Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Digital storytelling sounds like the type of project that only the most skilled of technology practitioners dare attempt. The truth is there are several modern ways to tell a “story” in the age-old tradition of sharing oral histories.

The ability to incorporate multimedia tools into the storytelling model greatly enriches the power of the story while creating the opportunity for students to reach a much wider audience beyond the four walls of the classroom. Digital storytelling typically consists of a series of photos or video enhanced by music and narration.

The modern “story” has been defined by what many have referred to as the “Ken Burns Effect.” Ken Burns, the creator of such documentaries as The Civil War, Baseball, and The War, used still images with a “pan and zoom” technique layered with a soundtrack and narration to bring historical pictures to life. The “pan and zoom” involves moving the camera back and forth across an image or zooming in and out to highlight a particular region of the picture. The style is simple, but it is an innovative means for telling a story.

There are several software tools for organizing a simple slideshow for digital photos. However, a digital story is far more than a parade of random snapshots. A good digital story should be more like a well written book or a memorable movie in the effect it has on the audience. This requires the creator to take a focused viewpoint while limiting the content to the essentials in order to communicate a specific message. A few examples can be found at A more thorough examination of digital storytelling can be found at

I believe in the value of digital storytelling in the classroom. A digital story project challenges students and can be incorporated into almost any subject area. A well-designed digital story project requires a student to research, plan (best when done using a storyboard), and synthesize what they have learned. Research skills, effective communication, and opportunities for higher order thinking fit naturally with the storytelling process. A few implementation ideas are as follows:

  • a historical biography (especially those individuals that have been overlooked by history, such as the role of minorities in World War II)
  • retelling a piece of literature from the perspective of a specific character
  • illustrating parts of speech
  • highlighting a scientific process· conveying a technical process
  • demonstrating cause and effect
  • sharing poetry
  • creating a summary of text or ideas

There are multiple programs for creating digital stories. Below is a list of the more popular programs:

1. Microsoft PhotoStory 3

  • Cost: Free with a valid copy of Windows XP
  • Platform: Windows Only· Automatically adds the “Ken Burns Effect”
  • An excellent tool for working with digital pictures, and my personal favorite
  • Very easy to use, perfect for students of all ages and abilities.

2. Windows Movie Maker 2.1

  • Cost: Free with a valid copy of Windows XP
  • Platform: Windows Only
  • Images and videos can be added to create a story
  • A basic movie editor that can be learned quickly

3. Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0

  • Cost: $100
  • Platform: Windows or Mac
  • A powerful tool from Adobe with the user in mind. Some previous experience editing video or with Adobe products is
  • recommended.

4. Cyberlink Power Director 6

  • Cost: $80
  • Platform: Windows or Mac
  • Several built in aids for editing pictures and videos in the creation of professional looking product.

5. Apple iMovie

  • Cost: Free with Mac operating system
  • Platform: Mac
  • An easy to use application for creating digital stories from pictures or videos.
  • Includes the option for adding the “Ken Burns Effect.”

6. Memory Miner

  • Cost: $45
  • Platform: Mac
  • Dynamic software for creating digital stories and sharing them online