Digital Storytelling

When a friend invited me out to his national digital storytelling conference at Keane University five years ago, I was little nervous about meeting Joe Lambert, the surviving co-founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley. I was very familiar with the CDS’ mission and “recipe” for making digital stories and very respectful of their work in communities and passion for empowering people to make their voices heard on many levels. I felt that I may have been stretching the bounds of he and the late Dana Atchley’s vision with my interpretation of digital storytelling (“Makin’ Movies”) in education. When we found ourselves on the same plane back to Chicago and Joe finagled us into our own row, I felt I had to come clean and explain how I felt his term applied to students making commercials, public service announcements, movie and book trailers, mini-documentaries, real and mock interviews, etc. He chuckled at my “confession” and responded along the lines that “digital storytelling was a big umbrella with plenty of room for interpretation and constructive implementation.” That said, we spent the rest of the flight and his layover in Chicago talking about Studs Terkel, folk music, the labor movement(s), kids, education in general, working with adults, and anything else that didn’t have to do with building a high wall around the definition of “digital storytelling.”

Some would like to differentiate between the CDS model and its focus on personal narrative by labeling the broader interpretation “digital stories.” I appreciate their respect for the CDS and their work. If I had to change, I like the thinking behind Jason Ohler’s term “new media narratives” and the fact that it openly embraces a wide range of delivery methods. But nothing seems to be as immediately recognized, understandable, and all-encompassing as the words “digital storytelling.” And indeed, Dr. Ohler even uses them in the title of his book Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning, and Creativity.

So two years ago, when Wilkes University and Discovery invited me to design and teach an online course on digital storytelling (EDIM 504), and though only one of the five weekly video assignments approximates the CDS personal narrative model, I didn’t consider calling it anything else but digital storytelling. By any name it is an empowering exercise in learning for students who research, write, and produce a short video in a familiar format that both engages them and instructs their peers in any subject and at any grade level.

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