Introduction to Digital Storytelling

ALT Lab Digital Storytelling Program - Overview, Schedule, etc.
William H. "Bud" Deihl
Senior Specialist, Learning Media Innovation
Virginia Commonwealth University
Blog -
Social Bookmarks at

About this space. This is my personal learning space which gets used as I lead sessions on digital storytelling. Thus, I do not allow others to edit. However, it is available for viewing and you may use the links in your own work via CC license.

Video Overview of this Site - This video was created as an example of how one might use screencasting to demonstrate use of a particular site and links to resources. It uses this wiki as an example and therefore, provides an overview of key resources in the site. Note: the site has changed since this recording and will continue to change as mentioned above.

About Digital Storytelling


vidcam.jpgDigital storytelling (DST) uses new digital tools to help ordinary people tell their own `true stories` in a compelling and emotionally engaging form. The availability of affordable digital cameras, low threshold production techniques and Internet delivery make it easier that ever to share experiences, histories and ideas. During this class, we will look as some examples of digital stories, provide an overview of a process for creating your own digital stories and help faculty begin to explore how DST might work in their discipline/content area. This class will discuss sharing stories in a story circle and what it means to transform a story into a digital format for delivery in 3 to 4 minutes. It will also prepare participants to write a draft script of 250 words, collect digital resources and organize them for production and sharing online.

Session Overview

  • Introductions and comments on session:
    • Session will focus on story first and technology second
    • Session will emphasize the power of still images and transitions to tell a story
  • Start with examples of digital stories to frame the discussion
  • Guiding questions
  • Bud sharing a little bit about workshop experience at the Center for Digital Storytelling
  • Overview of the seven elements of digital storytelling
  • Discuss the importance of planning/storyboarding
  • Discussion of the writing process - paring down to essence
  • Acknowledge that there are many ways to tell a story
  • Demonstration of basic production process and considerations
  • Discuss distribution of stories
  • Reflection and discussion about how this process might enhance teaching, learning and perhaps formative assessment



  • Understand a basic overview of digital storytelling through a sequence of still images used to create a video
  • Focus on the story first and consider technologies or approaches as the means achieve storytelling goals
  • Understand the importance of planning/storyboarding
  • Gain appreciation of the writing process and the importance of parring a story down its essence
  • Gain insight as to how digital stories might be used within various disciplines by both faculty and students
  • Be better positioned to create personal stories
  • Gain insight into the power of visuals and each media to contribute or distract from the story
  • Know that the ALT Lab is ready to provided consultation and assistance in the development of faculty stories

Guiding Questions

  • Why do you want to tell a particular story?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • How can student created stories (individually and collaboratively) add value to the class?Student engagement? Participation by others outside the class?
  • What changes when you reduce the time allowed?
  • What changes when the script is limited to 250 words?
  • What can you do with 5 images? - see flickr group Tell a Story in 5 Frames (related group Tell a Story in 6 Words)
  • How can stories be used educationally? And, how might digital storytelling relate to Bloom's Taxonomy?

Getting Grounded

1st, it (digital storytelling) is not about the technology, but considers technologies or approaches as the means to achieve storytelling goals

7 Elements of Digital Storytelling

As identified by The Center for Digital Storytelling in Digital Storytelling Cookbook and succinctly presented in Electronic Portfolios as Digital Stories of Deep Learning, by Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.
  • A Point (of View): Stories are told to make a point and should not be presented as a recitation of mere facts. Define the premise of your story so that all parts can serve to make the point. Consider your audience and direct the point to them.
  • A Dramatic Question: You want to capture your audience’s attention at the beginning of the piece and hold their interest throughout. Typically you want to pose the dramatic question in the opening lines and resolve it in the closing lines.
  • Emotional Content: Emotional content can help hold your audiences attention. The images, effects, music and tone of voice all lend to contributing emotion to the piece. Try to keep the elements consistent with the emotion of the moment. Examples of strong images in nature: Unique Lens Photography
  • The Gift of Your Voice: Most likely the first time you heard your recorded voice you couldn’t stand the way it sounded. And you still can’t. Suggestion….get over it! Your voice is a great gift and even thought you don’t like to hear it, others do. If you “read” your script your audience will not know how to react. Take time to learn and practice your script so you can speak in a conversational voice. Record several takes and select the best one. Trust that your audience will think it is perfect
  • The Power of The Soundtrack: Music is a big plus to a digital story. The right music can set the story in time and can convey emotion. Play music behind an image and a specific emotion is generated. Change the music behind the same image and an entirely different emotion is experienced. Sound effects can add tension and excitement to a piece, but be careful, they can be a distraction too.
  • Economy: A compact, fast moving digital story will contain only those elements necessary to move the audience from beginning to end. We know that our brains are constantly filling in (from our own experiences) details from suggestions made by sights and sounds. Don’t give every detail to clarify your story, let your audience fill in some of the blanks.
  • Pacing: The rhythm of the piece is what keeps your audience’s interest in the story. Music tempo, speech rate, image duration, and panning and zooming speed all work to establish pace. Generally pace will be consistent, but once in a while it will pause, accelerate, decelerate, stop or blast-off.

Example Stories

See examples created by VCU faculty during their participation in the VCU Digital Storytelling Program

VCU Student Examples

Elizabeth "Liz" Cramer, Ph.D., Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work provided examples of stories created by her students after visiting the Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Va. These stories were created
with a simple tool called Educreations. Thanks to each of these students for granting permission to share these for educational use.

Kristen and Jessica

Shannon and Ashleigh

Megan and Diana

Rebecca and Candace

Some other examples on the web

VCU Faculty Experience in Digital Storytelling Program

Dr. Terry Carter shares her experience as a participant in the VCU Digital Storytelling Program, first in her blog and then in a podcast interview about the experience. Her posting includes a link to the story she produced during the program. See Digital Storytelling and the Experience of Flow.

See examples created by VCU faculty during their participation in the VCU Digital Storytelling Program

  • Irregular by Micol Hammach . A story about teaching English as a second language in the 90's in a county jail in North Carolina.

  • The Process of Science by MaryPeace McRae. A story about the importance of observing small and seemingly insignificant things and how they might lead to scientific breakthroughs.

4203343014_b740617b18_m.jpgVideo Stories (Stories that actually incorporate video footage)

For some time, I've been reluctant to introduce video in the creation of faculty and/or student digital stories. This audience generally needs simple tools which are freely available and which have a low learning threshold. In addition, I feel that the one needs to first understand the power of still images and the impact of multimedia in conjunction with them as a means to create powerful stories in video format; somewhat in the style of Ken Burn's documentaries. However, technology has increasingly made it easier to incorporate video footage into storytelling, and simple editors such as iMovie or Microsoft MovieMaker are examples of tools which can produce surprising results by those who are not professional videographers. Making the transition to video production still requires intense focus on images and in addtion, requires careful editing and attention the value of movement which might breathe new life into productions. This section of my wiki will look at videos which incorporate still images and appropriate small video clips to create a compelling narrative.

The first example I will offer is the story of Falsely accused prisoner Dewey Bozella, who earned the 2011 Arthur Ashe Award for his courage to never give up fighting. As you view this story, consider the powerful images first and ask, what does video add to this story? Choose your technology carefully. Can less be more? Do I need 5 minutes of video or 5 seconds? How can still images inform the choices of video shots?

Rethinking Learning: The 21st Century Learner | MacArthur Foundation

Below is a beautiful example of the incorporation of still images, video to tell a story about 21st Century learning from multiple perspectives. Through the use of strong imagery and editing techniques, it conveys a story about contemporary students, their perspectives, the relationships of gaming, informal learning and formal educational opportunities. Reflect on
1. Who is the audience?
2. Why is this story being told?
3. What characteristics do the images have to set tone, imply or demonstrate change, convey message, introduce tension and tell story?
4. Why is the video important? Could this story be done well without video?

Approaches to Story Development and Comments on Editing: CUT, CUT, CUT

  • Approaches may include features such as narrative, anecdote, reflection and/or persuasion
  • Ira Glass shares thoughts on digital storytelling from the perspective of a professional broadcaster, but his comments are very applicable to the stories we create as individuals. SEE Glass on story development and editing:
  • Ira Glass on Storytelling #1(anecdote, raising and answering questions)
  • Ira Glass on Storytelling #2 (Finding great stories and the importance of recording regularly and editing severely)
  • Story Circles - experience - request constructive critique - offer your suggestions: "If it were my story, I would..."
  • Active Voice: Freitag Triangle Conflict and Meanting: Freitag Triangle Also referenced as //Freytag Triangle//

  • Story Circle: the Story Circle can be used to share your initial story and get feedback to help you develop your personal narrative or it might be used in a group way to share personal narrative around a group theme. In the latter process, a group may develop "their" story. This process is exemplified by the Roadside Theater , that focuses on art in a democracy - see Story Circles

Planning / Storyboarding (see also - level of commitment)


Storyboarding is a way to plan your project. It basically is a process used to visually sketch/identify key points within your story, plan for the visuals needed to convey these points, sequence the images and write narration to go with the visuals. Beyond that, it is a place to plan timing, transitions, audio, identify files and other details to guide production.
  • Overview
    • Some people use PowerPoint notes format to do storyboarding. The point is, you do not have to create elaborate artistic or cartoon-like storyboards to guide your work. If you are creating a story from start to finish as a personal project, you only need information to remind you of the images, narration, sounds, transitions. More elaborate storyboards to communicate ideas among a team of people who share various roles in production.
    • Storyboarding - see a short video and several links to various resources. Note: you do not have to scan these into a computer as show here, but have the storyboard to guide your work.
    • A storyboard form (PDF) from Lee's Summit Mo. R-7 School District Digital Media
    • Generate your own storyboard paper - customize the layout and download a pdf file to print your own storyboard paper.
    • Printable Paper Storyboarding forms
    • * See Image Selection (in Gathering Resources) below.

Professional advice about making transitions in film/video editing

(These links will be reviewed for quality of information and some may be removed **rough research notes for now)
Top 5 Video Transitions and the Most Effective Ways to Use Them - See more at:

Film Transition
A film transition is a technique used in the post-production process of film editing and video editing by which scenes or shots are combined. Most commonly this is through a normal cut to the next scene. Most films will also include selective use of other transitions, usually to convey a tone or mood, suggest the passage of time, or separate parts of the story. These other transitions may include dissolves, L cuts, fades (usually to black), match cuts, and wipes.

Level of Commitment

  • What level of production are you trying to achieve?
  • Do you have hardware and software (or access to them) required to achieve your goal?
  • How high is the learning curve for the tools and processes you are considering?
  • How much time are you willing to spend?
  • What is just good enough (JGE)?

Gathering Resources for Your Story (using and sharing)

Image selection
Images have power. They are a language and tell stories in their own right. Select them carefully. Look at the details. Select them for their strength to imply or convey meaning. Ask if a portion of the image may be used to focus on a detail (of the story) as a means to later pan out and see a larger story (in context) (or in a back-story).
See a podcast by Jonnathan Finkelstein (go to the time setting: 51:50) to see and hear about the power of image selection.

Types of Resources
  • Visuals
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Text
  • Important: organize your digitized content and have specific items in folder ready to drop into your production (easy to have multiple versions of resources and be unplanned) At time of composition and edit, you need specific files.

Overview of Flickr (an image hosting site) and demonstration of how to search for images (video by Bud Deihl)
By watching this 10 minute video, you should be able to:
  • Find Flickr
  • Search for images by "tags" or key words
  • Do an advanced search
  • Find materials which are shared through a Creative Commons License
  • Select an image by size
  • Download an image
  • Create a Gallery to:
    • Organize images for a specific project or story
    • Store images quickly as you are considering them for use in your story
    • Have a link to the resources for use in your credits

Shahi is a visual dictionary that combines Wiktionary content with Flickr images, and more! I provide this as an item of interest. The resource is limited, but the notion of thinking as though you were using a dictionary or perhaps using a thesarus, can help you find images for your multimedia story.

Seven Things You Should Know about Flickr
The "7 Things You Should Know About..." series from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) provides concise information on emerging learning technologies.

Stock photography (credit to Wikipedia)is the supply of photographs licensed for specific uses. It is used to fulfill the needs of creative assignments instead of hiring a photographer, often for a lower cost. Today, stock images can be presented in searchable online databases. They can be purchased and delivered online. Often, these photographs involve people, and are produced in studios using a wide variety of models posing as professionals, stereotypes, expressing common emotions and gesticulations, or involving pets. Other common stock photography niches include images related to travel and tourism, as well as conceptual photography.[1[[|]]]

* Online file conversion tool. Easily convert PNG files to JPG
Go to

Copyright and Permissions

Ownership of Resources
  • Personal
  • Public
    • Leverage the works of others, with permission and provide attribution, such as still images shared on Flickr
    • Permissions
    • Follow copyright
    • "Model's release"
    • Release for distribution - stipulates how stories will be used - try to get full release
  • Creative CommonsLicense - Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."
    • See Creative Commons Chaos, by Rod Lucier, on The Clever Sheep blog. This blog links to a podcast and provides access to many resources. I recommend listening to his short podcast on CC and the use of CC materials by educators and students to create their own materials.
  • Provide credits in your production

Center for Media and Social Impact (CMS) The code of Best Practices in Fair use for Media Literacy Education.

Center for Digital Storytelling Resources

Distribution of Stories - a few examples

Technologies and relationship to telling a story

  • What format serves best?
  • Can you copy your story into another format?
  • What is the impact of a media selection?
  • What is the impact of how media is presented; volume, speed, opacitiy, transitions, silence, etc.
  • Web 2.0 Storytelling, Emergence of a New Genre by Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine, Review/Web20StorytellingEmergenc/47444 (PDF version)
  • e-Portfolio as Story
  • Examples: Alan Levin's "CogDog", "50 ways to Tell a Story" - Alan has created a sight (which continues to be developed) which uses 50 plus tools or methods to tell a story via digital means. Caution, this site can instill option paralysis. Give it a broad overview and look at similar approaches, then select a few to review.

  • VoiceThreads as a means of telling a story and allowing a conversation or multiple stories to emerge
  • flicker
    • links to other images
    • allow others to comment and link
    • * Non-linear story
  • Online tools which allow upload of images which get randomly presented with images (what's the value?? Does this tell your story? Does this provide random order to inspire a story?)
  • Tools which provide a timeline which allows personal control of the story elements - Camtasia, Linear video editing tools like Final Cut Express, online storytelling tools, (upload and order images, with possible control of time and voice sync., etc.)
  • Google tools - Google Maps - My Map - slides on a map with navigation and ability to place notes - possible use to tell a historical story with specific locations - allow user to navigate to any point and possibly in any order
  • J-Cut - allows editing video via a browser - according to Alan Levine, its like Final Cut Express on the web. He also warns "Free tools come and go, serious work should be done with desktop software."
  • Dominoe - allows embedding links on a page - is there any storytelling / educational use????

Production - Equipment and Software

Animoto - Free online video production tool. Create 30 second videos at no charge. Upgrades are available: see their site.
Embedding Animoto videos
Audacity - Free software for sound recording and editing. See an Introduction to Audacity which I have created to help you get started.
Audacity Download Download the free software for PC or Mac.

File Drop - This is a solution for sending large files which may not be allowed via e-mail systems. This s a solution for VCU Faculty and Students and will require a VCU EID and password.

**Free** Video Editing Software This provides information on 5 free tools for editing video.
Another FREE Online Editor is in YouTube itself! Learn about YouTube Editor and see step-by_step instructions.

Mac - iLife / iMovie - see iMovie (Tutorials) iMovie is a Mac solution to creating "movies". It is an non-linear editor, which allows the inclusion of still images, video and audio files, and provides effects, transitions, zoom, etc.

Video 101: Editing with iMovie- a tutorial provided by Vimeo (See Vimeo FAQ)

Microsoft Windows Live Movie Maker

Microsoft Photo Story
NOTE: Photo Story3 is still available, but no longer supported by Microsoft. The replacement, if you will, is Microsoft Live Movie Maker.

  • Download and Links to Overview and Instructions -
  • David Jake's Photostory 3 Tutorials These present a very helpful step-by-step overview of the creation of a digial story. His comments and suggestions are very good. The last screencapture unfortunately does not display the finished movie, but the overall series of lessons is still very beneficial.
  • MS Photo Story FAQ
  • Photo Story tutorial by Dr. Terence Cavanaugh and Dr. Catherine Cavanaugh
  • Take a tourof Ms Photostory

WeVideo - This is a great freely available online editor for simple video production that allows for some sophisticated results.
WeVideo Online Editing: Support links to tutorials and information about all aspects of WeVideo
Talking about TEXT in WeVideo
How do I view my WeVideo?
How do I publish my WeVideo?

How to use PowerPoint to Create a .jpg, gif, etc. with a Colored Backgroud
(for use as a Title Slide in MS PhotoStory, etc.)

iPad Editing Apps

Video editing software—one of the most demanding tasks in computing—comes to Apple's iPad in several new apps. How do they stack up?
See PCMAG.COM review NOTE: Avid Studio for iPad has been purchased by Pinnacle
NOTE: As of 12-6-2012 I have not personally experimented with Pinnacle and have some concerns about App size and reliability. The reason I mention App size is that in my work with recording with iMovie, I had to trim down Apps to gain space for recording time. In the case of iMovie, I actually ended up editing in iMovie on the Mac, as the iPad App limits sound tracks and does not have full functionality. I think it might be good for a quick collection of images, transitions, voiceover and 1 background sound track. Experiment - see what works for you. Do your experiments before investing a great amount of time to determine if the product meets your needs.

Pinnacle studio for iPad2...
I'm all over this one!!! This is a game changer, by providing multiple audio inputs. You can now have narration, music and another audio track to bring in sound effects. This $13 App redefines what one can do "in the field" to document, edit and (with wifi), publish. This App will lead me to introducing the iPad as a production tool for use in digital storytelling.

Atomic Learning's FREE Video StoryBoard Pro is designed to give teachers, students, and home movie makers a tool to plan ahead when creating video projects. Read the notes on the Atomic Learning page before deciding to try this software.

Multimedia Tools

Thanks to Stephen Ransom for providing access to a treasure trove of multimedia resources. This is a must see list. Looking for music, sounds, images, tools, etc.? This will be well worth your time.

Convert video formats (free) Zamzar

Wikimedia Commons a database of freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.

Other Resources

A Case for Web Storytelling, by Curt Cloninger
Written from an advertising perspective, but lots of good statements here about the importance of narrative and voice, etc. to tell story.Other issues of interest about today's publishing and communication via the web.

Active Voice: Freitag Triangle

Conflict and Meanting: Freitag Triangle

Digital Storytelling: Overview and Webography, Pottruck Technology Resource Center
This PDF file is a resource which addresses how digital storytelling is relevant to teaching and learning. It provides a wealth of resources from a list of portals and centers, to family and community, as well as story in conjunction with language and literature. It provides links to various examples.

Digital Storytelling Tips and Resources, Matthews-DeNatale, Gail,
A great overview of considerations regarding the assignment of digital stories as a means of reflection. Outlines considerations for different disciplines, presents a timeline for advance preparation and engagement over a series of weeks. Also includes a rubric to covey what quality work looks like.

EL I Chaotic Fiction Presentation

Learn Digital Storytelling Tutorials (University of Richmond)

Review of Learning Through Storytelling in Higher Education: Using Reflection and Experience to Improve Learning, McDrury, J. and Alterio, M., 2002, 2003. Accessed on December 10, 2009

NECC 2008 The Community Network - Digital Storytellers

NITLE Research: 0 Storytelling - ELI 2009 session

Open Discussion on Web 2.0 Storytelling

Digital Storytelling, located on July 15,2008 at

Rossiter, Marsha, Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning, accessed on July 15, 2008 at

Electronic Portfolios as Digital Stories of Deep Learning, by Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.

Educational Use of Digital Storytelling

Stories for Change

Story Circle ... a page within resources provided by Roadside Theater)

Assigning Student to Create a Digital Story - examples and related resources

Digital Storytelling Tips and Resources, Matthews-DeNatale, Gail,
A great overview of considerations regarding the assignment of digital stories as a means of reflection. Outlines considerations for different disciplines, presents a timeline for advance preparation and engagement over a series of weeks. Also includes a rubric to covey what quality work looks like.

Create A Digital Storytelling Assignment, University of Maryland,
Presents a general description of what's involved in creating a digital story. Links are provided to information on various editors. One item of value on in this resource is a rubric. Note that references to on-campus resources are specific to this U.M. location. You may not have such support. * On a personal note, I think the suggested length of video (10 min.) is often too long; 3-5 minutes is generally recommended and this forces deep thinking and critical selections about resources and editing to convey a narrative. I also think the amount of time estimated for production can vary greatly, depending upon the desired genre, attention to detail, research for images and sounds, etc. Production can be done as suggested, but be aware that this can take all the time one wants to devote.

Miscellaneous notes and items for consideration

Jonathan Harris: The art of collecting stories WARNING: This is an exciting talk and video which is well worth the watch. Beyond the mindblowing technology, there are some very interesting comments about storytelling, but this goes way beyond what most faculty and/or students will be able to do)

We learn from stories and experience. Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen

Other Types of Storytelling

Stories Which Use Edited Video**

Editing video introduces many other levels of complexity. My work and interests are focusing on the narrative, supported by powerful images, sounds, timing and transitions. Video offers a whole new level of considerations and complexity. I will study and write more about this in the future. Although my stories tend to be meditative and emotional, I do appreciate and want to learn more about other approaches. I am particularly interested in generational approaches to storytelling.

Here is an example of a digital video story which conveys a lively, contemporary mood and message.

Storychasing Literacy - METC 2010, Fryer, W., accessed on February 8, 2010

VCU Faculty Learning Opportunity

ALT Lab Digital Storytelling Program

Scholarship of Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling Multimedia Archive, accessed on April 5, 2010

Digital Storytelling: Overview and Webography, Pottruck Technology Resource Center
This PDF file is a resource which addresses how digital storytelling is relevant to teaching and learning. It provides a wealth of resources from a list of portals and centers, to family and community, as well as story in conjunction with language and literature. It provides links to various examples.

Digitally Literate Storytellers - This is an archive of a presentation by Joan Getman, at Cornell University.

Engaging problem learners through digital storytelling

From Narrative to Database: Multimedia Inquiry in a Cross-Classroom Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Study, Michael Coventry and Matthias Oppermann, accessed on April 5, 2010

The Future of Storytelling:Immersion, Integration, Interactivity, Impact

Innovating Education

The Instructional Value of Storytelling, McGee, Patricia

Narrative and Stories in Adult Teaching and Learning, Rossiter, Marsha
"A narrative orientation to education is grounded in an understanding of narrative as a primary structure of human meaning and narrative as metaphor for the developing self. The actual uses of narrative and story in adult teaching and learning are literally unlimited because they arise from infinite expressions of interpretive interplay among teachers, learners, and content." M. Rossiter.

The Pedagogy of Digital Storytelling in the College Classroom
This is a digital story by Rachael Raimist, Candance Doerr-Stevens and Walt Jacobs at the University of Minnesota. It is part of the work at Digital Storytelling in and with Communities of Color. They state that "It is about why and how they teach digital storytelling in the college classroom." It provides an overview of the thought and production processes used in creating personal digital stories.

Storytelling in the Digital Age, Katie Elson Anderson
Slide presentation with transcript and references provided below the player.