Storytelling might just be one of the most longstanding traditional methods of instruction, with stories having been in existence long before recorded history. Typically, storytelling fits into one of two categories: spontaneous or predetermined (Alterio, 2002).
Spontaneous stories can be used when relating something significant, funny, or frustrating that has recently occurred. Usually the storyteller feels compelled to share this story.
Predetermined stories are those that the teller has given great thought to, reflecting on the story, having already shared bits and pieces with family or friends or perhaps having written about them in a journal or a blog. Predetermined stories are expected to bring about the most learning.
Contemporary storytelling often occurs through the use of digital media and is known as digital storytelling. Building off the traditional approach to writing stories on paper, digital storytelling goes beyond the written word to include digital resources such as graphics, animation, audio, and video. Educational use of digital stories typically fits into the following three categories:
- Personal narratives
- Stories that inform or instruct
- Stories that examine historical events
How to Use Storytelling
The following are some of the ways this teaching approach is used to engage students:
Student created stories
- Final report: Students create a final report on a project required for the course
- Point of view: Students are asked to research a topic and then choose a particular point of view from which to create a story about their research topic.
Instructor created stories
- Teaser: Instructors can create a teaser for a class topic to gain student interest and boost motivation
- Introduction: Instructors can create an overview or introduction to new material, creating a sense of anticipation and intrigue, capturing student attention and interest in new ideas.
- Increasing level of understanding: Instructors can create stories that make abstract or conceptual content more understandable, perhaps based on real-world application or students’ prior learning.
Impact on Learning
According to research by Alterio, (2002. p.2), using storytelling in instruction can impact learning through:
- Encouraging cooperative activity
- Encompassing holistic perspectives
- Valuing emotional realities
- Linking theory to practice
- Stimulating students’ critical thinking skills
- Capturing complexities of situations
- Revealing multiple perspectives
- Making sense of experience
- Encouraging self-review
- Constructing new knowledge
- Acknowledging cultural and contextual realities
According to Ohler (2015), the following criteria should be considered as part of the assessment process for evaluating student storytelling. These criteria can easily be provided in the form of a rubric. Further suggestions for assessment of digital and traditional storytelling is available online at http://www.jasonohler.com/storytelling/assessmentWIX.cfm.
Story: How well did the story work?
Project planning: Is there evidence of solid planning, in the form of story maps, scripts, storyboards, etc.?
Research: Was the student’s project well researched and documented?
Content understanding: How well did the student meet the academic goals of the assignment and convey an understanding of the material addressed?
Assignment criteria: Provide clear criteria and stick to them, for example, stories are required to be under two minutes, use no more than 10 images and 30 seconds of music and provide citations in MLA format.
Writing: What was the quality of the student’s written work exhibited in the planning documents, research, etc.?
Originality, voice, and creativity: How creative was the production?
Economy: Was the information presented through the story sifted, prioritized, and told without straying from the main point?
Flow, organization and pacing: Was the story well organized? Did it flow well, moving smoothly from part to part?
Presentation: How effective was the student’s actual presentation of the story?
Sense of audience: How well did the story respect the needs of the audience?
Media application: Was the use of media appropriate, supportive of the story, balanced and well considered?
Citations, permission: Has everything that is not original been properly credited?
Digital Storytelling in Canvas
In Canvas, instructors and students can use VoiceThread to create and share digital storytelling projects. VoiceThread is an online communication and presentation tool that can be used to create stories that easily share images, videos, voice comments, documents, and written comments. Penn State provides students and faculty access and support to using VoiceThread at the website.
The following is a sampling of the technologies that can be used for digital storytelling:
Animoto: A web-based tool that allows you to bring motion to your presentations.
Blurb: Blurb Mobile lets you tell stories on the go. This iOS app allows you to sequence photos and videos and add audio or background music to make a short story.
iMovie: This video creation and editing software for Macintosh computers is also available for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch.
Things to Consider
For successful implementation of storytelling, you should consider the following strategies:
- Give careful consideration to the selection of storytelling as the best option for your students to learn the content being taught.
- Select the best form of storytelling (spontaneous or predetermined) that best suits the needs of your students.
- Identify the learning outcomes to be achieved by students through storytelling.
- Determine how to accommodate for confidentiality and anonymity issues before they arise.
Alan Levine, “50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story,” 50+ Ways to Tell a Story (blog), Wiki Spaces, May 12, 2014, https://50ways.wikispaces.com/Home.
Alterio, Maxine. “Using Storytelling to Enhance Student Learning.” The Higher Education Academy. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/241678570_Using _storytelling_to_enhance_student_learning.
Buffo, Sal S. “The Power of Storytelling in the College Classroom.” Faculty Focus. Last modified on January 9, 2015. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/power-storytelling-college-classroom/.
“Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling.” University of Houston. http://digitalstorytelling.coe.uh.edu/index.cfm.
Ohler, Jason. “Digital and Traditional Storytelling, Part IV – Assessing Digital Stories, New Media Narrative.” jasonohler.com. http://www.jasonohler.com/storytelling/assessmentWIX.cfm.
“Web 2.0 Resources.” Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, University of Houston.