Digital Storytelling: Meet Bernajean Porter

RJ Stangherlin is a Language Arts teacher at Salisbury High School in Salisbury Township School District.  She is PA DEN’s representative at this year’s T+L2 conference.  She will be providing us with insights and happenings at T+L2 through her daily blogs.

Meet Bernajean Porter, author of DigiTales: The Art of Telling Digital Stories and our conference consultant.  Her workshop, Beyond Words: Digital Storytelling, explores the craftsmanship of communication—beyond words.  Her book is worth the investment for the Resources for DS alone—extensive and spot on.  A must-have book for your growing library—and a wonderful read.

Sometime Monday evening, after a simply scrumptious dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, Bennajean was reviewing how she could take a five-day presentation of Digital Storytelling [summer camp in Denver, and yes, you do want to come; pack hiking shoes and bring board games for the evening] that she had repacked into a three-day seminar, and now compress it into a one-day event.  Bets on that she could do it?  You’d best believe. 

Going into the session, I had an idea of what I thought DS would be. I did my homework, but I never imagined the scope of skills needed to go “beyond words.”  I thought that vision + verbal + visual = a good digital story.  But that’s just the beginning.  To create a great DS, you need to be “living in your story”—not tell about but connect a flow state with an emotional content to create enduring understanding.  In writing, we call it “the hook,” but in DS, the hook needs to last throughout the story, inviting our emotions into the content.  Attach that concept to “unfolding lessons learned,” because DS needs not only a moral but also a “legacy.”  If as a producer you can live in your story and create a legacy, you have just mastered the two hardest parts of the creative process.  Bernajean reminds us that “developing creative tension” forces us to “economize the story told,” because without creative tension the story is boring.  [Reality check: for a 3-5 minute story you need 15 images, and voiceovers and effects do not change timing].  “Showing not telling” leads into “developing craftsmanship,” and how Bernajean defines the latter was a telling lesson for me.  Do you decorate, illustrate, or illuminate?  Illuminating is the goal because it changes the experience of the storytelling.   You need to ask yourself what the purpose of the communication is, because that will drive the product [see 14 Types of Productions].

From this starting point, we created teams and collaboratively examined and selected group tasks and roles, a process different from cooperative learning.  In cooperative learning you remain within your role, but in collaboration, you perform your task interdependently—a welcome change.  Then the real work begins: image/shot lists, music/sound lists, creating voiceovers with Audacity [freeware and easy to use], “normalizing,” video editing, copyright and fair use checks, storyboarding, Atomic Learning, and Photoshop.  What I really liked throughout the workshop was our ability to opt in or out of a training segment.  Because our team stayed in the training room to work, we could multi-task and do it all.  Our task: to take Walt Whitman’s poem, “O Captain, My Captain” and create a DS—by 4:30.  Did I mention that the host school conducted a fire drill in the afternoon?

What was absolutely amazing—we did it—in varying stages of completion and craftsmanship—but we did it.  When I ask myself what was the most important thing I learned today, I struggle to get it down to just one—but I’d probably say it was “oh well.”  “Oh well”—it isn’t perfect, or “oh well,” it is what it is… until it isn’t.  I learned to let go, to check my teacher hat, become a learner, and unpack.  I learned to work outside my comfort zone.  I learned the value of “oh well.”

Somewhere between dinner courses I cannot pronounce but devoured at Somba, a Cuban restaurant, Betsy Whalen [Manager, DEN] mentioned that one of DENs  goals was to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate teachers.  I can  promise you that all ten of us believe they have far exceeded their goal, and we are proud to be a part of the Network.  A very special thank you must go to Coni Rechner, Vice President, DEN, who makes everything possible–seamlessly.


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