A narrative that combines digital content such as images, sound and video can make a powerful impact

Armed with digital cameras, students of five corporation schools in Coimbatore recently ventured out on a project to cover civic issues. Among the images they “captured” were street food vendors selling hygienically-challenged goodies, a man smoking outside a bakery, fly-infested fruits and snacks on pushcarts, and an open drain nearby. Their “documentaries” would also narrate the harmful effects of carbon monoxide emitted by vehicles. They probably didn't give it a label, but these kids were learning digital storytelling.

This exercise was part of the Digital Storytelling (DS) project initiated by the American India Foundation under the Digital Equalization (DE) Programme. The girls would sequence the pictures with photo-software Microsoft Photo Story, edit them using digital-editing software Windows Movie Maker, mix the audio with sound-editing software Audacity, and present their stories. The stories would highlight civic/environmental issues and offer solutions. One snippet was about additives and colouring agents in the fast food sold at roadside stalls. “Chromium is used as an additive to the kaalaan (mushroom) that we eat at the roadside,” went the narrative. “It looks appetising, but it can cause toxic damage to us when consumed over a long period of time. It is used in most roadside shops that have high patronage.” Another group did a survey on water conservation.

Instructional

Digital storytelling combines narrative with digital content — images, sound and video — to create a short movie, typically with a strong emotional component. These can be made interactive with sophisticated audio and visual effects built around a basic story. Digitales can be instructional, persuasive, historical and reflective.

“There are various definitions to DS,” said Eric Miller, Director, World Storytelling Institute. In one, DS involves making brief recordings of audio, still images and video, and editing them, he explained. Such a recording presents a story, often autobiographical, from the moviemaker's point of view, in a very personal way. If one follows this method, DS becomes a recording, not “live”, as physically present storytelling would be. It's showing pre-recorded material to the audience. “Face-to-face storytelling can refer to both “physically-present storytelling” and “storytelling via video conference,’’” he clarified.

A variation in DS is “storytelling via video conference,” something the World Storytelling Institute does a lot of. “We arrange storytelling and training via video conference (Skype, Google Hangout, Apple Facetime),” he said. And, in the course of a “storytelling via video conference” session, the storyteller can show brief pre-recorded video-audio recordings. In this way, one can display one type of “digital storytelling” (a recording) in the course of another type of “digital storytelling” (a video conference). Miller has used DS in his physical narration sessions. “One can show brief electronic recordings (projected on a screen, for example) in the course of a physically present storytelling session,” he said.

It's not hard to imagine why digital storytelling would be an instant hit with students. Here students tell their stories in their own words, feel that they own their creations. It is their point-of-view, establishes their individuality, identity and boosts self-esteem. When putting together these stories, students get savvy with online resources and multi-media applications and think critically about combining the tools. For the corporation school students, it was a jump in media/information literacy.

DS could be a great teaching aid, said Radha, a retired teacher. Won't our national movement come alive if a few chapters are narrated as digitales, or when students are asked to present August 15, 1947 in the DS format? Won't it make conceptual content easier to master and hook student attention? Help them explore new ideas? Students can be given assignments in which they are first asked to research a topic, choose a particular point of view and make a video. “This type of activity can generate interest, attention and motivation for the “digital generation” of students,” said Radha. When digital stories are published online, students learn to critique their own and their peers' work, accept criticism. DS as group work will foster collaboration among students. Students can be taught to make the content “compelling” and try non-linear methods of sharing stories.

Schools will need to enhance storage space in their computers, and develop the rubrics for assessing digital assignments, especially since they integrate skills and disciplines, creativity and technology, she agreed. How do you take care of copyrighted images, music, video and text? Not difficult to overcome, she said. The digital tools we have today allow us “enormous creative latitude.” DS helps combine academics with technology, a prerequisite for jobs today.

Steps in DS

- Begin with a script.

- Assemble music, audio effects, personal/public domain images, animations, video footage.

- Put the story together, add multi-media elements and narration.

-The short movie is 2-4 minutes long.

- Edit and turn it into a file.

- Some digital storytelling applications are available free online.

- Examples of digitales: mashable.com/2012/01/31/digital-storytelling/