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: email@example.com
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:
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
...one 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
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:
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:
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:
...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:
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:
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 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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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
A list of image sources
Here is a list of potential image sources taken from Bernajean Porter's book on digital storytelling called Digitales:
Academic story images
For academic stories, in addition to the items for personal stories mentioned above, here are some suggestions:
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"...it's amazing what's out there
You want to find a burp sound? Try Googling "burp sound"...it's amazing what's out there.
General resource sites
Here are some sites that provide a range of free resources:
Musicians who offer their music:
The following sites focus on more specific media:
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:
More Free Photos. From Free photo sources from an article by Mike Williams:
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