How to tell stories digitally (ISTE12 workshop)

Jason giving it his all in our workshop.


The following are my notes and take-aways from the ISTE12 workshop given by Jason Ohler titled “Finding the Digital Storyteller Within.” He did a great job, and I highly recommend to anyone interested in digital stories (more on this below) that they attend one of his workshops (the longer, the better). In the meantime, he has a blog, a book about Digital Storytelling, his slides for the session, and a real extensive Web site.

Here is what he stated in his introductory Web page about the workshop:

I am all about story development, planning and execution. We just happened to be using digital technology to do it.

Think “new media narrative” rather than stories
I think the word “story” erroneously implies fiction, language arts, Walt Disney. Not the case. That is why I prefer the term “new media narrative.” I will show examples of “math stories,” documentaries created in social studies, and other kinds of new media projects that attest to the fact that new media narrative is a powerful alternative to essays and reports.

And, so, that is what we did, and this is what I learned.

Key take-aways

The following are key points that he discussed during our session. I have tried to include links to his Web site for supporting details. I can’t emphasize enough how useful these are.

Scripting a story
He takes us through two processes for creating a digital story. He also took us through the story core and story mapping process. His Green screen storytelling project provided a good example to get a better idea of what he was talking about. We all found these tools to be simply great for evaluating whether a story is good and also to create a good story ourselves.
Assessment rubric
He also provided a ton of details about assessment. His basic story was to be clear that you’re not just going to be blown away by moving pictures on a screen — you’re going to grade them on the underlying narrative (see above) and lots of other things. This is the only way that they will get better!
He made this point over and over again: it’s the underlying story/narrative that is most important. The visuals and videos that accompany the narrative are supportive.
Words first
When creating a digital story, the student should create the story and narrative first; once this is done, then they should focus on the images. This is the opposite of what is usually done.

Software and sites

Jason barely mentioned the technology, other than little hints for us. Here are some of the sites that he mentioned:

  • Use for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
  • For music he also uses
  • For photos he likes
  • He uses Perfect Resize (formerly Genuine Fractals), an add-on to Photoshop ($100 right now) that can be used to up-size a photograph. This allows him to use a 300×500 photo that he might have gotten from a site for free, and then use this software to make it useful at full-screen size.
  • He subscribes to for photos and (what else) clip art. He always prefers that students take the photos themselves, but he realizes there are limitations to what they have time to do.

And that’s it. He did a great job of giving us an overall framework for how to create compelling stories and how to evaluate the digital stories that students create. I will be using all of this myself as I create videos during the upcoming year for my blended class.

Detailed notes

Here are my notes from the class. I’m not sure that anyone would find this useful, but I’m keeping it here just in case.

  1. He is going to give us guidelines for creating digital stories. He will give us a skeleton and we will change it based on our audience. This will be a starting point.
  2. Digital storytelling in the classroom; Digital community, Digital Citizen — both books by Jason Ohler
  3. He has a blog:
  4. His presentation is New Media Crash Course presentation on his web site. (Link later.)
  5. This is about structuring stories.
  6. Teachers as “door openers” for the students. Which door is for which student?
  7. Watched a video produced by a kid. It was really good, but the production values were terrible. But the story was awesome. (About his bunny, Fuzzy Lumpkins the Sith Lord.)
  8. Most media that he sees is not very good. The coherent narrative is not very good. It’s hard to go from reading to writing, and it’s hard to go from watching media to creating media.
  9. We are afraid to give strong, critical, useful feedback on student media work.
  10. Worst infraction by students is that the music is too loud. Don’t ever give up Executive Producer role for students.
  11. Tell students to watch TV and see how they do transitions. Do they use checkerboards? No, I didn’t think so.
  12. Key resources:
    • Green screen storytelling project:
      1. plan, permissions, paint.
      2. Tell the story
      3. Map the story
      4. Teach storytelling (Who’s line is it anyway?)
      5. Do the unit of instruction
      6. Storystorming
      7. Students tell their stories; get kids to move with their stories, there’s something kinesthetic about creating a written story.
      8. Students write their stories (notice that this is the end)
      9. Students tell, retell and peer critique stories
      10. Students create background artwork
      11. Students scan artwork
      12. Students perform in front of the green wall. (Get students to teach each other.)
      13. Students record their performance
      14. Students create background music for titles.
      15. Students are trained in chroma editing
      16. Students add artwork
      17. Students edit, master and help each other
    • Digital storytelling site: a great section on Assessment for digital stories and new media narrative projects. Also information on copyright and fair use. Here is where to start.
    • music impact
    • Use for free music. This is better than GarageBand but it costs a little money.
    • Story proof? by Havens (he loves it)
    • There is a grammar associated with camera work. Ask him how to learn about this!!!
    •, also
    • Genuine Fractals, add-on to photoshop that can be used to up-size a photograph
    • He subscribes to for photos
  13. Become aware of the music you hear when you’re watching media. NBC uses lots of music; it’s a cheap way to pull at the heart instead of with good writing.
  14. Music is the adjectives and adverbs of your story.
  15. Literacy: therefore, we need to be able to write well whatever we read. We need to say that creating this media is now just as important as being able to watch the media (e.g., read text).
  16. Homework can be a media collage now. How can we do this well?
  17. Digital storytelling is cliche. It should be “new media narrative.”
  18. He thinks it’s hard to look at a storyboard and tell if the story is going to be good or not.
  19. He tells a story about a little girl helping a CIO in front of a big audience.
  20. Stories are highly efficient information containers.
  21. Stories have to have “personal transformation” in a story or it isn’t memorable. There needs to be something to hang your emotional hat on. There has to be a problem, question, inquiry, goal — something that makes you lean forward in your chair. The discovery has to be complete. No “stay tuned next week.”
  22. Think about a “story” versus “bullet list.” Think about how memorable the two are.
  23. He shows a video, a math story called “ball”. How to animate a rolling ball. They presented a problem (of the ball skidding across the sand). What are they going to do about that? Note that didn’t have to have the problem! They gave us a problem that drew us into the video.
  24. Traditionally storyboard. He doesn’t use that.
  25. Visual portrait of the story: beginning, problem (tension) -> solution (resolution) [this is the transformation], end.
  26. Transformation: emergence, rebalancing. From new you to the old you. Physical/kinesthetic, inner strength, emotional, moral, psychological, social, intellectual/creative (learning, problem solving, critical thinking, realizing new understandings, spiritual. The key is that characters have to realize something or there isn’t a good story involved.
  27. Use the photos that I took here. He includes a bunch of Maps; includes the work of McKee.
  28. McKee says you need to move toward goal, away from goal, toward the goal, away from the goal. Do this alot, it draws us in.
  29. Story spine by Kenn Adams. Great summary.
  30. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  31. Simple rubric: story (flow), media use (alignment), research (well done), narrative production (bumpless), writing (meets your standards), planning (process followed), voice/creativity (present). The media has to fit the narrative; does the picture show a dog? For media alignment, you need to give structured feedback about specific moments in a video.
  32. Story creation process: plan, write (write 1/2 to 1 page; keep it under 3 minutes for student work; but if this is a final project for semester, could be longer), put (writing into a two column table), describe media, speak/record, get media. This is huge! Use this in a class. The peer pitch is your elevator pitch; is it clear, interesting, problem clear, solution clear.
  33. A two column table: narrative on left, image description and emotion description on right.
  34. Have the student record/listen/rewrite. They will do this a lot because they don’t like how it sounds.
  35. Be sure to have them do just audio first. Go back and do the images later.
  36. Get media later.
  37. Now it’s technical: create the title page; add pictures and video; add citations, music, transitions and effects; export to something youtube can understand; perform it publicly (makes a big difference to students).
  38. He has a media development checklist (photo).
  39. Story storming: a process to elicit a story from them. Problem/question? Then Solution/answer. Then Learning/transformation. Get them to tell me a problem; wait until you get a juicy one (“don’t like school”). What are the solutions or answers to that? Write down several different choices. Look for learning/transformation associated with each. Some don’t have one here, so that’s not a good story. The good ones have a lot to do in this area.
  40. Documentary options: 3rd person narrator; 1st person protagonist (I don’t understand whatever, come with me as I discover; Michael Moore); 1st person included (he gives the 3rd person, but he includes personal stories; Ken Burns); 1st immersive (media created through the viewpoint of being that person, from that person’s eyes; King John story)
  41. He has us come up with a story ourselves.

One thought on “How to tell stories digitally (ISTE12 workshop)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *