Digital Storytelling in Teaching History

• Todd Gernes, Stonehill College
• Elizabeth Belanger, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Digital stories are brief (typically 4-7 minute) multimedia films that combine photographs, simple animations, sound, and music—all unified by a narrative voiceover. Although originally conceived as an artistic, expressive, and accessible technological medium for ordinary people, digital storytelling techniques have been used in the classroom to integrate disciplinary content and students’ prior knowledge and skills. Completed projects can be shared in classroom “film festivals” or shared online, in a variety of formats and organizational schemes.

This interactive workshop will introduce participants to the ways in which digital storytelling can be utilized in the undergraduate classroom to deeply engage students in historical thinking and to immerse them in the process of constructing historical knowledge, using archival materials (images, documents, texts, and sounds), critical thinking, and narrative voice. The facilitators, seasoned practitioners of digital storytelling in the classroom, will explain the seven key elements of effective digital storytelling (point of view, dramatic question, emotional content, voiceover, soundtrack, economy, and pacing), and will provide specific examples of how digital storytelling can be effectively incorporated into the undergraduate history classroom as an integrative or creative project. Examples will be drawn from the facilitators’ recent and ongoing courses in African American History, the Social History of the American Family, Women’s History, and American Studies.

Digital storytelling “capstone” projects typically include the following parts: the script, the edited film, and a contextual essay in which students discuss primary and secondary sources and reflect on the process of “making history.” In our experience, digital storytelling projects provide excellent opportunities to engage students in a variety of practical and theoretical questions central to historical analysis: What is historical truth? What is valid historical evidence? What is an objective stance? What are the genre conventions of history? What is the role of narrative voice, analogy, and metaphor in historical argument? And so on. Significantly, the skills gained from the digital storytelling process (writing, processing and sequencing still images and video clips, basic film editing, spoken-word narration, audio recording, and presenting on social media) are readily transferable to other classes, to workplace contexts, and, more generally, to students’ own lives.

The workshop will conclude with a discussion of how to scaffold digital skills for novice learners, how to design and “sell” digital projects to students, and how to assess student learning outcomes of digital-story projects. Importantly, we will explore the ways in which small-scale digital assignments of all kinds increase student engagement, critical thinking, digital literacy, and metacognitive reflection in the undergraduate history classroom. Participants will leave with sample assignments, rubrics, and other teaching resources. This is intended to be a hands-on workshop and faculty are encouraged to come with questions and ideas of how they might integrate digital tools into their own classrooms and curriculums.

Recorded in April 2018 at the OAH Annual Meeting held in Sacremento, California as part of the Mellon-funded Amplified Initiative.

Full Session


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Doing History - Full Session / System Administrator / February 11, 2019

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