications.
  • Is suitable for marketing and promotional purposes—helps to tell the story.

  • Creates a product that brings awareness and understanding to their mission and program offerings.
  • Is applicable for use in other ways (e.g., grants, program evaluation, marketing).

To request an in-class presentation, please complete this online form. For technical support, please contact Kristin Norris.