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A Laundry List of Things…

When asked the question, what is digital storytelling, I can’t help but feel anxious. There is no right or wrong answer to the question, and I find this unsettling. Digital storytelling is a method through which a story of some sort can be told, typically involving voice and pictorial aspects, but the ways in which a digital story can be told are so numerous that it makes my head hurt.  It can be a personal narrative, a history, a persuasive argument; it can be seconds long, or minutes long; it can include video or just still pictures; it can involve music and voice, just voice or just music; it can have a lot of text, a little text, or none at all; it can have a linear storyline or one that is new and innovative; and it can be any combination of these things, plus many, many more that I have not included in this spastic laundry list of details.  A digital story is an extremely accessible form of expression that not only can they be created by someone who has a lot of experience dealing with audio and visual technology, but often they are made by someone who just recently learned how to put together pictures and sound through a user friendly program.  The sheer number of types of digital stories that appear when a google search for them is conducted points to the fact that we will probably never be able to agree on one set definition:

“Digital Storytelling refers to using digital tools so that ordinary people can tell their own real-life stories.” – Wikipedia

“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.” - Leslie Rule, Center for Digital Storytelling

“Digital Storytelling uses computers to create media-rich stories and the internet to share those stories creating communites of common concern on a global scale.” – Dana Atchley

“Simply defined, “Digital Storytelling” uses new digital tools to help people tell their own stories in a compelling and emotionally engaging form.” – Zero Divide

“Today’s technology allows students and faculty to tell stories in powerful ways. The digital camera, editing software, and media outlets means that anyone can tell their story.” – Mark Standley

All of these definitions agree that new technology people to tell stories in new ways, but beyond that there is no central heart to digital storytelling. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of digital storytelling is that which makes me so uncomfortable – that there is no right or wrong answer to what it can be.

Learning to Drive

After doing a simple Google search for digital stories, I found myself on a website called  The website defines digital storytelling as “the art of turning a personal narrative into a multimedia experience.  It can combine music, video and/or still images with your creative voice.”  The website has a collection of videos that were created in workshops, of which the participants were primarily senior citizen.  I decided to select a digital story from this particular website because I feel that it clearly demonstrates the way in which average people are able to use this medium to tell their own stories.  The participants in the workshops, who did not grow up with the same technologies that I have, also demonstrate the ease with which digital stories are can be created today.

The digital story that I chose to analyze is titled “Learning to Drive,” and was created by Anne Levine in a Spring 2007 Digital Storytelling Workshop for Seniors.  Judging from the stories that we viewed last week in class, “Learning to Drive” seems like it was made with a very traditional take on digital storytelling.  The creator, Anne Levine, narrates the entire story accompanied only by a musical composition that helps to hold the piece together.  After listening to several other stories in my search this week, I feel that most digital stories need some sort of musical accompaniment in order to keep the viewer engaged in the piece.  Pauses in the narration and the use of still pictures often require more stimulation to keep the audience fully interested.

“Learning to Drive” is a relatively short story, with a running time of 2 minutes and 46 seconds.  After listening to several of these narrative digital stories, I am beginning to think that short, concise personal stories make some of the best.  This particular story makes use of only still pictures, and therefore the short length of the story keeps me engaged with the pictures and does not give me enough time to get bored.  Although Levine only uses still pictures, it is not simply a slide show.  The creator has used zoom features to keep the still photographs entertaining for her audience; I would, however, have probably liked this story more if she had utilized other techniques to break up the stillness of the photos.

Overall, I liked this story because of its concise nature and the simplicity of the story.  Learning how to drive is a topic that most people can relate to, and this story utilizes the art of storytelling to present any experience many people have had.  Although “Learning to Drive” could be enhanced by some other simple techniques, the audio and visuals are not overdone and allow the story and pictures to speak for themselves.

Jennifer Janes

My name is Jennifer Janes, and I am currently a 2nd semester MA History student.  I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona and when choosing colleges I decided that I wanted to be able to experience a different part of the country (and seasons!).  I found myself as an undergraduate at Washington and Lee University, where I graduated this past June with my BA, majoring in both Religion and Sociology & Anthropology.  Although I do not really have a background in academic history, I have always been interested in public history and Mason’s graduate program is giving me the opportunity to explore that interest through the Applied History path.   

I am currently a Graduate Research Assistant in Special Collections & Archives where I serve as the Oral History Program Coordinator. My position requires me to explore University history through interviews with long-time faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university.  I am currently engaged in a 2-part interview project with current Mason president, Dr. Alan Merten.  Right now our program is fairly bare bones, using minimal audio and visual editing, and I am hoping that this course will help me to enrich the ways that we use our oral history collection.  I am not an extremely tech-saavy person, but I am learning that there are great, user-friendly ways to edit audio and visual mediums, and I am also hoping that this course will expand my knowledge of these types of programs.

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