Digital Storytelling; 20 Revelations Part 1

By Jason Ohler

In this blog, Jason Ohler discusses 20 revelations about digital storytelling. From simple storytelling technologies in the early days of smartphones to the plethora of information that is available today, he tells a story about the good and the bad, the new and the old, and how we continue learning to find our own narrative. This blog encompasses the first of his revelations.
Storytelling is one of the oldest human activities. People want to tell stories to convey beliefs, share adventures, and create a voice. I have had 20 revelations about digital storytelling and its development and I would like to share them with you.
1. We always find ways to tell stories
With the development of digital technologies, the way we tell stories evolves. In the early days of smartphones, digital stories were simple: a melody accompanied by an image or a short video. As simplistic as it may be, I created a story using some music and a short film. The more technologies develop, the more opportunities to tell stories in different ways arise. But, no matter how technologies develop in the future, we will always find a way to tell stories using those new technologies.
2. The digital revolution would have been a storytelling revolution if early computers had word processing software
When computers first became common working tools in the 1980s, there was not a lot of software available such as word processing programs. However, it did not prevent me from giving my students tasks that included telling stories using those computer programs in my classes—the first attempts were impressive given the limited programs and tools available.
3. Provide assistive technology for the artistically challenged and 4. We all get to tell our stories
For those of us who are not natural artists, digital technology is an amazing tool: it helps us tell a story without needing the ability to paint great pictures, without impressive singing voices, and without being able to play all of Beethoven’s Etudes on the piano. Even the most “artistically challenged” can use photo editing programs, painting programs, music apps, and other apps to help tell their story. Digital technology lets everyone express themselves in a new and unique way. It allows exploring new alleys of storytelling and, if necessary, the chance to delete and start over again or modify.
5. Art is the fourth R
Today, we expect students to produce multimedia homework assignments. We expect them to use PowerPoint and video editing programs; in short, we expect them to tell digital stories using design tools and artistic ways of conveying content. Art and design languages are taking center stage and art is becoming the fourth R, next to reading, writing, and arithmetic.
6. Digital technology amplifies the good and the bad and 7. Teachers must ensure students use technology to serve the story
If there is an upside to using digital technology to tell stories, then there is most likely also a downside. If you don’t have a good story to tell to begin with, technology is not going to remedy this. As a matter of fact, it will accentuate it. So I decided to include the basics of storytelling in my classes to make sure that all students had a good story as the starting point of their digital storytelling journey. This was a way for me to ensure that storytelling was not just about the technology used, but also about the quality of the story.
8. Learning communities are storytelling communities
When I explain my findings and my approach to other educators, I am using stories to make my point. Their responses to my ideas, which consist mainly of stories of failure when implementing new ideas or technologies, are stories as well. These conversations are not about citing white papers or research; we tell each other our stories. With this understanding, stories are suddenly all around me: in the classroom, in offices, and in living rooms. Communication is storytelling and storytelling is learning.
9. The attitude is the aptitude
Digital technology has changed the way we tell or are told stories, but it has also changed the rate at which these stories develop, change, or how they are told. Take, for example, a phrase related to the digital age: lifelong learning. It is not a new concept that we never stop learning; we always continue learning. What is different now is the rate of change. Fifty years ago, the rate of change was slower than today and our need to continue learning new things was less challenging. Today, we are constantly bombarded with new developments and information through a variety of technological resources: TV, radio, newspapers, and the internet. Lifelong learning has become a constant effort, a lifestyle. Therefore, the attitude towards lifelong learning determines aptitude and intelligence. How willing are we to let go of “old” information and accept and implement new information?
10. Stories help us make sense of the chaos of life
Information is not only omnipresent, but it is also conflicting. Learning is no longer about picking one topic and relying on the singular outlook. It has become about assessing and analyzing information. We have to become critical thinkers and creative problem solvers because the amount of conflicting information forces us to. Storytelling tests attitudes about the nature of learning and it becomes a necessity in order to resolve conflicts. Conflict resolution is at the heart of a good story. In the chaos of information, in the noise coming from every side and every device we consult, we need to develop a continuous, clear, and personal narrative that makes sense to us and that calms the bombardment of information. Constructing a personalized narrative helps us stay on top of our own story and find ways to resolve our issues and conflicts. The “story” has become the metaphor for our time.
Dr. Jason Ohler is a professor emeritus, speaker, writer, and a lifelong digital humanist who is well-known for the passion, insight, and humor he brings to his writings, projects, teaching, and presentations. He has been helping community members, organizations, and students at all levels understand the ethical implications of being digital citizens in a world of roller-coaster technological change. His most recent book, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future, reflects on his 35 years in the world of educational media and innovation in order to chart a course for a future. He is first and foremost a storyteller, telling tales of the future that are grounded in the past. Find Jason on Twitter @jasonohler or visit his website:
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