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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Digital Storytelling: Helping Students Find Their Voice

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

While accepting his 2008 Academy Award for best director, Joel Coen took a minute to reminisce about his earliest days as a filmmaker, and it wasn't hard to picture him back in the late 1960s, lugging around a home-movie camera. Nor was it difficult to imagine his kid brother, Ethan, dressed up in a suit and carrying a briefcase in their early collaborations. As the elder Coen admitted, "Honestly, what we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then."

In some respects, today's aspiring filmmakers have it easier. Digital cameras and more accessible editing software have lowered some of the technical barriers to making movies. And for better or worse, getting a film into circulation has become as easy as uploading a file to YouTube or another video-sharing site.

But making a digital story worth watching still isn't easy. Doing it well takes not only practice and skill but sometimes also courage, BBC filmmaker and digital-storytelling proponent Daniel Meadows suggests on his Web site, Photobus.

Teachers who bring digital storytelling into the classroom are discovering what makes this vehicle for expression worth the effort. They watch students gain proficiency in writing and research, visual literacy, critical thinking, and collaboration. They see students take part in a range of learning styles. Of course, they also see students make authentic use of technology. Sometimes, they even hear students discover the power of their own voice.

Are you thinking about introducing digital storytelling into a K-12 setting or perhaps into an after-school or community-based program? Mabry Middle School, in Marietta, Georgia, demonstrates how this approach can be a springboard to engage not only students but also the wider community. The award-winning school hosts its own annual black-tie event to showcase the work of young filmmakers. (Take a look at the 2007 winners.)

Inspired yet? Here are some resources to help you get started:

Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling offers a range of resources and tutorials for educators, including a discussion about research and evaluation.

The Center for Digital Storytelling has been providing training on and sharing information about this art form for more than a decade, both in the United States and internationally.

Stories for Change is building a network of people who are involved in community-based digital-storytelling workshops.

Bridges to Understanding, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, works internationally with K-12 schools to promote cultural understanding through collaborative storytelling. The site includes a library of digital short stories made by students from around the world.

In an Edutopia.org interview, teacher Marco Torres describes the benefits of multimedia projects for high school students growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood near Los Angeles.

How are you using digital storytelling with your students? Tell us about the projects that have captured their imagination.

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