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Digital Storytelling in the Classroom
by Tim Welch
I am convinced that Jesus knew what he was doing in using stories to convey his vision of the Reign of God. I think he knew what it took to make his vision go "viral."
I am convinced that Jesus knew what he was doing in using stories to convey his vision of the Reign of God. I think he knew what it took to make his vision go “viral.” I am convinced that we, too, are called to be storytellers if we are to “infect” our students, and each other, with that vision. We have the digital tools to be better storytellers than we have ever been. Additionally, I believe that our learners will catch the storytelling bug if we give them tools that excite and engage them as they hear The Story and learn to tell it themselves as digital disciples.


The Beauty of Digital Storytelling

A master of digital storytelling has at her/his fingertips tools to create words of varying typeface and layouts for different emphases; pictures and photos to illustrate scenes or illuminate concepts; sounds, music, and oration to stir emotions; and video and animations to engage multiple levels of cognition. Check out the short film Validation by Kurt Kuenne by using the search function at YouTube.com or Vimeo.com. As you watch it, think about your ministry and your class. Think about how we need each other. Think about the Reign of God.

A novice storyteller can simply choose one tool and use it to tell a story well. Imagine preparing for a high-school class on images of Jesus as a historical Nazarene and eternal Christ. Think of stories you could tell your class about the experience of Jesus in your life. It would not be difficult to search for images online that illuminate your stories, right-click (control-click on Mac) on them, copy/paste them into a PowerPoint presentation, and then use the presentation to begin your class. Whenever I build a digital story in that fashion, the process I go through provides a wonderful time of reflection and growth for me as a person of faith…and as a catechist, even if I decide not to use the PowerPoint presentation.

We must always remember that storytelling tools are not just for catechists. They are also ways to engage learners and constitute skills that we can pass on to them. Digital storytelling uses the language of the digital generation—and using it wisely teaches learners not only to speak that language better but also to understand the dynamics of the digital stories they consume.


Where Do We Begin?

Effective storytelling in the classroom demands story mapping, storyboarding, production, editing, and—finally—presentation. I would invite readers familiar with iMovie (Mac) or MovieMaker (Windows) to employ those tools in the classroom to turn young Cecil B. Demilles into effective evangelizers. Go to movies.atomiclearning.com/k12/storyboardpro for a free copy of and tutorial on Storyboard Pro and dream about how you will engage your class with video production. And don’t forget to visit the resources bookmarked by Sr. Caroline Cerveny, CSJ, at delicious.com/ccerveny/digitalstorytelling or check out Bernajean Porter’s Digitales site at digitales.us. For now, however, let’s assume that we are just beginning to get a handle on this whole digital thing.

When I think of effective catechesis, I think of this process: Engagement, Modulation, Delivery, Reflection, and Echo. Let’s look at the process and see how it pertains to storytelling.


Engagement
A rule of thumb for web design is that if a page doesn’t fully load in 20 seconds, much of the audience will simply move on. The same dynamic happens in storytelling. If our story does not captivate the imaginations of the listeners quickly, we will be hard pressed to regain their attention. Rather, a good story will engage listeners immediately, drawing their attention away from themselves and to the story itself.

Activity 1: View a Story
This activity is an investigation of stories that are being told. Some are great; some are not so good; and some are…well…let’s say counterproductive. Go to YouTube.com and search for “First time on a computer after using typewriter” to view a short video about a woman who is unfamiliar with new technology. I use this clip in workshops to engage those whom educator Marc Prensky calls “digital immigrants.” Search for other videos, using such tags at “Chris Tomlin’s Amazing God” or “Food for the Poor.” Dream about how you can use such stories to introduce The Story.


Modulation
Pierre Babin, OMI, a media-in-catechetics educator and innovator for decades, speaks of how multimedia has the capacity to elicit “modulation” with the storyteller. An example is a pop concert where the audience is brought into the experience through music, bobbing and dancing, building up to a crescendo with the band. It also can be a very subtle thing, like ambient sacred music used to calm one before meditation. It is meant to “ready” the listener to hear the message.

Activity 2: Capture a Story
Dwnloading videos to your own computer for use in class can be advantageous. Go to RealPlayer.com and download the latest free version of RealPlayer. Launch it, and go to File>New Browser. Type YouTube in the top field. You are taken to YouTube where you search for “African Suite.” Choose the video of the same name to see a playful story of God’s call. Play the video.

In Windows: Click on the “Download Video” button, and it is saved in RealPlayer’s library, where you can find and play it anytime, even without internet access.

On Macintosh: Go to Window>Open RealPlayer Downloader. When the video is finished loading, click the Download link to save it to your Downloads Folder. You can see the folder by clicking “View Downloads Folder,” where you may need to rename the video from “untitled.” You can play it by going to File>Open File at anytime.

Now, search YouTube for “Go make a difference Angrisano” or maybe a video on serving the homeless that will get your students modulating.


Delivery
This is the “content” of the session, the “stuff” of life, the “stuff” of our faith. It is here that digital tools can help you build a strong background. It is also here that, ironically, you need a strong background, or a good mentor, to be able to choose digital tools with a solid theological foundation. The internet has a lot of well-packaged bad theology.

Activity 3: Study The Story
There are many online tools for study, but how do we find a reliable site? Usually you can trust recommendations or opportunities from your diocese, religious education series publisher, or favorite Catholic university. Boston College has some archived webcasts at bc.edu/church21. For this activity, however, check out videos offered by our bishops at usccb.org/video.


Reflection
After The Story is delivered, there needs to be time for the learner to reflect on the message. With digital tools, it can be done easily at home and at a time conducive to effective individual reflection. But we mustn’t forget that digital tools can enhance collaboration and strengthen group process.

Activity 4: Create a Story
Activities 1 and 2 can provide many resources for reflection and meditation. But how about having your class create a visual meditation themselves using PowerPoint? Before you take pictures or harvest images from the web for the meditation, go to Wordle.net and create an image for your first slide using key words from your content by clicking “Create,” typing or pasting in a “bunch of text” relevant to your presentation, and clicking “Go.” You can adjust your image fonts, colors, and layout on the fly. For instructions on capturing the image you create so you can paste it into PowerPoint, go to take-a-screenshot.org/. Think about using Wordle for shared theological reflection on words that impress, inspire, or inform the viewer. Here is a screen shot of a list of words describing Jesus that I got from the web and processed with Wordle.
 

Echo
The word catechesis comes from the Greek meaning “resounding echo.” We can invite our learners to be digital disciples by creating and deploying their own rendering of The Story they’ve heard using tools that are fun and effective—and they can employ their own creativity.

Activity 5: Tell The Story
Now that you have a PowerPoint meditation, go to slideshare.net, create an account for your class, and upload your PowerPoint. Be forewarned that any audio will be lost. Think of the dynamics. Students will take much more initiative and care in creating a presentation if they know it is going public. They can go home and email the address of the meditation to their grandparents and even use it for prayer at home.

For the more technologically ambitious, find some music that is royalty free. Slideshare now allows you to upload mp3 sound files and synchronize slides to it to replace audio lost in the uploading process. You can even record student narrations to sync to your slides with a free program like Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net).


Digital Storytelling Catechist Workshop

Where does one begin? Here is a suggested activity for catechists that can serve as a full workshop or can be integrated into a workshop.

What you need
* digital camera (Voice of experience: Don’t forget the batteries or cable to connect to the computer.)
* laptop computer with PowerPoint (Macs can use PowerPoint or Keynote.)
* projector (and screen and speakers if your group is large enough to warrant these)
* someone who can import photos from the digital camera to create a PowerPoint
* a Bible
* appropriate song like Steve Angrisano’s “Go Make A Difference” from his Make a Difference album, or downloaded from spiritandsong.com for 99¢

Procedure
1. On the Internet, view The Power of Connection at connectionmovie.com (a production by Mary and Craig Reynolds) as an example of the type of media you want to create. If you decide to use it for your in-service and you don’t have internet access in the area you meet, view it by buying the gift book and DVD online, or downloading a lower-quality version by using RealPlayer and searching for “connectionmovie” in YouTube.
2. When the first catechist arrives for the workshop, take a digital picture of her/him and give the camera to that person to snap a photo of the next catechist who arrives, and so on.
3. Import the photos and place them into PowerPoint, one per slide.
4. On the first slide in PowerPoint, go to Insert>Movies and Sounds>Sound from File if you bought a MP3 file or Play CD Audio Track with the CD in your computer. To make the music play throughout the presentation, you will need to go to SlideShow>Custom Animation and go to effect options to stop the music after the last slide.
5. When the PowerPoint is completed, read, discuss, and pray Matthew 9:35-38.
6. Watch together The Power of Connection, if you decided to use it. Ask catechists what they found especially helpful.
7. Present the PowerPoint presentation. Ask catechists how they could use a camera and PowerPoint in their ministry. By presenting a drama? Presenting a story? Presenting photos of projects?


The Challenge

If we have the right tools, we can make The Story engaging and, above all, effective. But we need to learn how to tell it in a way that reaches a varied audience, is based on a thorough knowledge of the Reign of God, and is something that people will want to hear and trust. Let’s use the tools ourselves and teach our learners to use them to get The Story out to our families, our parishes, our communities, and even over the Internet. After all, The Story is simply that good.


Tim Welch is the Consultant for Educational Technology at Catholic Education Ministries, Diocese of Saint Cloud, MN. With more than 27 years of experience at the parish and diocesan levels, he is continually searching for ways of journeying with others to implement proven technologies that can serve ministry (especially catechesis). Tim currently serves as Consultant for Technology and Catechesis for Our Sunday Visitor Curriculum Division, formerly Harcourt Religion Publishers. He is the author of Technology Tools for Your Ministry: No Mousing Around (Twenty-Third Publications).






Copyright 2014, Peter Li, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Peter Li, Inc.