Linking literacy to technology (Digital Storytelling)

The present paper is dedicated to the one of the recently applied method in education based on the implementation of new technologies, namely, digital storytelling. Throughout the centuries, storytelling has been helping people to share their wisdom, invaluable knowledge, and values. This type of knowledge sharing may take different forms, from the circle of friends around the campfire to TV screen. Naturally, the integration of new technology changed almost all aspects of a human life; this way, storytelling took a digital form of representation in different areas (entertainment, education, public health, international development). Probably, the most notable contribution of digital storytelling can be traced in education, where it became an essential learning method and an effective tool (Behmer, 2005).

According to DeNatale (2008), “digital storytelling is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling” (p. 2). In other words, digital storytelling is a form of digital film-making that helps people to share different aspects of their life story. Wallace (n.d.) noted that this method is extremely advantageous for young students, since the implementation of digital storytelling makes children actively participate in the learning process, motivating and encouraging them to be honest, creative, and interesting for others.

The rapid development of high technologies and their application in the educational sphere of XXI century have led to the spreading of digital storytelling widely practiced in classrooms with learners of different age. Thus, the present study aims to give an in-depth understanding of digital storytelling applied in K-12 classrooms with the help of special free web 2.0 software and applications. The digital storytelling project presented in this paper will show an example of digital-storytelling practiced in real-life educational establishments. The overview of this project will be helpful, since it will give an opportunity to reveal the nature and application of the storytelling method in a classroom environment.

Overview of Digital Storytelling Project

In order to proceed to the overview of digital project itself, one should know the origins of digital storytelling in education, its basic principles, teacher’s experience, and other relevant information that provides an essential basis for the implementation of the chosen project model. According to Behmer (2005), the Center of Digital Storytelling (CDS) and other initiators were those who started practically implementing the concept of digital storytelling in real-life settings since early 1990s. They saw evident beneficial nature of digital storytelling in business (in particular, online marketing), policymaking, art, education, and other areas of people’s life (Behmer, 2005). The Digital Storytelling Association defined digital storytelling as a medium of self-expression through digital media to tell, share, and preserve a created media-rich story. Besides, “digital stories derive their power through weaving images, music, narrative and voice together, thereby giving deep dimension and vivid color to characters, situations, and insights” (Behmer, 2005, p. 8). As storytelling always considered being an effective method applied in educational establishments, in the end of XX century, digital storytelling stroked roots in education, and became an extremely popular tool applied in educational establishments.

In the beginning of XXI century, the CDS offered a model for teaching digital storytelling. This model can be expressed in the following seven principal elements of digital storytelling. In Behmer’s (2005) article, one may see them:

  • “a point of view” (the subject and point of author’s storytelling),
  • “a dramatic question” (the reason for storytelling, when the characters are looking for solution of the problem),
  • “emotional content” (emotional connection with a listener),
  • “the gift of your voice” (the storyteller’s voice is unique and meaningful),
  • “the power of the soundtrack” (carefully selected different music provides a listener with certain meanings and perceptions),
  • “economy” (properly used images in storytelling should correspond to the described events),
  • “pacing” (the rhythm and tempo convey the meaning of a story) (p. 11).

As one may see, the elements mentioned above fit the principles of oral digital storytelling widely spread among students of all ages. However, as the present work deals with K-12 classroom environment, the specific digital storytelling project should be overviewed. Tom Banaszewski (2002) was one of the first K-12 classroom teachers who applied the digital storytelling model applied in the sphere of secondary education (Behmer, 2005).

As a teacher, Banaszewski (2002) decided to implement his Place Project with forth and fifth grades. The teacher believed that digital storytelling is a wonderful opportunity for child’s creative self-expression that reveals his or her talented and original individuality. In this context, technology was perceived as a secondary assistive tool that helps a teller to brightly represent a story by providing others with necessary audio or visual materials that strengthen effects of storytelling. Thus, Web 2.0 applications used in the project should be treated as technologies that “empower students to be better communicators of their ideas” (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 53). For this reason, the Place Project supposed a learner to tell a story about an important place in his or her life (any place that makes a person comfortable, safe, and happy) using the innovative technologies (iMovie, KidPix, and iMac DVs were primarily used) only as an assistive storytelling tool (Banaszewski, 2002).

Banaszewski’s (2002) assumptions about digital storytelling in K-12 classroom environment help to understand his Place Project. For him, digital storytelling plays an extremely essential role in the child’s cognitive development and occupies a significant place in his or her learning process. Banaszewski understood storytelling as the primary activity; technology that creates additional dimensions (audio or visual) occupies a secondary place, and should be used only to ensure understanding of the story (Banaszewski, 2005).

His project began with the selection of a topic that responded to student’s interests and could be used to create “a meaningful story with a personal connection” (Behmer, 2005, p. 12). The story writing about an important place helped the students to reveal their earliest memory of this place, feelings associated with it, and significance of this place for their life. Thus, Banaszewski’s students wrote their stories, and then presented outlines. Then, using the mentioned software and applications, the students, added visual dimensions based on their written ideas. The learners were required “to include a hook to their introductions helped avoid the pitfall of creating merely a simple slide show” (Banaszewski, 2002, para. 8). Thus, the students added digital elements to their stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and supplemented them with appropriate pictures, music, and voice. The learners were motivated and encouraged to edit and evaluate each other’s digital stories. Besides, the students were as peer coaches who taught each other technology skills. This way, Banaszewski (2002) implemented a “story-coaching” approach “adapted from a professional storyteller” (Behmer, 2005, p. 13). Then, a teacher presented the students his own digital story about the place that was important for him. Finally, in the end of the project, Banaszewski as a teacher concluded, “everyone has a story about a place that is important to him or her, and that by using multimedia to develop and share those stories, we strengthen our understanding of our communities” (Banaszewski, 2002, para. 2). As one may see, shared teacher’s experience of implementation of digital storytelling in a classroom will undoubtedly provide a solid base for the project presented further in this paper.



Web 2.0 Digital Storytelling Applications

Many Web 2.0 digital storytelling tools that assist in the creation of scripts, images, sounds, and videos are extremely helpful for the learning process. The main power of Web 2.0 applications lie in the following piece of evidence: they are cost-effective, collaborative, accessible, motivational, and relevant. Besides, these tools enhance creativity, interpersonal communication, and collaboration. Today, Web 2.0 should be perceived as a paradigm shift and a metaphor for a new popular culture (or so called cyber culture). Such tools as Google Docs, Myna, Phoenix (Aviary Tools), and VoiceThread should be involved in the digital storytelling process, since these applications give an opportunity to design information in the desirable for a storyteller way (Barrett, 2005). In this section of the paper, the essence of the Web 2.0 applications for digital storytelling will be revealed, and some examples of the tools (mentioned above) that will be used in the project will be discussed.

In general, there is an essential concept associated with Web 2.0 applications that should be taken into consideration especially by a teacher who may decide to use them in the classroom practice. Such a widespread phenomenon as literacy should be mentioned and revealed. In a traditional sense, literacy supposes proper reading, writing, speaking, and listening. However, in the context of digital storytelling, literacy means the ability to use digital communication tools, networks, and other technologies to create, locate, use, and evaluate information. In its turn, informational literacy should be understood as the ability to identify what information needs to be involved and the ability to locate, use, and evaluate information in a proper way (Banaszewski, 2005). In the epoch of information growth and high technologies, literacy should be used at personal, popular, professional, and innovative levels. Correct usage of Web 2.0 tools in digital storytelling helps to spread literacy at all levels in the classroom and World Wide Web.

Telling stories with the help of digital technologies is a complex process that requires understanding and awareness from their user. For this reason, learners should be taught how to use Web 2.0 applications in a proper way. Digital stories are narratives created with the help of script, audio, image, and video editors. For example, Google Docs is a Web 2.0 script editor that helps a learner to create content for a story, in other words, meaningful text or relevant information (Barrett, 2005). For Alexander (2011), it is a wiki-style service supported by Google that takes an active part in digital storytelling. Google Docs is a free set of a beneficial online tool that represents a mixture of Word, Power Point, and Excel; as one may see, this Web 2.0 tool has a wide range of productive services. Besides, this real-time and online collaboration tool is a well-designed Web platform for group projects, multimedia publishing, and blogging. Moreover, Google Docs is convenient and secure place in cyberspace, where teachers and students may store their works (documents). This free application is partially word processing program, spreadsheet, and presentation editor. Google Docs is simple to use, so it will not be difficult for a teacher to acquaint learners with this script-editing tool (Alexander, 2011).

Myna is a good example of Web 2.0 audio tools that represent an audio editor. This free web-based audio track mixer was created by Aviary (Barrett, 2005). As Alexander (2011) noted, “it supports basic editing functions and runs a separate application to record audio” (p. 191). In other words, Myna mixes together several tracks and with this creates a new audio file. Myna helps to loop, stretch, trim, and customize one’s audio clips, to add special sound effects, and even record one’s voice. Myna’s library offers a wide range of well-selected sounds that can be mixed together easily. As one may see, this Web 2.0 tool should be involved in the process of digital story creation. In the context of digital storytelling, Myna occupies a significant place, because sounds effects (including music and storyteller’s voice) contribute to the emotional content, meaning, and perception of the story (Alexander, 2011). As it was mentioned in the previous section of the paper, the power of the soundtrack is one of the crucial elements of digital storytelling (Behmer, 2005).

There are many image editors among Aviary tools, but probably, is the most helpful one. For example, Phoenix (Image Editor) is a free web-based application that greatly contributes to the process of digital storytelling, since it edits photos, pictures, screenshots, and other images. This simple and accessible Web 2.0 application offers a wide range of services, for example, basic image retouching or creation of complex effects (Barrett, 2005). With the help of Phoenix, a learner may upload an image from the desktop or certain Internet source (for the exception of the images secured by author’s rights) to the digital story (Alexander, 2011). The uploaded image will undoubtedly strengthen the perception of the narrative, since visual effects are essential for all digital stories (Behmer, 2005).

Among numerous video editors, VoiceThread is probably the most appropriate for digital storytelling because it provides one with basic functions related to processing of video files. This Web-based application that helps to record, upload, create, and share video. In addition, one may accompany the video file with voice, commentaries. VoiceThread is an outstanding multimedia slide show that holds not only videos, but also documents and images as well (Barrett, 2005). The multifaceted nature of this free Web 2.0 application makes VoiceThread a unique tool that provides a learner with a great assortment of multimedia services (Alexander, 2011).

Wallace (n.d.) added that making a digital storybook with the help of Web 2.0 applications is an extremely necessary. Digital storybooks can be made in a classroom environment, if certain Web 2.0 tools are accessible for learners and a teacher. Storybird helps to make a digital storybook, since it provides with hundreds of pictures that can be used in a story and gives an opportunity to comment these images with corresponding texts. Photo Story 3 for Windows (in other words, iMovie for Mac) is a program that helps to create a digital storybook that allows to add illustrations, pieces of writing, audio files, and pictures or other image from the Web. Finally, Kidsvid is an instructional program that helps to use digital storybooks in a classroom to support project-based learning (Wallace, n.d.). these easy-to-use programs will help to create a high-quality digital storybook, where all learners’ digital stories are collected together and can be widely used  in the learning process.

Thus, such innovative Web 2.0 digital storytelling applications as Google Docs, Myna, Phoenix, VoiceThread, Storybird, Photo Story 3, and Kidsvid are effective and helpful assistants in creation, location, usage, and sharing of stories throughout the World Wide Web. Naturally, learners should be taught how to use these technologies as helpful instruments in the learning process. However, “technology alone cannot solve the challenges of creating an effective story” (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 54). Hence, the secondary role of technology in digital storytelling means that all successful stories are based on learners’ (storytellers’) creativity, individual talents, and other unique features required for the true art of storytelling.


Classroom Project Application

According to Banaszewski (2002) whose teacher’s experience is invaluable for the present classroom project, the CDS approach (or a model) seems to be most appropriate to engage secondary learners in the creation of an effective digital storytelling. According to this model, learners are asked “to bring a draft of a story to the workshop” (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 46). The ideas of these stories are discussed in a classroom, and then the drafts are collectively revised in such a way to create an effective digital story based learners’ different ideas. The status of an effective digital story is given only if it possesses all seven elements mentioned above (“point of view”, “dramatic question”, “emotional content”, “gift of your voice”, “power of the soundtrack”, “economy”, and “pacing”) (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 56). The implementation of a classroom Place Project in the K-12 classrooms can be realized with the help of the following stages offered by Banaszewski that reveal what should be done by a teacher and the learners in details.


Stage 1. Planning/Logistics

The initial stage demands from a teacher to pre-assess a digital storytelling project; it usually takes nearly a week. For this, teachers should write a digital story by themselves in order to know what the learners sill be expected to complete. This is a time-consuming period for a teacher, but its importance for the positive outcomes should not be underestimated. To complete a digital story, one should be a good computer user to be able to use helpful technologies easily; naturally, a teacher is not an exception. Required for the project Web 2.0 applications (Google Docs, Myna, Phoenix, VoiceThread) should help a teacher to create a story about a favorite summer holiday destination, and provide it with appropriate scripts, images, sound, and visual effects (Banaszewski, 2005).

In addition, at this stage, a teacher should make sure that a classroom is provided with PCs connected to the Internet where one may find the mentioned assistive Web 2.0 digital storytelling tools. The learners should be informed about the upcoming project and the topic of a digital storytelling in order to give students an opportunity to make certain preparation and probably to find some interesting material. Moreover, a teacher should acquaint the learners with the Web 2.0 applications needed to be used during the project to create a story. As K-12 classrooms deal only with children or teenagers, a teacher should spend sufficient time to explain in detail how to use the required tools in accordance with literacy and digital storytelling principle sand practice learners’ technical skills. The first stage is considered successful if a teacher has completed a digital story, prepared learners for the upcoming Place Project, and explained how to use Web 2.0 digital storytelling tools in a proper way paying attention to script coherence and appropriate selection of images/sounds/videos (Banaszewski, 2005).


Stage 2. Story Drafting.

The second stage that takes several weeks supposes that a teacher will be able to adapt traditional classroom composition to the methods of story writing for the digital space with text, moving images, audio, etc. A teacher may draw the learners’ attention to the important fact, saying, for example, “keep in mind that you’ll be using text, images and audio to replace written parts of your stories” (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 64). In other words, the students should be able to combine their composition about favorite place for summer vocations with relevant media (images, audio files, video tracks, etc.); this way, learners should be taught how media can replace descriptions in compositions. The acquisition of this complex skill is probably the main learner’s challenge in the digital storytelling. However, practicing this skill in regular activities (for example, story mapping proves to be helpful), a learner easily acquires it. For this, a teacher asks a student to transform a completed written story into a sequence of meaningful text messages and supplement it with corresponding pictures, audio, or video files with the help of apprehended required Web 2.0 applications. After a quite long period of training through numerous exercises, a learner should be able to write a short draft story for the Place Project (Banaszewski, 2005).


Stage 3. Teaching Elements of Effective Digital Storytelling

A learner should be informed with the following three pieces of evidence that makes a digital story effective. First, a digital story is different from a slideshow or other information presentation. Second, media elements serve to enhance story’s main idea. Third, a script/image/sound or visual effect should correspond to the story (description of characters, sequence of facts, etc.) and should be appropriately located (taking into consideration a required format, fro example). Banaszewski (2002) noted that it is beneficial to use a teacher’s completed digital story as a model for students who should follow basic principles of digital storytelling and visual/sound literacy paying attention to the provided example.


Stage 4. Managing the Technology.

A digital storytelling project where nearly two dozens of learners create their stories is almost impossible to manage for one teacher. One cannot but agree with Banaszewski (2002) who underlined the following fact. In his thesis work, one may see,

“the basic five steps of creating a digital story–write script, collect and/or create accompanying visuals, import images into the computer, record voice over, and then edit everything into a cohesive sequence–can be enormously overwhelming for even the most skilled technology teacher” (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 80).

Thus, the process can be simplified through scanning, when a teacher uses a streamlined approach that helps to strip away the tasks non-essential for story development. Teacher’s scanning helps a teacher to organize a project so that students themselves work over their digital stories and cooperate with each other. This stage takes quite long period, because learners of secondary schools need sufficient time to manage Web 2.0 tools and to use them for their learning purposes (Banaszewski, 2005).


Stage 5. Assessment, Sharing, and Distribution.

According to Banaszewski (2002), digital storytelling can be assessed following three perspectives: “1) demonstration of writing, research and technical computer skills 2) demonstration of story, visual, media and technical literacies (digital literacy) and 3) personal development” (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 82). However, a teacher should elaborate or use already designed objective and subjective grading criteria (rubric) that help to evaluate a learner’s digital story. For the Place Project, a teacher may use the following criteria to assess a digital story:


  • Story has a clear beginning, middle and end;
  • Story uses an engaging hook (does not start with this “This is my place.”);
  • Details are included throughout.


  • Images/video go with the story;
  • Sufficient images.


  • Voice over is free of silent spaces;
  • No gaps in viewing;
  • Music, effects, and transitions used effectively (Banaszewski, 2005, p. 89).

Thus, the mentioned perspectives and criteria will help to assess a digital story of each learner. Storybird will be used to share learners’ digital stories among the students. Students’ classroom PCs will help to preserve and distribute the unique collective story (for example, named Favorite Places for Summer Vocations) transforming it into true creative heritage (Wallace, n.d.).


Journal Publication

The present article will be published in the journal called English Education, since the problem described in the paper deals with one of the methods applied in secondary education. As the work touches upon education and development of the English teachers at all levels and deepens into one of the innovative effective method, the journal will publish this paper as a traditional theoretical and research article. This paper is dedicated to the innovative Web 2.0 technologies and digital storytelling in the context of the learning and teaching processes in K-12 classrooms.

Complete and clear guidelines for submission have been obtained from the target publication. Publication selected reaches wide audience of classroom teachers either online or in print format, and does not require highly technical expertise for understanding and application. Undoubtedly, members of the National Council of Teachers of English will be interested in this article, because it responds to the current needs of English language teachers and contributes to their continuing education. In general, target audience for this article is all teachers, educators, and other related professionals interested in improvement and advancement of the English education system. The article is ready for collaborative/peer editing and revision processes.



Today, digital storytelling is believed one of the most effective methods widely applied in education. However, the secondary education that deals with K-12 classrooms has an approach to the implementation of digital storytelling rooted in assumptions and practical experience of Tom Banaszewski (2002), a teacher who proved the significant place of digital storytelling in cognitive development of young learners. For this teacher, such free Web 2.0 tools as iMovie, Google Docs, Myna, Phoenix, or VoiceThread represent innovative beneficial technologies that should be involved in the learning process as a secondary assistive tool.

In the article, main principles and constituent elements of an effective digital story were presented in order to focus a teacher’s attention what should be assessed and evaluated. Banaszewski’s (2002) Place Project was offered as one of the possible projects where digital storytelling and innovative web-based applications can be applied. The article provided with the detailed description of Web 2.0 digital storytelling tools and stages of the realization of the chosen project meant to reveal creative potential of children who should acquire basic technical skills and learn how to use them in their story writing and storytelling process.

The advantageous nature of digital storytelling in classroom environment should not be underestimated. The primary power of digital storytelling for children is an opportunity to express themselves, their creative ideas and unique talents through acquisition of appropriate skills needed to represented a short story in visual and sound forms with the help of technologies. The main advantage of digital storytelling for a teacher is an opportunity to keep up with the times and gain new teaching experience, explaining a learner how to express the ancient art of storytelling through latest achievements of high technology.


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