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Digital Storytelling and the Liberal Arts

A Curriculum Development Workshop

Digital Storytelling

The Macalester College Digital Storytelling resource site was created by faculty participating in this FaCE-funded project. The site exists to encourage and support digital storytelling in liberal arts settings.

Project information:


Digital storytelling has become a ubiquitous feature of public discourse in the 21st century. From 30-second videos created on smart phones to Ted Talks that circulate on social media, digital stories shape the way we imagine the world and our place in it. Today’s college students are as accustomed to trolling through YouTube videos for information on issues they care about as they are to reading a text. And as digital natives, they increasingly arrive on campus with at least rudimentary skills for producing digital stories of their own.

Despite this, liberal arts curriculum has been slow to incorporate digital storytelling tools. Knowledge of how to design, frame, and evaluate media-based assignments—while growing—is still relatively limited among faculty outside of media-centric disciplines. For many, integrating even basic media production into their classes can seem intimidating.

At the same time, many liberal arts educators are hungry to expand their teaching strategies to better meet the needs of today’s learners. They recognize that digital media techniques, when embedded in liberal learning, can catalyze new forms of inquiry and dialog. There is also increasing concern that traditional term papers and exams are not the best means to evaluate learning for some students, for example, non-native English speakers.

The goal of this project is to equip faculty and staff educators with digital storytelling skills and accompanying pedagogical methodology so that they can integrate digital storytelling into teaching. Through a hands-on production workshop, a digital storytelling pedagogy seminar, and a website, we aim to cultivate a community of educators who effectively use digital storytelling and can serve as resources for ACM campuses.

Note: Content adapted from project proposal.


The goal of this project is to equip faculty and staff educators with digital storytelling skills and accompanying pedagogical methodology so that they can integrate digital storytelling into teaching. Through a hands-on production workshop, a digital storytelling pedagogy seminar, and a website, we aim to cultivate a community of educators who effectively use digital storytelling and can serve as resources for ACM campuses.

This project represents an opportunity to train a group of faculty to craft pedagogically sound active learning assignments that tap into the excitement and interest around new media technology. This opportunity connects directly to Macalester’s declared interest in developing new uses of technology to improve and broaden the reach of teaching and learning. It also resonates with the institution’s interest in promoting excellence and innovation in teaching. These interests come together in Macalester’s commitment to supporting research and teaching in the Digital Humanities. The proposed workshop on digital storytelling would enhance and augment such a commitment.

Positive Impacts of Digital Storytelling Pedagogy (DSP)

These interests are certainly not unique to Macalester and are shared broadly by ACM colleges. The ACM’s Meeting on the Digital Humanities that was convened in October 2013 is evidence of this and there is likewise interest among many ACM colleges to revive liberal arts curriculum through active learning techniques (e.g., Beloit’s Labs Across the Curriculum). We expect that such training in digital storytelling pedagogy (DSP) will positively impact liberal arts teaching and learning activities in four principal ways.

  1. Use of DSP enables faculty to engage students who are already excited about using new media technology. Faculty can harness students’; interest in, familiarity with, and enthusiasm for new media to participate in learning disciplinary conventions and perform creative work within and across disciplines. Use of DSP also enables faculty across a variety of disciplines to diversify the learning environments in their courses, offering assignments and activities that also engage visual, aural, and verbal learning styles.
  2. DSP offers another tool for faculty to assess students’ learning of relevant course material. Recent revision to Bloom’s taxonomy places creating new products and points of view at the pinnacle of the learning process. DSP deepens faculty’s ability to motivate students to learn and broadens the ways students can demonstrate learning. In addition, DSP provides faculty with an opportunity to understand students’ learning processes and intervene in impactful ways. Randy Bass’ work on exposing the “invisible knowledge” of students highlights that use of new media technologies provides a vantage point from which to assess learners’ ability to understand, apply, and analyze disciplinary knowledge and concepts. Therefore, use of DSP in low-stakes assignments offers faculty another method of monitoring and enhancing students’ learning.
  3. DSP offers assignments in which students can enhance their facility with new media technologies. Competent and creative use of this technology is a valuable skillset in today’s workplace. Organizations throughout public, private, and nonprofit sectors are now using new media in their effort to compete in the new attentive economy. This pattern will likely only intensify in the coming decades. College graduates will therefore be expected to use new media to enhance the creative and communicative work that organizations must perform in order to capture the attention of consumers, collaborators, and investors. Liberal arts institutions must therefore keep pace by developing rigorous opportunities across its curriculum to acquire and develop skillsets around the use of new media technologies.
  4. Investing in faculty’s ability to engage DSP supports the continued relevance of liberal arts training in a dynamic and evolving higher education marketplace. Indeed, training in DSP equips faculty with valuable tools that will be necessary to forge engaging learning environments that foster students’ creative capacities. Moreover, as faculty become confident practitioners of DSP, they will be better positioned to innovate where these learning environments are offered, whether that is online, in the classroom, or a blend of the two.


The collaborative team of Katie Pratt, Dan Trudeau, and Brad Belbas will attend a training at the nationally recognized Center for Digital Storytelling based in Berkeley, CA. The three-day training is designed specifically for educators and includes technical training, discussions of digital storytelling methodology, and resources for implementing digital storytelling in the classroom.

Based on the training, this team will then design and run a two-day, hands-on digital storytelling workshop on the Macalester College campus for 16 participants from across ACM schools. Because the Center for Digital Storytelling training is not specific to higher education or to liberal arts institutions and curriculum, Katie, Dan and Brad will do additional research on digital storytelling pedagogy which they will incorporate into the workshop design. We will review and curate relevant literature, web-based resources, and how-to videos. We will also gather input from faculty and staff contacts at other higher education institutions (for example the University of Minnesota) with experience in digital storytelling.

The faculty cohort participating in this workshop and seminar will form a community of practice across ACM colleges who will mutually foster continued learning in digital storytelling pedagogy. This community will provide a supportive environment for future communication, collaboration, and innovation around digital storytelling pedagogies and Digital Humanities more broadly. As a result of this project, we will have developed curriculum for a hands-on workshop and digital storytelling pedagogy seminar. This curriculum could be replicated in future years or at other ACM colleges.

Digital Storytelling Workshop

The workshop itself will take place over January break. It will be housed in Macalester’s digital photography laboratory, which is equipped with the necessary software. During the workshop, participants will step into the student role and produce a digital story of their own. In experiencing firsthand the conceptual and technical processes involved, faculty will be better equipped – and feel more confident – to guide students. The workshop will end with a discussion of how faculty can use these to assemble a digital storytelling assignment for a specific course they will teach in the 2016-2017 academic year, if not before then. We will also assign readings and exercises for the group members to complete before we reconvene in May.

Faculty and staff educators from any ACM school are eligible to participate in the workshop. We anticipate 8 participants from Macalester, 4 from ACM colleges within driving distance (e.g. less than four hours by car), and 4 from ACM schools who would fly in. We are requesting funds to support faculty from farther away institutions to travel and stay in the Twin Cities to attend the workshop. Our target audience is non-experts who have little prior experience with media production. We will give preference to applicants who can identify a feasible strategy to disseminate the results of their work on digital storytelling pedagogy at their own institution. We will hold one pre-workshop webinar orientation over fall semester 2015 in which we introduce digital storytelling, distribute articles and other resources, and discuss the format for the January workshop.

At the end of the spring 2016 semester, we will bring the cohort back to the Macalester campus for a one-day digital storytelling pedagogy seminar that will delve deeper into the topics of assignment design, assessment, learning outcomes, and discipline specific concerns. In the interim months, participants will have completed a series of exercises including designing a digital storytelling assignment that they would potentially incorporate into one of their classes, investigating the technical support resources on their home campuses, and finding examples of digital storytelling relevant to their discipline. The seminar is intended to make full use of these immersive experiences by fostering face-to-face interaction, group reflection, and team-based problem solving to deepen the participants’ understanding and facility with digital storytelling pedagogy.

During the seminar, participants will work in teams to refine their assignment and discuss the nuances of using digital storytelling in their courses. We will also address how digital storytelling can be used beyond the classroom to disseminate research results, help students reflect on their learning (for example by producing a digital story about their study abroad experience), or enrich community engagement. We contemplated having off-campus group members participate remotely in this seminar, but we felt the educational value and community building potential of face-to-face interaction was worthy of the additional expense need to bring the cohort to the Macalester campus a second time.

Concurrent to the above activities, Katie, Dan, and Brad will develop a website focused on digital storytelling techniques and pedagogy which will serve to support learning for workshop participants and disseminate knowledge to the broader ACM community. The website will house resources such as a bibliography, links to relevant websites, and assignments that have been designed by workshop participants. It will also allow us to document and share–via webinars and short essays–the January workshop and the spring seminar so that this learning is available to a wider audience. Finally. the blog will serve as a discussion forum for educators interested in digital storytelling.

Activity Timeline
  • Summer 2015: Initiate digital storytelling pedagogy website. Background research on digital storytelling pedagogy. Outreach to contacts at ACM institutions. Recruit potential participants.
  • August 2015: Katie, Dan, and Brad attend a digital storytelling training at the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, CA.
  • Fall Semester 2015: Design January workshop and spring digital storytelling pedagogy seminar. Solicit applications and select participants. Hold a pre-workshop webinar orientation.
  • January 2016: Two-day, hands-on digital storytelling workshop for 16 faculty from ACM institutions. This will take place in Macalester’s digital photography lab.
  • Spring Semester 2016: Participants will complete readings and exercises to build on their learning from the January workshop and prepare them for the May digital storytelling pedagogy seminar.
  • May 2016: One-day digital storytelling pedagogy seminar on the Macalester campus.
  • On-going: Maintain website and listserve. Follow-up surveys with participants to evaluate the impact of the training on their teaching. Opportunities for the training cohort to reconvene via webinar to discuss the implementation of their digital storytelling assignments and explore possibilities for further learning.
  • May 2017: Follow-up with participants to discuss the implementation of their digital storytelling assignment.

Dissemination Strategies

As part of their application, participants in the workshop will commit to applying their experience in the digital storytelling workshop and seminar to generate a new digital storytelling assignment for a course they will teach during the 2016-2017 academic year. When participants gather for the day-long pedagogy seminar in May 2016, they will discuss their assignment design and their specific plan for implementing the assignment in a class. This seminar will both support the participants continued learning and ensure a measure of accountability for participants to create and run a digital storytelling assignment in one of their courses.

We will disseminate outcomes of this project via a website, professional development venues at participants’ home institutions, and the team leads’ on-going consultation with ACM colleges. Participants will share the resulting assignments with the workshop organizers by May 2017. These assignments will be made publicly available by posting them on a webpage uniquely created for this project and linked via the Serie Center, Macalester’s Center for Scholarship and Teaching. In addition, participants will have opportunities to reconnect with the team leads and other workshop participants to discuss strategies for using digital storytelling on their home campuses.

  1. We will develop a website hosted through Macalester’s Serie Center to share the results of the project including assignments that faculty participants create and other resources on digital storytelling. This resource will be shared with the faculty development liaisons at each of the ACM colleges (listed here: http://www.acm.edu/our_collaborations/ACM_Faculty_Development_Liaisons.html).
  2. We will encourage all workshop participants to present on their experience with digital storytelling pedagogy (DSP) at appropriate venues at their home campuses. When recruiting participants, we will give preference to applicants who can identify a feasible strategy to disseminate the results of their work on digital storytelling at their own institution. We will ask Macalester participants to share their assignments and experiences with DSP through activities coordinated by the college’s Center for Scholarship and Teaching, which runs multiple college-wide fora on teaching and professional development (e.g., Professional Activities Workshop, and Talking about Teaching). We will organize a panel discussion on experiences with DSP for the January 2017 Professional Activities Workshop.
  3. Katie, Dan, and Brad will be available to consult with faculty at other institutions on DSP and efforts to create and implement DSP assignments.
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