Digital Storytelling: What it is… And… What it is NOT

I was lucky to have shared my childhood bedroom for a few years with my grandmother, when she had come to live with us after an illness. At bedtime, she would tell me stories of her parents and three brothers and growing up in East Prussia, fleeing to the West after WW2 and the things that occupied her mind. I was hooked on storytelling. The fascination grew when technology became available and opened up possibilities that were just not possible before. I would give anything to have been able to record my grandmother’s stories and have shared them with my own children years later.

Humans are natural storytellers. It has been THE FORM of passing on knowledge from generation to generation. Storytelling existed in some shape or form in all civilizations across time. In the 21st century, which we have the luck to live in, Digital Storytelling, has opened up new horizons, inconceivable without the use of technology. Storytelling is evolving, as humans are adapting, experimenting and innovating with the use of ever changing technology, the growth of human networks and our ability to imagine new paths.

Maybe as part of a natural process, we tend to stick first to the familiar and “substitute” our task (see Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model). Substitution is not enough to explore and experience the potential of digital storytelling.

Over the years, I have seen in classrooms and created myself many stories, that are:

  • merely substitutions to what I could/have done/told in analog ways
  • created in isolation, without any connections to a larger concept, idea or community
  • created only to be read by a teacher for a grade, without the possibilities of ever reaching a larger audience for feedback or being able to take its place as a puzzle piece of a larger picture/story

digital-storytelling-is-NOTIt is NOT about the tools… it is about the skills [bctt tweet=”Digital Storytelling is NOT about the Tools, but about the Skills”]
Digital storytelling is not about how to use VoiceThread or iMovie. It is not about the ability to create an MP3 recording and adding it to an XML file, so people can subscribe to our podcast channel. Digital storytelling is about different types of skills we are developing in the process, such as:

  • writing, speaking, communication skills
  • oral fluency
  • information literacy
  • visual literacy
  • media literacy
  • language skills
  • auditory skills
  • drama Skills
  • presentation skills
  • listening skills
  • publishing skills


It is NOT about creating media… it is about creating meaning [bctt tweet=”Digital Storytelling is NOT about creating media, but about creating meaning”]
Smartphones and other mobile devices have made the ease of filming, recording or taking images easy, available anytime & anywhere as well as relatively economical compared to earlier times. The amount of media that is being created and uploaded per minute is exponentially growing and mind blowing. Although there is value in contributing your perspective to a larger pool, the emphasis of the stories we share through different media is about creating meaning and about making that meaning visible to others, not about the act of creating the media itself.



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It is NOT only about telling a story… it is about contributing and collaborating with others [bctt tweet=”Digital Storytelling is NOT only about telling a story, it is about contributing and collaborating with others”]
Digital storytelling is not only about telling the story, but tapping into the potential of being a contributing perspective, example, unique experience to a much larger story. The question grows from “How can I tell my story?” to “How does my story fit in and add value to the stories of others?”. How do we create a much larger story comprised of individual stories?


    • Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (Thank you to Alan Levine for the project link)
      “Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things is an ongoing prototype developed and run by the Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab that explores new forms and functions of story. Designed to be an open R&D space that experiments with shifts in authorship and ownership of stories, the massive collaboration also uses a detective narrative to examine the policy and ethical issues surrounding the Internet of Things. The goal of Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things is to build a massive connected crime scene consisting of smart storytelling objects.”
    • Twitter Storytelling
      Learning how to create “Snippet Stories”,use simultaneous narrators and fractured storyline, co-telling by using #hashtags, sharing with your network and adding value to other people’s learning
    • Collaborative Storybook: Florida Explorers

It is NOT about telling an isolated story… it is about sharing and connecting experiences and perspectives to a community [bctt tweet=”Digital Storytelling is NOT about telling an isolated story… it is about sharing & connecting experiences & perspectives to a community”]
It is a powerful realization that we all have something valuable to share with others. Digital storytelling takes that isolated story, living in our thoughts, potentially shared with people we know or meet face to face and connects it with a much larger community.


  • 7Billion Others
    In 2003, after The Earth seen from the Sky, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, with Sybille d’Orgeval and Baptiste Rouget-Luchaire, launched the 7 billion Others project. 6,000 interviews were filmed in 84 countries by about twenty directors who went in search of the Others. From a Brazilian fisherman to a Chinese shopkeeper, from a German performer to an Afghan farmer, all answered the same questions about their fears, dreams, ordeals, hopes: What have you learnt from your parents? What do you want to pass on to your children? What difficult circumstances have you been through? What does love mean to you?
  • Looking For Stories (Thank you to Alan Levine for the project link)
    “Looking for Stories” is an online documentary web serie where Joan Planas (filmmaker) document stories from people and places around the world using video, photography and articles. We don’t judge the stories. We show them respectfully just as they are, trying to gain a better understanding of the world we live in.
  • Extend Learning

[bctt tweet=”Digital Storytelling is NOT only about the transfer of knowledge… it is about the amplification of our voices”]
While the transfer of knowledge has always been a primary reason for storytelling, the importance of the amplification, the reach of our voices is what makes digital storytelling transformational
Through social media, our potential connections, collaboration and dissemination paths can reach exponential levels. The reach of our voices is about the amount of people our stories are capable of touching. We have moved from an audience of one or a few in a face to face environment to a global audience through synchronous and asynchronous tools.
Even young children (with the help of parents or teachers) can find their voice and be heard! Traditional limitations of age, physical handicaps, financial limitations preventing traveling or a lack of social network connections in the physical world, don’t have to limit someone’s voice any longer.


  • Kristallnacht- Night of the Broken Glass: By taking a story written down by my grandfather:
    • translating it into English
    • adding a visual dimension with images
    • an auditory layer by adding my voice and music
    • publishing it to a digital platform and
    • strategically sharing it publicly, I was able to amplify my grandfather’s story/experience and voice past his lifetime.


It is NOT about substituting analog stories… it is about transforming stories [bctt tweet=”#DigitalStorytelling is NOT about substituting analog stories… it is about transforming stories “]
Taking an analog story, which is written in text form on a physical piece of paper, told with printed visual material or with a voice to someone sitting in the same room as the storyteller and digitizing it with the help of tech tools does not take advantage of the full potential of digital storytelling. If we are truly looking to transform what stories are and can be in the digital world, we need to look beyond recording a story from a piece of paper or animating our photos from a field trip into a music video. We could dip into the world of transmedia storytelling and look how audience participation, seamless movement between different media can propel a story forward, engage the audience on multiple layers and change the storytelling process altogether.


  • Inanimate Alice (Transmedia Storytelling)
    Inanimate Alice is an interactive multimodal fiction, a born-digital novel relating the experiences of Alice and her imaginary digital friend, Brad. The series is written and directed by Kate Pullinger and developed by digital artists Chris Joseph and Andrew Campbell from an original idea by series producer Ian Harper. Episode 1 was released in late 2005. There have been five consecutive episodes created to date with a sixth in production, from a planned story arc embracing a total of 10 episodes spanning Alice’s life from age 8 through to her mid-twenties. The viewer experiences a combination of text, sound and imagery and interacts with the story at key points.

Digital storytelling is NOT just a story told/created/published on a digital platform. What are your experiences and examples in creating new forms of storytelling with digital tools?

10 thoughts on “Digital Storytelling: What it is… And… What it is NOT”

  1. i need to bookmark this post and examine what i ask my students to do–it is so easy to slip away from creating meaning when keen attention is needed to help students use the tools in the first place–that said, that is where mentoring (doing the work as well) comes in to play…great food for thought

    1. This is the first blog post I’ve read on your site and have to say that I really enjoyed reading it! I love the idea behind storytelling and have always thought about the impact it can have on current and future generations of students. Collaboration is such a key part of our new Common Core State Standards and what better way to incorporate a collaborative effort, that with digital storytelling? I loved all the examples that you provided throughout your post. In particular I took some time to look at the “Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things” project you mentioned. I thought about the many ways a project like this could be adapted and utilized. Students could share digital storytelling with other peers, classrooms, even schools! We are in a society where social networking is becoming second nature, and I feel that if it’s going to be present we should at least use it to our advantage! I love the idea of connecting with other educators and classrooms to bring digital storytelling to life. What really strikes me is that I can imagine how much fun projects like these would be for students. The wonderful thing is that students wouldn’t just be having a good time, but would also be learning in the process. I liked that you mentioned the various skills that can be developed through digital storytelling such as oral fluency, listening skills, publishing, etc. These skills are a vital part of today’s curriculum. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  2. Great article! Lots to think about using digital storytelling. Keeping the eleven skills in focus is a vital part of the lesson. Keeping these skills in mind for the lesson is going to take preparation and time. But, I think it is worth the work considering the outcome will be more meaningful.

  3. Digital storytelling is for everyone, not just educators. People have to become digital archivists for their own content and “normal” people need the confidence to manage, transform and share their digital assets without somehow getting the idea that their content isn’t meaningful. Someone who googles “digital storytelling” and lands on this article might give up and walk away from the opportunity to learn how to “do” digital storytelling – because someone might think their work isn’t good enough, even when their only goal is to transfer knowledge to their own family members.

    1. @BJP
      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that Digital Storytelling is for everybody, but you have landed on an EDUCATIONAL blog and can expect to read through my blog posts via an educational lens. It is part of information literacy, when someone “googles” to take the time to look at the site they landed on to understand the author’s perspective.

  4. This is also my first blog ever and I really enjoyed looking at your entire site!!! Because technology is exploding I liked finding many ideas and strategies to use in my classroom. The posts that caught my eye were the ones about digital storytelling. Our district is trying to incorporate digital storytelling as much as possible within our curriculum; they even have a festival where all chosen videos are played for staff, students, and parents. This is their way of giving students alternate ideas to represent their learning. The flat Stanley and 6 word memoirs were great ideas that I want to try in my classroom.
    The way you started your blog about your Grandmother telling stories brought me into your blog. I had a similar childhood and remember being enthralled with my Grandmother’s childhood stories. Hearing her growing up and noticing the differences was a concept I couldn’t understand at such a young age.
    I agree with so many of your thoughts about digital storytelling. Making meaning and connecting with others is the goal of any story. Brining your audience back to their childhood memories makes that instant connection to their lives. Storytelling can also just take someone on a journey with your story teaching him or her something new or giving him or her a new perspective.
    Digital storytelling allows students to collaborate with other students to complete a project. Students are holding discussions and learning to compromise with others. In the classroom storytelling allows the student’s voice to be heard, once it is made public their voice can be heard all over the world. This gives students a sense of pride and allows them to feel others are listening.
    Digital storytelling also changes the story from just text and words on a page to visuals with sounds to feel the dramatic effects.
    Because technology is rapidly changing as a n educator or instruction much as also change. Digital storytelling is a way for this change to occur. Giving students choices, voice, and collaborating time to learn from others. Storytelling also teaches multiple standards at time, giving students multiple opportunities to succeed.

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