“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


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


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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Voicethread 1:  The Circulatory System


Voicethread Example 2: The Water Cycle


Voicethread Example 3: A Booktalk of Birdman by Rafe Martin


I was really disappointed I couldn’t embed these voicethreads directly to my wordpress blog because I see that you can embed voicethread into many applications including blogger.   Oh well, something to think about when choosing a blog for next time.   On the bright side, I was able to embed them on my pbwiki so my staff and students can view them easily.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve used voicethread in school.  I first heard about it last year at a divisional technology workshop and promptly tried to use it in my library program as a vehicle for booktalks (see example 3).  Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful in convincing any students to try it because I gave them the option of creating a book advertisement using Word, PowerPoint or voicethread and no one chose the latter.  I was surprised by that because when I first introduced voicethread to them, they thought it was really cool, especially the video demonstration of Wily Coyote but in the end, no one wanted to put their “voice” out there.  Next time I won’t give them a choice!

To display my learning this week using voicethread as a multimedia tool, I decided to think about how this tool could be used to display learning in a core course like science.  I thought about what our students were currently learning to see if I could infuse this web 2.0 tool into the learning process and I was very pleased with the results.

Our grade 8 science students are currently learning the systems of the body.  This week they have been looking specifically at the circulatory system so I decided to find a digital picture of this system and using voicethread, describe how the heart and lungs work together to circulate blood in our bodies (example 1).  Once again, finding and uploading the picture and using the tool was the easy part.  I had to do some reviewing about the circulatory system before I was confident enough to demonstrate my learning using voicethread.    What a great way for students to synthesize all they have learned on the subject and demonstrate whether they understand the process or not!  I had never used the drawing tool before – it was fun and easy to use – and perfect to show whether I knew which way the blood pumps in the body.  Every student in the class could create their own demonstration on the same voicethread and they could all then be reviewed and by the teacher who could leave a comment stating whether the student had understood the process.  After showing a few of our science teachers my multimedia circulatory system, they can’t wait to give it a try.  We’re already thinking of ways to incorporate voicethread into demonstrations of other body systems.

Our grade 7 science students have been discussing how to preserve natural resources such as water.  They have been examining the water cycle and how water tables can become polluted.  So I decided to see if I could describe the water cycle to them using voicethread (example 2).  Much like my experience with the circulatory system, it wasn’t hard to find the picture and use the tool, I had to plan how and what I was going to say.  Using the drawing tool was once again a perfect fit for this presentation.  I haven’t shown this presentation to any teachers yet but I think they will see the value of students demonstrating their learning of the water cycle in the way.  Students could even create their own voicethread presentations finding pictures of other natural resources and adding their thoughts on how they can be preserved.

From the three voicethread multimedia presentations I have created this week, I can see that the uses for voicethread is endless.  Students could use voicethread to create personal histories, describe their latest field trip, create a safety guide for the science lab or create a virtual trip to any country.  On a personal level, I could use voicethread to share my latest pictures with my family especially those out of town.  I would have loved this to show and tell my mother and father about the latest milestones of my children when they lived out of town and couldn’t see them very often.