Stories of Culture and Place

Kids, discovery, and new media narrative

The Digital Age is the Storytelling Age... we all get to tell our stories in our own way on the great stage of the Internet...

Stories of Culture and Place (SOCAP) helps students, teachers and community members use digital tools to research, create, illustrate and perform original new media stories about their cultures, communities, academic studies and personal lives.

The focus of SOCAP is not high end media production. The focus is helping you and your students develop powerful narratives with whatever time and equipment are available. We use technology to support the story, not the other way around.

Stories of Culture and Place wins WCET's WOW award!

This is from the WCET web site:

"University of Alaska Geography Program and the University of Alaska Southeast: Stories of Culture and Place. Literacy and digital citizenship require being able to produce whatever media we consume. In the digital age, being able to just “read” the web, movies and other media does not suffice. We also must be able to write them if we are to share in their empowerment and critically evaluate their impacts on society.

Stories of Culture and Place (SOCAP) helps students, teachers and community members read and write new media using common, inexpensive digital tools. SOCAP helps participants research, create, illustrate and perform original new media stories about their cultures, communities, academic pursuits and personal lives. SOCAP stresses the power of narrative first, tools second, using technology to support the story, rather than the other way around.

“It’s been my privilege to witness SOCAP’s profound impact on a diverse high school student population. The rebellious, the isolate, the emotionally impaired, and the naturally talented discovered the hero within through the art of digital storytelling. The Story of Culture and Place program bridges the achievement gap.” Barbara Cadiente Nelson, K-12 native student success coordinator, Juneau-Douglas School District.

Twenty revelations about Digital Storytelling in Education

Chapter One in my book, Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning and Creativity, is titled "Twenty Revelations About Digital Storytelling in Education." These revelations are based upon my work with the Stories of Culture and Place program, and came to serve as guides for how to move forward in the world of student created media. Here are three of the most important revelations:

  • Revelation 7. It is the special responsibility of teachers to ensure that students use technology to serve the story and not the other way around. The pull to glitz for many students is very strong. It is up to us to make sure that students focus on a clear and compelling narrative first, and use technology to support that, rather than overwhelm it.

  • Revelation 10. Stories help us make sense out of the chaos of life. Over and over, I watched students and teachers use the storytelling process to sort and synthesize the immense amount of information in their lives. In the end, the stories they told were crystallized visions of what was most important to them, whether it concerned a life event or a unit of instruction.

  • Revelation 20. Technology doesn't make teachers obsolete. Quite the opposite. More than ever, students need the guidance and wisdom that teachers offer to help them use technology with care and to tell their stories with clarity and humanity.

All twenty revelations are presented in a PowerPoint presentation, which you are welcome to download and use.

What Stories of Culture and Place Offers

Stories of Culture and Place offers a number of services free to the public through the University of Alaska Geography Program and the University of Alaska Southeast. It is directed by Jason Ohler who created the program and serves as its only facilitator. While school-based activity happens primarily in Alaska, workshops, presentations and project facilitation happen nationally and internationally.

Stories of Culture Place supports a number of activities, including:

  • Storytelling training. SOCAP provides training in the use of storytelling as a tool for teaching, learning, discovery and communication. Storytelling includes traditional as well as digital storytelling.

  • Student engagement through new media narrative. SOCAP specializes in training teachers and students in the art and technique of crafting new media stories that are used to support units of instruction and classroom activities. SOCAP has trained many teachers and students throughout Alaska, as well as outside Alaska through national and international workshops and presentations. (More info thru: Dorothy Gray, Director, Alaska State Writing Consortium, email:

  • Cultural exploration. SOCAP has a strong commitment to working with the Alaskan Native educational community, and works with Native organizations on digital storytelling projects that combine traditional and emerging story forms. (More info thru: Barbara Cadiente-Nelson, email:

  • Health and healing through narrative. SOCAP works with service organizations to help mentally and physically challenged clients tell digital stories for the purposes of healing, therapy and personal discovery. (More info thru: Susan Ohmer, Director, Petersburg Mental Health Services, email:

  • Research, publication and materials distribution. SOCAP conducts research about using new media narrative in education, and makes those findings available to the public. Materials at Jason's storytelling site and new media narrative site are widely used by teachers and other professionals.

  • Public presentations, workshops, teacher training. SOCAP provides public presentations about the role education can play in blending traditional and emerging new media literacies to help create learning environments that resonate with digital age students and prepare them for the world in which they live. (More info thru: Mary Wegner, Anchorage Elementary Educational Technology Coordinator, email:

In many cases, a project is a combination of several of these.

Working with SOCAP

The basic process for working with SOCAP is as follows:

  • Contact me via email ( to discuss what you would like to do. Let's find out if there is a match between what I do and what you need for your project.

  • Do a quick equipment inventory. I don't bring in fancy equipment that you don't have. Instead the focus is using what you have so you can continue to use digital storytelling after I leave. I don't focus on high-end production, I focus on the power of the narrative. You can do a lot with a very little gear.

  • Determine time availability. You don't need a lot of time to do an effective digital storytelling project. The more time you have the higher quality production tends to be, but a powerful narrative can survive a lack of production time if the project is crafted wisely.

  • Develop a curriculum inclusion plan. We plan how your digital storytelling project will best support your instruction and/or organizational goals.

  • Identify and include stakeholders. Make sure that school administrators, technology people, and others are included in at least one mail out or audio conference.

  • Send letters home. Two letters are sent home to parents a few weeks before the project begins. The first explains what digital storytelling is and how it will help their child develop literacy skills and enhance content exploration. The second letter is a permission slip allowing students to be involved in the project. This is particularly important if the kids are being video recorded.

  • Continue on-going planning until I arrive. Through email, audio and video conferencing or whatever means at our disposal, we continue our conversations until I arrive. Details, details.

Project pictures. Just a few pictures from projects gone by...


Jason and Tlingit elder, David Katzeek following the Latseen project. Latseen was a Alaskan Native high school leadership retreat in which participants learned leadership principles, Tlingit history and language, and new media narrative production. The retreat ended with participants presenting digital stories about what the learned.

Petersburg project...

Petersburg student in true "green screen" form. This project was the subject of Cable in the Classroom Reading and Writing 2.0 article titled, The Culture Club.

New media forms

Generally I work with two new media forms. They are described below.

  • Computer-based. Typically, this involves blending voice-over narration, still images, some music and some titles. The result is reminiscent of a mini Ken Burns documentary.

  • Performance-based green screen storytelling. The Matrix meets traditional storytelling. In this approach, students perform original stories in front of a green background (a sheet or wall painted green). Their performances were videotaped and original artwork is "slid behind their performances," appearing as backdrops as they perform their stories. Artwork is usually created with simple media, typically colored pencil or crayon and 8 1/2 X 11 sheets of paper. Green screen storytelling is illustrated below.

  • Other approaches. The project determines the approach. While the above approaches constitute a majority of digital storytelling I am involved with, some projects also use video recording, short film production, animation and a combination of all of these.

Story mapping, not storyboarding. Regardless of the approach used, the preparation process is the same, involving story mapping (not storyboarding), scripting, and all phases of the media production process. This is covered in depth on my storytelling site.

The green screen process. The four pictures below illustrate the process used with green screen storytelling. For a more detailed , step-by-step pictorial project guide about how to do a green screen project, visit the Nome storytelling site.

In front of the chroma screen...

In front of a fox!

In front of original pictures...

The grand finale!

Materials, resources, stories

Stories of Culture and Place has created a number of materials that it provides free to the public. They range from "minds on" considerations of the impact of storytelling on literacy and media development, to "hands on" information about classroom planning and equipment purchases. Here are some of the most widely used resources.

Digital storytelling resources. These resources have become so extensive that they have been broken down into the following four sites:

How to do green screen storytelling. A step-by-step, pictorial guide to doing green screen storytelling in a classroom project.

Beyond words and essays. A site dedicated to how and why to use new media to engage students in the world beyond essays.

Art the Next R, or 4th R. How and why art has become a practical literacy (or 4th R) in the digital age.


The following are examples of work produced by students and teachers.

It is important to note that all SOCAP projects were created with available time and technology, both of which are usually sparse. Often we were working with only a few hours a week, and very limited computer capabilities. However, we wouldn't have it any other way!

We are interested in digital storytelling becoming a normal rather than a special event. In order to do this, new media narrative projects need to be inexpensive and be able to fit within the time constraints of an average school day. Thus, you will find very little glitz, but a good deal of powerful narrative, as it should be.

Alaska documentaries, 2012. This year, I promoted the idea of MAT students creating short documentaries about some aspect of Alaska's history. The project produced some very good work, including the following:

  • Elizabeth Peratrovich, by Mara Early. Ms. Early's exploration of a key historical figure in the battle for civil rights for Alaskan Natives.

  • The Matanuska Colony, by Gabe Bailey. A fascinating rendering of how the Depression caused the population of Alaska's Matanuska Valley.

  • Salmon Troller, by Rebecca Hartwell. A personal, moving account about how a summer on a Salmon Troller changed one person's view of life, and helped her adopt Alaska as her home.

Other digital stories, documentaries. I have been involved in the development of thousands of short pieces of media. Here are just a few others:

  • On Becoming an Educational Leader. Teachers who entered a leadership program to become principals and superintendents asked me to take them through the process of creating a digital story about how they were lead to leadership. This is one of those stories.

  • Brady's First Project. Brady is a deaf student in the third grade. He wrote and signed this story with the help of his teachers. His story is about a fictional girl named Jessica who undergoes a cochlear implant operation, which Brady also underwent, and how she views the world and her future.

  • Do I Belong Here?. A young woman's story as an Alaskan Native who leaves her community to go to college and returns to teach language arts at the high school she attended as a student.

  • Double Replacement Reaction, by Layne Sarvela. Using digital storytelling, Layne explains a key concept in chemistry>

  • Fox Becomes a Better Person. Hannah Davis's green screen story is part of the Alaska Native Tlingit Literacy and Cultural Program. She performs her story in front of a green wall, and her original art work is added in post production.

  • Confessions of a Runner, by Emily Buck. This digital story provides a personal and moving exploration about why running makes runners who they are.

  • Learning to Speak Tlingit. A Tlingit educator addresses the issue of how to teach children and grand children the rapidly disappearing language of a Southeast Alaskan indigenous people.

  • The Broken Bells of Shandon. After seeing an example of Stories of Culture green screen project, our team was invited to do something similar in Cork, Ireland.

  • The Fox and the Owl. Second grader Marty created this green screen story as part of a unit on myths and animals stories. This project involved many facets of the school community. The art teacher became involved and spent a good deal of time helping students create pencil drawings to be used behind their work. Also, the 10th grade media class did the taping and production work.

  • A Good Dad. A young man's digital story about a dramatic event in his life. He created this story through an Alaskan mental health services organization as a therapeutic approach to understanding a particular issue in his life. It is low tech but high impact. It was created in only 12 hours.

  • Life Without Air Travel. Seventh graders were charged with creating the opening for a unit of instruction by creating and providing a media introduction to an essential question.

  • Darcy's Educational Philosophy. Student teacher Darcy created this as a short introduction to herself and her educational philosophy, as well as a means of showing her command of new media narrative technology and technique. She got a job.