Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning, and Creativity


Jason B. Ohler

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    To my wife, Terri. Life with her is a wonderful story indeed.


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    For decades I've argued that, as the stories once told around a campfire are now being told with the glow of a computer monitor, we must ensure that the new forms of storytelling are as compelling as the old. Storytelling traditions go back many generations in West Africa to the Griots who, even today, share their compelling stories with just the power of their voice, and sometimes with a musical instrument to accompany them. The Griot understands that stories are more than entertainment; they are vehicles for learning. It is this connection that makes digital storytelling so compelling.

    Jason Ohler understands that digital storytelling is storytelling first and digital second. It is easy to get caught up in flashy multimedia whose plethora of effects can swamp and even obscure the story being told. For this reason, the craft of digital storytelling must be taken seriously. As Jason says, “What happens when you give a bad guitarist a bigger amplifier?” The volume you hold is a guide to building digital story amplifiers where the impact of the new media is to enhance, not obscure, the narrative craft of storytelling.

    Since this is a second edition of the original book, it is logical to ask, What has changed that makes a new edition valuable?

    It is safe to say that the power of storytelling has not changed. What has changed can be broken into two categories: changes in education, and changes in technology.

    As these words are being written, the United States is adapting to a new set of Common Core standards that apply to the things all learners should be able to do, no matter where they live. Standards have their challenges, and while the Common Core does not mandate the kind of pedagogical shifts some of us would like, neither does it block them. In this environment, storytelling is even more important as a tool to humanize teaching and learning and to make the learning even more relevant to the students. Jason argues compellingly for the idea that relevancy, engagement, and agency offer students additional motivation in ways that encourage authentic learning—not just rote memorization of material quickly forgotten when the test is over.

    When students know they will be sharing their stories with others, they will be exploring material in more depth, and there is an increased likelihood that they will remember what they learned for a long time.

    On the technology front, the assumption in both the first and the current edition of this book is that students have access to powerful computers and software with which they can craft their stories. But new technologies have entered the scene—smartphones and tablets, for example—and these also need to be explored in the context of digital storytelling. Many schools are racing to put tablets in the hands of every child without, in my view, thinking about whether these tools are effective in an educational setting—especially one that is as constructionist as digital storytelling. This is, however, a rapidly changing field, and it is impossible to anticipate how these tools might be used in the future. This said, tablets can be used as distribution platforms for online digital stories, thus extending the reach of student work well outside the boundaries of the school. With the popularity of social networks like Facebook, a posting about an online story can generate readership far beyond the number of people who had access to books in the Renaissance. And, with this in mind, recall that the Renaissance was a period of great progress in the arts and sciences.

    I believe we are in a new Renaissance—one where digital storytelling can get ideas spread across the globe at the speed of light.

    As Marshall McLuhan once said, “When you travel at the speed of light, you don't need a rearview mirror.” You hold, in your hands, a guide to improving education at light speed.

    Enjoy your journey.

    David D.Thornburg, PhD, Recife, Brazil, February 2013


    I have one word for anyone who wants to tell a story—whether it's with computers, with pictures scratched in the sand, or solely with the language of the body and the sounds of the human voice; whether it's the story of a quest to find one's holy grail, to find oneself, or simply to find a way to tell one's story; whether it's a long story, a short story, or a story that never really ends; whether it's told on the silver screen, in a circle of one's closest friends, upon the great virtual stage of the World Wide Web, or on a hill in full view of the gathered public; whether it's a personal story, a universal story, someone else's story, or a story that can be understood only by the culture that tells it; whether it's schoolwork, a work of art, art for work, or simply something that has to be said; whether it's for you, for your friends, for your community, or for those you will never meet; whether it's a personal journey, a scientific adventure, a fantasy of the mind, or a memory collage of one's ancestors; whether it exists as invisible bits of a digital file, as words on paper, as a TV rerun, or only as memories in the hearts and minds of elders; whether it never changes, changes every time it is told, or changes so slowly that no one notices. I have one word for anyone who wants to tell a story, and that word is “welcome.”

    Who Is This Book For?

    I wrote this book so that it could be used by any teacher, regardless of technical experience, who wants help using technology effectively, creatively, and wisely in the classroom. Whether you're a beginning computer user or a seasoned expert, this book will meet you where you are and help you take your next steps.

    Toward that end, this book approaches storytelling and digital media production from a generalist perspective in ways that can be adapted for use by teachers at most grade levels in most content areas. I assume that the reader's attitude toward the digital age classroom is a mixture of inspiration, intimidation, and confusion. I hope that by the end of the book, readers will find life in the digital age classroom more manageable, productive, and fun.

    This book is particularly concerned with helping teachers do the following:

    • Understand the value of storytelling in education, regardless of the media used in the storytelling process
    • Help themselves and their students create digital stories that employ effective principles of storytelling, technology application, and media technique
    • Use digital storytelling as a tool to promote the development of emerging literacies, such as digital and media literacy, as well as traditional literacies, such as reading, writing, speaking, and art
    • Help students use digital storytelling as an academic tool to explore content and to communicate what they understand
    • Understand the importance of combining the power of story and critical thinking as an approach to teaching and learning
    • Leverage students’ imagination and help them develop their own voices as storytellers, digital media artists, and learning community members
    • Evaluate digital stories in ways that are helpful to students, parents, and the community, so that digital storytelling can be a valuable learning tool, as well as an effective use of classroom time
    • Develop a sense of media grammar so they can help guide students in the development of new media
    • Understand the basics of media persuasion and bias and how to make media literacy a part of new media production with their students
    • Understand the importance of copyright and fair use in protecting and incentivizing creative content developers, including themselves and their students, and apply that understanding to student use of material in new media projects

    Above all, this book is for teachers who want to better understand the world that often seems so foreign to them but that their students call normal. For those teachers who fear their obsolescence in the digital age, fear not. The more digital the world becomes, the more your students will need you, not for your keystrokes and technical know-how, but for your guidance and wisdom.

    Storytelling Is for Everyone

    However, the book is not just for teachers. The principles of storytelling and the processes used in digital storytelling described in this book can be used by anyone for an unlimited number of purposes. I have used my materials with businesses, community organizations, government groups, parents—people from many walks of life. Story is story; it's just a question of how you are using it. The reality is that when you create a digital story, you are usually assuming the role of teacher, regardless of where you work. That is, you are creating a story to teach someone about something. Therefore, approaching digital storytelling as an educational event is helpful to anyone who wants to tell stories effectively.

    How Is the Book Organized?

    I have organized the book into three parts.

    Part I. Storytelling, Education, and the New Media

    Are you a teacher wondering why you should consider trying one more new thing in your classroom when you're already overwhelmed trying to meet your own learning objectives, as well as the demands of your school district and your state and federal departments of education? Are you a school administrator wondering why digital storytelling should receive your support in an era of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Standards? Are you a parent, voter, or concerned citizen wondering why art and new media literacy should be valued as literacies on par with the three Rs? Part I should help address your questions. It explains how digital storytelling can be used in the classroom as an academic tool to engage digital age students in constructivist learning. In addition, you will see how new media narrative promotes traditional and emerging literacies, helps students meet academic standards in a number of content areas, and gives students a chance to demonstrate their understanding of the world in their own language.

    Part II. The Art and Practice of Storytelling

    Whether you consider yourself a high-tech, a low-tech, or a no-tech teacher, there is one common denominator for every successful storytelling project: a good story. This part of the book addresses ways to help students understand, plan, and tell stories that have the qualities of good narrative, such as conflict/resolution, character transformation, and audience engagement. In addition, it shows how to use storytelling as a tool for teaching, learning, and personal expression. The fundamental principles of storytelling explained in this part of the book can be used to develop stories for any purpose and are not limited to storytelling in education.

    Part III. Going Digital

    If you're a little queasy about using computers and other digital technology, Part III of this book should help set your mind at ease. I provide a step-by-step approach to developing media-based stories that focuses on the teacher's role as a skill manager rather than a media specialist—as the guide on the side, rather than the technician magician. In addition, I provide a detailed description of software and hardware considerations, as well as the steps involved in the media production process, in layperson's terms. My focus is always on using the “low end”—hardware that is commonly available and software that is free or inexpensive. What you will discover is that the costs involved in doing digital storytelling are minimal. You will also discover that your technical skill level doesn't matter nearly as much as you thought, and you can apply the knowledge you currently have about classroom activity planning to digital storytelling. I also include a chapter on media grammar that will help you provide useful feedback to your students about creating media projects that communicate effectively, as well as a chapter on copyright and fair use, to help you and your students use media legally and ethically.

    What's New in Version Two—Video Material, Among Other Things

    A lot has happened in the five short years since the first edition of this book was published. The world is awash in social media, touch pads (most predominantly the iPad), free software available through the web, transmedia storytelling, and other developments that are transforming the nature of narrative. That's why this book is available as an e-book that is compatible with the iPad, Kindle, and other devices. In addition the world has moved in the direction of 1-to-1 computing and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to school. These developments are reflected in the book in a number of places. I have also updated my approach to story planning somewhat by including two new tools: (1) a second story map, the story arc, because I find students easily relate to it, and (2) the story table, a simple, fast, and effective alternative to the storyboard.

    In this second edition are references to No Child Left Behind and particularly the Common Core. I consider the Common Core in terms of its impact on digital storytelling, creative pursuits, and new media narrative. I also update the section on the ISTE standards to reflect the new standards that have emerged since this book was published, often referred to as ‘the refresh standards.’ I introduce the concept of creatical thinking, as a way to blend creativity and critical thinking, and I redouble my efforts to support creativity's importance in the life of students.

    But most important, this book provides short videos with award-winning documentarian Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts, which will be available through as well as YouTube. He and I discuss “media grammar,” and how we can translate what professionals do in the world of media to a low-budget environment like a school. The principles of media grammar are the same; we just need to get creative about how to apply them when we are creating media outside a studio. The underlying point is this: When we want to learn writing or mathematics, we look at how the professionals do it. We base our goals on their work. The same should be true with media. Students need to learn media grammar the way it is practiced by the pros. Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a pro.

    How Best to Use This Book

    I have written this book to be used in a number of ways.

    First, you can simply read it from beginning to end—like a story. It will take you on a journey that explores the role of digital narrative in your students’ lives and shows you how to plan, create, and perform digital stories that are meaningful to you and your students.

    Second, it's written as a quick reference. I have separated the book into the three distinct parts described earlier and have further subdivided these into specific areas of interest. You should be able to find information quickly as specific needs arise in your classroom.

    Third, it's a philosophical manifesto of sorts. This book is not just about how to do digital storytelling but also about why to do it and how it can add value to your classroom, your profession, and your life. It is about how to help students understand the opportunities and responsibilities that accompany using powerful digital technology. And it is about the important role that story and storytelling can play in the lives of your students, both within and beyond your classroom.

    And last, it's a how-to storytelling book. As I said earlier, you can use what you find here to help your students tell many kinds of stories, from simple, traditional stories that use no technology at all to elaborately produced stories that use the latest gear—to everything in between. However, my target audience is the vast majority of teachers who have limited access to technology. Most of the teachers with whom I work have small budgets, very little time in their schedules, minimal training, and access to only average, conventional equipment—just like you.

    What Kind of Technology Do You Need?

    As mentioned earlier, since the first edition of this book was published, much has changed in the world of hardware. Tablets, smartphones, iPads, and other kinds of personal devices (PDs) are in wide use. Many of the most popular PDs support ways to create movies and digital stories, though with varying degrees of finesse. You can get iMovie for the iPhone, iPad, and laptop. In addition, some websites support online movie editing, allowing anyone with web access to edit digital media regardless of the software available on their computer. Other sites allow distributed, cooperative video editing. The options are quite compelling.

    In the first edition of this book I said, “Ideally you need one computer and microphone per storyteller and one scanner and one camera per five to 10 students. If you're doing green screen storytelling, one video camera and wireless mike per classroom is sufficient.” While this is still more or less true, the technology has changed so much that this statement needs clarification. The primary change is the fact that we now have so many all-in-one technologies—digital Swiss Army knives, so to speak. These days, cell phones can be used as cameras for still images as well as video; they can collect audio, play music, and download material from the web. The same is true of iPads and other touchpads and PDs. And unless you need high-end scanned images, often your cell phone can suffice as a scanner. Today's PDs perform these tasks with varying degrees of finesse. In fact, in many cases I would rather use my scanner and my video camera than my iPhone. But as of this writing the job that the average PD does is not bad at all, and is improving at an unbelievable rate. The result is that we are walking around with a digital storytelling studio in our pockets, knapsacks and briefcases. In an era of “bring your own device” (BYOD), in which businesses expect employees to bring their own devices to work and schools are increasingly expecting students to bring them to school, we are finding that digital storytelling is on the way to actually becoming a “normal” activity. The expressive possibilities of new media make digital storytelling a desirable skill set to develop. The abundance of inexpensive, accessible, easy-to-use media tools make it possible to do so.

    So, rather than list the equipment you need, let me list the functions you need to be able to accomplish, however you do so: basically you need to be able to scan or photograph documents, take still photos, shoot video, collect audio, include (and perhaps generate) animation of many kinds, download web material, and edit what you collect. However you do this is up to you. And be advised that the media collage adds new elements all the time. Expect to see 3D, virtual environments, haptics, holograms, and other media elements make their way into digital stories. It is just a matter of time.

    If you're interested in what to purchase, check, where I post a list of inexpensive hardware and software. Check back often, as it changes frequently.

    How Much Technology Do You Need?

    Ideally, you need one computer and microphone per storyteller and one scanner and one camera per 5 to 10 students, however you achieve this functionality in light of the PDs students have. If you're doing green screen storytelling, one video camera and wireless mike per classroom is sufficient.

    This doesn't mean you need 30 computers for 30 students. It means that if you have only five computers, then you will need to set up your storytelling project so that only five students need them at a time. Same for scanners or cameras—set up the project so that there is not a bottleneck to use the resources you have. When equipment is scarce, planning becomes key.

    Can you have students work on joint projects, so that small groups can share one computer? Yes. The world of professional media production is a very teamwork-oriented world, and having students work together helps them develop important group process skills needed for media development projects as well as many other ventures in life. But it has been my experience that students approach digital stories very personally, and they will want—and should have—control over all aspects of at least their first journey into producing new media narrative. In the process, they will develop an understanding of the many facets of digital storytelling production and, as a result, will be more effective team members in group projects.

    For more information about storytelling, as well as telling stories with digital technology, go to


    Thanks to Brett Dillingham for the gift of the Visual Portrait of a Story and ongoing inspiration in the world of storytelling; to Glen Bledsoe for continuing to provide so much inspiration through his work and the work of his students in the world of new media in education; to Dr. Howard Pitler, director of educational technology at McREL, and Dr. James Boyle from the Duke University Law School for their invaluable input about copyright and fair use in the classroom; to Robert McKee for the use of his inspiring story maps and diagrams; to Joseph Campbell and his wise words about the nature of stories; to brothers Rick and Mike always, for the stories we share; to the people at the Center for Digital Storytelling, Suzi Gould, Judy Halasek and other digital storytellers from Scott County, Kentucky, and many others whose work in digital storytelling has informed my own; to David Hunsaker, Scott Christian, and Ishmael Hope for their help and input; to University of Alaska (UA) President Mark Hamilton, UA Vice President Dr. James Johnsen, UA Geography Program Director Dr. Mike Sfraga, University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) Chancellor John Pugh, and UAS Provost Dr. Roberta Stell for their support for this project; to the many, many teachers, students, and others who have worked with me and talked to me about digital storytelling and new media narrative over the years, especially Hannah Davis, Dana Scofield, Skip Rice, and Lori Hoover; to Bethany Stringer for “Captain Obvious;” to Amanda Underwood, forever an inspiration; to everyone at Budzo Manor who tells all manner of stories; to Carmen Davis for allowing me to use references to the wonderful storytelling work created by her daughter, Hannah; to Steven Goodman, Kenn Adams, Bernie Luskin, and Walter Bender for their inspirational work; to Red Boucher for the vision, heart, and soul he brings to Alaska; to Eric McLuhan for helping me to distinguish figure from ground. Many thanks especially to Ernestine Hayes, whose guidance and wisdom have informed my sense of story in profound ways, and to Kieran Egan, for believing in the imagination of children.

    About the Author

    Jason Ohler is a speaker, writer, teacher, researcher, and lifelong digital humanist who is well known for the passion, insight, and humor he brings to his presentations, projects, and writings. Combining over thirty years of experience in the educational technology field with an eye for the future, he connects with people where they are and helps them understand how they can impact living, learning, and working in the digital age in ways that support their vision for the future. Although he is called a futurist, he considers himself a nowist, working nationally and internationally to help educators and the public use today's tools to create living environments that they are proud to call home.

    He continues to enjoy working directly with teachers and students in K–12 classrooms, joining them in their quest to use digital tools to explore ideas, create learning communities, and tell stories. He is the author of numerous articles, books, and teacher resources (, all of which are devoted to digital humanism—the quest to live humanly in a digitally deluged world. First and foremost he is a storyteller, telling tales of the future that are grounded in the past. He clearly loves what he does and loves sharing what he knows with others.

    “The goal is the effective, creative, and wise use of technology … to bring together technology, community, and learning in ways that work. And while we are at it, to have fun.”


    Are there rules about digital storytelling? Perhaps one: Story without digital works, but digital without story doesn't.

  • Epilogue: If I Had a Time Machine…

    If I had a time machine, one of the many things I would do is visit “schools” in 20, or 50, or perhaps even a hundred years, if I were truly courageous. In my time travels, I would expect to observe many wondrous things. Here are three of them.

    First, the word “school” would be used much as the word “album” is used today to identify a music collection—more metaphor than reality. Like music collections today, schools would come in a number of forms in the future. They would be integrated into the communities that support them, involving students in using local resources and expertise to solve local problems in very real and personal ways. Schools would also be virtual, interactive, multisensory environments that are global in scope and nature. These environments would help students balance personal, local, and global perspectives and needs, and be a lot of fun too. And then there would be those schools we can't even imagine right now that would totally surprise me.

    Second, telling stories would be an important part of how we teach and learn. Storytelling would be appreciated as an effective way to combine academics, thoughtful reflection and analysis, emotional engagement, and active problem solving. It would rescue literacies that are currently undervalued in our educational system, such as art and oracy, and make them as basic as the three Rs are today. Storytelling would once again become prized as a highly efficient information organizer and one of the most effective ways to remember and pass on information, knowledge, and wisdom. Lesson plans and units of instruction, both formal and informal, would strive to use the story form for this reason. And the articulate, skillful use of a transmedia approach to communication would be second nature.

    Third, debates about the language of media would be prevalent and spirited. Media technique and grammar might look very different from what I describe in this book, but they would still address the same concern: how to use media to communicate effectively. Like the generations before them who have been raised on the printed word, students would also be expected to be articulate and facile with the media of their day. Debates about effective approaches to teaching reading and writing still rage today. Debates about teaching the effective use of media are just beginning.

    I sincerely hope that I would also find curricula in place that are based not so much on subject areas as on solving real problems that face our planet and its people. Imagine students taking a course today called Introduction to Climate Change and Global Warming that integrates all the content areas currently taught as separate subjects so that students could better understand the science, history, and politics of this phenomenon. Or imagine a course called Our Multicultural Global Village: Valuing What's Unique and Universal that uses a similar interdisciplinary approach. No doubt the future will need a different version of these courses as problems and opportunities grow and the world becomes smaller. But that's the subject of another book.

    Everyone has a story. I look forward to hearing yours.

    Resource A: Teaching Oral Storytelling

    Here are some of my favorite oral storytelling exercises to do with participants. All of them require one or more volunteers at the front of the class. Be prepared to have lots of fun with these. For more information about teaching oral storytelling technique, I recommend reading “Sound, Motion and Expression” in Visual Portrait of a Story (Dillingham, 2001) at

    • Show us your emotion. I put a sheet of white paper in front of a volunteer's face and have the class call out an emotion. When I lift the paper, the volunteer needs to display a facial expression depicting that emotion. I do this for four to six emotions (Dillingham, 2001). I then expand this to the rest of the class. I ask students to put their hands over their faces and count to three and then show an emotion the class has decided on.
    • Show us how big and small. New storytellers will often just stand and talk, ignoring their bodies as storytelling tools. To help them become aware of using their bodies as implements of expression, I give them a situation to describe that even shy people would use body movement to describe. Typically, I have them describe something panoramic and beautiful, like a mountain range or a scene from a beach, with one catch—they can't use their arms. To ensure this, I walk behind the volunteers and hold their arms at their sides. As the volunteers struggle to describe the scene, I release their arms and say they're free to use them. The volunteers’ arms immediately spring to life, making them look as if they're trying to fly! If I really want students to stretch, I have them use body movements to describe something like a pencil or a speck of dust. The results are always interesting.
    • Tell and show. Stories are much more powerful when storytellers combine words and movements to describe events. To drive home this point, I have a volunteer describe a mundane event, such as making a sandwich, by telling and showing each step of the process in great detail. This is often hilarious as well as very informative.
    • Two voices. Differentiating characters within a story is often problematic for new storytellers. To help storytellers with this, I set up a two-person situation in which a volunteer plays both parts. A favorite situation consists of a parent downstairs calling upstairs to a teenage child to come down for dinner. The volunteer is directed to have this conversation at three different emotional levels: (1) amiable, (2) touchy, and (3) confrontational. To differentiate the characters, the volunteer needs to use different voices, vocabulary, and body movements that are in character for each character. Warning: This exercise tends to uncover unresolved issues within families!
    • Sound effects. This comes straight from Drew Carey's wonderful show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? I ask four to six volunteers to come to the front of the class and spread out so they have enough room to move around. Then I make up a story on the spot that calls for lots of sound effects, which they then have to make.
    • Motion effects. This is similar to sound effects except that volunteers have to move in ways suggested by the story.

    Resource B: Audio Techniques for Video Recording Oral Storytelling

    Miking a Performance

    If you're using recorded oral storytelling or recorded performance as part of your digital story one rule above all: Do not rely on the mike built into the video camera if you can avoid doing so. If you rely on those mikes, the audio often sounds like amateur video shot at a birthday party. For one or two performers, use wireless mikes. For a group, try dangling a mike over the performers and out of the camera shot.

    Mike Technique for Speaking into Your Computer

    For the most part, digital storytellers assume they need to sit when recording their narrative. Not so. Experiment with audio delivery. How you sit, stand, and move will determine what your audio sounds like. Here are some options.

    • Sitting. This seems to be the default for recording narrative for digital storytelling. Good mike technique says “Talk directly into the mike.” And because you're reading, you're sitting still at a desk. This works, but it can restrict expression.
    • Standing. This means putting your mike on a mike stand and plugging it into your computer. A lot of radio theater is done this way. It's easier to move your body, which in turn helps you inflect your delivery.
    • Wearing a headset. Using a headset (combination mike and headphones like those telemarketers wear) allows you to move your head without having to worry about not speaking directly into the mike. Your natural inclination is to be more expressive.
    • Wearing a wireless. Clip the mike to your shirt and plug the receiver into your computer. This allows you to move your entire body; your natural inclination is to be more expressive. This is ideal for spontaneous, unscripted speaking. Or you can hold the narrative in your hand as you act out your narration.

    Bottom line: What you do with your body as you record your voice-over narrative will greatly affect what your narrative sounds like. Use your body to help you tell your story.

    Resource C: Audio Techniques for Interviewing People

    Ideally, you would use two wireless microphones, one attached to you and the other to the interviewee. This is how they do it on TV and in other professional interviewing situations. It allows you to edit each speaker separately in postproduction if, for example, one is a lot louder than the other. To get the interview from the mikes into the computer, you can plug the mike receiver into the computer. If you're video recording the interview, then you need a receiver plugged into your video camera that can receive two wireless signals. These are common and fairly cheap.

    But if you don't have wireless microphones, here are some other options:

    • Use a flat mike. These are microphones that plug into the audio input in your computer and are specifically made to be put on a table to capture everyone in the room. Do a test run. Where you place the mike can make a big difference in terms of how the voices are picked up. Also, desks can pick up background hum coming from the building. Doing a test run might reveal that you should put something soft under it, like a scarf or a hat.
    • Use a portable recorder, perhaps your smartphone. These are the handheld recorders that reporters use. These days smartphones work well too. While recording quality may not the best using either approach, both provide an all-in-one solution. In the case of the audio recorder, be sure there's a way to get the sound from the recorder to the computer; usually an “audio out” or “headphone” jack will do it. Smartphones tend to be set up to do this. Note: if you're using a portable recorder, then you don't have to be present to conduct the interview. You can leave a list of questions with your interviewees and pick up the tape when they're done. This is probably one of the true advantages to using a portable recorder vs. a smartphone. While you might leave a recorder with someone, I doubt you want to lend anyone your cell phone.
    • Use a regular mike. There are lots of mikes that plug directly into a USB computer port these days. Experiment with where people sit in terms of picking up audio. It's really the only variable you can control.

    Bottom line about using mikes: Theory and reality are often at odds when it comes to voice recording, so always do a trial run. Make sure that whatever method you use, the sound is good after it's in your computer. Test it on the spot, because after the interviewee has left, there is usually no second chance.

    A word about interviewing technique: Bad interviews make for difficult listening. Typically, bad interviewers make the following mistakes: They ask boring questions, they don't give interviewees time to say what's important to them, they feel a need to jump into the conversation and add their two cents, and they think being antagonistic toward the interviewee is a good way to generate listener interest.

    Bottom line about interviewing: Be respectful. Interviewees have graciously offered their time. Ask clear questions, let them respond, listen to what they say so that any follow-up questions you ask make sense, and thank them when the interview is over.

    Resource D: Freytag's Pyramid

    The diagram on the facing page can be found on L. Kip Wheeler's (2004) web page, It appears here with his permission.

    Resource E: Grammar of Camera Angles

    Media is a filter while pretending to be a clear window.

    —Steve Goodman (2003)

    Special note: Many of the points I make here are demonstrated in the camera angles video.

    The word “medium” (singular of the word “media”) means “in the middle of.” Life in the digital age means adjusting to the media filters that sit in the middle of and between us and our experience of the real world. Our senses are the first filter we need to take into consideration. After all, our eyes and ears are fairly limited input devices that can perceive only certain things. A camera further restricts our ability to experience life as it is, while adding a twist: By deliberately shooting subjects at particular angles, a photographer or videographer can influence how viewers think and feel about the things, events, and people being captured or recorded.

    Camera Angle Persuasion

    Here is a short list of camera angles and other biases implicit in the technology and techniques of photography and video recording:

    • Shot from above. Shooting from above looking down on a subject tends to diminish the stature of the subject. It can have the effect of belittling the subject and/or making viewers sympathize with or think less of it.
    • Shot from beneath. Shooting something from beneath looking up at, say, the chin of a human subject, tends to make the subject seem larger than life. It can have the effect of making something seem superior, overly important, or menacing.
    • Shot straight on. You'd think this is the only honest camera angle, and in some ways it's more honest than others. But we all know the effect of holding a still shot of a subject face-on and not moving. We tend not to look at people this way because it makes us and them feel uncomfortable. When the camera shoots a subject dead on without wavering for more than a few seconds, it tends to make us, the viewers, squirm. We are left with our discomfort, which is easily projected onto the subject.
    • Moving the camera. Short, jerky coverage of a subject often makes the subject seem strange, untrustworthy, or confused because it implies that the subject is trying to dodge coverage.
    • The bias of the moving subject. Standard fare in media literacy courses are stories about news coverage that favors scuffles over quiet discussion, regardless of how unrepresentative the video bite is. If there's a peaceful demonstration that has 15 seconds of scuffle, the video lens and the television medium favor the movement of the scuffle. That is, we, the viewers, are much more apt to stay interested if there is such movement.

    Bottom line: How we hold, position, and move a camera can in large part determine how viewers think and feel about what they see. Camera angles are the adjectives and adverbs of video grammar.

    Resource F: What's Scannable?

    Here is a list of potential image sources from Bernajean Porter's (2004) book on digital storytelling called DigiTales, reprinted here with her permission:

    • Old photos
    • Greeting cards
    • Watches
    • Report cards
    • Fabrics
    • Jewelry
    • Postcards
    • Letters
    • Personal papers
    • Flowers, leaves
    • Wallpaper
    • Book covers

    By the way, even some 3-D objects are scannable, such as a spice bottle or a toothbrush. Be imaginative.

    Bottom line: The scanner is your friend. Most small objects can be scanned. Using scanned objects adds authenticity to your story. Also, be aware that there are scanning apps these days for smartphones and touch pads.

    Resource G: Joseph Campbell's Story Adventure Diagram

    Resource H: Visual Portrait of a Story


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    Birch, C. (1996). Who says? The storyteller as narrator. In C. L.Birch & M. A.Heckler (Eds.), Who says? Essays on pivotal issues in contemporary storytelling (pp. 107–128). Little Rock, AR: August House.
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    Bruchac, J. (1996). The continuing circle. In C. L.Birch & M. A.Heckler (Eds.), Who says? Essays on pivotal issues in contemporary storytelling (pp. 91–105). Little Rock, AR: August House.
    Denning, S. (2001). The springboard: How storytelling ignites action in knowledge-era organizations. Boston, MA: Butterworth Heinemann.
    Eisner, W. (1996). Graphic storytelling and visual narrative. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse Press.
    Kroeber, K. (2004). Native American storytelling. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
    McLuhan, M., & McLuhan, E. (1988). The laws of media. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
    Pink, D. (2006). Whole new mind. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
    Simmons, A. (2001). The story factor. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books Group.
    Toelken, B. (1996). The icebergs of folktale: Misconception, misuse and abuse. In C. L.Birch & M. A.Heckler (Eds.), Who says? Essays on pivotal issues in contemporary storytelling (pp. 34–63). Little Rock, AR: August House.
    Tyner, K. (1998). Literacy in a digital world: Teaching and learning in the age of information. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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