Prepare Students for the Modern Workplace with Digital Storytelling

by Alex Gay

posted on 04-01-2019

With skills like cloud computing and artificial intelligence topping the charts for in-demand work skills, should professors bother encouraging skills like digital storytelling? The answer is yes. Digital storytelling helps develop digital literacy skills that are increasingly in demand in the modern workplace.

Digital storytelling “is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories.” It fits nicely into the development of digital literacy, the power to use digital tools, enabling students to solve problems, create innovative projects, and enhance communications to prepare for the challenges of an evolving workplace. Digital storytelling is a worthy pursuit for students because it enhances interpersonal relationships, helps students synthesize knowledge, and improves overall digital literacy.

Storytelling enhances interpersonal relationships and self-knowledge

When students research and tell stories, they are able to take on the role of those whose stories they are telling. Although the students’ and subjects’ values differ, students may discover similarities at the level of core values. Discovering these similarities helps students better understand opposing perspectives, which facilitates better interpersonal relationships.

For example, Sheffield Hallam University Faculty of Health and Wellbeing and Pilgrim Projects Limited in Cambridge collaborated on a project called Patient Voices. One of the project’s goals is to produce and distribute digital stories about healthcare professionals and patients. Where do students come in? Students helped storytellers create their digital stories, a process which includes not only using digital technology but also curating honest and compelling stories.

For the student-helpers, the results were surprising: students who participated in creating digital stories reported improved self-esteem and confidence. One might think that telling others’ stories might increase empathy but not necessarily self-esteem. But as students focused on creatively showcasing others’ stories, their self-confidence improved. And, as it turns out, self-confidence is an important factor in healthy interpersonal relationships.

Storytelling helps students synthesize and apply knowledge

Storytelling helps students understand their subject of study more deeply; it also helps instructors assess how well their students are understanding the subject matter. This could be key in today’s increasingly outcome-driven approach to higher education.

“Performance-based assessment offers a valuable alternative (or supplement) to the standard forms of student evaluation,” said Steven Mintz, a writer at Insider Higher Ed. “Performance-based assessment requires students to solve a real-world problem or to create[,] perform, or produce something with real-world application. It allows an instructor to assess how well students are able to use essential skills and knowledge, think critically and analytically, or develop a project. It also offers a measure of the depth and breadth of a student’s proficiencies.”

Matthijs Clasener, who teaches media design, video and animation at the Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam, designed a lesson plan for students to use Adobe Premiere Rush to edit videos for social media.

“Editing a video is one thing, but getting impact on social media is important too,” he said.

Through digital storytelling projects like this one, students fulfill the requirement to “produce something with a real-world application,” as Mintz described. They’re prepared for a world that is ever more reliant on social media to communicate.

In a similar vein, Bernard Robin, an associate professor of learning, design, and technology, encourages educators to assign students to create a digital story rather than write a paper.

“Digital storytelling operates across so many dimensions that I believe enable students to more fully demonstrate their knowledge,” Robin said. “I try to encourage my students to bring whatever they are passionate about to their projects.”

One of Robin’s students told a digital story about how the historic hurricane in Galveston, Texas, influenced the tornado scene in “The Wizard of Oz.” This project showed how digital storytelling is useful across disciplines.

“This [project] is a great example of the power digital storytelling has to unleash students’ creativity and capabilities,” Robin said. “As a teacher, what you want to do is facilitate broad learning. This student weaved art, film, history and geography into an incredible piece of work that would have been all but impossible in a traditional paper. Best of all, they’ll remember this project forever.”

Storytelling improves overall digital literacy

Digital storytelling is one way students can develop digital literacy.

“A number of studies have revealed that adopting digital storytelling not only helps bridge the high-tech world outside the classroom and traditionally low-tech setting, but also motivates students to learn through the creation of personal stories,” according to research from the University of Hong Kong. “Digital storytelling provides an opportunity for students to solve problems and gain competence with technology through practice and experimentation.”

The study followed three students who were studying business, finance, and journalism, respectively. Over a thirteen-week period, each student created a digital story. The researchers compared students’ digital literacy at the beginning and end of the study and found that in each case, digital literacy had improved.

“Students improved the digital competence . . . regardless of their prior knowledge of digital competence through digital storytelling,” the researchers found. “The results of the present study suggest that the students’ digital literacy in terms of digital competence, digital usage, and digital transformation developed.” Specifically, they found that the benefits of digital storytelling include

For example, students in Guillermo Rodríguez’ first-year writing class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill produced “Anatomy of a Scene” videos using Adobe Premiere Pro. Through this project, students learned to “close-read various elements that go into composing a cinematic sequence within a larger film, both on a thematic and a technical level,” explained Rodríguez. Students conducted historical research on the period the film was made and analyzed how the time period may have influenced directorial choices. They then recorded audio commentary and uploaded their audio and clips from the movie into Premiere Pro.

This project developed students’ overall digital literacy skills, as well as their video-making skills specifically. They learned to solve problems, create an innovative project, and enhance communications, all preparing them for the challenges of an evolving workplace.

Digital storytelling, using software like Adobe Spark, has serious benefits for students. It enhances personal relationships, helps students synthesize knowledge, and improves overall digital literacy.

Take advantage of our digital literacy resources to easily incorporate digital storytelling into your curricula.

Topics: Industry, Education, digital literacy,

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