Personal narrative has traditionally been used as a starting point for writing in first year English composition classes. Student writers can be motivated by the opportunity for self-reflection, and personal narrative can be used to introduce a critical examination of ideas about identity, experience, and culture. From this entry point the FYC course usually progresses to more formally structured genres of academic literacy including expository, analytical, and persuasive essays. With the omnipresent reality of the Internet and other networked technologies, digital literacy has taken on growing importance in preparing students for full participation in society and the professional world.
But how can this increase in pedagogical scope beyond traditional alphabetic literacy be achieved while at the same time meeting the needs of basic or developmental writers? In coming back full circle to the personal narrative there is opportunity for expanding into the realm of multi-media technology while at the same time returning to a fundamental grounding in the voice and written word.
With roots in oral tradition, digital storytelling is deeply and fundamentally personal, dealing with turning points and transformation, social construction and self-realization. In their journal article, “Crafting an Agentive Self: Case Studies of Digital Storytelling,” authors Glynda A. Hull and Mira-Lisa Katz quote Ochs & Capps (1996, 2001) in stating that “There is abundant research on narrative and the important role that narratives of self—stories about who we have been in the past and who we want to become in the future—can play in the construction of agentive identities” (44).
Typically, digital storytelling takes place in a workshop setting in which participants share ideas in a story circle and go on to write scripts that are revised for narrative efficacy and edited to fit a concise format of around two to five minutes in length. Then, over the span of approximately two days, recordings of voice narrations are made, photographs and other artifacts are scanned, images are pulled from the Internet, music is recorded and laid underneath, text may be inserted to highlight special points, and the result is pulled together into a short digital movie.
The movie making process, with its simple, yet multi-modal format, provides an immersive engagement with the act of meaning-making. Technology is embraced and manageably learned. In the space of a few days a story is composed that foregrounds the author’s authentic and original voice. It can be put on the Internet and shared with friends, family, classmates, or people from around the world.