DH@Guelph – Digital Storytelling

Its been a month since I returned from DH@Guelph, the annual workshop series put on by THINC Lab May 14-17 2018.

This year I registered for Digital Storytelling for Humanists, a fun & creative workshop designed to get us thinking about best practices for storytelling, introduce us to tools for telling stories, and discuss the place of digital storytelling in our research and classrooms.

We worked primarily with WeVideo for this workshop, a subscription-based video-making/editing web-based app. We also experimented with other platforms for telling stories, including google maps, podcasting, web-design, and poster-making.

On Day 1: We talked about elements of a good story – length (SHORT), structure, hook, etc. Then we viewed some examples of digital story-telling produced by students and scholars from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds (including from the Whittier YouTube Channel, StoryCorps, and storycentre). In the afternoon, we brainstormed story ideas and conducted a “story circle” where we shared and provided feedback on proposed story projects.

On Day 2: We spent time drafting a script for our stories. Then we took a break from our stories to experiment with google maps’ story-telling capabilities. Each of us used a smart-phone to take photos and add them to a collaborative map. In the afternoon we returned to writing and began recording our scripts and gathering images/video/sounds for our stories.

Day 3: We used Audacity to record and edit a spoken story. Audacity is a free and relatively powerful tool for recording voices, sounds and interviews – especially when paired with a high-quality mic! In the afternoon we got our hands dirty with WeVideo, exploring the editing capabilities of the platform, and putting video, sounds, and images together to create a narrative.

Day 4: We finished our videos and published them!


As scholars, we are not trained in creative writing, broadcasting, or media production. And ultimately we shouldn’t strive to do those jobs.

Instead, digital story-telling can serve as a way for us to experiment with alternative forms of thinking and publication. WeVideo was a simple way to put together a surprisingly polished product which was easily shareable.

In trying to put together a story, I was forced to seek what was most visually and intellectually engaging about my work and attempt to translate it for an audience of non-specialists. This process was very useful to me, and I can imagine it would be equally useful for students. Paring down a message to less-than-three minutes required significant soul-searching, time investment, critical thought, and self-editing. Basically, all the skills we attempt to impart when we assign an essay or review, but even more highly concentrated.

Although we only experimented with a single type of digital story-telling (narrative video-creation), other forms require similar processes of self-editing and self-reflection. The most valuable part of the story-making process was the story-circle, where we gave and received honest feedback from peers. Because none of us were experts, I think we were more receptive to feedback and willing to take risks with our material. I can imagine integrating all or part of this process in to a classroom setting, and assigning a video, podcast, or image-making project instead of a written assignment for upper-year undergraduates.

My creative brain was definitely a bit rusty. The workshop forced me to tap in to artistic parts of myself which took a back seat during decades of academic research. Although I have no desire to return to the angst-ridden days of high-school poetry-writing, it was refreshing to experiment with different ways of communicating.  I walked away with new ways of thinking/expressing my work (yes, in traditional forms of writing and speaking – in addition to visual).

Using WeVideo, I attempted to summarize the main argument of my PhD Dissertation. The result is embedded below, or view-able HERE on WeVideo.

Note: This is very rough. I was not particularly successful at articulating my argument, and the piece definitely needs improvement! However, note the use of images, video, sound, and narrative!

Mica Jorgenson is the Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship. She studies the environmental history, especially commodities and the primary resource industry. You can find her on twitter: @mica_amy

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