Getting started with Digital Storytelling

As part of Jisc's "Digital Storytelling" online course, I created my first digital story. Here are some of the tricks I have learned that will help you to tell your own stories on a digital platform. Words by Michelle Stork.

What is Digital Storytelling?

Digital Storytelling allows us to translate stories to a digital platform in order to share them with an online audience.

Any digital platform or format can be used, but of course different formats lend themselves to different purposes. Some of the most common formats include

  • videos,
  • podcasts,
  • interactive websites,
  • or simply the comination of text and image used across many social media platforms. 

In fact, the digital format is only the vehicle. Make sure that you have a great story first, before making it digital.

For your storytelling, consider that you need:

  • an engaging plot (beginning - middle - end),
  • a particular point of view,
  • a recognisable voice and 
  • a good pace to keep your audience interested.
a puddle reflecting the photographer, skyscrapers and a plane

(Digital) Stories allow us to see a different point of view. Image by Marc Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash.

Why use Digital Storytelling? 

We tell stories to make sense of the world and to come to grips with complex ideas and thoughts.

Tip: Tell small stories to make a big point.

Digital Storytelling can be used for many purposes in teaching and learning. Below are just some of the ideas that were proposed by participants of the Jisc course.

Students may

  • summarise and reflect on topics covered in class,
  • create a personal video about their experiences,
  • share experiences of studying abroad,
  • pass on study tips,
  • gain presentation skills, and 
  • explore different, more creative way of presenting their research findings.

Tutors and academics may

  • share case studies and smallscale educational initiatives, 
  • collaborate and create a range of stories on a similar topic,
  • talk about their experiences of a certain part of academia, e.g. HEA fellowship applications,
  • engage the public with research, and
  • inform people in an alternative format (i.e. not another PPT!).

If you can come up with more ideas, we would love to hear them in the comments section below.

Six lamps on stings wrapped around a wooden beam, the image is upside down so the lamps stand in the air

Use Digital Stories to make your ideas accessible to a wider audience. Image by Christopher Machicoane-Hurtaud on Unsplash.

Writing your story

To get started, write a first draft of your story. Try to write no more than 200 words to make it easier for yourself in the later stages of the creation process. You also don't want to overwhelm or bore your audience.

Tip: Focus on a transformative moment in your life. Change always makes for an engaging story that takes your audience on a journey.

Write your story as you speak to make it sound natural and authentic. If you do this, you will also be less inclined to use truisms and other expressions that sound just a bit too cliché. Just imagine you are telling your story to a good friend and write it down without thinking about details too much. You can always go back and revise it. Stories emerge and may take some time to form. The Jisc course allowed me to spend three weeks on my story, which gave me space to think and rethink my story. So don't feel like you need to rush the process.

Finding visuals

Once you are happy with the wording of your story, think about potential images and video snippets you would like to use to illustrate your story. Finding the right images to bring your story to life can be trickier and more time-consuming than you expect. Keep in mind that you can also leave parts of your story to your audience's imagination.

paint tubes, spray cans, paint brushes and other art material scattered over a table

Finding the right visuals might mean that you have to get creative. Image by Caleb Salomons on Unsplash.

Tip: Make a mind map to come up with more ideas and search terms for visuals.

Storyboarding 

In your storyboard, you finally get to combine text and images.

Tip: At this point, make sure to get your first and last sentence right.

You can simply create a table to include the following rows:

  • spoken words from your script,
  • description of image and text on screen,
  • potential music and
  • any other comments you have on a certain part of the story.
Screenshot of a storyboard

A storyboard helps you organise the material you have collected for your story.

The storyboard will help you save time when it comes to actually creating your video because it provides you with all the information you need. This step can also help you identify potential issues with your story, so you can fixed them at an early stage. Once your storyboard is done, you can move on to the creation of your video.

Putting it all together

To create a video of your story, you can use free tools like Adobe Spark or WeVideo.

Tip: You can change your story significantly just by pacing it differently.

Adobe Spark is really easy to use and does not require any editing skills. It works more like a PowerPoint and allows you to add images, text, icons and sound. To record your sound, make sure that your surroundings are quiet. Practice, play around, be creative and you will stretch the limits of this simple tool to create your own digital story.

Screenshot of the video creation tool in Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is free and easy to use. There is no need to use professional editing software like Final Cut Pro if you are only just starting out.

Getting feedback

One of the greatest advantages of doing the Jisc course was that I constantly received feedback on my story at different stages. If you are not participating in a course, you can always try asking colleagues and friends for constructive feedback. Pay attention to

  • how they react to your story, 
  • what aspects they respond to the most,
  • what they would change to heighten the story's impact.

Take comments on board and try to work them into the final version of your story. You will also learn a lot by observing other storytellers and starting with small stories. And remember, tell small stories to make a big point.


Further Reading

Licence

Words: CC BY-SA licence.

Creative Commons License

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