The National Storytelling Network (NSN) characterizes storytelling as an interactive art form that encourages the listener’s imagination. NSN points out that storytelling includes words and actions that present a story. By this definition it seems that storytelling and digital storytelling are relatively similar, yet I would say that digital storytelling has an edge for a variety of reasons. First, the sheer number of people who can access the story is incredible, along with being able to access it anywhere, anytime and as many times as you like. In addition, I think the availability of images and media that a story teller has, makes digital story telling an incredibly powerful tool that can be used by children, students and adults of all ages. As mentioned in 7 Things You Should Know About Digital Storytelling, “creating and watching digital stories has the potential to increase the information literacy of a wide range of students and the deeper impact comes from their thinking critically about effective combinations among audio and visual elements”.
Since I’m not currently teaching in a classroom, I started thinking about how digital storytelling factors into our curriculum at Lincoln. The first connection was through the academic standards and I found a number of great Edutopia articles regarding linking digital story telling to the Common Core (here and here). Connecting to the ISTE standards was another direct connection, but I wanted something deeper…
A-ha! Service learning. Through the lens of an elementary principal, creating and maintaing a quality service learning program can be difficult. The challenges range from content not being developmentally appropriate for younger students, to the physical work or travel involved, being too much for younger students. Utilizing digital storytelling helps overcome these hurdles. It is a great way to convey a message, generate awareness, all while employing critical thinking and problem solving skills.
To me, service learning cannot happen without a lot of front loading and knowledge building about the cause or global issue students are working on. With a deeper understanding of the issues students are more invested and the experience is more meaningful. Essentially students need to learn how to do service before they can do service learning. The organization Learning Service has a great take on this philosophy.
Using this lens, our initial steps in the elementary were very organic. In each of the classes students discussed, researched, learned, and reviewed various global/local issues. After deliberation and scaffolding from the teacher, a topic was selected by the class and the service projects began to come together. A current example is our Primary 1 (Kindergarten) class that chose homelessness as their service project. I’m sure your asking, how can 5yr olds tackle such a complicated topic? The answer is multi-faceted, but digital storytelling plays a big role.
One of the key elements of effective service learning is understanding empathy. Current work through Standford’s Empathy at Scale project as well as VR classroom projects, have shown that powerful images and multimedia help to foster empathy and “teach” it as well. Using this model, our P1 students began by taking photos of their own homes and lives, then used iPads to share their images during a share and tell time. From the activity they recognized the concept of needs and wants. The next step of the process was to share images of homelessness here in Nepal with the students. Combining the images from both worlds using Google Photos, allowed the students to compare and contrast, understand the variables that create homelessness, then put a narrative together using the images and their own voice. During this process (still in the works) empathy was evident amongst most of the students. It has also been clear that the students have felt empowered to take action. They have decided on a clothing/shoe drive and are now learning how to use their narratives to persuade people to donate. It’s been a meaningful experience thus far…
Service Learning photo credit to Guilia Forsythe