Digital Storytelling Progress Report…

So. I had an idea that I liked, a project that I thought was good.

But as it came along, I saw it didn’t fit the timeline for the course well enough. And that community I wanted to explore? It never materialized– at least, not for me. I have received only THREE user-submitted testimonials… And that’s after making it into a contest and offering to give away two books.

So then I changed my topic. Last week I brought in the storyboard of my new idea: “Why online lectures suck. And what we can do about it.” Conferencing, the instructor didn’t really like how I was framing it. And as I thought about it and looked into it more, I came to agree with her.

Now I’m working– once again– on getting a script worked out that actually works, dealing with topic number two.


At this point, I’m kind of reconsidering my feelings on digital storytelling as a pedagogical tool. I feel like my original project idea was feasible, could have created a good video, and could have been completed on time. But it didn’t work with the way that the class– that classes in general– are set up. I think the problem is the fact that different projects require different creative processes.

If you’re doing something that’s interview-heavy, you’re going to take a lot more time gathering sources and editing, but there won’t be as much time needed for other processes. Storyboards and scripts may come later if at all, once the sources let you know what they’re going to say. If you’re going for a Junior-League Ken Burns kind of thing, scripting and storyboarding are far more important. Your research will be mostly finding pictures to pan over. Filming won’t be as time-consuming.

And those are just two broad examples. Everyone works on every project differently. You have to work with the project, you’ve gotta go with the grain, and let the logical demands of the project inform your timeline.

Grading and classroom supervision aren’t like that, however. They have to be rationalized. People need deadlines, and the deadlines need to be the same for everyone. Introducing something like DST to students requires that you keep on them with a timeline, etc. That you supervise and micromanage and, at least to a certain extent, that you standardize. You have to schedule assignments and deadlines as if everyone’s process is the same, when in fact, different projects have different timelines because they demand differing amounts of attention to different aspects of the process.

I think that DST could be an incredibly useful tool for students in, for example, a Montessori classroom, where individualized attention and learners setting their own pace is the norm. But that’s not a luxury that many of us will have. Most of us will have to be in classrooms where things are, as a matter of course, basically standardized. Classroom size, teaching loads, etc. mean that this is basically outside of our control. And in that sort of setting, I’m starting to question the utility of trying to teach DST techniques, etc.

This is not a rejection of the concept as a whole, of course. I do think that it’s important that scholars and teachers use techniques like this. We need to see beyond the chalkboard, the powerpoint slideshow, the monograph. And this *is* a good way to approach certain topics, and can lead to different sorts of learning outcomes for those who take the time to do it.

I’m just wondering– is it really compatible with most people’s classroom reality?


A Movie About ChatRoulette

In the course of thinking about making a short digital storytelling project about a ukulele website, I’ve been looking for other examples of short films, documentaries, etc. about websites and other intangible, ephemeral subjects.

The other day, thanks to boxee, I came across “A Movie About Chatroulette.” While it’s not exactly in the style I want to do my project, it’s a really good example of how one might go about making a film-based project about a website. Chatroulette, unlike UkuleleUnderground, has the advantage of being video-based rather than text-based, but presents with other problems: How do you document something that is ephemeral, by nature always changing, anonymous, shapeless, user-defined in the moment, and always experienced between two people at a time? I think Casey Neistat does a great job of dealing with these issues.

chat roulette from Casey Neistat on Vimeo.


Haircut Redux

About a month ago, I shaved my head for a class project.

Goofing around with video editing software yesterday, as I’m trying to make a habit lately as I take Digital Storytelling this semester, I decided to recycle those photos. The result was this:


My digital storytelling project pitch…

We were asked to “pitch” our final projects over in my Digital Storytelling class.

In movie-making, a pitch is usually an oral thing– the short written version is a “treatment.” And given that the project that I want to work on would involve in me taking video of myself and putting it up on the web, interacting with people via sites like YouTube– something that I am not at all accustomed to or particularly comfortable about– I figured that doing my “pitch” via video would be particularly helpful.

So yeah– here’s my pitch. Do you think it sounds like a worthwhile/interesting/achievable project? Are there pitfalls I haven’t thought of that I should think about?


Defining Digital Storytelling…

My Digital Storytelling class was asked to try to define “digital storytelling.” Below is my reply.

It seems to me like we’ve got one of those blind-men-and-an-elephant problems, here. I’ve been playing around with trying to come up with a working definition of “digital storytelling” for a couple days, now, and honestly, anything I can come up with is simultaneously:

  • So broad as to be meaningless.
  • Still far too restrictive.

This does not bode well for the prospect of coming up with anything that even resembles a “definitive answer” to the question of what “digital storytelling” is.

Which makes this class seem a bit amorphous.

The best I can come with is this: “Digital storytelling” is the use of digital (non-analog, usually computer-based) media to create (or suggest) a narrative (or set of narratives or narrative possibilities).

I could unpack that a little, but I’m afraid to do so too much, because the more you do, the more restrictive your definition becomes. So let me just sort of ramble about a couple of the implications of this.

The use of digital techniques alters older technologies by lowering barriers to use in both cost and necessity of technical skill. While techniques like sophisticated 3-d rendering are still prohibitively difficult for amateur users, digital photography, videography, sound recording, and image alteration have continued to get cheaper, faster, and easier. Looking at a the technological forces behind this, things like Moore’s Law, Rock’s Law, and Nielson’s Law all suggest that this pattern will continue. All things digital will continue to get faster, cheaper, easier, and better, as long as research and development continue.

Not only is this true with individual digitized media, but it is also true of the ability of computers to integrate various forms of media into a coherent whole. Digital technology continues to make it easier, faster, and cheaper to put together still and moving images, sounds, and written words, to combine them into new integrated wholes.

And just like the words and pictures of a comic strip, each of these elements gains something in combination with other elements– it’s a synergistic relationship. Looking at just the words or just the images of your average comic strip, you realize that either element is less meaningful when not interacting with the other. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. It’s the same thing with digital stories that incorporate multiple media.

While words, pictures, sound, and video are all clearly important building blocks for digital stories, it is important not to exclude the “natively digital” media that can be incorporated into digital storytelling projects– the two that spring immediately to mind are simulation and databases.

Both of these technologies present us with some of the most dramatic possibilities of digital storytelling: they do not necessarily follow– and indeed can be used to actively undermine– the traditional notions of narrativity we have from old media. Storytelling is no longer necessarily limited to a single beginning, middle, and end. Instead, creators have the ability to chart various paths that audiences can take, indeed– audiences are no longer limited to “passive” intake, but can actively guide their own user experience, taking the driver’s seat or even helping to build and extend the story itself.

Of course, audiences have never been particularly passive, and have always re-purposed, remixed, and reinterpreted the media they consume. The difference now is that we can construct stories that encourage or even force audiences to do just that. It can be built into the medium itself, now, rather than just being built into how humans consume stories.


Tell a story in five pictures…

In my Digital Storytelling class, we were asked to tell a story in five pictures, inspired by a Flickr community of educators trying to do just that.

Below is my attempt:

The Haircut 1

The Haircut 2

The Haircut 3

The Haircut 4

The Haircut 5


Interactivity and Digital Storytelling…

NB– this is primarily cannibalized from a post I made on the class blog of the Digital Storytelling class I’m currently taking. I like to keep my stuff all in one place, though.

I have to admit that, while many of the examples of “digital storytelling projects” that my classmates posted to the class blog were quite interesting and well-done, and some where quite thought-provoking and evocative, they felt a little… old media?

Basically, they were just low-budget, one-person documentary shorts.

One of the really fascinating things about new media technology, however, is the interactivity of it. If you use the internet in 2010, you are almost certainly not just a media consumer. You are a producer. The most successful sites on the internet– from Youtube to Facebook to Twitter to Google itself– are not content creators. They are frameworks that host user-generated content, sort it, make it manageable, encourage discovery. From the moment Tim Berners-Lee began to conceptualize the World Wide Web as something interlaced, hypertextual, navigated by users, the web has challenged models of passive viewership. The web is interactive. New media is interactive.

So where’s the interactivity in digital storytelling? Well, it seems to be coming. Though it is still pretty primitive in its application.

A sidebar of sorts:

Is it still storytelling if it’s interactive? If the author relinquishes some degree of control to the audience, is it still his or her story?

I would argue that it absolutely is. While a was a voracious and omnivorous reader as a child, one of my sisters’ and my favorite series of books was Bantam’s Choose Your Own Adventure series. Essentially bound hypertext, the book would take a forking narrative format, where the reader was, at key moments, presented with choices. The reader’s choices determined the outcome, but the author’s vision remained at the center. Forked stories could fork back into themselves at time– especially in a time-travel story.

While most video games are admittedly thin on narrative, some of the best follow a similar course– allowing player decisions to influence the chain of events within several forked narrative outcomes.

That digression over, I have to say, I haven’t found exactly what I was looking for. I haven’t found any single example that illustrates well how exciting this possibility is. But let me run through a couple examples– all imperfect in some way– that illustrate what kind of thinking I’m talking about. All of these take advantage of Youtube’s fairly recent annotation feature.

“B-Boy Joker” is very well-implemented, though it’s more of a game than a story. Even by game standards, there’s not much narrative: The Joker and Batman are having a dance battle. You have to match your opponent’s moves or he will defeat you. Not really a story at all. But the action is compelling, the use of annotations is highly effective, and the stop-motion animation is top-notch. One could imagine making a project that was more narrative along similar lines.

logoSimilarly, “Youtube’s first weekly game show” Truth or Fail, is pretty lacking as a narrative, being more of a game. But while B-Boy Joker was more like a video game, Truth or Fail resembles a (highly eccentric) quiz show. Nevertheless, there is a beginning, middle, and end, and since many of us if not all of us are interested in the informative and pedagogical uses of digital storytelling, I thought it bore mentioning because it’s pretty easy to see how such a framework could be used educationally.

Finally, I found two more traditionally narrative interactive videos that unfortunately seem to be experiencing technical difficulties. Annnotations on some of the videos in these series seem to be broken, so clicking on the screen doesn’t always work. But go and check out The Time Machine: An Interactive Adventure and Choose Your Path: Find Sparta! and try to imagine them actually working.

At any rate, it seems obvious to me that interactivity is a pretty exciting possibility in digital storytelling. And that, unfortunately, we might not be quite there yet.