“He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.”

Victor Hugo

Last night, my son and I went to see the legendary comedian, Bill Cosby. I’ve loved Bill Cosby since my teens when I would listen to him over and over again on the record player. My son, who aspires to be a comedian some day, discovered the comedy of Bill Cosby on, you guessed it – YouTube – and like me, he watches him over and over again. However, I’ve noticed that there’s a difference between my experience with Cosby and my son’s experience. Whereas I could only imagine what Cosby looked like when he told his stories, my son gets the whole effect – a complete visual and aural experience through video – and that, I admit, conveys a powerful emotional punch.

Before the days of YouTube and various other multimedia sharing sites that have cropped up in the past three or four years, to be successful, comedians would have to have been “discovered” by an executive of a large television network or broadcasting corporation. Although this still holds true to some extent today, now anyone with a microphone, video recording device and Internet access can share their stories with anyone around the world. In essence, they are now empowered to do their own advertising and don’t have to wait to be discovered by the powers that be.

There are numerous instances in the past few years where the average person has risen to instant fame (albeit it often very short-lived fame) due to a video they have posted online. Free, multimedia online sites that allow you to create and share audio, images and video are booming. Such sites also allow you to add user profiles, give ratings, tag favorites and add comments (Lamb, p. 2). No longer do the videos you create have to be stored on your own computer using up valuable file space.

Now it is possible to upload media onto online servers which allow others to view your work or allow you to post your video to your own websites, blogs, wikis and other social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. As the Participatory Media Guidebook point outs, if you had to pay for your own hosting and distributing infrastructure for multimedia, it would be very expensive and require a lot of technical expertise to maintain. But now even young children can combine words, pictures, sounds, animation and video into “persuasive, powerful and empowering communication vehicles that can be shared with millions around the world.”

The Art of Storytelling

One of the reasons why Bill Cosby has been so successful over the past fifty years is that he is a masterful storyteller. The comedian, Chris Rock, when he mentors young comics, passes on a lesson he learned from watching Cosby: “It is not the punch line, dude. It is the setup!” (Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 30, 2008, p. D4). Cosby has a way of taking the stories of his life or life in general and spinning them into tales that engage the audience in a very personal way. He knows that life is full of stories. Our stories are the threads that connect our past to our present and will influence us in the future. They help us make sense of our lives and connect us with others in ways that both touch the soul and the mind.

Like Cosby, we’ve always told our stories about our lives and what we know to be true and we will continue to tell them through traditional methods but now, with the advent of various free Web 2.0 multimedia creating and sharing sites such as voicethread and jumpcut, if we have the skills and knowledge we can tell and share our stories in a new and exciting way – through the digital world via the World Wide Web.

“Digital storytelling is a modern take on an oral and written tradition that traces back to early human history as a way of passing down institutional knowledge and beliefs from generation to generation” (Bolch, p. 2).

Like paintings, digital stories that mix images, graphics, sound, and music with the author’s own storytelling voice will exist over time and be enjoyed long past their creation. The digital story is organized around the author’s own voice as the centerpiece of content while “artistically dancing multisensory elements into personal understandings about self, family, knowledge, ideas, events, or experiences.”

The Multimedia Learning Experience

Students can now use cutting-edge technology to bring the age-old art of storytelling from the spoken and written tradition into the digital age” (Bolch, p. 1). Since we know that the digital world is where our students are often most comfortable, using Web 2.0 tools to share their insights and knowledge can be powerful learning tools. The lessons learned through the creation of multimedia presentations can help students understand the multifaceted media world they find themselves in, demonstrate their knowledge in any subject and make connections as contributing members of society with the world around them.

As students tell their own personal stories of what they know and understand, digital storytelling gives them a chance to display their learning and connect with others who may have had similar experiences. The storyteller is able to weave his or her voice into an unfolding multimedia experience and in the process, touch the hearts of those who view it. In this way, the creator becomes connected to the audience and humanity as a whole.

By its very definition, multimedia presentations are excellent learning tools since they engage and affect students on so many levels – emotionally, intellectually and physically (if stories are acted out). When any combination of text, sound, pictures or motion video are displayed at the same time, the stories that are told create a powerful punch. Like Block (p. 2), I have witnessed on a personal level that students who are not usually engaged with traditional teaching methods suddenly become engaged when teachers allow students to express what they have learned using multimedia tools. Multimedia projects give all students an opportunity to express themselves creatively in a medium they are used to and they take a greater sense of ownership of the learning process since they know their work will be viewed by others. In “This Digital Storytelling,” author Angela Zukowski writes that creativity is a by-product of the multimedia medium since the resources available to the creator are “virtually limitless” (p. 1).

Digital storytelling brings multiple skills, challenges and benefits to the learning process. Designing information requires learning a new type of grammar beyond writing words that helps students to deepen their understanding of content while increasing their visual, sound, oral language and information literacy skills.” Memory structures are enhanced as students must organization information into a logical format and tell what they know to be true. Digital storytelling gives students a chance to reflect on the material as it relates to them and therefore “find deep connections with the subject matter of a course” (Zukowski, p. 2). As Robert Shanks states in “Tell Me a Story,” the stories created will then be remembered by the creators for the rest of their lives because it has become a part of them.

It is through the process of reflecting and shaping the telling of the storytelling of what we know and understand from an event or topic that provides a “sense-making” process that stays with the learner over time. Some learning theorists believe that storytelling can be applied effectively to nearly any subject (Zukowski, p. 1). The more information that comes at us the more we need to take the time to think and reflect on what that information means to us. Digital storytelling allows us to do this.

As I was preparing this blog post, I came across an interesting article about two college professors, Annie Prud’homme Genereux and William A. Thompson, who decided to try a new type of reflective tool as a way of having students describe what they had learned on a particular topic in their course. Up until this time, they had used more traditional reflective practices such as journaling but these were not sparking much enthusiasm. What they found after having students generate reflections of their course using a multimedia tool was that the students were far more engaged in the process, they appreciated learning a new skill and being able to express themselves in a creative way and they had a lot of fun in the process.

Zukowski believes that the deeper impact of digital storymaking comes not so much from developing proficiency with multimedia applications but learning how to think critically about media. He writes, “We want students not only to learn with media, but also to learn and think critically about media. Digital stories provide powerful media-literacy learning opportunities because students are involved in the creation and analysis of the media in which they are immersed” (p. 3). The educational organization called YouthLearn emphasizes this point. On their website they state that preparing students for life in the 21st century as global citizens means ensuring that they are literate in media methods. They believe that the more students know about the intention behind various media and how to interpret content, the more they’ll begin to use technology as a tool for their own self-expression and personal development.”

What Do I Mean by “Stories”?

By stories, I do not mean just the type that students write as a form of personal expression although they can be. I use the term “digital storytelling” to encompass a wide range of communication formats including narrative, information/expository, persuasive, participatory and reflective writing. According to Digitales, a wide variety of digital stories can be created using multimedia formats such as personal stories, myths and folk tales, short stories (narrative), summary reports, book reports, how-to directions, biographies/autobiographies (information/expository), advertisements, describe/conclude, analyze/conclude, analyze/persuade, compare/contrast, cause/effect (persuasive), opinion (participatory) and reflecting.

Specific Ideas For Multimedia Learning

Before embarking on a multimedia production with students, I would suggest checking out some sites that have examples of student multimedia work. Two wonderful sites I found for this purpose were Apple Student Gallery and

Adobe Digital Kids Club. If you’re looking for tips, storytelling techniques, lessons and activities and training, I would suggest you take a look at the following sites:

Abobe Digital Kids Club Lessons and Activities

YouthLearn: Lessons and Activites

YouthLearn: Teaching Multimedia Skills

Digitales

Within the Digital site, there are several examples of multimedia lessons and activities. These include:

Personal Stories: Creating Living Memories Around Defining Moments of Life

Kinship Stories: Family Stories of Who We Are

Hyper-Interactive Stories: Group Stories with Diverse Paths and Endings Personal Expression: Creating Visual Expressions of Thoughts and Feelings

Myths, Legends and Tales: Past, Present and Future of Self, Family or Ideas

Informative or Expository Stories: Information Beyond Words

Persuasive Stories: Influencing and Impacting Others

Itza Wrap: Stories of Lessons Learned

Future Vision Stories: Imagining the Future Now

Conclusion

Digital storytelling gives everyone a unique experience of discovering their own voice and talents. Along the way, students discover that they have something worth sharing with others and multimedia sharing sites make this possible. From what I have witnessed in my own school, using multimedia to share individual stories and demonstrate learning are powerful ways of learning. Although they take time to produce, the results are well worth it!

References (Other Than Those Hyperlinked)

Bolch, M. (May, 2008). Show and tell. T.H.E. Journal, 35(5), 1-4. Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Genereux, A.P. , & Thompson, W.A. (Jul,/Aug,, 2008). Lights, camera, reflection! Digital movies: A tool for reflective learning. Journal of College Science Teaching, 37(6), 21-25. Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Lamb, A. (Dec., 2007). Video and the web, part 2: Sharing and social networking. Teacher Librarian, 35(2), 1-7. Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Zukowski, A.A. (Feb./Mar., 2008). This digital storytelling. Momentum, 39(1), 1-4). Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

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