Storytelling and new media narrative

Part III - Technology, techniques, resources


Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning and Creativity. Learn more about Jason's book about digital storytelling and new media narrative in education. Read reviews, peruse the table of contents, or purchase the book. Would you like your copy "signed at a distance?" Then contact us to receive a bookplate you can add to the inside cover.

Orchestrating the Media Collage. This article appeared in the Feb-March 2009 issue of Educational Literacy, and addresses the many skills we need to be literate in the digital age, including the ability to tell effective stories.

PART III - Technology, techniques, resources

Hello and welcome to the digital part of digital storytelling!

If you are reading this page, you are probably in one of my digital storytelling workshops, or are simply looking for resources about storytelling in education. Whether or not you are in a workshop, feel free to use any materials you find here.

Storytelling in five parts. I have divided my storytelling resources into five parts, each with its own web page.

This is Part III- The technology and techniques of digital storytelling. It addresses the technology needed to create digital stories, as well as various techniques for using technology effectively. This site has a strong media literacy component, showing how to help students understand the persuasive nature of media.

If you are attending a workshop, or if you simply want to know more about the many facets of digital storytelling, please read this web page, as through the links to all of the digital storytelling resources on the right.

This site is geared toward the classroom teacher. I assume you have limited time and resources to spend on incorporating digital storytelling into your curriculum. That is why I tend to think in terms of low budget projects that can yield high academic and creative returns.

Feel free to contact me with any questions:

Getting Started

What do you need to do digital storytelling? Here's the short answer...

If you are in a hurry to get going and want to know what you need to create digital stories in your classroom - and therefore what you need to have at a digital storytelling workshop - here is the short answer:

  • Hardware - a reasonably recent computer, a digital camera, a flatbed scanner and a microphone; perhaps (but not necessarily) a video camera and a music keyboard. More about this later.
  • Software - a movie/media editing program (like iMovie on the Mac or Movie Maker II on the PC), an image editing program (like PhotoShop or GIMP though there are many free programs these days) and an audio editing program (like Audacity or the audio capabilities that are part of the movie editing program).

That's the short answer to a complex question. If you have these things you can do a great deal in your classroom and will be all set for a workshop. But there's a good deal more to consider (like using video, finding software, buying gear, etc.). So, I recommend you scan the information on this page so you understand the depth and breadth of your options in creating and telling digital stories.

Working within your budget eye on today's classroom, one eye looking down the road...

In my workshops I like to use the equipment that teachers have on hand. This makes it more possible for teachers to transfer what they learn in the workshop to their classrooms. The good news is that there is a lot you can do with what seems like very little. On this web page you will find references to low and no cost software, where to buy software with an academic discount, and many other resources.

By the way, I also like to model new and evolving technologies so teachers have an idea of what to expect. My motto is one eye on today's classroom, one eye looking down the road. We need to focus on what's happening today, while anticipating what could happen tomorrow.

Finding stuff- the never ending search for the latest and greatest

If I could clone myself, one of my clones would do nothing but try to stay on top of all the digital gear that is being developed and offered through the internet (...other clones would conduct the New York Symphony and model for GQ). It would take a full time job to find all of the gear, compare it, and then make cost vs. features recommendations, a process that would need to be repeated every month to address the constant evolution of technology.

The reality is that I find what to buy the way you do, by searching the internet and talking to colleagues and field professionals. And, like you, I am overwhelmed by what I find. I simply make the best decision I can given my needs, budget, and the time I have to spend looking.

Some ideas about how to approach buying gear

  1. First, determine whether there are any "gotta have" features. For example, when I bought five consumer quality video cameras for a media production program, I knew the cameras had to have headphones and external mike jacks or else they would be useless. It turns out that these are very hard to find on consumer gear these days. It took the better part of day to finally find them. But you gotta have what you gotta have.
  2. Second, stand on the shoulders of previous shoppers. You are networked with all sorts of people who buy gear, including friends, colleagues and family members. Ask them where they shop, what they bought and how they like it. You might even ask them if you can borrow their gear for a few hours to see how it feels.
  3. Lastly, set "search time" budgets. I don't have hard and fast rules in this regard, but generally if I am looking for something fairly low cost (under $200), I won't spend more than an hour looking for the best deal. The more expensive, the more time I will allow.

Bottom line: Figure out the "gotta have" features for your gear, ask others what gear they buy and where they buy it, and give yourself a "search time" budget.

The act of digital storytelling

So, what does telling a digital story involve?

When you are creating and telling a digital story, here are some of the activities you might be engaged in. Which of these you choose to do depends on the kind of digital story you are telling and the nature of your project. The next section looks at the technology required for these activities.

Digital storytelling involves:

  • Planning what you are going to do...right?
  • Sitting at a computer, creating and editing music, pictures, video, animation and other kinds of media. You are perhaps surrounded by gadgets (more formally known as peripherals) like digital cameras, keyboards, scanners and other tools of the digital storytelling trade...
  • Speaking into a microphone, creating the voice-over narration for your might even be might be recording someone else who is speaking or singing...
  • Looking for resources on the Internet...maybe creating a website to show your final work...
  • 'In the field,' shooting pictures, interviewing people, recording sounds, video, finding objects to scan...
  • Searching through your (or someone else's) attic, bookshelves, closets, under-the-bed shoe boxes in order to find old photos, new photos, objects (locks of hair, jewelry, year books, 4H ribbons) to scan...
  • Identifying what you need from what you found in the attics and shoe boxes (see above) and scanning them to create images you can use in your story...
  • Rehearsing and performing a story in traditional oral fashion, which is being recorded, or acting out your script as an actor in a story...
  • Sitting at a computer piecing it all together, doing post-production editing, adding titles, credits, etc...

So, what hardware and software do we need to do all this? I address that question next.

Digital Storytelling Tools

What's in my digital storytelling tool kit?

What does it take to do the activities described above? This section addresses that question.


A reasonably recent computer. In practical terms this means a Mac running at least OS X.2 or later, or a PC running Windows XP.

Digital camera. The new low end (as of 5/2006) is supposedly a camera with 5 megapixel capacity. However, I still use a 4 megapixel camera for many things quite successfully. The key is to use a camera within its capacity. How do you know whether it is within its capacity? Simple: do the pictures look good? Then you're fine. I tend to buy Sony and Canon. A reasonable amount to spend on a good digital camera is $250-500. Make sure the camera can plug directly into your computer via a USB port and has removable memory cards. Personally, I love a swivel monitor.

Flatbed scanner. You can put anything on a scanner that is more or less two-dimensional (keys, pictures, a toothbrush, your hand). You can even scan some three dimensional things- I just scanned a spice bottle and it worked, sort of... I have been using my CanonScan LIDE 60 for awhile and it does everything I need it to do. Cost: around $80. Comes with software.

Microphone. Lots of variations here, but I have been using my Logitech USB desktop microphone with great success. It sits on a stand that makes it easy to speak into. Cost: around $30. See miking techniques below for a discussion of different kinds of mikes. A number of computers have built-in mikes, allowing you to talk into your computer.

What else in terms of hardware?

The hardware described above comprise the tools of a basic digital storytelling tool kit. Here are some other gadgets and peripherals you might also want on hand:

Video camera? I have seen many, many wonderful digital stories that used just music, voice and still images: that is, no video. But if you are doing video work, then make sure your video camera has the following:

  • an input for an external mike; don't use the mike built into camera unless you are recording a large group at close range.
  • an input for headphones; you must be able to check to make sure you are picking up audio.

Both of these features are crucial to you but are hard to find on consumer quality gear these days.

...make sure your video camera has inputs for headphones and external microphones

What happened to the external mike and headphone inputs? Until fairly recently, most consumer quality video cameras came with inputs for an internal mike and headphones. However, camera manufacturers finally figured out that most people who bought their cameras - primarily tourists and parents who recorded scenery, birthday parties and soccer games - didn't use these features. To them, cameras are used primarily in 'point and shoot mode,' catching life as it unfolds, with no time or need to check sound or to set up a mike. In the case of birthday parties and soccer games, there's no real way to mike what they were shooting anyway.

Bottom line about buying video cameras with the features you will need: Professional quality gear will always have these inputs, but they cost $2,000 and up. You have to specifically look for inputs for an internal mike and headphones in a consumer camera (anything around $600). In 2005 it took me many hours to finally find the Panasonic PVGS150 DVC, which has worked wonderfully. However, models change frequently and I assume that this model is no longer available.

Also, make sure that whatever video camera you buy has the following:

  • a DV (aka Firewire) output, so you can import your video directly from your camera to your computer...this seems fairly standard these days.
  • a storage medium you are comfortable with; tape? minidisc? direct to memory? They all work. Tape-based cameras are becoming very inexpensive because they are yesterday's technology. I still use my Sony Digital 8, a Hi8 tape based machine, and love it.
...use a wireless mike once, and you'll wonder where they've been all your life...

A wireless microphone? This is another piece of technology you may want to have, especially if you are going to video record someone. DO NOT rely on the video camera's built-in mike. It does a crummy job and makes most people sound like they have a mouth full of marbles. Instead, get a wireless mike. I have used the "Azden WLX-PRO Wireless Lapel Mic/Receiver System" for years and love it. The set (consisting of a lavaliere mike, base station and optional hand-held mike) cost about $160. You will use a wireless once and never want to use the mike in your video camera again. For a little more money you can buy an Azden unit that allows you to record two people- very handy for interview situations.

A boom microphone? If you are going to frequently video record groups, you might want to invest in a boom mike. It is uncommon to have one of these; I have never needed one, but I can see how some specialty applications might require it. More about this in miking techniques below.

Music keyboard? If you are only using packaged audio clips then you don't need a keyboard. But if you want to include your own performed music (melodies, background chords, etc.) then you will need a keyboard as an input device. M-Audio makes a variety of keyboards for as little as $60. Don't buy the keyboard with the most knobs! Buy what you need, and teachers typically don't need most of those knobs. I have an M-Audio Radium 61 (means 61 keys) and haven't used most of the knobs it came shipped with. Cost: $120 and weighs a few pounds. Incidentally, this replaced my Korg OMW1, which cost $1600 and weighs 35 pounds!


Where to get an academic discount? I buy software with an academic discount from Academic Superstore. Prices and service are great. But shop around; there are other sites that specialize in selling software with an academic discount.

Kinds of software. You will use three basic kinds of software to create and edit your digital story: movie/media editing software, audio editing software and image editing software. Each is addressed in turn.

1 Movie (or media) editing software. Whether you are making a movie or simply combining still images and music, you will probably use movie editing software to assemble your digital story. Let's look at this issue in terms of the two major platforms, Mac and PC:

  • Macintosh... iMovie is a jewel. It is free, easy to learn and will do most things you need it to do. Download iMovie HD, the last version of iMovie before iMovie iLife 08 (which many do not like). How about Final Cut, Apple's high end video editor? Every time I open it I get dizzy. It is just too much, and much more than you will need to create digital stories with your students. And it's not free.
  • PC... Movie Maker II is like iMovie, and comes free with Windows XP. Make sure you have Movie Maker II (rather than I). Free upgrades are available through the Microsoft site. Important note about Windows 7. Aarrg. Microsoft dummied down MovieMaker for Windows 7. First, they don't even include it with the operating system - they make you go get it. So, you go get it and discover quickly that it is, In a word, it's bad, mostly because they got rid of the conventional timeline that we all depend on. However, you can download the old MovieMaker (version 2.6) for Windows 7. I have done it and it seems to work fine.

    But Movie Maker II has a serious flaw. The only way to get two tracks of audio is to import one track from your video camera, and then add another with a mike or other sound source. This is very clumsy. Typically when making digital stories you want to be able to create audio tracks, one for music and another for narration, and then mix the two. This is exactly what you can't do with Movie Maker II. So, if you have a PC, I urge you to download Audacity, a free audio editing program. You will need it.

If you have a small budget

Web 2.0 Tools

Web 2.0 has yielded a number of free tools that you can use to create stories. Here are a couple of clearinghouses, that provide lists of links to a number of storytelling resources. Many are free, some have upgrade options that cost:

Midrange packages

There a number of midrange packages that don't cost too much. It should be noted that the PC world has a lot more mid-ranges options than the Mac world. For example, Premiere elements ($80) will give you a professional yet fairly easy to use editing environment.

On May 6, 2006 I conducted a Goggle search for video editing software, and found the following sites helpful:

I strongly recommend you conduct your own search. The amount of free or low cost software entering the market increases every time I look.

2 Audio editing software. Both of the video editors mentioned above (iMovie on the Mac and Movie Maker II on the PC) have some audio editing capabilities. iMovie is usually sufficient for what I want to do, but Movie Maker II isn't because of the clumsy audio editing limitations I mentioned above. So, get the following piece of software:

  • Audacity, (Mac, PC), a free, feature-rich, cross-platform audio editing software
  • Amadeus, (Mac only) a cheap, feature-rich, audio editing software program

Audacity also offers lots of editing effects that are useful and interesting. For example, one of my digital storytelling students created a story told from her daughter's point of view. She then used Audacity's pitch-shifting feature to raise her voice to make herself sound like her daughter. The results are powerful and a bit spooky.

3 Image manipulation software. PhotoShop is the standard in this category, but there are options these days:

  • GIMP (Windows and Mac), a free PhotoShop clone that friends tell me works well. It's a bit fussy with the Mac; you have to download something called "X11" before downloading GIMP. But if you follow the directions, eventually you will get there.
  • Adobe PhotoShop Elements (Windows, Mac), a lite version of PhotoShop, for around $80. Available through many resellers.
  • PhotoPlus 6.0 (free, Windows only) available through Free Serif software, where you can find a number of free programs.
  • PhotoStudio, (Mac, Windows), cheap, easy to use.
  • Graphics Converter, (Mac), cheap, easy to use.
  • Preview, a free program shipped with the Mac. If all you need is to flip, rotate or crop a picture, or do some other basic picture editing, Preview will do it.

As of June 2, 2009, there is so much available. Here is an update on largely free, online image editing programs. The three links below will take you to reviews of many such programs. Many thanks to Sean Aune for exploring this issue through his blog Mashable: The Social Media Guide:

Bottom line: Keep Googling. Use search phrases like "image manipulation free software"... "alternative to Photoshop" ... new software is becoming available all the time.

What else in terms of software?

The software described above comprise the standard digital storytelling software tool kit. Here is some other software you might want on hand:

Music software. If you are using a Mac, get GarageBand. Period. It is free and has changed everything, bringing music composition within the grasp of just about anyone. One evening I tried to create a piece of music that sounded bad with GarageBand and couldn't; weird yes, bad, no. As someone who has been involved in computer-based music composition for 15 years, trust me on this: it has been very easy to make music that sound just plain bad until GarageBand arrived.

ACID for the PC is similar to GarageBand. But it is not free.

There is tons, nay, scads, nay, a veritable plethora of music composition software available to you. But for most things teachers want to do in the classroom, you need to look no further than GarageBand.

What's your favorite?

Do you have a favorite camera, recording technique, piece of software to share? Let me know!

Camera Techniques

The manipulative power of camera angles

The word "medium" (singular of the word "media") means "in the middle of." Life in the Digital Age means adjusting to the media filters that sit in the middle of and in between us and our experience of the real world. Our senses are the first filter we need to account for; our eyes and ears are fairly limited input devices that can only perceive certain things. A camera further restricts our abilities to experience life as it is and adds a twist: by deliberately shooting things at particular angles, a photographer or videographer can influence how viewers think and feel about the things, events and people being captured or recorded.

Camera angles

First some basics. The following two handouts provide a great visual orientation to the world of camera angles:

The next section explains how the angles in these handouts can be used to persuade and convey meaning.

Camera angle persuasion

Media is a filter while pretending to be a clear window... steve goodman

Here is a short list of camera angles and descriptions of the biases implicit in their use. They apply to the technology and techniques of photography as well as video recording - basically, anything with a lens:

  • Shot from above. Shooting from above looking down on a subject tends to diminish the stature of the subject. It can have the effect of belittling the subject and/or making viewers sympathize with or think less of it.
  • Shot from beneath. Shooting something from beneath looking up at, say, the chin of a human subject, tends to make the subject seem larger than life. It can have the effect of making something seem superior, overly important or menacing.
  • Shot straight on. You'd think this is the only honest camera angle, and in some ways it is more honest than others. But we all know the effect of holding a still shot of a subject face-on and not moving. We tend not to look at people this way because it makes us and them feel uncomfortable. When the camera shoots a subject dead on without wavering for more than a few seconds it tends to make us, the viewer, squirm. We are left with our discomfort, which is easily projected on to the subject.
  • Moving the camera. Short, jerky coverage of a subject often makes the subject seem strange, untrustworthy or confused because it implies that the subject is trying to dodge coverage.
  • The bias of the moving subject. Standard fare in media literacy courses are stories about news coverage that favors scuffles over quiet discussion, regardless of how unrepresentative the video bite is. If there is a peaceful demonstration that has 15 seconds of scuffle, the video lens and the television medium favor the movement of the scuffle. That is, we, the viewer, are much more apt to stay interested if there is such movement.

Bottom line: how we hold, position and move a camera can in large part determine how we think and feel about what we see. Camera angles are the adjectives and adverbs of video grammar.

Common Video Shooting Shooting Mistakes

Robert Scoble and Beth Kanter created this excellent short video about how to shoot effective video by demonstrating four common errors many of us make as videographers and how to fix them:

The 4 common video shooting mistakes and how to fix them are as follows:

  • Don't center the eyes- use the rule of thirds. Make sure that the eyes are not centered in your video frame. Instead, they should be about a third the way down from the top of the frame.
  • Don't shoot in backlight. Make sure that the light is behind you, not behind your subject, when shootint video. If you don't then your subject will appear dark.
  • Find a quiet spot. Avoid ambient noise. Your camera will "hear" all of it and include it in your video.
  • Don't shoot close to the subject. I know this sounds like something Capt. Obvious would say, but shooting too far away makes viewers squint. It also introduces ambient noise.

Going green - using green screen and chroma key editing in digital storytelling

Before we go any further watch Stargate Studios Virtual Backlot Reel 2009. It is a short clip that shows how a professional studio uses greenscreening in popular movies and TV shows. You will not doubt recognize some of the material and say to yourself, "You mean that wasn't real?!" One of my favorite approaches to digital storytelling is "green screen" storytelling that uses chroma key editing, much like the editing used in weather programs and modern movies, like the Matrix and Harry Potter. Students tell stories in traditional oral fashion in front of a chroma key background, like a green wall or a mono-color sheet hanging behind the performance. This allows students to add artwork "behind their performance" in post-production using simple chroma key editing, the same kind of editing the weather announcer uses. The result is students performing their own stories in front of their own artwork. The results are stunning.

  • Fox Becomes a Better Person. This is an example of a green screen project that was created, told and illustrated by fourth grader Hannah Davis.
  • Going green. This is in Part II and explains step by step the process I use to help students plan create green screen stories. In this section I explain the technology and techniques involved.

Technically, what is required to do green screen chroma key editing? Not much - a solid color wall and a software program that allows chroma key editing, which many video editing programs do. It is not important that the wall be "green" only that it be mono-color, well lit and have as few shadows as possible. Movies and weather announcers tend to use a particular shade of green or blue because it is distinct and not commonly worn.

Here is a quick list of software and information about "going green" with your digital storytelling:

  • Premiere. The editing of Hannah's performance was done with Premiere. While Premiere is a bit pricy, Premiere Elements (a lite version of Premiere) is only about $80. Premiere is still being made for the PC, but not the Mac; the last version for the Mac was 6.5 and works just fine. I have prepared a list of steps to perform chroma key editing in Premiere.
  • iMovie versions 7-10, and no doubt beyond. All versions of iMovie after iMovie HD (iMovie 6) are green screen capable. I have real problems with iMovie beyond HD, but do give it credit for having good green screen tools.
  • iMovie HD. As of 1/2007, iMovie was not capable of doing chroma key editing as shipped. However, you could buy a plug-in for it. As of 1/2007, there are two I know of (although I am sure there are others):

    • eZeScreen, by eZedia. As of 3/2007, it costs $30. For the purposes of green screen storytelling, I find eZeScreen very cumbersome. It works, but it's not intuitive. Contact me if you want training materials I have developed for this software.

    • VIdMix, part of Slick 4 by Gee Three. It costs $50, or $40 if you 5 copies. It is much easier to use and more full featured than eZesScreen. Contact me if you want training materials I have developed for this software.
  • MovieMaker, for the PC. My friends in the PC world sent me instructions for getting MovieMaker to do green screen editing for free. Frankly, the reports I get give this a 50/50 chance of working. Download the instructions. My PC friends suggested the best source of information on this was an entry on wikiHow called How to Chroma Key in Window Movie Maker.
  • Videopad for the PC. It's free. My PC friends have better luck with VideoPad than with MovieMaker instructions above. I used it once in a workshop and it seemed to work fine; but no priomises. You can download VideoPad here.
  • Sony Vegas 6 DVD Studio, for the PC. Around $200, a very good package.
  • Some video cameras have built-in chroma key capabilities. They can be a bit clumsy but they do work. As long as you are not trying to create something for prime time TV, the results are just fine. Your camera may have this capability and you may not know it. This might be one of those rare times to read your video camera manual.
  • Directions for doing performance-based green screen storytelling. Feel free to download my information packet about using chroma key editing in digital storytelling. The green screen storytelling information appears at the end of an information packet about "Stories of Culture and Place," a program sponsored by the University of Alaska Geography Program that uses DEOST with K-12 students in Alaska. The information packet includes tips about choosing a chroma color, lighting your area, optimizing oral storytelling to accommodate the addition of artwork, and more.
  • A pictorial step-by-step guide to green screen storytelling. You can also look at a step-by-step pictorial guide to doing a green screen storytelling project, which is based on a project completed at Nome Elementary School in December, 2006.

    My prediction: in the near future, chroma key editing will be a standard feature of most video editing software packages.

Bottom line: As video becomes less expensive and easier to use, it will appear more and more in digital stories. The expressive quality of chroma key editing assures that it will become more commonplace. For much of The Matrix, Keannu Reeves was flying around in a green room; the green was then chroma edited to add the unbelievable events and backgrounds that gave the movie its groundbreaking quality. I think it's fair to say that some portion of digital storytelling will "go Matrix" even if just to tell personal stories in a very new way.

Editing and Posting Video on the Web

Free services abound

A number of services are becoming available that actually allow you to edit your video online; some are free, some are tiered (support free basic accounts, as well as more feature-rich premiere accounts). As of June 15, 2008, here are some of them:

Teacher-friendly, posting sites:

Posting Video on the Web

Summary of a USA Today 12/20/07 article

On December, 20, 2007, USA Today featured an article about where to post video on the web titled, "Video-sharing websites resolve to showcase better viewing." Here is a summary, much of which is directly quoted from USA Today's excellent article. Keep in mind that other leading contenders, notably YouTube, Google Video and TeacherTube, were not reviewed.

  • Veoh: Looks great but lots of ads. Veoh postiions itself as a next-generation TV alternative (has the backing of Time Warner, former Disney chief Michael Eiser and former Viacom CEO Tom Ferston). If offers independent video productions, user-generated content and complete shows from such providers as CBS.

    Upside: Content is impressive, there are no time or file-size restrictions on your videos (unlike YouTube, Yahoo, AOL and others). Clarity, color, sharpness is betther than Vimeo. YouTube, Blip TV or SmugMug.

    Downside: Your video is displayed on a web page littered with ads. To avoid the ads, use the service's downlain VeohTV appplication.

  • SmugMug. It's best known as a premium photo-sharing service that charges annual fees ($60-$150).

    Upside: It allows unlimited photo backup, and hi-rez clarity is very good.

    Downside: Your video clip can't be bigger than 500 megabytes or longer than 2.5 minutes for the $60 level, or five minutes or 500 megs at the $150 level.

  • Blip.TV. Fashions itself as a TV alternative, with channels devoted to independent video production.

    Upside: Video looks good, is easy to share and looks better than YouTube. No restrictions on file size, no ads, and (unlike YouTube) you can download the video directly to your desktop.

    Downside: Clarity and resolution are just okay.

  • Vimeo. Noted for its tough download restrictions- you can only download 500 megs/week, but there is no time limit on the videos.

    Upside: Clips look wonderful, has a free high def channel.

    Downside: Standard def quality is fair, and usage rules are strict.

Audio Techniques

Videotaping oral storytelling

If you are using recorded oral storytelling or recorded performance as part of your digital story, there is one rule above all: have your performers wear wireless mics. If you rely on the mic built into the video camera the audio sounds like amateur video shot at a birthday party. You'll use a wireless mic once, and never want to use anything else. And they're inexpensive. I use the Azden. Approximate cost: $180

Mike Technique and Speaking Into Your Computer

Miking a live storyteller: Use a remote wireless mike. Do NOT rely on the mike built into the video camera.

Most digital storytellers assume they need to sit when recording their narrative. Not so. Experiment with audio delivery. How you sit, stand and move will determine what you audio sounds like.

  • Sitting. This seems to be the default for recording narrative for digital storytelling. Good mike technique says "talk directly into the mike." And because you are reading, you are sitting still at a desk. This works, but it can restrict expression.
  • Standing. This means putting your mike on a mike stand, and plugging it into your computer. A lot of radio theater is done this way. It is easier to move your body, which in turn helps you inflect your delivery.
  • Wearing a headset. Using a headset (combination mike and headphones, like telemarketers wear) allows you to move your head without having to worry about not speaking directly into the mike. Your natural inclination is to be more expressive.

    Purchase option: USB Headset (BestBuy price): $51.99 Logitech Premium USB Headset 350 with Noise-Canceling Microphone Model: 980374-0403.
  • Wearing a wireless. This allows you to move your entire body; your natural inclination is to be more expressive. This is ideal for spontaneous, unscripted speaking. Or, you can hold the narrative in your hand as you act out your narration. I use the Azden wireless.

Bottom line: What you do with your body as you record your voice-over narrative will greatly affect what your narrative sounds like. Use your body to help you speak your words.

The Manipulative Power of Music

In media the image gives us the information, while music tells us how to feel about it.

This is sometimes credited to the film maker Robert Bresson - read more quotes by Bresson about how image and sound work together in film making.

Most people want to include music in their digital stories. So, let's visit the issue of "the manipulative power of music" for a moment.

In my media literacy classes, we talk about strategies advertisers use "to pierce the neocortex," that is, to grab listeners (or consumers) beneath their judgmental minds where they are often helpless to use critical thinking to assess what they are watching.

What pierces the neocortex? Appeals made to primal instincts (survival, sex, belonging to a community, happiness, etc.), and, above all, music.

...nothing pierces the neocortex and manipulates the emotions like music

Like it or not, sappy music tends to make us feel sentimental (even if we don't want to), while the Rocky theme makes us feel powerful and conquering, even if we aren't. When I am conscious of being manipulated by music, especially during a bad movie, I consider it a cheap shot and an admission that the story isn't very good. But even knowing this, the music still effects me. What's more, the effects of music are usually very predictable over a very wide range of audience members. That is, play the Rocky theme for a diverse crowd, and most people will still have similar reactions to it every time. That's power.

To demonstrate the power of music, view two creations that I found on the web that I consider to be among my favorite. Both use music and editing to create trailers that portray well known movies completely inaccurately:

  • The Shining, (a spoof). The Shining, a desperate, edgy nasty movie if there ever was one, is portrayed in this trailer as being great family entertainment. The music is instrumental (pardon the pun) at making that happen. The author has done an amazing job of creating mood through music and editing, and completely misleading you about the movie in the process.
  • A Christmas Gory, a spoof on A Christmas Story offers the flip side. A Christmas Story is one of those cute, family classics that hits you squarely in the Disney chakra. Watch this trailer and you'd think it was some creepy, slasher flic.
...the Jaws theme can make Bambi appear evil... that's the power of music... use it wisely

Three Movie Sequences. This is another great resource for demonstrating the manipulative power of music. My thanks to Kathy from Creating Passionate Users for allowing me to include it on my website.

In this exercise, 3 different kinds of musical backgrounds are applied to the same 30-second movie of someone getting out of bed in the morning and walking out into the living room. The net effect is to suggest three entirely different moods and stories.

Using this with students: Have them do a quick write following each video about what kind of movie they think they are watching, what they think the story line might be and how they feel toward the young man in the movie. You need to play each movie to get the full effect. They are only 30 seconds long. I suggest you play the movie without any sound at all before playing all three sequences with sound.

A project for students: have them create their own "three movie sequences" project. If you want to really drive the point home about the power of music to your students have them create their own "three movie" project. Have them a) record 30 seconds (the legal limit) of a well known movie, b) tape a 30-second conversation between a few people in class, or c) shoot something potentially boring, like traffic. Then have them add background music to make listeners feel three different ways about the dialogue: creepy, sad, sentimental, whatever. Thanks to programs like GarageBand, creating music is quick, easy and within anyone's reach. The results are amazing and often hilarious.

Bottom line: Music manipulates and can overtake a story if over used or over played. Make sure your music supplements your story, and not the other way around. When it is the other way around, you have a music video.

Sources for photo tips

Rule of thumb: Don't be afraid to try something new. Odd shots are often the most interesting.

My favorite is David Patterson's Shoot Yourself, which you can download as a PDF, or watch on Vimeo.

Technology to bring to the workshop

Rule of thumb: Have one mike and camera per every 3-5 five people; 1 scanner per every 10.

If you are attending a workshop, here is a list of what you will need to have. I am not sure whether we will have access to equipment at your site for this workshop so please bring the following if at all in doubt. Note: It is much like the list covered in the digital storytelling toolkit section above:

  • Your own laptop with basic software. If you have a Macintosh (definitely my preference) it should be running OS X and have iMovie installed on it. If you have a Windows machine, it should have Movie Maker II installed on it. Movie Maker II is standard issue with later versions of Windows software. Please boot up your software to make sure you have version II and that it opens okay. If you have version I, upgrades are available at the Microsoft site.

    As mentioned earlier, you will also be well served to have an image editing program (like PhotoShop or Gimp) and an audio editing program like Audacity, particularly if you using Movie Maker II. See the software section for more details.
  • A digital camera and a scanner and the necessary cords and software to connect these to your computer. Typically we don't do video in our workshops, but you are welcome to bring your video camera if you like. Also, most venues I work in (schools, training centers) provide scanners, but be sure to check. For information about what to get in terms of cameras and scanners, see the section digital tool box.
  • A microphone. Please check to make sure your mike will plug into your computer. It used to be simple; mikes plugged into computers. It is a little more complicated now. Talk to your local tech about what it takes if you are unsure. My preferences in terms of microphones is mentioned in the digital tool box section.

Rule of thumb: For every 3-5 participants there should be one microphone and one digital camera one hand. Try to network class participants ahead of time so they can decide who can bring what (sort of like a pot luck lunch). If everyone shows up with their own mike and camera, great. But it's not necessary.

Story materials to bring to the workshop

...bring all the media you think you might need

For personal stories, bring digital photos of people involved in your story, an outline of the important events (take a walk down memory lane and try to sketch out the salient points), any music that is important on CD or iPod, any audio or video you might want to take clips from...

Thoughts about finding images

Here are some important points to consider about images

  • What's the #1 complaint from digital storytelling students? They didn't bring the materials they needed to the workshop. In fact, it is impossible to know what you need, but you have to try your best to anticipate. Bring a suitcase of everything you might need in terms of scannable objects, computer files, video snippets, music...whatever. It's much easier to ignore what you brought than try to compensate for what isn't there.
  • You can produce an image of anything that you can put on a scanner or that you can photograph. So, don't think just in terms of photos, think in terms of things that can be scanned or photographed.
  • Personal media is everywhere. You have produced a lot of media during your life that you are not aware of. Sit in your favorite easy chair and look around you. There is a great deal of media that will work well for your story that is on your walls, on your bookshelves, in desk drawers, or in that box in the attic you refuse to throw away. And don't forget your friends and family members who have been taking pictures of you, shooting video of you, and receiving your letters and gifts for many years.

A list of image sources

Here is a list of potential image sources taken from Bernajean Porter's book on digital storytelling called Digitales:

- old photos

- greeting cards

- watches

- report cards

- fabrics

- jewelry

- post cards

- letters

- personal papers

- flowers, leaves

- wall paper

- book covers

- hair braids

- drawings, art work

- mementos

Academic story images

For academic stories, in addition to the items for personal stories mentioned above, here are some suggestions:

  • lesson plan(s) and materials used with your lessons
  • pictures you use in the lesson
  • relevant charts
  • maps
  • URLs and web materials
  • pictures of students, your classroom, your school

Just walk through the lesson and think about what might go into a story or movie about it.

Free Software, Sound, Music and Graphic Resources

The Internet provides access to many free software, sounds, graphics, music and other resources.

...try Googling "burp sound"'s amazing what's out there

You want to find a burp sound? Try Googling "burp sound"'s amazing what's out there.

General resource sites

Here are some sites that provide a range of free resources:

  • Wikimedia Commons - Free Media Music Resources
  • John Shoemaker's Legally Reusable Media. Here are the music resources:
    • Incompetech - a great site for a large variety of free music. Please read in the Music FAQ how the creator would like you to cite his work.

    • Free Music Archive - Great source of a variety of genres of music. See track information to learn what you can and cannot do with each track.

    • thefreesoundproject - A sound effects website. All work must be attributed to the original author.

    • soundsnap - A sound effects website. Registration required. 5 free sounds per month.

    Musicians who offer their music:

    • Opsound - Listeners can download, remix, and re-imagine. Work must be attributed to the original author.

    • ccMixter - A creative commons website that allows you to use music in your project. Work must be attributed to the original author.

    • How to Find Free Music for Videos by McCoy Productions.

    • Moby - Moby makes some of his discarded music free for video productions. Requires registration.

    • Jonathon Roberts - A site that has royalty free music as long as you credit Jonathon Roberts

    • Jimmy G - Free music as long as you credit Jimmy G. Registration required.

    • DanoSongs - Free music. Requires you to include “Free Music by” in the credits.

    • Musopen - Lots of free music, including classical music. Also has free sheet music, music theories books, and other resources.
  • Copyright continuum, by Spans 1923 to present, and tells you what is protected, what is public domain. Interesting and helpful.
  • 31 of My Favorite Digital Storytelling Sites. One of the many compendiums you will bump into on the web. This one is from iLearn, and was posted on 11-10-2010.
  • Ookaboo. (Added 11/23/10) Sent to be me byOokaboo's owner, Paul Houle. Said Houle, "We started Ookaboo in July (2010) but it's already got 510,000 images of 283,000 distinct topics... and it's getting better all the time because we load 8,000 images a day. Unlike a lot of free photo sites, all pictures in Ookaboo are creative commons or public domain, so they can be used freely for both commercial and non-commercial purposes."
  • Pics4Learning, plus other sites. Be sure to use the pull down menu in the center, top of the page to access a number of free pic sites.
  • Our Media.
  • Creative Commons.
  • Creative Commons Content Directories.
  • Wikipedia Media Commons.
  • Wikimedia. From the website: "Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language."
  • Microsoft Office Online. A good source of images and music.
  • JISC Collections - Digital images in education. An unrivalled online image library, comprising over 500 hours of film and 56,000 photos, will be available free of charge for at least 25 years to UK higher and further education institutions from Summer 2010.

The following sites focus on more specific media:

  • Free Play Music. It's an amazing site; you can choose music based on type, mood and length.
  • Bravenet. Lots there.
  • GarageBand. Specializing in new music by new artists.
  • Free Images. A good source of photos, other images.
  • Free Graphics. A portal to thousands of free graphics, pictures, photos and other resources.

More free sources. Here are others. Remember- these come and go. Some are free one day, and not the next, some require acknowledgement, others don't:

Pictures, graphics

Music, Sounds

More Free Photos. From Free photo sources from an article by Mike Williams:

  • Stock.XCHNG. This fabulous site has a library of almost 400,000 images covering every topic, and is probably the best place to start your search for free images. Stock.XCHNG has a more complex image licence agreement than some of the competition, though, so read that carefully before you start.
  • 2. Openphoto. It first appeared back in 1998, and so it's no surprise that Openphoto has now built up a solid collection of stock photos. They're neatly arranged into well-chosen categories, and clicking any of these leads on to a thumbnail gallery of related shots.
  • 3. Stockvault has a small but very high quality collection of stock photos, as well as logo templates, clip arts, textures and backgrounds. It's the perfect site to find graphics for your website, then, but beware - Stockvault's images are free for personal, non-commercial use only.
  • 4. Unprofound. This site has some great photos, with no significant restrictions on their use. You don't have to register to download images, and Unprofound is strictly non-profit, so you won't be hassled by the usual collection of annoying ads. What's not to like?
  • 5. Free Media Goo. You can browse the tiny library at Free Media Goo in just a few minutes, and the images are relatively low resolution. There are some undeniably impressive photos, though, along with some handy textures and audio samples, and there's no need to register - just download anything that appeals.
  • 6. Morguefile. This site's best feature is its excellent search tool. You can filter by categories, keywords, size, rating, even colour, so it's easy to bypass irrelevant shots and zoom in on the photos you need. Morguefile's licence is generous and no registration is required.
  • 7. Pixel Perfect Digital. This interesting site includes over 4,000 stock photos, neatly organised in categories from Abstract and Animals to Places and Transportation. The best part of Pixel Perfect Digital is the collection of digital art and illustrations, though; stylish images that are hard to find elsewhere.
  • 8. Image*After. Image*After didn't impress us with its conventional photos, but the more abstract efforts - everything from electronic components to brick walls and artistic blurs - are much more compelling, especially if you're looking for an unusual background image.
  • 9. Freerange. The Freerange site search has an annoying habit of returning photos that have nothing to do with your keywords. But keep trying, and whether you're looking for animals or objects, people, places or arty, near abstract shots, you'll find a suitable high resolution shot here.
  • 10. Free Digital Photos. There are just a few images here - searching for "cat", say, returns only 13 photos - and only the relatively low resolution (around 640 x 480) versions are free. Free Digital Photos requires a credit if you use one, too. It does have some excellent shots, though, and could be just what you need to spice up a personal website.
  • 11. Free Photos Bank. The Free Photos Bank site provides a typical range of free photos - people, animals, landscapes and so on. They're better at abstract shots, though, backgrounds and digital artwork, so this is a good place to start looking for those more unusual images. There's no registration required so downloading is easy, whatever you're after.
  • 12. Flickr. As the biggest photo sharing site on the web, used by some of the world's best photographers, your image search really isn't complete without a quick check of what Flickr has to offer. Not everyone allows their photos to be used commercially, though, so visit the Advanced Search Page, then check "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" and any other licence-related options you need before you begin. And when you find a photo you like, check on the right-hand side for a link like "Some rights reserved", and click it for details on what you can - and can't - do with the shot.
  • 13. Digital Gallery
  • 14. Free Digital Photos
  • 15. Public Domain Pictures
  • 16. Art history