1. Digital Storytelling Defined

Digital storytelling is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling. Throughout history, storytelling has been used to share knowledge, wisdom, and values. Stories have taken many different forms. Stories have been adapted to each successive medium that has emerged, from the circle of the campfire to the silver screen, and now the computer screen. (Digital Storytelling Association, 2011, para. 1)

Storytelling is an ancient form of communication and an art that has been evolving over time with each technological development. It is believed that communities originally communicated with body language and then progressed to oral communication, hieroglyphics, written communication, and, with the advances in new media technology, digital communication. Communities have embraced the affordances of each new opportunity for communication, and have expanded their abilities, skills, and literacies to participate more fully and engage with larger audiences through each development in technology.

Digital storytelling is a natural progression from oral storytelling; one might even say that storytelling plus technology equals digital storytelling. Collecting and preserving oral histories became an academic endeavour beginning in the 1970s. Its popularity in academia declined during the 1990s, but the discipline has been reinvented and revived through digital media. Digital storytelling is not just about the transfer of knowledge; it is also a movement designed to amplify the voice of a community (Burgess, 2006). Everyone can participate because everyone has a story to tell.

Digital storytelling is an online personal narrative in digital format. Digital storytelling can operate outside of institutions or organizations, although many organizations such as museums and libraries are using digital storytelling to help achieve their goals for community engagement. There is no experience required, but that does not mean that it is easy. Effective digital storytelling uses the multimedia components of narrative, text, images, and sound (e.g., music, narration). Many people discover digital storytelling through workshops on how to use multimedia technology. Through the skills, digital competencies, and literacies learned in these environments, storytellers can continue creating on their own.

Both physical and social media communities are engaging in digital storytelling to give voice to themselves and others. When people are given the opportunity to create content for public consumption, they choose to participate (Burgess, 2006).  Digital communication has the potential to revolutionize the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and culture in the way that written communication did in the past. The amount of content produced for YouTube in a six-month period is greater than that produced by the three major American national television networks in 60 years of broadcasting (Wesch, 2008). People are creating digital stories in order to participate in what has become a massive and meaningful conversation.

Community engagement in digital storytelling involves sharing the “universal” human experience. This social phenomenon reveals the power of the individual voice to influence positive change (Lambert, 2007). Stories, whether told digitally or traditionally,  can create the opportunity for individuals to look into a mirror, see themselves, and discover that they are not alone, as well as providing a window that allows readers to see and experience other people’s circumstances and perspectives. Through stories, we better understand both ourselves and those around us, and that includes digital stories. Digital storytelling has the potential for connecting a community through shared experiences and developing tolerance by understanding someone else’s story. Community engagement is a driving force in digital storytelling.


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Center for Digital Storytelling. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2011, from http://www.storycenter.org/index1.html

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