DHSI > Digital Storytelling

Storytelling techne + digital media.  |  Scroll down.


The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.
— Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

Digital Storytelling is a week-long course offered during Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). This course explores the combination/collision/collusion of storytelling techne with features, affordances, and constraints of digital media to prompt rewarding Digital Humanities scholarship, teaching, and creative practices. A number of approaches to digital storytelling are introduced. "Hands on" learning is encouraged over theoretical discussions and/or critical evaluation. Desired outcomes include experimentation and making prototypes for digital stories.


Offered since 2016, Digital Storytelling is a week-long course offered during the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), at University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Campus maps here.

This course uses a flexible, iterative approach to introduce and explore digital storytelling for Digital Humanities (DH) scholarship, pedagogy, and creative practices. Discussions, workshops, and collaborative learning help participants conceptualize, plan, and develop digital stories. Participants can apply course learning and resources to ongoing DH projects, and experiment with new knowledge and/or skills.

Topics include . . .

  • Storytelling as a fundamental human activity
    Digital Humanities has long considered art, architecture, dance, music, text, and more as artifacts of human endeavor and creative, cultural expression. We can consider such artifacts as stories that define humanity and describe the human condition. Using the art of storytelling and the features and affordances of digital technologies, we can expand opportunities to engage others with our storytelling. Discussing this conceptual framework will provide opportunities for introductions, outlining digital storytelling project ideas, and coalescing around course topics and facilitators.
  • Combining storytelling techniques and computational technologies
  • Sound(s) as a platform for digital storytelling
  • Focus on organizing and managing digital storytelling projects

A range of approaches to digital storytelling are available—oral/aural history, linking multiple lexia (hypertext), multimedia, and transmedia—each with an eye toward providing compelling narrative experiences. Fundamental to any approach is to consider first the story, and then what digital media/technologies will facilitate its telling. Course activities include discussions, workshops, and collaborative learning. No previous experience with digital storytelling or specific digital technologies or platforms is required. Rather than analysis and critique, participants will be encouraged to conceptualize frameworks and/or develop prototypes for digital storytelling projects. This is not to suggest that digital storytelling is clear of nuance and/or tension, but rather to focus on iterative conceptualizing and creating in support of scholarship and pedagogy. Making informs knowing.

DHSI participants are DH scholars—faculty and graduate students—aligned with international research centers, libraries, and academic departments. In addition to this course, they also participate in other intensive, collaborative, multi-disciplinary classes and seminars ranging in subject matter from text encoding basics to strategies for large project management.


Conceptual Framework

I first facilitated this course in June 2016. Just prior, I published an essay, Digital Storytelling: New Opportunities for Humanities Scholarship and Pedagogy, in which I presented digital storytelling as a combination of storytelling techniques, digital affordances, and humanities foci. I described several forms of digital storytelling, outlined frameworks and outcomes associated with their use, and promoted digital storytelling as providing new opportunities for humanities scholarship and teaching, especially with regard to critical thinking, communication, digital literacy, and civic engagement (Barber, John. Cogent Arts and Humanities, vol. 3, 6 May 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23311983.2016.1181037). These points remain current, and combined with those I have added since (see below), provide a conceptual framework for this course.

Artifacts as Stories

Humanities has long considered art, architecture, dance, music, text, and more as artifacts of human endeavor and creative, cultural expression. I see such artifacts as stories that define humanity and describe the human condition.

Information, Message, Interface

A story is information shared with an audience through some interface like the storyteller's voice, song lyrics, poetry, or literature. The information carries a message, the point of the story. The digital turn provides marvelous new interfaces for delivering stories, with their information and messages, in multimodal ways.

Digital Storytelling

Storytelling is an ancient form, the oldest, of human expression. As a practice, storytelling is the writing or telling of narratives/stories. Stories traditionally have taken forms like documentaries, essays, historical and/or eye witness accounts, memoirs, narratives, research findings and/or presentations. These narratives may be fiction or non-fiction. They may adhere to a particular theme, and provide a particular point of view. They may be categorized in three major groups
◊ Personal narratives—stories of significant events in one's life
◊ Historical documentation—stories of dramatic events that help us understand the past
◊ Education/Memory/Cultural transfer—stories that inform or instruct on a particular concept or practice.

Digital storytelling combines digital media features, affordances (possibilities, opportunities), and constraints with traditional storytelling techne (art, craft, practice) to create and share storytelling in new ways, and with new results. Digital stories are multimodal, combining/integrating multiple modes to promote communication.

In this regard, digital storytelling is an iteration of narrative tradition, multimedia stories incorporating animation, audio, graphics, multiplayer games, music, narration, social media, video, web publishing, writing, sound, and more, alone or in combination. But, beyond the buzzword factor, digital storytelling offers new ways to engage audiences with storytelling, as well as encourage and enable audiences to create and share their own stories.

Course Benefits

Humanities scholarship is not empirical, contiguous, reproducible. After all, we are studying the unresolvable relation between conception and execution of artifacts as representations of widely diverse human endeavors. Everything is subject to interpretation. This is not necessarily bad. Interpretation makes community through shared knowledge. Community practice makes interpretation.

Digital Humanities, with its overlay of multiple critical inquiry opportunities and traditional Humanities approaches, both from multiple sources and timeframes, facilitates now opportunities for Humanities research, scholarship, teaching, and learning, thus promoting the ambiguity of multiple interpretations.

As result, there is no longer a single voice dominating the page, or screen. There is opportunity for another voice, or several. Digital humanistic design promotes alternate voices existing equally and simultaneously, thus subverting the "univoice" of static graphic organization.

One might argue that digital storytelling, through its combining computational technologies with storytelling techne promotes critical thinking, literacy, and civic engagement. More specifically, digital storytelling promotes pedagogy, engagement, and communication. As a pedagogical tool, digital storytelling draws on 21st century literacy and its digital turn. Specifically, digital storytelling promotes and provides a pathway through non-linear narrative with its incorporation of hyperlinks and multimedia, all available for interaction via various platforms.

Engagement results from the ability of digital storytelling to involve people and communities whose voices might not otherwise be heard or considered in creating and sharing narratives. Publishing has always involved power and access. Digital media and culture can return some power and access to people whose stories have been unheard, or worse, denied.

Communication is a way of conveying a message. While digital storytelling has been co-opted as a marketing tool, it can also be used by non-profit organizations, artist groups, social justice efforts, and for teaching and learning activities to promote top-down initiatives. Often these initiatives result from serendipitous discovery, multiple iterations, and experimentation outside or beyond traditional modes of engagement. The result: digital storytelling evolves as an expanding and flexible mode for 21st storytelling. As Ursula Le Guin says, the best storytellers, "tell the same stories over and over (how many stories are there?), but when they tell them they are new, they are news, they renew us, they show us the world made new" (Le Guin 2004, 205). Digital storytellers continue and expand this ability.

Scope of Course

The affordances and features provided by digital technologies are deep and rich, capable of engaging with storytelling techne in multiple ways and promoting different results. Digital, however, is not the story, but rather a tool for helping provide engaging storytelling. With digital storytelling, the essential ingredients of a good narrative remain relevant, as does interest in telling and listening to good stories. This course considers literacy, fluency, and approach to explore digital storytelling.

Literacy asks
◊ What is possible? What can be done with digital storytelling?
◊ What forms and/or genres of digital storytelling exist?
◊ What forms and/or genres of digital storytelling MIGHT exist?
◊ What are the prompts for experimentation and remix, creative practice?

Fluency considers
◊ What tools to use
◊ What skills to acquire
◊ How to put these resources into practice.

Approach can be either
◊ Individual
◊ Collaborative (perhaps required for more complex/ambitious projects).

Questions Regarding Digital Storytelling We Should Consider

◊ Digital technology moves fast. Whereas the material difference between holding a book published fifty years ago in your hands and one published last year is relatively insignificant, digital works must be taken in their techno-historical context. The 1990s floppy disk / CD / web-based fictions are different than the 2000s web which are way different than the VR experiments of today. What associated risks must a digital artist / writer take into account when creating digital-dependent works for today and into the future?
◊ How might we use digital storytelling for creating and consuming Digital Humanities scholarship?
◊ How might digital storytelling promote teaching and learning?
◊ How might digital storytelling enrich storytelling experiences by promoting the telling of different stories, or telling stories in different ways?
◊ How might digital storytelling serve as a form of tinkering apparati for collaborative thinking and/or creating, as a mode of knowledge production?
◊ How might digital storytelling promote social and/or open access knowledge?
◊ How might digital storytelling facilitate the creation and consumption of knowledge that will engage, enlighten, and involve diverse readers/interactors/participants?
◊ How does the technology of the Internet itself affect the way that literature produced for it is read?
◊ What aspects of the novel are frustrated in a network environment?
◊ What aspects of the form of the novel can be enhanced on the Internet?
◊ How do we begin to analyze works which are "published" before they are necessarily "finished"?
◊ What are some of the effects of the temporality and mutability of the network novel?
◊ How is the network functioning in the formation of new reading cultures?
◊ What are the differences between a Web readership and the traditional readership of literary print fiction?

Approaches to Digital Storytelling

A broad definition and scope for digital storytelling fosters multiple approaches. Here are some we can consider as "hands on," introductory ways of moving from theorization to realization.
Oral history
"No more elegant tool exists to describe the human condition than the personal narrative. Ordinary people living ordinary and not-so-ordinary lives weave from their memories and experiences the meaning life has for them. These stories are complex, telling of world's sometimes foreign to us, worlds that sometimes no longer exist. They express modes of thought and culture often different from our own, a challenge to easy understanding. Yet, these stories are also familiar. It is just this tension—the identifiable in endless transformation—that is the currency of personal narratives, as they reveal the complexities and paradoxes of human life" (Shostak 392). The storyteller's voice is at the heart of every story. Start with voice recordings.
Package and distribute sound-based stories in a convenient and accessible method.
Combine video, images, text, voice, and other sounds. The original form of digital storytelling and still very effective.
Connect multiple lexis (screens of text or other information) via clickable links.
Location awareness
Situate the narrative on, or at, a specific location.
Interact / participate with the narrative.
Leverage particular features / affordances of selected media to provide multiple, different yet connected narrative experiences focused on the same story. Tell the story across different media platforms in ways not possible using only one media.
Augmented reality
Connect digital content to the physical world through augmented reality.
Virtual reality
Create new worlds and ways to be in them.

Outcomes. True Stories.

There is only so much that we can do. But, we most do that much even if we don't know how much it is that we can do. In doing what we can do, we want to avoid the Crises of Reality: the realization that we can't do something as well as we would like, and so stop, or give up. You are encouraged to conceptualize and develop small scale digital stories and/or prototypes for larger, more extended projects. Start with a good story. Overlay it with digital. Make it better. Share it with more people. You can do this. No crises of reality for you! See the "Projects" menu tab above for examples from previous courses.

Best Practice

◊ Determine what story you want to tell
◊ Determine what affordances of what media will help tell that story.

Works Cited

Le Guin, Ursula. "Telling Is Listening." The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. Shambhala Publications, 2004.

Shostak, Marjorie. "What the Wind Won't Take Away": The genesis of Nisa—The life and words of a !Kong woman." The Oral History Reader. Edited by Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson. Second edition. Routledge, 1988, pp. 382-392.



My name is John Barber. I convene with the faculty of Creative Media & Digital Culture at Washington State University Vancouver, USA. LEARN more about my teaching, research, scholarship, and creative practice.

I have facilitated this Digital Storytelling course at DHSI since 2016. This essay, Digital Storytelling: New Opportunities for Humanities Scholarship and Pedagogy, describes my conceptual framework for digital storytelling (Barber. Cogent Arts & Humanities, 6 May 2016).

I have also facilitated, since 2014, another DHSI course, Sound and Digital Humanities. I began with DHSI in 2012 and 2013 when I collaboratively taught a course on Mobile App Design and Development. Course goals were to
1). Conceptualize the space and special features of mobile devices.
2). Develop the architecture, design, and multimedia content production for a mobile project.
3). Understand the coding and programming requirements for mobile devices.

Comments from course participants

The major strength of this course was the way it was conducted. We were able to work on developing our own projects and ask questions about them. The content of the course was very good and I look forward to exploring more about the topic.

The instructor was inspiring, creative,and stimulating. He was respectful and understanding of the different levels we were at.He worked patiently with us on our projects. I am even sorry the course is over; the atmosphere in the class was congenial and collaborative.



These resources only sample the information available about digital storytelling. But, they provide starting points. Choose your own adventure. Follow your own interests. Let the force guide you.

Course Pack | Foundational | Historical | Dr. John's Eazy-Peazy Resources | Learning | Storytelling | Other

Course Pack Resources

The Course Pack for this course includes several essays about digital storytelling and other information about DHSI, all in open electronic format. Read online, print at your convenience, or use the print-on-demand service at the University of Victoria Bookstore and pick up when you arrive on campus. Additional resources are described below. Links are included.

Foundational Resources

Barber, John. Digital Storytelling: New Opportunities for Humanities Scholarship and Pedagogy. Cogent Arts & Humanities, 6 May 2016.
This essay discusses my conceptual framework for teaching digital storytelling. Resources I cite may be interesting and/or useful to you.

Ira Glass on the power of storytelling
Glass asks, "What are stories for, what are they good for?" and answers by describing a storytelling experience.

Lambert, Joe. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. Routledge, 2013.
Now in its fourth edition, this is the story of digital storytelling, told by the man who pioneered the name and practice.

Historical Resources

These texts, all pre-Internet, anticipate linked, networked media culture and art. They may be useful as you begin conceptualizing your own digital storytelling projects.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Walter Benjamin, 1935
Central issues he addresses include aura, reproducibility, the popularization of art via new technological / distribution formats. In Benjamin's day, the new technology that was shattering paradigms was primarily film and photography, whereas in our day it's the the digital / network / mobile media culture. Think of this pre-WWII essay in connection to the digitally inflected network and mobile media forms of art and writing today, i.e. how digital work is composed, what it is "made of," how it gets distributed, and how it is being received (literally received, over a global computer network).

Questions to consider
◊ What happens to the "aura" of art works distributed over the net?
◊ How does the digital apparati at our disposal today alter the way we locate and engage with audiences?
◊ What about issues of remix, copyright, appropriation and so-called originality?

As We May Think
Vannevar Bush, 1945
An account of technologies developed during World War II that he feels will have direct impact on future knowledge acquisition and utilization. Question: Which specific technological developments described by Bush have since become a part of our present-day digital reality, and might be useful for digital storytelling?

The Xanadu Project (An Overview on "The Future of Information")
Theodor (Ted) Nelson
First conceived in 1960. Tweaked ever since.

Questions to consider
◊ What aspects of this project might be said to be incorporated in our present day concept of "hypertext"? Cloud computing? Open source?

The Crux of Fluxus: Intermedia, Rear-Garde
Natilee Herren
Seeks to explain "intermedia," as introduced by Dick Higgins (see below) and provide examples of its contemporary utilization.

Dick Higgins, Feb. 1966, Something Else Press
Higgins conceived of "intermedia" as in between existing, established media. Intermedia would develop its own applications, practices, and artifacts.

Questions to consider
◊ How can some of the ideas developed by Higgins over 50 years ago be translated into 21st century digital art and writing practices?
◊ To what degree do you operate as an intermedia artist and/or writer and/or performer?
◊ Does the advent of new media technologies make it easier to work "in between" media?
◊ What are the advantages and/or disadvantages to working as an intermedia practitioner or, to put a slightly different spin on the same question, what are the advantages and/or disadvantages to composing new work from an interdisciplinary versus discipline-specific practice?

Dr. John's Eazy-Peazy Resources

At the heart of digital storytelling is the story. Having trouble getting started with your story, or need a creative whack? Try Dr. John's Eazy-Peazy Resources > Creative Engines. Other Dr. John's Eazy-Peazy Resources available here.

Teaching and/or Learning Resources

How might digital storytelling facilitate research, teaching, or learning? These resources provide some answers.

7 things you should know about . . . Digital Storytelling
Provided by Educause. Describes the who, what, when, where, and why of digital storytelling.

Alexander, Bryan. The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. Praeger, 2011.

Alterio, Maxine and Janice McDrury. Learning through Storytelling in Higher Education: Using Reflection and Experience to Improve Learning. Dunmore Press, 2004.

Benmayor, Rina. "Digital Storytelling as a Signature Pedagogy for the New Humanities." Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, vol. 7, no. 2, June 2008, pp. 188-204.

Bran, Ramona. "Message in a Bottle: Telling Stories in a Digital World." Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 2, 2010, pp. 1790-1783.
Images, audio narration, video clips and/or music + traditional text = a more dynamic story. Author presents experiences and outcomes with first year students majoring in Journalism, after a semester dedicated to digital stories.

Mira Calix Creates a Labyrinth of Sound and Storytelling Out of Paper
Artist Mira Calix says storytelling is "something we have done across cultures from the beginning of time. I think we feel the urge to share and will continue to use every device available to us in order to convey and express the very things we find so hard to articulate. We create, improvise and embellish in order to make ourselves heard. It seems to be a human instinct."

Calix believes we are narrating, "our own lives, thoughts and feelings" and that we "edit, frame curate and choose to share" these with the rest of the world. "So many of us are now participating in fiction building, creating characters and narratives, it seems to me the art of storytelling is simply taking a new form, while we build new languages to pursue this most ancient of needs."

"[W]e continue to share the book at bedtime, perform plays, make films, sit around the campfire and so on. Storytelling is something we just do, fantastical or simple, local or global"

Clarke, Robert and Andrea Adam. "Digital Storytelling in Australia: Academic Perspectives and Reflections". Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, vol. 11, no. 1-2, 2010, pp. 157-176.

Dogan, Bulent and Bernard R. Robin. "Implementation of Digital Storytelling in the Classroom by Teachers Trained in a Digital Storytelling Workshop". Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, edited by K. McFerrin, R. Weber, R. Carlsen and D. Willis, AACE, 2008, pp. 902-907.

EdTech Teacher: Digital Storytelling in the Classroom Discussion of tools, media resources, and classroom integration ideas.

Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling From University of Houston. Examples of digital storytelling from around the world, articles, research, Web 2.0 resources, and websites.

Kearney, Matthew. "Investigating Digital Storytelling and Portfolios in Teacher Education." World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, vol. 1, June 2009, pp. 1987-1996.

Malita, Laura and Catalin Martin. "Digital Storytelling as Web Passport to Success in the 21st Century". Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 2, 2010, pp. 3060-3064.

McLellan, Hilary. "Digital Storytelling in Higher Education." Journal of Computing in Higher Education, vol. 19, no. 1, 2006, pp. 65-79.

Miller, Carolyn Handler. Digital storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (2nd ed.). Elsivier, 2008.

Robin, Bernard R. "Digital Storytelling: A Powerful Technology Tool for the 21st Century Classroom. Theory into Practice, vol. 47, no. 3, 2008, pp. 220-228.

Rossiter, Marsha and Penny A. Garcia. "Digital Storytelling: A New Player on the Narrative Field. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2010, pp. 37-48.

Sadik, Alaa. "Digital Storytelling: A Meaningful Technology-Integrated Approach for Engaged Student Learning". Educational Technology Research and Development, vol. 56, no. 4, 2008, pp. 487-506.

Smeda, Najaf, Eva Dakich, Nalin Sharda. "The Effectiveness of Digital Storytelling in the Classrooms: A Comprehensive Study". Smart Learning Environments, vol. 1, no. 6, 2014.

Wang, Shuyan and Hong Zhan. "Enhancing Teaching and Learning with Digital Storytelling". Advancing Education with Information Communication Technologies, edited by Lawrence A. Tomei, IGI Global, 2012, pp. 179-191.
Originally published: International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education, vol. 6, no. 2, April-June 2010, pp. 76-87.

Storytelling Resources

I maintain a GIGAHUMONGUS collection of digital storytelling resources as a separate webpage. LEARN more.

Other Resources

I maintain many resources in support of my teaching and creative practices. Feel free to BROWSE.