Digital Storytelling in the Canadian Classroom

by Jessie Curell, Director of Hands On Media Education

For the last 13 years I have been designing and delivering a wide variety of digital media workshops for youth and adults in each province and territory of Canada. The  digital age we now find ourselves in has allowed for an exciting explosion of these kinds of opportunities for those who aren’t often asked to share their own stories.  I have taught five year olds in Montreal how to make their own iPad stop motion animation videos, I have taught 15 First Nation adults in the Yukon village of Mayo how to complete their own documentary films about cultural preservation and language, and I have taught digital storytelling in Iqaluit where I asked Inuit and non-Inuit high school students what a typical day in their life looks like.

Unlike most digital video production workshops which often require cumbersome equipment for beginner filmmakers, such as cameras, microphones, batteries, tripods and plenty of cords, Digital Storytelling is an accessible and powerful activity for teachers and students alike with an emphasis on reflection and story, as opposed to (what often happens) trouble-shooting technical difficulties. Suitable for students aged 12 years and older, this hands-on workshop is also a wonderful way for teachers to incorporate ever-important media and digital Literacies into their classroom teaching through this engaging, exploratory and empowering activity which is relatively easy to execute for even the most techno-phobic teacher.

Started by “The Center for Digital storytelling” in Berkley, California (now called “Story Center”) in 1994, the format of this personal narrative allows the student to express their opinion, experience, or insight using voice, photographs, text and music. Easily customizable to any classroom theme or research project, a few example questions to get your students started are:

  • What issue in your community most concerns you, why, and what can you do to help solve this issue?
  • Describe a challenge in your life you overcame, how, and what lessons were learned.
  • Imagine it is 10 years in the future—what are you doing with your life, and how did you get there? What advice do you have for a student 10 years younger than yourself?

Students begin by brainstorming ideas for their project as a group or alone, completing a storyboard template (a visual representation of their project using drawings and text) before sitting down to the computer where they weave their photos (either photos they have taken themselves, or copyright-free images from into an order they choose based on their storyboard using editing programs iMovie (Mac), MovieMaker (PC) or iMovie app (iPad).  Their voice as narration is then recorded to give their digital story a valuable personal element. Copyright-free music (found from any number of online resources) is chosen to set the mood or tone, text is added for titles and credits, and a group screening of completed projects for discussion and reflection concludes the activity.

There are numerous reasons to introduce a Digital Storytelling Workshop into your classroom:

  • Hands-on media workshops successfully introduce media and digital literacies which are crucial to our students’ critical thinking and digital creation skills,
  • Asking your students to share their opinion, experience and insight requires them to formulate an argument or story and present it to their peers, which can be an incredibly insightful and empowering experience,
  • Taking a typically text-based assignment and asking students to weave together a similar argument using visual and audio elements encourages problem-solving, creative thinking and working skills.
  • This activity provides a wonderful opportunity to introduce ethical and responsible behavior and media production through discussion of representation, copyright-free images, music and distribution through the Internet.

By including digital media creation assignments in the classroom such as Digital Storytelling, you are sending a clear message to your students that you are aware of the benefits of technology, that you are open-minded to new storytelling formats in this digital age, and that you are interested and enthusiastic to hear their opinion, experience and insight. To learn more about Digital Storytelling in Canada, and how we can help get you started, please consult our website:


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© Media Literacy Week 2014
Semaine éducation médias 2014