Digital Storytelling & Twine

This post presents some resources for creating and sharing narratives online. Digital storytelling can help your students build relationships with one another, brainstorm their ideas, think through realistic scenarios, share their learning, and reflect on course content.
Teaching through stories is powerful; the addition of images and the ability experience how concepts relate to one another helps students with different skill levels and learning styles. If you’re looking for a little more background, this is a well-researched synthesis piece on the pedagogy of storytelling and the benefits of digital storytelling.

Here is an example of a simple scenario built by corporate eLearning instructional designer Cathy Moore that plunges learners right into the thick of things, learning and reviewing new vocabulary in service of moving the storyline along. Give it a try, and see how much you learn – and how motivated you are to get it right!

The example above is a language-learning example, however digital storytelling examples in higher education abound across the disciplines: business, landscape design, nursing, religion, etc.

As Cathy Moore notes, “. . . we don’t have to front-load learners’ brains with vocabulary, or other facts before the ‘practice activity’. Instead, we can plunge them, clueless, directly into an activity that exposes them to the new information in a way that helps them figure it out . . . . Design the story so the learners can discover meanings on their own. Then provide a natural pause to review what they’ve learned and make sure they got it right.”  Having your students actively do something is a far more powerful route to content retention and learner engagement than, say, having them take notes on a summary lecture.

The choices you make as the designer of the learning experience matter. How much information will you reveal at once? Will you use narrative, key words, questions, or images to guide learners through the content? How will learners know what they are to do? How much prior knowledge are you assuming they will have (and how do you know this is an accurate assumption)? How will your learners know when they’ve met the learning objectives? Sorting out the answers to these questions will help you select the proper tool (of course, we’re always available to help, too!).

If you’re not quite ready to dive in to the deep end with designing your own scenario, you can start more gradually. Digital Play, a blog focused on digital resources and games for language learning, recently published a guest post by James Taylor with a wonderful breakdown of the levels of digital storytelling. Taylor identifies the levels as:

  • Mad libs
  • Photo stories
  • Comic strips
  • Story books
  • Animated films

The blog gives a pithy summary for each level and then provides some relevant resources. You can produce these items for your students to experience, or, depending on the skills of your learners, they might produce these items for each other as a learning exercise. Note that each step increases both the complexity of the content the learner is required to produce (words versus phrases and stories) and the complexity of the learning environment (filling the blanks to matching content with photos to using / viewing animation websites). Your learners gain autonomy with each level.

Should you wish to build interactive scenarios, Twine is one tool you can use. Twine is a free downloadable Mac/Windows program (the sample digital story above was created using Twine).  Here’s a summary of the tool from their website:

Twine lets you organize your story graphically with a map that you can re-arrange as you work. Links automatically appear on the map as you add them to your passages, and passages with broken links are apparent at a glance. As you write, focus on your text with a fullscreen editing mode . . . . Rapidly switch between a published version of your story and the editable one as you work . . . . the final output is a single, small Web page, you can easily email a story to friends, post it on your Web site, or even distribute it on a CD-ROM . . . . Twine is free to download and use, and you can share it with anyone you like. You can even modify the Twine, provided you release your own version under the GNU Public License.

You’re also able to add images and audio. As one reviewer notes, “Since Twine produces a standard web page, you could conceivably embed a Twine story in any elearning tool that lets you embed web pages and that doesn’t interfere with Javascript. It might also be mobile-friendly — at least, the sample scenario works on my iPhone.”

Here is a screencast showing the creation of a simple, nonlinear story in Twine (with the bonus of a little discussion about nonlinear stories – information that might help you structure your own digital story).

Creating A Simple Story from Chris Klimas on Vimeo.

Do you use any digital storytelling techniques in your courses? Tell us about it in the comments!

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