Digital Storytelling: Models for Students

I have written before about the profound experience of attending a digital storytelling workshop run by the Center for Digital Storytelling, but I thought I would gather here some resources for teachers to use as models for students. Selfishly, it helps me by gathering all the models I want to use for my own students in one place. Some of these videos were made by my workshop facilitators. Others were shown to participants at the workshop. Still others are stories I found compelling and plan to share with my own students. The final two are my own stories, and feel free to share them with your students. If you ever get a chance to go to a Center for Digital Storytelling Workshop, do it.

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Featured on the CDS website right now, a short and incredibly moving video about adoption and expectations.

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Holly was one of the facilitators at my workshop, and we saw this video during the workshop. I love the way Holly was able to use the song her father recorded in the video.

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Daniel Weinshenker is the Rocky Mountain/Midwest Region Director at CDS and was present when we shared our own digital stories at the end of the last day of the workshop. We watched this video during the workshop.

We watched this video in the workshop. It is an excellent example of what you can do if you don’t have a lot of your own pictures to tell your story. Brad Johnson created this story using mainly clips from Archive.org. As Johnson explains, “95% of the images and footage is from archive.org. I have about 5 shots of my grandfather in there that are mine.” He adds, “I was experimenting with telling a personal story using footage that was ‘public’ and that was about the ‘larger, American immigrant’ story that seems part of our collective identity (or at least for many of us).”

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This story is a remarkable example of what students might be able to do with just one photograph, no music, and a powerful narrative.

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Students think a lot about who they are, and pieces about identity are important to share with students, especially those who think they don’t have a story (we all do).

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This excellent letter to a beloved grandmother not only tells a powerful story, but also shows what finding the perfect music will add to the video. We saw this one in the workshop.

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What I liked about this one was the way in which the video’s creator tied the story of her own car to the greater history of women.

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This wonderful video shows what students might do with a single Foley sound effect.

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This one is a little on the longer side for a digital story (we were advised to try to keep the videos at shorter than five minutes, but it tells a powerful story about place and family.

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This story is told with a series of self-portraits strung together in a powerful narrative about difference.

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This video is a good one to show students about the power of well-timed music and what they can do with video that might not even illustrate the narrative they’re telling.

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Again, a little on the long side, but worth it and and a great example of pacing.

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I also liked this one as a poignant story about being the other and well-timed music.

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This one is mine, and it includes an interview with my grandfather about World War II. Students might find an interview with someone else will add something to their story.

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This last one is really my grandmother’s story. It also includes an interview. As soon as I heard the music, I said, “That’s the piece,” and once I added it, I could hear how the music pulled the whole story together.

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Uploading Videos: Lessons Learned

As part of my ITMA project, which I’m just going to go ahead and create a tag for, I decided I would create several screencasts. Often when I want to learn something about a piece of software or how to do something on the web, nothing is as helpful to me as a screencast.

My tool of the trade for creating screencasts is Snapz Pro X, which I downloaded initially at the suggestion of my ITMA program as a good screencap tool. I know it’s not absolutely necessary to have an additional tool when you can capture your screen using tools native to your computer, whether you’re running Windows or Mac OS X, but I took their advice. I eventually sprung for the additional license to create videos. Creating screencasts with Snapz Pro X is very easy. However, I have often found the first time I try to do something new technologically speaking, I have to fall flat on my face and really mess it up, maybe even do it a few times, before I finally get it right. Screencasting has proven to be no exception.

I created three screencasts for my module on RSS for the project. Each demonstrates how to subscribe to an RSS feed using a different reader. I uploaded the screencasts to TeacherTube and waited. And waited. Finally, I tweeted a question about the moderation time and learned the terrible news. TeacherTube’s moderation period is glacial. Most people said anywhere from one to three days. So I waited to see what the videos looked like because I didn’t see any sense in reshooting or uploading anything to YouTube unless I had to. When the videos were finally approved, I learned that they looked horrible. I suspected it had to do with the size of the video, so I tried some experiments uploading the video to YouTube, changing the size, and finally decided I needed to reshoot it in a smaller size if it was going to look right on YouTube.

Eventually I tried uploading the video again, this time with the smaller size, and I discovered that there was no audio. I am not sure why it happened, unless it has something to do with the file format. I chose Quicktime Movie (.mov). I opened up iMovie and added a title to the beginning, then tried uploading to YouTube from iMovie, and voilà! I managed to get the video up with a picture I could actually see and sound.

After having gone through this process of trial and error, I learned how to upload a screencast properly. Even though I had created screencasts before, I had never posted them to YouTube. I have a horror of the folks who leave comments there. So, I just turned the comments off. I know that comments can be moderated, but I didn’t want to bother with it.

Oh, here is the one I managed to revise and get working today. The other two are tomorrow’s first task.

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Evaluating Materials

49/365 - summer reading.I have been lying in bed all weekend, trying to get over a bout of the flu. I decided to preview a video I asked our media specialist to buy for our library: Great Books: Wuthering Heights. If you are unfamiliar with the Great Books series, they are actually fairly good documentaries about books produced by Discovery Schools. Back in the day when TLC used to be an acronym for “The Learning Channel,” and as such, actually produced educational content, the Great Books series could sometimes be caught on broadcast on that channel.

I disagree with a few conclusions drawn in the Great Books episode on Wuthering Heights. Emily Brontë is known to have been an intensely private person. She was furious when her sister Charlotte read poetry Emily had written. When Anne and Charlotte went to London to reveal their identities to their publishers, Emily refused to go and insisted upon remaining anonymous. She was again angry with Charlotte when Charlotte revealed that “Ellis Bell” was her sister. However, the DVD conflates this desire for privacy or perhaps even shyness (although I admit I don’t know enough about Emily to determine if she was shy) with “madness.” At one point, the video points out, rather boldly and without explanation or foundation, that because Emily enjoyed writing about her fantasy world of Gondal, she was “in danger of losing her mind.” Later, the video concludes that she based her character Heathcliff on herself, again without presenting evidence or explanation.

My first thought was that if I were a student watching this video, which seemed authoritative and informative, I might take these statements at face value rather than question them. After all, they are produced by Discovery School, so one can infer they are accurate, reliable, and educationally sound. I suppose if I’m going anywhere with this thinking-aloud exercise, it is here: it’s critical for teachers to evaluate materials they are thinking of presenting to their students, but more importantly, it’s critical to do your own research as well. If I had seen this video ten years ago as a relatively new teacher, I might not have questioned some of the conclusions drawn by the video’s producers because I myself didn’t have the slightest knowledge about Emily Brontë’s life, and while I’m far from an expert now, I have at least learned enough both in content and as a critical thinker to discern the accuracy of materials I’m previewing. Instead, I came away from the video feeling that the producers had not given Emily Brontë much credit for possessing an imagination that allowed her to write fantasy stories without necessarily living in a fantasy world or to create a character purely out of a talented gift as a writer. Of course, not wanting to give Emily Brontë much credit for her imagination is not new, but one would hope educational materials produced in 2005 would be more enlightened in their view. If I were to use this video with my students, I would challenge them to locate evidence regarding the conclusions drawn in the video. It might be a good critical thinking exercise for them. However, my instinct says not to show it. With no abundance of time and no shortage of materials, it is not the best course of action, in my mind, to use class time for materials I find misleading at best, erroneous at worst.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Elemeno_Pea

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YouTube is Blocked…

Carol recently left a comment regarding my UbD unit for Death of a Salesman. This unit utilizes several videos I found on YouTube in order to help students learn more about the concepts central to the unit; however, Carol says that one stumbling block she will encounter if she chooses to use this unit is that YouTube is blocked at her school.

I will spare you all a rant about the utter shortsightedness of blocking all of YouTube rather than educate students about using it properly and instead offer a suggestion for getting around this sticky problem.

I added an extension to Firefox called Better YouTube. Through this extension, I discovered a way to download videos from YouTube. If you have Firefox, consider using this extension. If you don’t use Firefox, or don’t want the extension, you can still download videos.

First, copy the URL of the video. Next, point your browser to one of many available tools to download vidoes. This one from TechCrunch is quite popular. Your downloaded video will be in flv format (.flv). You will need a program to play it. VLC is a popular program, but there are others. You can search for “flv players” and try different ones.

The problem as I see it is that any school that bans YouTube most likely will also not allow employees to download programs. If you have a flash drive, you can try downloading and installing the program on the flash drive. The movies will all fit on a flash drive or CD, too, as the largest one was about 90 MB when I downloaded in in FLV format (and it is about 45 minutes long).

Do readers have any suggestions for getting around YouTube bans so that the valuable videos that are blocked along with the inappropriate dreck can be accessed?

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Video and Animoto

Some of you may already be familiar with Philip Scott Johnson‘s videos on YouTube, but in case you aren’t, here is a sample (one of his more popular videos):

Johnson’s videos have a lot of potential for use in art and social studies classes. In the tradition that a picture is worth a thousand words, his videos will speak volumes to students studying topics as diverse as the Civil War, geography, film, and Picasso.

After your class has viewed a Johnson video, it might be fun for them to use Animoto to create a similar video. Here is an Animoto video I created using old photographs of my family:

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Stress Test

My students participated in the 2007 Apple Insomnia Film Festival contest and created a video entitled “Stress Test.”  Filmmakers can win the contest in two ways: 1) be awarded first place by the judges, or 2) win a popular vote.  Please check out their video, and if you enjoy what you see, vote for them.

If you don’t have an Apple ID, you need to create one in order to vote.  If you have an Apple ID, you can vote here.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments, and I will ask the students to address them for you.  Thanks!

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