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Perceptions of people and events are very much dependent upon who you are and what your experience has been. Events in Ferguson and Baltimore, among others, highlight our misunderstandings of each other, and how the same facts can be interpreted entirely differently. What's worse, people of color and underrepresented groups are defined by journalists covering these events, who themselves don't reflect the ethnic composition of our country as a whole.

Recent studies have proven that stories can change perceptions and even make people more tolerant. Rather than wait to be defined by others, it's important that students learn to create understanding by sharing their story, their worldview, their concerns, and their triumphs with others.

Groups like Youth Radio and Cause Beautiful are empowering teens in poor and minority-majority neighborhoods to become multimedia journalists. Kids in these programs learn how to tell and share their own stories with a local or national audience.

No matter your class demographics or grade level, ELA and social studies teachers should integrate similar projects in their own classrooms, because every student will benefit from learning to craft a compelling visual story backed by persuasive facts and ideas.

What Is Multimedia Storytelling?

Students use video, audio, photography, web, and social media to craft documentaries and nonfiction stories about the world around them. These interdisciplinary projects allow students to focus on creating an authentic product that many people outside the classroom and their neighborhoods will see.

Why Produce Multimedia Stories?

Multimedia storytelling is a perfect match for Common Core curriculum, so we can finally feel confident about integrating it into our classes. There are many benefits to these kinds of projects.

  • Producing these stories develops critical thinking and writing skills.
  • Digging up information about a topic and people to interview hones research skills.
  • Reporting and conducting interviews helps develop public speaking and interpersonal skills.
  • Allowing students to choose topics they're passionate about allows them to take ownership of their learning.
  • Considering other perspectives and your work's impact on an audience helps address ethical decision making.
  • Producing the videos develops collaboration and time-management skills.
  • Stories can actually have an impact on students' communities and effect change.

How to Do It

Mobile devices make it possible to author and share video stories and documentaries with a global audience, and to have an impact on society. Most students have access to a smartphone or tablet, and many tools for authoring video and social media stories are free. There are even some free lesson plans for multimedia journalism, video, and photography that teachers can use to empower students right away.

Begin by having a discussion with your students about misperceptions that outsiders might have about their community and themselves. Then flip it and consider what misperceptions your students have about others. This is a great opportunity to find out how and why we end up with the wrong idea about others.

  1. Make a list of all the good things about your school or neighborhood that outsiders don't know about.
  2. Make a list of all of the bad things about your school or neighborhood that need to be fixed or changed.
  3. Working individually or in teams, have students choose one of the items from either list as the subject of their project.
  4. Determine the medium you'd like your students to use: video documentaries, audio podcasts or stories, text, social media, etc.

Producing Your Stories

Audio documentaries are easy to do with services like Soundcloud and the new Story Corps app. Many of the same techniques apply to video documentaries, so it might be helpful to begin with audio and move to video.

Making video documentaries is complex and takes a lot of time, so scaffold the projects to make the process enjoyable, and you'll end up with a product the students can be proud of. Begin with class exercises and learn from mistakes before you go out into the real world.

Steps in the Process:

  1. Conduct research and identify people to interview.
  2. Develop questions for these sources and practice interview skills.
  3. Start with an interview-only project to learn which questions give the most interesting responses.
  4. Shoot B-roll footage that illustrates what your interviewees are talking about as they lead their lives, work, or interact with others.
  5. Through editing, combine the interviews with B-roll.
  6. Repeat.

Publishing Your Stories

Audio stories can be hosted for free on Soundcloud, and hosted automatically if you conducted interviews using the StoryCorps app. Video projects are best when hosted on YouTube and Vimeo, although many schools block these sites from their networks. Consider creating a teacher account on these sites so that you can upload student work separately.

Storehouse is a great app that allows you to combine video, photos and text in an interactive gallery viewable on any web browser, so this might be a good solution if you have limited access to video hosting sites.

Social media is also a great way to publish and share your completed work. Share links via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or your favorite network. The projects have an impact only if others see them, so publicize and let parents and community members see their stories.

General Tips

  • Ideas are the most important part, so spend time developing unique, narrow topics.
  • Find colorful interview subjects with unique points of view.
  • Writing is the core skill of any multimedia project, including interview questions, story structure, and voice overs.
  • Less is more. Keep the projects short and to the point, or you run the risk of being overwhelmed with information and video footage.
  • Develop community buy-in. Get your administrators excited about empowering students. Encourage neighborhood leaders to participate in projects that will get their message heard by others.
  • Embrace your mistakes. There will be plenty of them, so learn from each one and make the next project better. Just attempting these projects has already made the world a better place.

Multimedia stories are fun challenges for your students and empower them to share their ideas and concerns with the wider world. We owe them the opportunity to become multimedia literate and to develop the courage it takes to have an impact on society.

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Continental Press's picture

It's amazing to see how technology is transforming the classroom and the educational community as a whole! Great article, thank you for sharing.

(1)
Lamparo's picture

I enjoyed reading your article. I thought it was all helpful because I am new to incorporating multimedia in my instruction and student learning. As a kindergarten teacher, it is difficult to find activities that are appropriate for my young learners. I look forward to reading more!
Lisa Amparo

(1)
Michael Hernandez's picture
Michael Hernandez
Cinematic Arts and Broadcast Journalism teacher, Los Angeles, CA

Thanks for the kind words, Lisa! Here is an article I wrote for EdSurge that is more of a practical guide to using digital storytelling in your classroom, which includes some sample lesson ideas: http://bit.ly/1U7nr94 Also, follow the great work by 1st grade teacher @KristinZiemke. Good luck!

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