What is digital storytelling?
Digital Storytelling is the creation of personal or factual narratives using a range of multi-media and using some form of online webtool or app to make it available for people to read and interact with. So, for example, a student might create a slideshow of a recent trip he/she’s been on and then record audio to describe the photos. Or they might detail a recent news event by pulling together youtube videos, tweets, web articles and then connecting them or explaining them with their own text. Creating these narratives can be very motivating for students as the final results can look very polished and it also helps develop language skills such as sequencing and connecting and other study skills such as researching and selecting appropriate material.
So, what might this look like in practice?
To give you some idea of what this might look like, I’ve created some examples using three online tools: Storify, Padlet and Google Slides. I chose these simply because they are easy to learn and use, they are free and – apart from Storify – other students can interact with them in some way either by contributing or commenting on them. Oh, and they are cross-platform, which means they can use them through the browser and don’t need a specific device or app to access them.
This first one is a personal narrative using Padlet about a trip to Chatsworth house I had recently. You can use the scrollbars to see more of the content.
You can see that there’s a variety of media on there, you can easily pull in audio/video or webpages or even text documents (though there isn’t an example of that in this example). Padlet is incredibly simple to set up. If you go to padlet.com, you don’t even have to register to create a board but I’d recommend doing so as it gives you a bit more control over what you can do on it. Once, you’ve set up your board, you can modify the settings/privacy levels by using the icon menu on the right (see pic below). So, for example, if you want to change the background you can, you can add your own title/description, you can also decide whether viewers can edit and add to the board.
Padlet works particularly well in getting students to create information around a particular topic – because the notes on the board can be placed anywhere, it can be used to create a collage of different information around a personal aspect of their lives (hobbies/interests), a particular aspect of their country (food, education system etc) or a topic they are interested in (global warming, computer science).
I’ve created these with my students before and they work really well as they can collaborate on them and get really inventive thinking of what types of information they can put up on the board. Once they are created – and assuming that the sharing settings allow it – other students or the teacher can also add their comments/ideas to the board.
The second narrative I’ve created centres around an important news story and uses an online tool called Storify. Now, you could contest that Southampton beating Chelsea is not an important news story, but hey, I’m a Southampton supporter, so it’s important to me 😉
Storify works really well for pulling in information about news stories and the final result looks wonderfully slick and polished. Once you’ve registered you can create your story title and then use the search panel on the right to pull in pictures, tweets, webpages, youtube videos that can be easily inserted into the post (see pic below). You can also add text, and this is where it becomes very useful for EAP/EFL students as they can connect the media with narrative that explains, connects or sequences the story (e.g. what happened first was that…. later, it was revealed that…).
Storify doesn’t necessarily have to be about current news stories, students can go back in time and pull in media about stories from the past or from their country’s history, though obviously there might be limited media to draw on if they go too far back.
Tool: Google Slides
Google Slides is normally seen as an online, pared-down rival to Powerpoint but it can also be used as a great tool for creating digital narratives around a topic. You can see below an example I created talking about educational technology.
Google services such as images and YouTube can be easily added to slides and the commenting function allows for teacher and student feedback. Again, you can set the permissions through the share menu to decide whether collaborators/viewers can either view, comment or edit your document.
Digital Storytelling in EAP
Why should we ask EAP students to create these digital narratives? Shouldn’t they be writing essays and summaries and creating Powerpoint presentations? Possibly, but these narratives can develop other skills at the same time that WILL be useful in their future studies, such as:
- Working effectively in teams: since these stories can be created in groups.
- Researching and selecting skills: in creating a digital narrative, students have to find appropriate sources and make choices about what to include and what not to include.
- Summarising skills: whether in spoken or written form, these narratives will often require the students to condense ideas/opinions into a small space.
It’s also worth noting that in many departments now, students will be asked to go beyond a traditional text report or presentation and may be asked to produce multi-media as part of their course, particularly if they are a management or journalism student. Creating these narratives will help develop some of the soft skills related to media production that they might need.
How can we make digital storytelling more ‘academic’?
Some of the examples I showed above were quite general or personalised and might be more appropriate on a general or pre-academic course. However, you can easily choose subject matter and tasks that would be more appropriate for EAP students, such as:
- researching a key or controversial issue in their field
- creating a summary of their learning over the last few weeks/months using a a variety of media
- getting students to write ‘guides’ for key exam or writing skills they’ve been studying in class.
- creating a narrative around a text or article in a coursebook they’ve been studying. Students explore different aspects of a topic and create something to demonstrate their understanding.
Useful Resources and Links
Here are some extra readings and links to give you some more ideas about digital storytelling in the classroom.