top of page

Academic and Personal Growth

The Sagan Series (3:46)

The Sagan Series is an educational project working in the hopes of promoting scientific literacy in the general population.

Digital Storytelling as an Assessment Practice

Review of the Literature

Digital Storytelling for Academic and Personal Growth

The term digital storytelling was briefly defined earlier in this review, however if this practice is going to be used for assessment purposes more explanation is required to fully appreciate the benefits of how digital storytelling can be utilized in an educational environment.  Digital storytelling revolves around the art of telling a story through the use of digital media (examples are images, audio and video). The story needs to have a theme or topic coming from a particular point of view or perspective and possess meaning within the framework.  The stories are usually under five minutes and include a variety of uses including personal experiences, historical events, meaningful content or instructions on a particular subject. 

Digital storytelling roots go back to the 1990’s when Dana Atchley first coined the term as he was experimenting with the use of multimedia elements in the workshops he offered at the American Film Institute on storytelling performances (Robin, 2006). In 1994, he along with Joe Lambert and Nina Mullen started the San Francisco Digital Media Center, which evolved into the Center for Digital Storytelling, a non-profit, community art organization in Berkley, California.  This Center still provides training and assistance to people interested in creating and sharing their personal narratives.  To get a fuller understanding about the history of the digital storytelling it would benefit the reader to go to this website to listen to Joe Lambert tell his own story:


The Digital Storytelling Cookbook was created by Joe Lambert and gives detailed instructions on how to “bake” a digital story.  Below  is a table describing the seven elements of digital storytelling.

The Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling


A Point of View

“Owning Your Insights”

  • What is the perspective of the author?

  • What is the story you want to tell? 

  • What do you think your story means?


A Dramatic Question

“Finding the Moment”


  • What is the question that will be answered by the end of the story?

  • What was the moment(s) when something changed?

  • Can you describe the meaning of that moment in detail?


The Emotional Content

“Owning Your Emotions”

  • What is the serious issue that speaks to us in a personal and powerful way?

  • Which emotions will best help the audience understand the journey contained in your story?

  • Is there an overall tone that captures the central theme?


The Gift of Media

“Seeing Your Story”


  • What images come to mind when recalling the moment of change in the story?

  • What do these images convey to the story?

  • How do you but these images together to create meaning?


The Power of Voice and Sound

“Hearing Your Story”

  • How will your own voice support the story?

  • Will music or sounds support the storyline?

  • Does the sound enhance or interfere with the story?


The Economy

“Assembling Your Story”

  • How is the story presented in a way to not overload the audience with to much information?

  • How are you scripting or organizing your story?

  • Does your story have a beginning, middle and end?


The Pace

“Sharing Your Story”

  • Who is your target audience?

  • Does the story have a pace that will engage, but not confuse or lose the audience?

  • What was your purpose in sharing this story?


Lambert, J. (2010). The Digital Storytelling Cookbook. Digital Diner Press. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-SharAlike 2.5 License. To view this license, visit:

The Educarional Use of Digital Storytelling

Within the College of Education at the University of Houston there is a group exploring ways in which digital storytelling can be used for educational purposes.  The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling website was created almost ten years ago and has evolved into a resource for educators and students interested in integrating digital storytelling into educational activities. 


Over the years Bernard Robin, the professor who leads the educational uses of digital storytelling website has researched this area and discovered that it creates a strong foundation for many 21st Century literacies including:


1) Digital literacy – the ability to discuss issues, gather information and seek help,

2) Global literacy – the ability to create messages from a global perspective,

3) Technology literacy – the ability to use computers and other technologies,

4) Visual literacy – the ability to communicate through visual images,

5) Information literacy– the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information

    (Robin, 2006).


When a student participates in the digital storytelling process the following skills can be developed: research, writing, organization, technology, presentation, interview, interpersonal, problem solving and assessment.  However, there are some challenges when creating digital stories.  Some of these include: trouble formulating an educationally sound story, access to technology tools necessary to create a digital story, issues of copyright and intellectual property of others, and time factor to learn all the elements that go into digital storytelling (Robin, 2006).


To get a real feel of feel of the experience take a tour through some of the digital stories that have been created by the students at the University of Houston at this link:  

Here are some recommended stories:

1) Robin’s Market, 2) The Path I Choose, 3) Famine and Emigration

21st Century Fluency Project, Narratives and Digital Storytelling

The pedagogical practice of morphing from teacher-centered learning to student-centered instruction is important in working with digital storytelling.  The creation of one’s own story draws upon the experience and knowledge of the students and creates a social awareness for a community of learners.  This type of pedagogy draws upon 21st Century fluency by suggesting learning be active and engaging (21st Century Fluency Project, 2011).  Creating narratives promotes creative and critical thinking skills in students both in and out of the classroom environment.


Storytelling can be used more effectively when the teller uses a narrative lens.  There is power in using personal stories or narratives to convey knowledge.  We construct the meaning of life and knowledge through the story telling process. Digital storytelling enables the teller to weave their narrative with a palette of various media.  However, there is caution that the narrative should not be eclipsed by the gleam of technology (Garcia & Rossiter, 2010).  In research conducted by Garcia & Rossiter, they pose the question, “Why does a narrative orientation matter to our educational applications of digital storytelling?”  Their findings consider three answers.  First, today’s students need to be able to express themselves through narratives.  Storytelling, meaning making, big picture thinking and pattern recognition are an essential skill for 21st century students. Next, students need to have an interpretive space to create their own meaning.  They need to have the ability to take knowledge and make it their own through the constructive, interpretive and contextual nature of a narrative. Finally, the learning outcomes for digital storytelling include the five literacies of the 21st century skills – digital, global, technology, visual, and informational along with empathy, self-understanding and community building.  The overall findings from this study show that educators must have an appreciation of narrative orientation to effectively employ digital storytelling as a tool for teaching and learning.

D.U.S.T.Y. - Digital Underground Storytelling for Youth

Digital storytelling can be a powerful tool for personal growth and the development of positive self-identities as demonstrated from data gathered in a study on the uses of technology and literacy to bridge a digital divide in the San Francisco Bay area.  Participants in this study were part of a community technology center called D.U.S.T.Y (Digital Underground Storytelling for Youth -  Through the use of digital storytelling they described pivotal moments in their lives and envisioned their future.  They used narrative digital storytelling to discover who they are, share their unique experiences and explore their possible future pathways in life.


Two individuals were focused upon in the findings, the first is a young man named Randy who is 24 years old and the second is a 13-year-old girl named Dara.  The use of technology in the form of digital storytelling helps to blur the age difference between adulthood and adolescence.  This project crosses ages and generations to offer an opportunity to view how people grow and change through the course of a lifetime. These findings reveals how the use of new literate space (digital storytelling) can be a powerful tool for helping all individuals develop positive self-identities, reflect upon current circumstances, and inspire thought about hopeful futures.


Randy’s narrative digital story bares his very deep feeling and creativity with this statement:

“Some rules are meant to be broken, some doors are meant to be opened and regardless of race, we all mostly come from the same place, love.  This is life in rhyme.”

During this statement Randy chose to play a series of photographs he had taken in the digital storytelling workshop.  This man truly made a connection to his feelings and the world through the digital storytelling process.


Dara was different from Randy in that she was a shy girl who over time created several digital stories.  The first was about the death of her grandfather the next was about a cartoon character and the last one was about the death of Selena.  The facilitators watched as Dara came out of her shell and became a self-assertive individual who developed into a competent and knowledgeable writer.

This study demonstrates that individuals who may have a difficult time in a traditional environment can soar in other types of learning environments and through different modes of communication.  Digital storytelling is one avenue that can help open up a world of self-expression for those who may have not found their voice (Hull & Katz, 2006).


As demonstrated in this section, digital storytelling can have a powerful influence upon the creators and the viewers.  The product of digital storytelling can be used for many purposes in the educational setting.  It can be a tool for helping to build self-identity and it can become an instrument for the demonstration of learning outcomes or for the passing on of knowledge.  In the next section the use of technology for the construction of digital stories will be discussed in light of assessment practices.

bottom of page