Digital Stories as a Way to Write the Journey

I’ve got multi-media narrative on the brain today. Over the past three-four years, my students have done some remarkable work with digital stories, ranging from interpretations of poetry, fictions, personal narratives, and excerpts from longer multimedia research projects. (You can read about earlier work here and here). )
I’m interested now in exploring ways digital storytelling can be used by students returning from studying abroad as a way to write the journey. One student, heading to Southeast Asia for January term, will return to Middlebury in the spring to work on an independent project with me in multiple forms of writing about being abroad. One of those forms will be the digital story. And so I’ve been searching the Web for digital storytellers-on-the-road. As usual, when I venture out to the Web looking for something for the first time, I am not at all sure how well I’ve combed the blogosphere for interesting examples. I did come up with a few instances of colleges actually sending students to do digital stories during study abroad –at least, in a way. Phoenix College had students make digital stories in Ireland last summer; apparently Kean University uses digital storytelling as a reflective practice, but I couldn’t find their stories on the Web; Ball State University, which has an MFA in Digital Storytelling, sends students abroad to create digital stories about their intercultural immersion experiences; certainly there are individual examples in the extraordinary BBC Telling Lives project. Examples of digital storytelling within communities about those communities or for individuals to tell a compelling story abound; I’m still hunting for ways in which digital storytelling connects significantly with the study-abroad experience.
I’m also gearing up to introduce digital storytelling to my first-year writing class, I’m continuing to play around with image-stories here and on Flickr)as well as dusting off the digital story I made this summer about traveling to South America to join my daughter. One thing I’ve learned about introducing the vocabulary of image and sound to the students as a way to get them to think about the relationship between the parts of an essay and as a powerful means of writing is that I need to pull the digital story apart into its components. Before I even introduce Joe Lambert’s Seven Elements of Digital Storytellling or even discuss what a digital story is, I want them to confront images and voices. I want them to play around with using photos to respond to texts and to think about their world, and to think about the role of image–what it does to and for the writer. I also want them to play around with podcasting, getting used to the sound of their own voice coming from their own blogs.
And so, for the first-year writers, I have threaded several exercises involving images through the first weeks of the semester, asking them first to gather images that represent something about their reactions to Vermont, as Luisa has done here. I also had them write with photographs about a theme in one of the short stories assigned, as Luisa has done for Howard Frank Mosher’s “Alabama Jones.” They write a story-without-words version of their literary analysis essay, too (Scottie’s example). As they become more comfortable thinking visually, and thinking critically about the visual, they begin to see how stepping away from language for a moment to think about their ideas in image can help the preciseness of their diction, the development of their points, and the depth of their ideas. Occasionally I will hold class in the computer lab and have the group find an image from a repository I have set up, an image that connects somehow to a work of literature we are studying. I’ll have them write for ten minutes about those connections as a way to have them return to written language while considering visual metaphors (Israel’s example).

They have recorded reflections on their essays (Yina’s example) and listened to their voices, the way they put words into the air versus onto the page. Podcasting 1-2 minute responses to images of Vermont in one of our texts and to an excerpt from another text (see Israel’s examples) asks students to articulate their ideas succinctly and clearly. Listening to their own voices gets them to consider style, rhythm, emphasis–the color of their speaking voice versus the color of their writing voice.

And so, they’re almost ready for the next step–thinking about how the digital story (using a music soundtrack, images with transitions, and a voiceover narration) can extend and enhance their critical and creative thinking about a research project. Next week I will have them make several simple, but different, versions of the same story: an image-only story; the same story, the same images with movement and transsitions added; that story with two different music soundtracks added, and then finally the digital story itself.

I’ve made a very basic set of examples: A Walk Through Primeval Vermont

Story Without Words










Story with Image Movement and Transitions
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Story with Soundtrack A (John Whelan Jig)
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Story with Soundtrack B (John Whelan’s “Lost Souls”)

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I will also show them (and students thinking about digital storytelling from study abroad) the digital story I made in three days this summer as part of a workshop to learn Premiere:

(Hmmm…I’ll embed the movie next week…)

Blogs provide a way to connect all this work over the years, over the course of a semester, project to project, student to student, all while allowing me space for reflecting on the developments and throwing open the conversation to colleagues, students and interested readers.


One Response

  1. I am writing a PhD about the process of writing a PhD. My data will be the blogs of a group of candidates I am assembling to take the journey with me. I have discovered PhD Weblogs, @ where lots of grad students blog – many of them from out of their own country (which is not necessarily the US!) You might find some interesting material there.

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