What is Digital Storytelling?
Digital storytelling at its most basic core is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories. There are a wealth of other terms used to describe this practice, such as digital documentaries, computer-based narratives, digital essays, electronic memoirs, interactive storytelling, etc.; but in general, they all revolve around the idea of combining the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia, including graphics, audio, video, and Web publishing.
As with traditional storytelling, most digital stories focus on a specific topic and contain a particular point of view. However, as the name implies, digital stories usually contain some mixture of computer-based images, text, recorded audio narration, video clips, and/or music. Digital stories can vary in length, but most of the stories used in education typically last between 2 and 10 minutes. The topics used in digital storytelling range from personal tales to the recounting of historical events, from exploring life in one’s own community to the search for life in other corners of the universe, and literally, everything in between.
Despite its emphasis on computer technology, digital storytelling is not a new practice. One of the field’s most noted pioneers is Joe Lambert, the co-founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS), a nonprofit, community arts organization in Berkeley, California. The CDS has been assisting young people and adults in the creation and sharing of personal narratives through the combination of thoughtful writing and digital media tools since the early 1990's.
Another pioneer in the field, British photographer, author, and educator Daniel Meadows defined digital stories as “short, personal multimedia tales told from the heart.” The beauty of this form of digital expression, he maintained, is that these stories can be created by people everywhere, on any subject, and shared electronically all over the world. Meadows added that digital stories are “multimedia sonnets from the people” in which “photographs discover the talkies, and the stories told assemble in the ether as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a gaggle of invisible histories which, when viewed together, tell the bigger story of our time, the story that defines who we are.”
Researcher and digital culture consultant, John Seely Brown described digital storytelling this way:
I’m particularly interested in Digital Storytelling, in new ways to use multiple media to tell stories and in the ability of kids, who are now growing up in a digital world, to figure out new ways to tell stories. They have the ability to build interpretive movies very simply and to lay sound tracks around the content. They condition or “sculpture” the context around the content. The serious interplay between context and content is key to what film—and rich media in general—are about.
Today the use of digital storytelling is being practiced in neighborhood community centers, schools, libraries and businesses, by novice technology users to those with advanced skills. In the field of education, teachers and their students, from early childhood classrooms through graduate school, are using digital storytelling in many different content areas and across a wide range of grade levels.