Digital Storytelling Workshop: Part 1, Lessons Learned

Lately, a HUGE focus of my attention has been the higher education “bubble” meme, the justifications for why ‘traditional’ models of adult learning are failing people, alternatives that are emerging in the open market, and examining what innovations in colleges and universities might help position them appropriately for success and survival. In the latter category, one of the areas I’ve been watching closely is digital storytelling, which I see as intimately related to gaming, another important area for adult learning. There is also some debate about whether or not to call either of these by those terms in education, since academia seems to have this sense that we are too good for stories and games, so there are movements to find more respectable terms for the same concepts, such as digital media assignments, interactive digital learning, stealth education/learning or other phrases, with the hope that these will make it easier for faculty to stomach the idea of using something fun and engaging in support of learning.

There is a massive interest and excitement around these ideas on my campus from people in the know. There are a lot of colleges and universities who are doing a lot of work in this area, with their libraries supporting the process and collecting the materials created. I’ll go into more detail about all of that in part two (two and three?) on this topic. For myself, I’ve been TRYING to teach myself more about this. I haven’t been succeeding very well. I keep reading books*, reading websites**, and feeling frustrated because I know perfectly well I’m not getting it.

I am thinking of this as the Singing-in-the-Rain phenomena. Remember in the movie, when the movie theater realized they HAD to adopt the new technology of voice in order to stay marketable? They had people who knew the tech, they had experienced actors, they had good scriptwriters and knew how to tell the stories, but putting the pieces together didn’t go so well, and looked something like this.

That’s kind of what I feel like. I can learn the tech. I can tell stories. But putting the pieces together and doing it WELL is an entirely different matter. As much as it makes me cringe, I feel I need to show you the before and after.


Creation of Stained Glass (The Creation Series): June 13, 2011.

See, I was trying! I can write, both stories and poems, as well as professional writing. I can take nice photos and have pretty images. I can put them in a sequence and match audio and image in a video editing software tool. I just wasn’t quite there to make it look professional or polished, to really get the images to support the purpose of the words. I was missing the piece of how to use the affordances of the medium to support the words and their message.

When a last minute pre-paid opening became available for a workshop with the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS), I leaped at the chance. I figured who better to explain the chasm in my brain between doing it, and doing it well.

So, last week, I took the standard 3-day workshop from CDS. I wanted to tell the story of why I am so passionate about creating resources to assist the public in crisis and disasters, but that became about Hurricane Katrina, and that became about the Cajun heritage in my family.

Way to Cajun Country:

It isn’t perfect, but isn’t the difference rather remarkable? The most important parts of what I learned seem, at least to me, to go beyond the mechanical parts of how to use the software. It is more of a focus on best practices — really focusing on the deeper meaning of the whole story, not just the meaning on words and fragments, using images and motion appropriately, positioning silence, understating meaning, leaving a space for the audience to insert themselves. Frankly, a lot of this reminded me of when I studied music composition with Gary White. I usually performed in vocal and choral environments, and had adopted many of the conventions from that environment. I walked in with my first composition for one of Gary’s assignments, and flustered him by having commas placed above the bars of the score.

Gary: “What is that?” he asked me, “What is it for?”
Me: “Well, that’s where they should take a breath if they need one”
Gary: “If you want them to take a breath, then MAKE them take a breath. Don’t use a comma, a suggestion. Place a rest. Make them breathe.”

That was a lightbulb moment for me. It has transferred over to every other creative endeavor I’ve tried, but somehow, in each new creative space, I have to learn this lesson all over again. I learn it much faster with a guide than I do by stumbling around on my own.

I love that CDS is not just teaching the workshops but also creating a space for educators and advocates to share the digital stories they’ve created and have a resource space from which to draw for teaching and learning. Here is my video in that space (Stories for Change).

Stories for Change: Way to Cajun Country:


Alexander, Bryan. The new digital storytelling : creating narratives with new media. Santa Barbara, Calif. : Praeger, 2011. Mirlyn. Website.

Fields, Anne M.; Diaz, Karen R. Fostering community through digital storytelling : a guide for academic libraries. Westport, Conn. : Libraries Unlimited, 2008. Mirlyn. Amazon.

Frazel, Midge. Digital storytelling guide for educators. Eugene, Or. : International Society for Technology in Education, c2010. Mirlyn. PDF Excerpt. Amazon.

Miller, Carolyn Handler. Digital Storytelling, A Creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment. 2nd edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier / Focal Press, c2008. Mirlyn. RECOMMENDED.

Story circle : digital storytelling around the world. Chichester, U.K. ; Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Mirlyn. Wiley.


Center for Digital Storytelling:

Nora Paul and Christina Fiebich, University of Minnesota. Elements of Digital Storytelling:

University of Houston: Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling:


4 responses to “Digital Storytelling Workshop: Part 1, Lessons Learned

  1. Patricia –
    I’m so glad that you “got” it. Clearly, you did.
    I love that you got that the workshop is more of a space that we create wherein stories can be told, meaningful stories, and that the real learning for most people comes in the composition.

    If you wanted someone to take a breath, you also could not give them a rest. Just make them sing and sing and sing until they exhausted themselves. That’s where I thought you were going 🙂

    In any case, so glad that it was a place of learning for you and that you were flexible enough to take advantage of it.



    • Hi, Daniel, Bravo on an excellent workshop! I don’t know that I have completely “got it”, but I’m on the path. Still plenty to learn! I could see the way your brain was kicking in while looking at people’s projects, that the richness of experience you have allows you to have a high level view with patterns of problems and solutions. Trees and forests. 🙂 I’m definitely still down on the ground with the leaves. 😉


  2. Pingback: Emerging Technologies in Fiction | Emerging Technologies Librarian

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