Frequently-Asked Questions about Digital Storytelling

I frequently receive e-mails asking different questions about digital storytelling. I realize that many of the answers are buried on my website. So this page contains links to specific pages or websites where these answers can be found. If you have other questions not addressed here, send me an e-mail.

  1. What is a Digital Story?
  2. Why should I create a digital story?
  3. How do I get started in creating my own personal digital story?
  4. What technology tools can I/we use to create digital stories?
  5. What do I put into a digital story?
  6. How do I publish my digital story?
  7. Where is the research? What evidence do we have about the effectiveness of digital storytelling as a learning strategy?

Here is a very popular Slideshare presentation that I posted several years ago.

Digital Storytelling
View more presentations from Helen Barrett

What is a Digital Story?

Digital Storytelling is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling. Digital stories derive their power by weaving images, music, narrative and voice together, thereby giving deep dimension and vivid color to characters, situations, experiences, and insights.
- Digital Storytelling Association

A digital story is a a 2-to-4 minute digital video clip, most often told in first person narrative, recorded with your own voice, illustrated mostly with still images, and with an optional music track to add emotional tone.

Here are some examples of digital stories (requires a high speed connection to the Internet to view)
Some well known website with digital stories: Capture Wales (requires RealOne Player), Dana Atchley's Next Exit, The Dostal Project

Why should I create a digital story?

There are numerous reasons, but first and foremost, it is fun, inspiring, exciting, and helps build 21st Century communication skills. Developing personal digital stories can be healing. There is evidence that storytelling contributes to deep learning. For further details, see these articles and online videos (requires QuickTime and a high speed connection to the Internet to view)

Digital Stories in Electronic Portfolios - ePortfolio as a Digital Story of Learning (video)
Digital Family Stories website - Why to do a Digital Family Story (video)

How do I get started in creating my own digital story?

The first step is to figure out the purpose for the story and who will be the audience.

Digital storytelling links
How to prepare for a digital storytelling workshop. There is a short video covering the preparation process.


What technology tools can I/we use to construct a digital story?

There are a variety of technology tools available to create digital stories. You will need to be able to edit images, record audio, and edit video. This list of recommended tools contains links to free or low cost software to construct these stories.

What do I put into a digital story?

The Center for Digital Storytelling has identified Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling; the first three have to do with the construction of the story content; the last four have to do with the technical construction of the digital story:
  1. A Point (of View): Stories are told to make a point and should not be presented as a recitation of mere facts. Define the premise of your story so that all parts can serve to make the point. Consider your audience and direct the point to them.
  2. A Dramatic Question: You want to capture your audience’s attention at the beginning of the piece and hold their interest throughout. Typically you want to pose the dramatic question in the opening lines and resolve it in the closing lines.
  3. Emotional Content: Emotional content can help hold your audiences attention. The images, effects, music and tone of voice all lend to contributing emotion to the piece. Try to keep the elements consistent with the emotion of the moment.
  4. The Gift of Your Voice: Most likely the first time you heard your recorded voice you couldn’t stand the way it sounded. And you still can’t. Suggestion….get over it! Your voice is a great gift and even thought you don’t like to hear it, others do. If you “read” your script your audience will not know how to react. Take time to learn and practice your script so you can speak in a conversational voice. Record several takes and select the best one. Trust that your audience will think it is perfect
  5. The Power of The Soundtrack: Music is a big plus to a digital story. The right music can set the story in time and can convey emotion. Play music behind an image and a specific emotion is generated. Change the music behind the same image and an entirely different emotion is experienced. Sound effects can add tension and excitement to a piece, but be careful, they can be a distraction too.
  6. Economy: A compact, fast moving digital story will contain only those elements necessary to move the audience from beginning to end. We know that our brains are constantly filling in (from our own experiences) details from suggestions made by sights and sounds. Don’t give every detail to clarify your story, let your audience fill in some of the blanks.
  7. Pacing: The rhythm of the piece is what keeps your audience’s interest in the story. Music tempo, speech rate, image duration, and panning and zooming speed all work to establish pace. Generally pace will be consistent, but once in a while it will pause, accelerate, decelerate, stop or blast-off. 

How do I publish my digital story?

You will want to consider a variety of electronic containers for publishing your digital story: CD-ROM, Videotape, the Internet and DVD. Here are a few websites where video can be published:
Comprehensive list
Our Media - a new, non-profit site, to provide online space for anyone to post media under GPL
YouTube- the most popular site
Current TV - a combined website and new satellite television channel for grass-roots media publishing

Where is the research? What evidence do we have about the effectiveness of digital storytelling as a learning strategy?

The research is just being conducted. Caleb Paull completed a doctoral dissertation in 2002 entitled, Self-Perceptions and Social Connections: Empowerment through Digital Storytelling in Adult Education (University of California, Berkeley). His findings "focus on the ways in which creating digital stories seem to help create a sense of personal and social agency and empowerment in the students, a space for reevaluation and moving forward."

Teacher Tom Techszewski has begun a Masters Thesis Project on Digital Storytelling. His blogs document his research process.

©2005, Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D. - Updated January 16, 2012