Strong Ties to Digital Stories

If you are among the growing number of teachers who are intrigued by the possibilities of digital storytelling and you are looking for more digital story resources or ideas for projects, I suggest you take a close look at the blogs and resource web pages that are maintained by David Jakes, the Instructional Technology Coordinator at Community High School District 99 in Downers Grove. David Jakes frequently describes some of the innovative projects that teachers in his district have developed, and one of the most compelling aspects of his approach to digital storytelling is his use of software tools and resources that are free and thus available to most teachers.

As you explore the posts on one of his blog sites, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” you will find frequent references to the free Photo Story 3 software as well as links to the immense Flickr image library and the equally popular freeplaymusic source for royalty-free music clips. In fact, David has put together a comprehensive Photo Story tutorial with screenshots that would be a great guide for teachers and students who are learning how to bring images, recorded voices, and background music together. Subscribers to unitedstreaming, of course, have a wonderful resource in the Image Library that currently includes more than 22,000 digital images that are copyright cleared for all subscribers.

The key elements of successful digital story projects, of course, extend far beyond the initial decisions regarding the production tools. When you make digital resources available to your students, you are empowering them to create new and creative products that allow them to provide their own original analysis or reflections of the concepts that they are learning. For example, in one of his posts last year, Jakes speculates on the possibilities of starting with the text of a poem and then letting students create multimedia projects in which pictures and music are combined with the words to create a more compelling analysis of the true meaning or impact of the words in the poem.

Instead of merely assigning a “standard” report or PowerPoint presentation on an historic event like the Civil War or the Great Depression, why not let students take on the persona of a soldier or unemployed worker and let them tell an original story filled with authentic photographs and words that combine to reveal the circumstances and perhaps the fears that people who lived during these events might have experienced.  Instead of requiring your students to just read about concepts like the Pythagorean theorem or the six simple machines in their textbooks, let them create a short movie in which they explore the real life applications of these scientific or mathematical concepts with the use of digital images, sound effects, and original narration.  Instead of assigning the all-too-familiar research project or “book report,” consider letting students create a more interesting and compelling public service announcement about a contemporary issue or an original movie advertisement that might have accompanied that classic piece of literature.

When they are designed properly, digital story projects can be incredibly powerful because they encourage students to work in all of the higher order thinking realms and bring their own creative ideas into the mix. For some teachers, the hardest part of the design process may be coming up with ideas for their projects. If any readers have already successfully completed digital story activities, please let us know what ideas you have developed and what suggestions you would make to be sure the process goes smoothly. If you have developed handouts or tutorials that you are willing to share, please include links in your comments so that we can all continue to learn and grow. 

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