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Rites of Passage by Nikiko Masumoto (3:53)

Nikiko compares her own educational experiences with those of her grandmother who graduated from high school at a concentration camp for US citizens of Japanese descent during WWII.

Digital Storytelling as an Assessment Practice

Review of the Literature

Use of Technology for Digital Storytelling and Assessment

Confessions of a Digital Storytelling Teacher

The use of digital technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades and its rapid growth will continue to amaze even the most innovative thinkers.  In Jason Olher’s book, Confessions of a Digital Storytelling Teacher (2013), he reflects on the use of technology in the classroom since the early 80’s with the introduction of the personal computer.   Here are a few of his insights:


  • It is the special responsibility of the teacher to ensure that the students use the technology to serve the story and not the other way around.

  • Learning communities are storytelling communities.

  • Stories help us make sense out of the chaos of life.

  • Story provides a powerful metaphor, framework and set of practical processes for resolving issues, educating ourselves and pursuing our goals.

  • Stories help us remember.

  • Digital stories allow today’s students to pursue academic content in their own language or modality.

  • Digital stories combine traditional and emerging literacies, engaging otherwise reluctant students in literacy development.

  • Digital story creation offers an effective means to teach media literacy and skills that are transferable to other endeavors.

  • Digital storytelling helps students develop creativity and innovation skills needed to solve important problems in imaginative ways.

  • Teachers are needed to assist students with both the technology and the guidance to tell stories with clarity and humanity (Ohler, 2013). 


His insights into the use of digital storytelling are helpful in framing this mode of learning for assessment purposes.  Unfortunately, many people believe that the simple use of technology in education should somehow make students smarter, but this is like saying the when students use the pencil it makes them smarter.   Yet as this debate wages on our students are becoming more engaged with digital devices both for recreational and academic use.   Currently, our educational system is not keeping up in assisting students in how to use these technologies for demonstrating skills, creativity and literacies for real world practices.  For our students to be competitive in the global economy educators need to recognize that learning how to understand and create new media is an important relevant skill (Pink, 2006).


Ohler (2013) gives three compelling reasons to assess new media.  The first is that new media still consist of old media.  Reading and writing is very much a part of the new literacies production process and can provide a way to motivate students to engage in traditional literacy.  Secondly, new media has become part of what it means to be literate.  Teaching new media needs to be approached in a proactive, instead of in a reactive way that will eventually lead to a scenario of playing catch up.  Finally, more learning opportunities are becoming readily available outside of the formal educational structure.  Students can bypass parts of traditional school to find other sources of information, education and social interaction.  The educational system is at a critical crossroad in having to decide whether to choose to become part of the technical ecosystem and guide students through the perils of technology or letting them find their own way.


One major question that arises is how do teachers go about assessing student’s learning with the use of new media.  Fortunately, Ohler (2013) gives some insight into a practice he has developed over his years of working with digital storytelling.  He does recommend the use of rubrics for transparency of grading, however he warns about this structure being too restrictive for a creative, subjective process.  He has created a list of ideas that are useful when one is assessing digital stories. Below are his ideas to keep in mind when evaluating a digital story:


  • Set clear goals

    • Does the story meet the guidelines of the assignment?

  • Assess the story

    • Are storytelling principles used effectively?

  • Assess all of the artifacts created to develop the story           

    • How is the written part of the story?

  • Assess the planning and the process              

    • Were the planning skills demonstrated throughout the process?

  • Assess media grammar and use of media

    • Does the media support or distract from the story?

  • Assess understanding and presentation of the content

    • Did the student demonstrate understanding of the material?

    • Was it presented in a way to show that to the audience?

  • Assess any teamwork/collaboration and use of resources

    • What was the level of involvement with the team and resources?

  • Assess the final performance

    • Did the final project achieve what it was meant to accomplish?

  • Self-assessment or peer assessment can be useful

    • The use of a reflective piece around personal or peers work is a critical part of the creative growth process (Ohler, 2013).


As new media is destined to be the future, the choice to be actively engaged in creating assessments for new media or to let this opportunity just pass by will need to be made by educators.  The more proactive educational institutions are to accept the need for new media assessment the more prepared students will be to enter the environment in which they live.

Web 2.0

The introduction of Web 2.0 technologies has made the process of creating digital stories more accessible to the general population.  There are a few ways to define Web 2.0 technologies. For the purpose of this review, an article on Web 2.0 Storytelling (Alexander & Levine, 2008) will help to define the term Web 2.0.  There are three factors used to define Web 2.0: 1) microcontent – small amounts of information created in technology that is easy to access, use and transparent to the content; 2) social software – a platform structured around people interaction rather than the traditional computer hierarchies; 3) findability – the ability for the general public to find the content.  There is a fourth factor that could be added to this list, it would be the cost factor, however most Web 2.0 technologies are free or low cost to the users (Alexander & Levine, 2008).


There are many Web 2.0 technologies available to use in education. Alan Levine has created a wikispace dedicated to sharing these across the Internet.  The site is called 50+ Web 2.0 Ways To Share A Story ( Both Alexander and Levine believe that digital storytelling and the application of Web 2.0 technologies can be used in higher education as a composition platform for situations where students use stories to better communicate an important subject (example: or as a curricular object for a nonlinear approach to demonstration of a subject (example:


However, they do caution about engaging with technologies that are rapidly emerging and evolving as fast as the pace of the creative human mind.  Basically, when one lives on the cutting edge, one will tend to get cut and bleed.  If an investment is made in a new technology it may change or vanish as quickly as it appears, leaving teachers and students stranded in project without support or resources.  Yet this caution should only serve as a warning and not deter educators from using the technologies offered via Web 2.0.  Instead they should branch out exploring new technologies and strategies for engaging students to tell and share stories about themselves and the knowledge gained along their life journey (Alexander & Levine, 2008).

Pre-Service Teacher Study

The use of technology to teach digital literacy and provide a mechanism for students to demonstrate learning outcomes is becoming an essential skill set for students as they advance in their education and become productive citizens in a globally networked society.  This is demonstrated through a study of pre-service teachers in a teacher preparation program at a mid-western American university (Li, 2006).  These students used digital storytelling as one approach to building an e-portfolio through reflection and self-assessment. The study focused on digital storytelling and if it can enhance self-efficacy and improve digital literacy skills.  Other effects on education addressed in the study were:


1) traditional methods and new teaching approaches;

2) new learning objects for e-portfolios;

3) enhanced language, visual, and media literacy, and

4) meeting technology standards (Li, 2006).

In this study a mixed method of quantitative and qualitative methods was used to collect data.  Pre- and post- questionnaires were used to assess student’s knowledge and skills in areas of education knowledge, educational technology integration, general technology skills, and student perspective on multimedia applications.  The results of the study showed that students gained knowledge and improved skills in all areas throughout the digital storytelling project.  Therefore, the researchers found that digital storytelling was an effective approach in the enhancement of teaching and learning new literacies (Li, 2006).

This study showed the importance of having pre-service teachers implement the technology, to learn the technology.  By producing a digital storytelling piece for their own e-portfolio they were engaged in a series of cognitive learning processes.  They learned the technology, reflected upon their educational knowledge base, and discovered how to integrate educational technology into other educational environments.   In the future, this study could be a model of how to implement digital storytelling into teaching others about technology as literacy (Li, 2006).

Critical Discourse on Technology in the Classroom

Technology and the Internet can be one strategic channel for advancing teaching and learning through the practice of digital storytelling.  However, educators must be cautious when introducing technologies and the Internet into the classroom.  There are many inequalities in the use of technology and the Internet that reflects upon our society.  A critical eye must be used before we apply strategies involving technology and the Internet in the classroom environment.  A major factor to consider is the digital divide that exists in both the classroom and in our society. The divide is both political and economic in nature.

Technologies are emerging in schools with more reliance on computers and the Internet.  However, there has been little consideration for the potential impact upon effective and equitable teaching and learning practices.  We may have computers in every classroom, but we don’t have teachers in every classroom who know how to use them, nor do the students always come with prior knowledge of technology.  One assumption commonly made is the current generation of students, are “Digital Natives” and they already know how to use computers.  While they may know how to play games, participate in social media and “surf the Internet” for popular themes, they often do not know how to utilize educational or business technology and use it to its full potential?  As educators we have the responsibility to prepare students to effectively use technology and the Internet to become a productive, contributing citizen in our society. (Gorski, 2005). 

There is a chasm between technology and effective teaching practices. Questions need to be addressed on what is the most effective way to teach these lessons and how does technology fit into this schema? Many educators discover a “cool” technology and try to make it fit into the lesson, when in reality the lesson should come first, not the technology.  Technologies need to be understood and evaluated in the greater context of educational and societal framework before they are employed in the classroom.  The use of digital storytelling needs to be propelled through the lens of the narrative and the storytelling process, not driven by the technology vehicle.


Other Key Factors

One key factor that needs to be addressed with the use of technology and digital storytelling is the importance of the teacher in the equation.   Research has shown that the importance of integrating technology into the curriculum or the classroom is only effective if the teachers possess the expertise to use technology in a meaningful way (Sadik, 2008).  Teachers have the ability to support student learning by encouraging them to organize and express their thoughts, knowledge, and experiences in a significant ways (Robin, 2005).  Training teachers to use technology and becoming confident in their level of ability is a key factor in the success of using digital storytelling for assessment purposes.


One study conducted around online teaching had the teachers construct their own digital stories to establish social presence in the course (Lowenthal & Dunlap, 2010).  By actually creating a digital story, the teachers become familiar with the process and feel more comfortable when digital stories are introduced into the curriculum.  They learn valuable insight through the construction experience and give students an example of a digital storytelling project.


Establishing good pedagogy around technology plays a vital role in providing the crucial elements to making digital storytelling a success in the classroom. Another component that needs to be considered with the introduction of a new idea into the pedagogy are the theories that will be used to frame the choices.  In the next section, three theories will be considered in reference to digital storytelling as an assessment practice.


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