Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Navigating Narratives in Hyperspace #1

I am a storyteller by trade- as an English teacher, a Drama teacher and a History teacher I immerse myself in stories of people, places, times and events daily. My obsession with stories, real and fictional, has been lifelong - while my parents had trouble keeping my brothers inside as children, they despaired of getting me to leave the lounge when I had a book to read (and I _always_ had a book to read). I think reading at the breakfast table (or dinner table) was what really upset them though.

The age of computers and connectivity of the internet have opened up whole new realms of storytelling. With emerging story structures such as easily constructed and published videos, animations, and interactive stories. I get incredibly excited when I get the chance to play with digital storytelling these days - hence the cyberdrama project a couple of years ago (and I'm helping another teacher revisit this later this year), the inclusion of Hyper-Narratives in our senior English program and any myriad of other smaller projects I dive into any chance I get.
This will be the first of a few posts about storytelling in a digital world.

There's something bugging me about education and digital storytelling at the moment. Earleir in the year I thought it was a one off issue, but increasingly I'm seeing the same thing and I can't keep ignoring the issue.

At the heart of my problem lies this definition:

"A Digital Story is a short movie, usually 2 - 5 minutes long, with the voice of the storyteller telling his or her own story."

When I first heard this, I squirmed. 5 minutes later, when I heard it again, I muttered. I lasted 10 minutes before I walked out, disgusted. What worried me more was that it was being said, and accepted by, a room full of English teachers (about 300 I believe). It struck me as incredibly narrow minded and "elitist" in its definition. What about projects like LonelyGirl15, Such Tweet Sorrow, Online Caroline? Aren't these digital stories too?

I moved on from the above incident smug, I suppose, in my self assuredness that I didn't have such a narrow minded approach to stories. But then...unexpectedly, Iwas confronted with the same definition. This time attached to a competition being run within my department. It's a great competition, dont' get me wrong. But why can't we use hyper-narratives to share a story about our school? Or a collection of in role tweets (not published outside the walled garden of course)? Why are entries limited to this definition:

"A digital story is made from old photographs or new photographs, or both.
Add narration and music (or sound effects) and the story is ready to share with others!"

This second confrontation with the narrow definition made me begin to question myself, then as I began preparing for the next hyper-narrative unit it made me mad and then, finally, after I began to see this definition used increasing in my PLN I took a step back and asked myself - why are they narrowing the deifition this way?


The only conclusion I have been able to come up with is that people are so daunted by the openess of "Digital Storytelling" they can't get their heads around such a broad term if it was to mean "any story told using any digital media (video, audio, images, animation, social networking, hyperlinks) or any combination of these". Admittedly, that is daunting, overwhelming, frightening even. But it's also exciting and liberating.

In my opinion fear is holding us back if education continues to define Digital Storytelling as a collection of images with audio laid over the top. Open up the defition, open up our minds and dive right in - play with the potential of the web to share your stories!

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