I’m currently playing a couple of Japanese video games that are more “visual novel” than game. The gameplay is mostly reading text while pictures of the characters move around a bit to sound effects and music (that’s the English version of Phoenix Wright 2 above). It’s got me thinking about digital storytelling and its uses in the classroom – both for instructional materials (as a language learner I’m able to understand what’s happening in these games to some extent, while if I were reading just Japanese text I’d be hopeless), and, perhaps more interestingly, as a component of student projects. While there’s always room for improvement, I think I do already incorporate digital storytelling into my projects in several ways. We’ve done VoiceThreads, recorded narration for slideshows, put together Prezis, and done various assignments which involved movie-making.
One personal observation I’m constantly making during these projects is that a) the students are almost all way faster and more at home than I am at putting multimedia things together and editing them, and b) the best student projects use techniques that I didn’t teach them and often that I didn’t know. In other words, I’m assigning and assessing projects which are completed using tools which the students know better than I do. It’s a bit scary, but I’m not worried about losing authority or anything (after all, I’m the one specifying the content their creations should contain). But my students know how to make movies, and edit them, and add music, and a whole cornucopia of skills that I possess only rudimentarily.
Here’s a student project from last semester on the subject of Child Mortality, one of the UN Millennium Development Goals. I’m not sure it’s the most effective storytelling per se (it’s more impressionistic than narrative, and it’s quite frankly a bit too dark in tone for me), but I just want to add it here as an example of the techniques that they have at their fingertips while I’m all thumbs. It starts with a (disturbing) cinematic section that uses about ten different types of fade-out, vocal effects, music cues, slow motion, time-lapse, and then moves to an (equally disturbing) slideshow at the end.
To be honest I’m not sure how they did any of it. But I think the great thing is that if I had to, I could ask them. And when they need to, they ask each other. And somehow we all acquire and share effective techniques of digital storytelling, not through practice or theoretical instruction but by actually making and sharing movies, slideshows, stories, etc. Which is really fun. (Note: I do know they meant to cite the source of their music (Inception), but I don’t think that made it into the video)