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Digital Storytelling

01 Apr 2019


This essay intends to briefly describe Digital Storytelling by referring to its history and its development in the digital age. Digital Storytelling is defined by the focus on its application in education and advantages that it brings to students and teachers. For the case studies two different cases have been chosen. The first case deals with the technological aspect of digital storytelling. It reveals the application that social and accessible Web created for educational purposes. By conducting a survey, it also involves studying the behaviour of students, teachers and parents towards new technologies. The second case has a completely different approach towards digital storytelling that is based on the human side of the stories. It involves the UAE, a developing country with a unique culture. Due to the immigration and country’s isolated and tribal history, a common identity between people is still to be formed. Digital storytelling helped for this common identity to be formed and a gap between old and new generation to be filled. Both cases provide extremely useful information from two different perspectives and approaches.

What is a Digital Story?

Digital storytelling refers to a digital media production that gives the ability to individuals around the world to create unique stories about their lives by the means of new digital technologies. Quintessentially the focus of digital storytelling is personal narratives. The targeted media can be varied and very broad due to the digital revolution of the last century. It can be web-based stories, interactive stories, narrative computer games or a short movie. Typically digital stories start with a script. The storyteller produces the story based on the script. Then they enrich their story by using different visual elements such as images, animations, videos, audios or any other electronic means. The storytellers produce the pieces themselves or use public domain items.

Digital storytelling is the modern form of the ancient art of storytelling by incorporating digital elements. (Ferrington, n.d.) New digital technologies make these stories visually appearing and the revolution in communication allow the stories to be shared with broader audiences. However the emphasis is on the “telling” rather than on technology. (Dupagne, 2010, p.532) Digital storytelling when compared to Television involves ordinary people and allows a two-directional means of communication. John Hartley points out that TV “excludes outsiders (the general public) from productive or creative participation”. (Hartley, 2011, p.82)

Digital storytelling empowers people to transfer their knowledge by incorporating rich, dynamic media. With the availability of affordable computers and production of software with better user accessibility and with the advent of social media everyone can create their own digital content and share it with their network of friends, fans and followers. Digital storytelling promotes the notion of users with no or very few technical background to create digital stories and share it with the world. Its strength is laid in its widespread diversity and the fact that it allows people to have a two-way communication. It provides a way “to imagine human potential” (Kajder, January 2004)

In addition to all advantages that digital storytelling provides to ordinary people, it also has a strong potential to be used by teachers in the classroom. It provides a powerful teaching and learning tool that engages students and makes the teaching a pleasant experience for both teachers and students. Digital storytelling is a strong answer for the question of usability of computers in the classroom that has been debated for a long time. (Robin, 2008, p.221) By using digital stories, teachers can overcome teaching obstacles, increase productivity and engage students. At its core, it allows “computer users to become creative storytellers through the traditional process of selecting a topic, conducting some research, writing a script, and developing an interesting story”. (Robin, 2008, p.222) Digital devices such as scanners, cameras, and audio capture devices in addition to accessible powerful software give all the power of producing content to the teachers. Teachers can present this digitally created content to their students or encourage their students to collaborate in producing the content or produce their own stories. Essentially collaboration gives the freedom of expression to both students and teachers.

Case study: Using Web 2.0 technologies

Web as an information repository can be used to enhance the learning. By the rise of Blogs, Web Feed, Wiki and similar technologies a new era has started that has been called Web 2.0. There are different definitions of Web 2.0 and you can hardly find a definition that everyone agreed upon. Essentially it refers to web sites that use technology beyond the static page and enhance the way that users interact with data in comparison to old systems. Web 2.0 consisted of cumulative changes in the way that developers made web pages and it revolutionized our perspective towards digital data and users’ interactions.

In its core Web 2.0 makes information very accessible and social. These two important features make it a great platform for education. Especially students considered to be digital natives that mean they grow up in the new digital era and learn skills to operate computers and navigate the web. Web influences students by enabling an additional means to perform school assignments. But most importantly it transforms students and other users’ action and values. (Kolikant, 2010, p.1384) The case studied by Mingmei Yu, Allan H.K. Yuen and Jae Park titled ‘Using Web 2.0 technologies: Exploring perspectives of students, teachers and parents’ attempts to identify “the link between secondary school students’ use of Web 2.0 technology and the possible influence from parents and teachers” The study attempts to recognize the technologies that secondary school students use and to find a link between students’ use of Web 2.0 and the use by teachers or parents.

Web 2.0 allows ‘better interaction between students and teachers’. (Yu et al., 2011) However this greatly depends on the social-economical of students’ families. Students from social-economics status families are often disadvantaged in terms of computer knowledge and skills. (Tien & Fu, 2008) This makes these students less confident with lower opportunities for developing their digital skills. However Ferrer (2011) argues that students from lower social-economic status receive more advantages from individual use of computers than other students. (Ferrer et al., 2011)

Another important factor that should be considered in ICT education is the dynamic relationship between schools and families. This means that schools should establish communications with families to plan an effective program. This could increase the social capital and empower citizens and families which in turn will affect the outcomes of the students in their schools. (Ritzhaupt et al., 2010) Essentially increasing digital skills increases the benefits derived from cooperation and collaboration between individuals and groups. It gives the ability and skills to students to improve the quality of their families by providing information to their parents. On the other hand it influences teachers’ development and lets them achieve the ultimate goal of students’ development quicker. To sum up, researchers indicate a relation between parental use and teachers’ use of ICT with their children and student digital skills and knowledge.

The method that Yu, Yuen and Park in their study was based on conducting a survey in a secondary school located in Hong Kong. The finding suggests though all students have access to computers at home, ‘students and teachers do not seem to be fully making use of the benefits of these technologies to assist learning and teaching. Basically this means that students did not take advantage of full benefits offered by Web 2.0 technologies. The study concludes that findings of this study would be helpful for other researchers or policy makers to get informed about the role of Web 2.0 technologies in education. They will be able to address the issues and apply improvements in their policies and decisions. According to this study digital divide of access has been ‘proved to be bridged’ but still more work needs to be done. Students might be teachers at home transferring the digital knowledge they learnt in school to their parents.

Using digital storytelling to build a sense of national identity amongst Emirati students

Storytelling is an essential part of oral tradition and oral literature of the culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) since its formation as a nation in 1971 has been through a period of rapid economic development. Emirati populations have always been open to the influence of foreign cultures and languages and they have maintained a distinctive and rich cultural heritage. UAE people have a tradition of storytelling in their Arabic heritage that is called Al Hakawati. Sheikh Khalifa stressed the importance of preserving the nation’s identity. Education and empowerment of women is very important for this preservation. Storytelling builds a bridge between the old generation and new generation and allows them to collaborate and communicate by transmitting knowledge, ideas and opinions. This is a tradition that its roots go back to the story telling of legend and heroes of Arab people of the past. Storytellers over the years have used music, dance, poetry and imagery to tell their stories. Digital storytelling gives all the necessary tools to reveal the story in a pleasant way for the audiences. It enables the storyteller to capture the imagination of their audiences by incorporating text, image, video and audio. Through these kinds of storytelling shared identity form between a storyteller and the audience. Every story is a personal narrative and helps to fill the gap between two generations and form a shared identity.

In the ancient storytelling that happened in open air, participants establish an emotional connection with others and receive the education and perspective from others and empower them to understand other people’s experiment. However their audiences are limited to people who can attend these ceremonies. But internet and digital storytelling can broaden the audiences significantly. More importantly, digital storytelling “gives students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation”. This is due to the communicative nature of the internet that allows audiences to participate by leaving comments, sharing and providing responses.

In the case titled ‘Using digital storytelling to build a sense of national identity amongst Emirati students’ written by John Raven and Karen O’Donnell, authors study the Mosaic 2009: Proudly Emirati digital storytelling competition. Essentially competition aimed to build a sense of national identity amongst the participants. The theme of the competition was very broad because it was based on expressing their ‘national identity’ and ‘their feeling of national pride through video, Twitter, microblogs or Google Maps geo-stories”. The themes were UAE People and place and UAE culture. The result of the study shows a very positive response from participants. Eighty percent of participants strongly agreed that creating digital stories increases their pride in their country. The students also indicated that the competition helped them to learn more about their country, both from their own project and from the viewpoint of others.


Mahdi Mamouri - Principle Machine Learning Engineer of Mahdi & Co

Mahdi Mamouri

In love with building businesses around digital story telling, data mining, and data analytics.