Digital Storytelling

by Messiah University Instructional Design Team
July 15, 2022
10-15 min read

What is Digital Storytelling?

Digital storytelling is the use of digital elements (e.g. video, audio, graphics, text) to convey meaning through a narrative format. In the context of teaching and learning, digital stories are often videos, podcasts, or infographics that are used to either present course content or assess student learning.

Why Digital Storytelling as Pedagogy?

Students are familiar with digital storytelling for entertainment, but they may not be as familiar with sharing digital stories related to course content. Whether as a project to assess student learning or as a medium for delivering course content, digital storytelling can be effective for teaching and learning because

  • Storytelling is universal
  • Digital storytelling promotes inclusive excellence
  • Storytelling engages emotions
  • Digital storytelling builds digital literacy and critical thinking

Storytelling is Universal

“God made man because He loves stories.”
-Elie Wiesel,
The Gates of the Forest, 1964

Why does God use so many stories in the Bible? Whether in retelling historical accounts or illustrating with parables, storytelling seems to be the favored pedagogical approach. According to Professors Suwardy, Pan, and Seow of Singapore Management University, “Storytelling is an effective means of imparting knowledge, beliefs and traditions.”1  Research supports using this familiar approach for teaching and learning within your classroom.

One reason why storytelling is so effective for pedagogy is that it can help anchor the unfamiliar (new content and skills) within the familiar (story).2 The parable of the sower, found in Matthew chapter 13, is an example of this. Jesus uses this story of a farmer scattering seeds on various types of ground (the paths, rocky places, thorns, and good soil) to illustrate the impact of the gospel on different people. In the classroom, this could mean using stories to introduce new concepts to students. It could also mean having students develop their own stories to build communication skills, technical skills, and/or demonstrate learning.

Digital Storytelling Promotes Inclusive Excellence

“Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice. Belonging is having that voice be heard.”
-Liz Fasslien and Mollie West Duffy

Historically, the most widely known stories came from positions of power/privilege because of the often unattainable level of resources needed to publish and amplify those stories. However, new technologies have greatly leveled the playing field. Smart phones with cameras, blogs, free graphic design tools, etc. have greatly democratized traditional storytelling, inviting new storytellers, particularly from marginalized communities 3.

Leveraging this unique power of storytelling in the classroom could look like using digital stories from diverse sources in your content/materials and/or inviting students to create their own digital stories. In both cases, when students hear important stories from the first-person perspective, they’re often more engaged with the content and can develop stronger empathy skills.4  This can enhance cultural competence, a key element in Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT).5 

In addition to cultural competence, using digital stories can increase accessibility and support executive functions by making instructional content available for review asynchronously, so students can pause and rewind as needed.6  This is a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategy that can help students more effectively engage with the content.   

When students are the storytellers, they can hear from their peers, strengthening student-to-student interaction. Giving students the opportunity to share their own experiences is another strategy supported by UDL and CRT (more information on UDL and CRT is available on the Inclusion page).

Storytelling Engages Emotions

“The reason stories are memorable and actionable is because they touch our emotions.”
-Rance Greene,
Instructional Story Design, 2020

Storytelling is powerful because it taps into emotions (consider the TedTalk at the top of this page). This emotional connection increases both engagement and retention.7  The Bible uses stories that create emotional connections frequently to effectively teach people.

For example, in the Book of Daniel chapter 6, a young Daniel is spared from death in a lion’s den because of his faith in God. This story demonstrates the power that a strong character in a story has for producing engagement.8 It teaches readers about the power of faith to save. A less narrative approach to teaching this lesson would be more boring. The strong connection to Daniel as a character keeps readers invested, allowing them to see this truth as relevant to their own lives.

We can use stories to increase engagement in the classroom as well. For example, starting a lecture or discussion with a story can generate interest far more than a simple prompt. These stories might be case studies (real or fictional), personal anecdotes, or even references to stories in film and literature.

In addition to making the learning more interesting, when stories tap into our emotions, they are more memorable.9 Many learn about Daniel in the lion’s den as children and remember that story into their adulthood, which means that message of the power of faith to save stays with them. Similarly, using stories in your teaching will often help students remember the ideas and concepts within them, and when students use stories to demonstrate their learning, they remember even more.10

Digital Storytelling Builds Critical Thinking and Digital Literacy

“Research has . . . demonstrated the connection between storytelling and higher-order thinking.”
-S. Ribeiro, A. Moreira, C. P. da Silva, 
Digital Storytelling: Emotions in Higher Education, 2014

Beyond just remembering, digital storytelling promotes critical thinking. When students have the opportunity to create their own stories, the familiar format of storytelling anchors new concepts and skills, allowing students to focus more on higher level, critical thinking processes.11  As students build these critical thinking skills, they become better consumers and creators of digital content.12 

The process of creating a digital story requires analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of multiple elements.13  Students make connections between the content and their own experiences, between disciplines, and between themselves and others.14  Students’ critical thinking skills can also be sharpened as they consider the purpose and audience of their story and select which materials to include.15 Most digital storytelling projects also incorporate opportunities for reflection and self-assessment, which promote deeper thinking.16 

In using new and emergent technologies for their digital stories, students develop 21st century skills that can be used in their future workplace.17  These skills might include video editing, graphic design, data visualization, and online collaboration.

These projects can help students develop ethical media literacy skills like respecting copyright and privacy.18 By emphasizing the ethical and social responsibilities that come with these new digital skills, we are upholding our University mission:

Our mission is to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith in preparation for lives of service, leadership and reconciliation in church and society.

If you’d like to learn more about digital storytelling and pedagogy, check out our annotated bibliography for more resources.


Notes

  1. Themin Suwardy, Gary Pan, Poh-Sun Seow, “Using Digital Storytelling to Engage Student Learning,” Accounting Education 22 no. 2 (2013): 109–124. 
  2. Susan A. Baim, “Digital Storytelling: Conveying the Essence of a Face-to-Face Lecture in an Online Learning Environment,” Journal of Effective Teaching 15 no. 1 (2015): 47–58. Themin Suwardy, Gary Pan, Poh-Sun Seow, “Using Digital Storytelling to Engage Student Learning,” Accounting Education 22 no. 2 (2013): 109–124. 
  3. Bryan Alexander, “Storytelling: Curatorial Statement,” Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities. (2020) Retrieved from https://digitalpedagogy.hcommons.org/keyword/Storytelling/, Bryan Alexander & Alan Levine, “Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre,” Educause Review, 43 no. 6 (2008) Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2008/10/web-20-storytelling-emergence-of-a-new-genre, Susan A. Baim, “Digital Storytelling: Conveying the Essence of a Face-to-Face Lecture in an Online Learning Environment,” Journal of Effective Teaching 15 no. 1 (2015): 47–58. Keith Caldwell, “Storytelling as a pedagogical tool” [blog post]. Teaching Through the Arts (2012). Natalie Grant, & Brien L. Bolin, “Digital Storytelling: A Method for Engaging Students and Increasing Cultural Competency,” Journal of Effective Teaching 16 no. 3 (2016): 44–61. Hannele Niemi, Vihelmiina Harju, Marianna Vivitsou, Kirsi Viitanen, Jari Multisilta, & Anne Kuokkanen, “Digital Storytelling for 21st Century Skills in Virtual Learning Environments, Creative Education 5, no. 9 (2014): 657-671. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2014.59078  Sandra Ribeiro, António Moreira, & Christina P. da Silva, “Digital Storytelling: Emotions in Higher Education.” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2014): 180 -186.
  4. Lindsay Yearta, Shawnna Helf, Lisa Harris, “Stories Matter: Sharing Our Voices with Digital Storytelling.” Texas Journal of Literacy Education 6 no. 1 (Su 2018):14–22.
  5. Megan Adams, Sanjuana Rodriguez, & Kate Zimmer, Studying Cultural Relevance in Online Courses: A Thematic Inquiry. Online Learning, 22 no. 4 (2018): 361–381. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i4.1262 Natalie Grant, & Brien L. Bolin, “Digital Storytelling: A Method for Engaging Students and Increasing Cultural Competency,” Journal of Effective Teaching 16 no. 3 (2016): 44–61. 
  6.  Susan A. Baim, “Digital Storytelling: Conveying the Essence of a Face-to-Face Lecture in an Online Learning Environment,” Journal of Effective Teaching 15 no. 1 (2015): 47–58. Bernard R. Robin, & Sara G. McNeil,  What Educators Should Know about Teaching Digital Storytelling, Digital Education Review  no. 22 (2012): 37–51. 
  7.  Keith Caldwell, “Storytelling as a pedagogical tool” [blog post]. Teaching Through the Arts (2012). Rance Greene, Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories That Train, Mayfield, PA: ATD Press, (2020). Catharyn C. Shelton, Annie E. Warren, Leanna M. Archambault, “Exploring the Use of Interactive Digital Storytelling Video: Promoting Student Engagement and Learning in a University Hybrid Course” TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning 60 no. 5 (2016): 465–474. 
  8. Rance Greene, Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories That Train, Mayfield, PA: ATD Press, (2020). 
  9.  Keith Caldwell, “Storytelling as a pedagogical tool” [blog post]. Teaching Through the Arts (2012). Rance Greene, Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories That Train, Mayfield, PA: ATD Press, (2020). 
  10.  Peter Gobel, P., & Makimi Kano, M. (2016). “The Complexities of Digital Storytelling: Factors Affecting Performance, Production, and Project Completion,” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2016): 174-177. (p. 1). Ellen Maddin, E. (2012). “Using TPCK With Digital Storytelling to Investigate Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology,” Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 7 (2012): 1-11. 
  11.  Keith Caldwell, “Storytelling as a pedagogical tool” [blog post]. Teaching Through the Arts (2012). Rance Greene, Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories That Train, Mayfield, PA: ATD Press, (2020). 
  12. Bryan Alexander, “Storytelling: Curatorial Statement,” Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities. (2020) Retrieved from https://digitalpedagogy.hcommons.org/keyword/Storytelling/  Susan A. Baim, “Digital Storytelling: Conveying the Essence of a Face-to-Face Lecture in an Online Learning Environment,” Journal of Effective Teaching 15 no. 1 (2015): 47–58. Banny S. K. Chan, Daniel Churchill, & Thomas K.F. Chiu, “Digital Literacy Learning in Higher Education Through Digital Storytelling Approach,” Journal of International Education Research 13, no. 1 (2017): 1–16. Peter Gobel, P., & Makimi Kano, M. (2016). “The Complexities of Digital Storytelling: Factors Affecting Performance, Production, and Project Completion,” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2016): 174-177. (p. 1). Hannele Niemi, Vihelmiina Harju, Marianna Vivitsou, Kirsi Viitanen, Jari Multisilta, & Anne Kuokkanen, “Digital Storytelling for 21st Century Skills in Virtual Learning Environments, Creative Education 5, no. 9 (2014): 657-671. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2014.59078. Sandra Ribeiro, António Moreira, & Christina P. da Silva, “Digital Storytelling: Emotions in Higher Education.” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2014): 180-186.
  13.  Ellen Maddin, E. (2012). “Using TPCK With Digital Storytelling to Investigate Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology,” Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 7 (2012): 1-11. Sandra Ribeiro, António Moreira, & Christina P. da Silva, “Digital Storytelling: Emotions in Higher Education.” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2014): 180-186.
  14.  Natalie Grant, & Brien L. Bolin, “Digital Storytelling: A Method for Engaging Students and Increasing Cultural Competency,” Journal of Effective Teaching 16 no. 3 (2016): 44–61. Sandra Ribeiro, António Moreira, & Christina P. da Silva, “Digital Storytelling: Emotions in Higher Education.” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2014): 180-186.
  15.  Natalie Grant, & Brien L. Bolin, “Digital Storytelling: A Method for Engaging Students and Increasing Cultural Competency,” Journal of Effective Teaching 16 no. 3 (2016): 44–61. Ellen Maddin, E. (2012). “Using TPCK With Digital Storytelling to Investigate Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology,” Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 7 (2012): 1-11. Sandra Ribeiro, António Moreira, & Christina P. da Silva, “Digital Storytelling: Emotions in Higher Education.” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2014): 180-186.
  16.  Natalie Grant, & Brien L. Bolin, “Digital Storytelling: A Method for Engaging Students and Increasing Cultural Competency,” Journal of Effective Teaching 16 no. 3 (2016): 44–61.
  17.  Natalie Grant, & Brien L. Bolin, “Digital Storytelling: A Method for Engaging Students and Increasing Cultural Competency,” Journal of Effective Teaching 16 no. 3 (2016): 44–61. Hannele Niemi, Vihelmiina Harju, Marianna Vivitsou, Kirsi Viitanen, Jari Multisilta, & Anne Kuokkanen, “Digital Storytelling for 21st Century Skills in Virtual Learning Environments, Creative Education 5, no. 9 (2014): 657-671. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2014.59078 . Sandra Ribeiro, António Moreira, & Christina P. da Silva, “Digital Storytelling: Emotions in Higher Education.” International Association for Development of the Information Society (2014): 180-186. Bernard R. Robin, & Sara G. McNeil,  What Educators Should Know about Teaching Digital Storytelling, Digital Education Review  no. 22 (2012): 37–51. 
  18.  Natalie Grant, & Brien L. Bolin, “Digital Storytelling: A Method for Engaging Students and Increasing Cultural Competency,” Journal of Effective Teaching 16 no. 3 (2016): 44–61. Bernard R. Robin, & Sara G. McNeil,  What Educators Should Know about Teaching Digital Storytelling, Digital Education Review  no. 22 (2012): 37–51.