Digital Storytelling Tools

digital storytelling digital storytelling
VoiceThread, Adobe Express, Twine, & StoryMaps

At a Glance

Digital storytelling allows students to build narratives through text, images, audio, and video and can be used for a wide range of assignments and projects. Instructors can incorporate a digital storytelling project in their classroom to facilitate critical thinking and communication skills, support language learning and development, encourage community building, and more.

Research Team

This investigation was led by Aaron Royer (Sr. Instructional Designer) and Solsiree Skarlinsky (Instructional Designer), members of Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement.

What is it?

Through digital storytelling, students and faculty are able to develop stories centered around a specific theme, topic, or perspective using various forms of multimedia such as graphics, audio, video, and text. Digital storytelling has become increasingly popular globally to facilitate critical thinking and communication skills, support language learning and development, and encourage community building  (Robin, 2016; Akyeampong, 2018). Additionally, digital storytelling can be a powerful tool for students to share and create their own stories in a diverse set of disciplines. For example, students can create  a story that traces historic events or develop visual presentations that showcase different processes or theories in STEM-related fields. VoiceThread, Adobe Creative Cloud Express, Twine, and ArcGIS Storymaps are tools that can support the creation of digital stories.

A platform where users can create, share and annotate media projects which incorporate video, images, audio, and text. Over 50 different types of media can be used.

  • Website: https://voicethread.com/ 
  • Licensed and Supported by UMIT: Users can login with their UMID.
  • Blackboard Integration: Users can create, share, and annotate VoiceThread projects from within Blackboard.
  • Resource: UMIT Support Page

Adobe Creative Cloud Express, formerly Adobe Spark, is an online and mobile design app that allows users to make social media graphics, short videos, and web pages. Users can choose from a variety of templates and create visuals and animated texts to create a digital story.

 

An open-source tool that allows users to create interactive, nonlinear stories. Users create a visual storyboard linking other passages through hypertexts. Although Twine publishes directly to HTML, it is easy to implement and does not require in-depth coding mastery.

Storymaps is a storytelling platform that utilizes ArcGIS mapping along with narrative texts and multimedia to create and publish stories. Users can develop stories through a story builder that features express maps, themes, workflows, and social sharing.

  • Website: https://storymaps.arcgis.com
  • Licensed and Supported by UMIT: Faculty, staff, and university departments must first create an account on the ESRI customer portal at customers.esri.com.  Students should email software@miami.edu with the instructor name and class to gain access to ArcGIS and ArcGIS products. 
  • Resource: UMIT Support Page

How does it work?

Digital storytelling allows students to build narratives through text, images, audio, and video and can be used for a wide range of assignments and projects, including public service announcements, virtual tours, and infovids. One advantage of digital storytelling is that there is significant flexibility in the procedures you and your students follow, but here are some general steps you can follow to get started

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  • 1. Film analysis

    Have your students think about and discuss impactful movies they have seen and what made them so impactful. This may involve showing one or more movie clips to get discussion started. You could begin with the following questions: 

    • How is the story told (linear, flashbacks, etc.)?
    • How does the film bring about different reactions in viewers (sound, camera movement, etc.)?
    • If there is music, what is its purpose?
    • How did the editing of the movie drive the narrative the creators were trying to tell?
    If you wish to dive deeper into the art of storytelling with your students, you might try introducing The Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling.

  • 2. Plan

    Before students choose and begin to use a digital storytelling tool, a significant amount of planning needs to take place. This will often include researching and gathering information about the topic, writing a script, and creating a storyboard.

  • 3. Choose a Tool

    There are a number of technologies your students can use, and, as always, the choice depends on a number of factors including relevance, usability, and price. Here are a few that can be used for digital storytelling:

    VoiceThread

    VoiceThread is a web-based platform which allows users to build multimedia presentations by weaving together images, video, documents, and audio. In addition, users can leave text and audio comments on presentations, which could be the basis for collaborative and peer-feedback activities. Note that the University of Miami has a full license for this platform, and it is fully integrated with Blackboard.

    Adobe Express

    Adobe Create Cloud Express (formerly Adobe Spark) is a web-based platform for creating visual stories with graphics and videos. Adobe Express is relatively easy to use and includes a number of templates and stock graphics to get up and running quickly. All faculty, staff, and students have access to this platform through the University’s Adobe Create Cloud license. For more detailed information about Adobe Express’s features, including an introduction video tutorial, visit Adobe’s tutorial page

    Twine

    Twine, available in both web-based and desktop versions, is a tool for creating non-linear stories using hypertext. The non-linear structure of these stories allows readers to exercise some agency, often times resulting in a game-like experience. However, these very features which make the platform interesting and novel may be an obstacle for instructors and students who aren’t tech savvy. While knowledge of code (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) is not necessarily required, it is helpful if you would like to leverage some of the more advanced features. To get started, have a look at the Twine documentation

    ArcGIS StoryMaps

    ArcGIS StoryMaps is a web-based platform which allows users to build rich, data-driven stories using maps, text, images, and other multimedia content. This tool is particularly relevant for instructors and students who aim to create narratives around data sets. StoryMaps is relatively easy to get started with; users are first asked to choose from a range of templates and then guided step-by-step through the creation process using the story-builder feature. Note that the Richter library has a full license for this tool, and they provide support for instructors using it in their courses. Visit the Data & Visualization page for more information.

Who's doing it?

Digital Storytelling is becoming increasingly popular in higher ed, and the following examples from the University of Miami and other institutions illustrate some of the most common usage scenarios. 

Usage Scenario from University of Miami

Ines Basalo, Assistant Professor in Practice, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Dr. Basalo uses digital storytelling in her MAE 301: Materials Science course as a way to encourage reflection on and discussion around course content. At the beginning of the semester, students pick a material they have some personal connection to and write a personal story about it, describing its structure, composition, and properties. Then, using Microsoft Sway or Adobe Spark, students build a digital story which they share with the rest of the class. Overall, students enjoy this project and feel they benefit from it, as it gives them the opportunity to learn about materials in a different, more personalized way. Dr. Basalo emphasizes the importance of detailed guidelines, as project quality can vary widely without them.

 

Additional Usage Scenarios

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  • Video, University of Maryland

    Galina Madjaroff, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

    Dr. Madjaroff, a faculty member in UMBC’s School of Aging Studies, had students in her First-Year Seminar partner with seniors to create digital stories that focus on important insights about growth and aging. To emphasize the importance of good narrative construction, she used the StoryCenter model, which encourages collaboration and peer feedback through story circles. Dr. Madjaroff allowed students to choose their own platform for creating the stories (though she recommended iMovie and Final Cut), and initially wanted students to keep them between 2 and 3 minutes, but quickly found that this was far too short and has in recent semesters allowed students to create longer stories, some as long as 25 to 30 minutes. This project is mutually beneficial: students learn more about aging and communicating across generations through meaningful connections with seniors in their community and the seniors feel as if they are being listened to and their stories are important. The only challenge was students’ prior knowledge of video-editing tools (in this case, iMovie and Final Cut), which was weaker than Dr. Madjaroff had expected. As such, she recommends spending some time training students on how to use the chosen tools and/or hiring a teaching assistant with experience in this area.

  • Twine, Duke University

    Hannah Rogers, Duke University

    Dr. Rogers, a Learning Experience Designer at Duke Learning Innovation, collaborated with faculty member, David W. Johnston, to integrate interactive fiction games created with Twine into the course, Introduction to Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (UAS) in Biology, Ecology, and Conservation. They chose this gamified approach to course content using Twine, as it encourages students to engage with and navigate complex situations, an important outcome of this course. To create the games, they brainstormed a number of different scenarios students might be exposed to in the field and then had to consider how each path through the different scenarios would test students’ knowledge. According to Dr. Rogers, these gamified narratives give students an opportunity to think through real-world scenarios  and apply content in a more concrete way than would be possible in other formats (e.g., lecture). When deciding whether to use Twine, Dr. Rogers and Dr. Johnston recommend considering time constraints, especially for those not familiar with Twine, and alignment with your course’s objectives and content. This example serves as a reminder that digital storytelling can be used by students to demonstrate their learning and progress toward objectives, but also by faculty as a way to expose students to new content in innovative ways.

What are the benefits?

Stories enable students to think creatively and construct meaning in a more profound and nuanced manner. Through the process of developing a digital story, students conduct research on a topic, text, or idea and write a script and utilize multimedia to create the final project. Instructors can incorporate a digital storytelling project in their classroom to facilitate critical thinking and communication skills, support language learning and development, and encourage community building.

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  • Facilitate critical thinking¬†

    Students must consider multiple factors when developing a well-constructed story. Throughout the process, students must first conduct research to gather evidence that supports the development of their story, the setting, its characters, and the plot. They must also consider multiple perspectives and factors that would influence the story and employ some of the main dimensions of critical thinking including recognition of assumptions, deduction, and interpretation (Yang & Wu, 2012). For example, if students were tasked with creating a digital story that examined the impact of climate change on an individual level, they would need to consider much more than scientific data to develop their story. They would need to consider multiple factors including time, place, the social dimensions of the characters, its implications, and more to create a believable and impactful story.  

  • Enhance communication skills

    Through digital storytelling, students are able to improve their communication skills by learning how to organize their ideas and construct a narrative using multimedia. There are several elements that students juggle when creating a digital story such as the use of images, sounds, and animation to convey a specific message (Akyeampong, 2018).  Students also need to determine how these elements fit into their story while also considering their audience, purpose, and tone.  For projects that use Twine, students can even employ the power of nonlinear storytelling to exemplify an idea or perspective.

  • Support language learning

    Digital storytelling can be an enriching experience for language learners and a means for instructors to engage learners through meaningful, real-world communication where students can explore language, culture, literature, and other topics (Ghoneim & Elghotmy, 2016). The creation of digital stories enables students to strengthen their spoken and written language skills through the use of multimedia. Several studies in language classrooms found that digital storytelling can advance cognitive development, self-authoring, and more (Castaneda, 2013). For example, platforms like VoiceThread allow students to hold conversations using images, text, videos, and audio. These platforms also provide students with a more relaxed environment and extra time to practice speaking, and as a result, are willing to take more risks (Ghoneim & Elghotmy, 2016).

  • Encourage collaboration

    Collaboration is key throughout the storytelling process from conceptualization to the editing process and beyond. Before beginning a project, students can engage in important conversations with their peers to brainstorm, tackle complex issues, and broaden their perspectives (Smakolsi, 2017). Through the peer review process, students can learn how to give and accept constructive feedback to improve their stories while also exchanging meaningful ideas. Since the projects are digital, students can share their projects outside of the classroom either on social media, through online portfolios, or with local organizations that showcase digital narrative and student work.

What are the challenges?

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  • Copyright issues

    Since students will often turn to the internet for the audio, images, and/or video they need for their digital stories, it is important to consider and plan for issues related to copyright as you design your digital storytelling assignment. If your students will not be publishing their work publicly, fair use guidelines generally apply; however, if they will be public, it is important to consider copyright guidelines and content licenses. It might be helpful to spend some time discussing this with students in the early stages of the assignment.

  • Technology learning curve

    Bringing technology into the classroom can often present challenges for teachers and students, and this is particularly true in the case of digital storytelling, which requires the use of tools and techniques that some students might not be familiar with. As a first step in dealing with this issue, it is important to carefully consider which platform to use in the context of your students’ tech skills.  Platforms like VoiceThread, for example, are relatively easy to get started with and have the added advantage that they are licensed and supported by the University of Miami and therefore technical support and support materials are available. Once you have chosen a platform, you may also consider doing a quick tutorial for students - either live or recorded could work - to help ensure that everyone is on the same page.

  • Story first

    In digital storytelling, technology is the medium and enhances the story, but there is a tendency for students to focus on the technology side of digital stories, rather than on the underlying story (Ohler, 2005). Thus, it is important that instructors be intentional about shifting students’ attention from the medium to the message. One way to achieve this is by having students create story maps, diagrams that show how the different parts of a story fit together to form the overall narrative. This sort of activity affords the instructor ample opportunity to important concepts like theme, character development, and story elements.

What are the implications for teaching and learning?

Digital storytelling can build upon the following teaching strategies for both students and instructors:

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  • Project Based Learning

    Project based learning is a learner-centered pedagogy that actively engages students through meaningful and complex projects. The projects students develop can be short or last an entire semester. Throughout the process, students utilize their creativity to collaborate on a project, explore a real-world problem, work across multiple disciplines to develop that solution, and more.

  • UDL

    Digital storytelling supports learners to construct meaning and express information in a variety of ways that aligns with the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that focuses on the provision of flexible and engaging learning environments. Its main principles are to provide multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression and action, and multiple means of engagement (CAST, 2022). Through the use of multimedia in digital storytelling, instructors and students can present information in a variety of ways including images, audio, and/or video. Students also collaborate with peers throughout the storytelling process and also participate in self-reflection to support progress monitoring, and more.

  • Experiential Learning:

    Through experiential learning, students can engage in hands-on experiences that better exemplify the theories and concepts learned in class. Instructors can offer students an opportunity to participate in experiential learning when they develop and share their own digital stories. For example, Duke University's Introduction to Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (UAS) in Biology, Ecology, and Conservation uses Twine to offer learners the opportunity to simulate scenarios they may encounter when flying drones to collect data (Duke Learning Innovation, 2021). Additionally, digital storytelling can be used in other disciplines such as health medicine to simulate clinical cases for students as well as patient interaction to improve decision-making.

Where is it going?

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  • New Formats and Platforms

    There is an ever-expanding number of tools and formats which can be used to create digital stories and arrange and present them in new and interesting ways. StoryMapJS, for example, uses maps to tell stories; users build their narratives by arranging map markers and attaching images and other media to them.  Another example is TimelineJS, which allows users to build interactive timelines from data entered in a Google Spreadsheet. In addition, some instructors have begun to encourage students to use social media to build digital stories, given its potential to increase student engagement and motivation (Scott & Stanway, 2015). Yeh & Mitric (2019), for instance, encouraged their ESL students to use Instagram to create digital stories and found that it increased student engagement and motivation and led to gains in oral and writing proficiency.

  • Additional Content Areas

    While many of the earliest examples of digital storytelling in the classroom came from subjects which traditionally emphasize narrative - such as history, literature, and modern languages - recently instructors in a wider range of subjects from biology to math to engineering have begun to experiment with this technique. This has, in part, resulted from the realization that scientists need to be better communicators to be able to share their research with a wider audience and digital storytelling is an effective way to do this (Wood-Charlson et al., 2015). As Gowen (2019) puts it, “the process of creating digital storytelling videos teaches students how to situate themselves in their own research stories” (p. 4). In addition, there is some evidence that digital storytelling leads to a clearer understanding of the applicability of the content students are studying, a desirable outcome in all content areas, from humanities to arts to STEM (Hill & Grinnell, 2014). 

References

Akyeampong, A. (2018). Promoting Creativity and Critical Thinking Through Digital Storytelling: Perceptions of Undergraduate Students. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-69914-1_22

Castaneda. M. (2013). I am proud that I did it and it’s a piece of me: digital storytelling in the foreign language classroom. CALICO Journal, 30 (1). https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=miami_richter&id=GALE%7CA347655038&v=2.1&it=r

Ghoneim, N. & Elghotmy,H. (2016). Using voice thread to develop EFL pre-service teacher’s speaking skills. International Journal of English Language. 4(6). https://tinyurl.com/32bam93d

Gowen, E. (2019). Academic librarians supporting digital storytelling in the Sciences. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, (93). https://doi.org/10.29173/istl35 

Hill, S., & Grinnell, C. (2014). Using digital storytelling with infographics in STEM Professional Writing Pedagogy. 2014 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (IPCC). https://doi.org/10.1109/ipcc.2014.7020367 

Ohler, J. (2005, December 1). The World of Digital Storytelling. ASCD. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/the-world-of-digital-storytelling 

Robin, B.R. (2016). The Power of Digital Storytelling to Support Teaching and Learning. Digital Education Review, 17-29. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1125504.pdf

Scott, O. K., & Stanway, A. R. (2015). Tweeting the lecture: How social media can increase student engagement in Higher Education. Sport Management Education Journal, 9(2), 91–101. https://doi.org/10.1123/smej.2014-0038 

Wood-Charlson, E. M., Bender, S. J., Bruno, B. C., Diaz, J. M., Gradoville, M. R., Loury, E., & Viviani, D. A. (2015). Translating science into stories. Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin, 24(3), 73–76. https://doi.org/10.1002/lob.10055 

Yang, Y. & Wu W. (2012). Digital storytelling for enhancing student academic achievement, critical thinking, and learning motivation: A year-long experimental study. Computers and Education. 59 (2), 339-352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.12.012