Digital Storytelling with Web-based Tools

Someone was kind enough to write this message about this online version of a print article I wrote for TechEdge magazine:
I found your wonderful article: "Digital Storytelling with VoiceThread" on your... website...I am currently working on a book for Corwin Press about the use of Web 2.0 technologies for ESL students and was wondering if I could use your article (with some edits) for the book? You would be credited, of course, for the contribution.

I look forward to hearing from you... THANKS!
and so, here it is....

"What if creating, sharing, and getting feedback," I asked, "on your digital stories was free, easy, and didn't require loading software on your computer?" Technology Applications:TEKS (TA:TEKS) teachers attending an August workshop on middle technology applications were some of the first teachers to find out in my school district. These teachers had a chance to see and use online digital storytelling tools. We threw out the curriculum, not because it wasn't good, but because it's important to find ways that engage our children using multiple forms of media--text, audio, video, etc. However, finding the right tools to use on older computers--ranging from Windows 98 to Windows XP--is a significant obstacles.

Even though you can find digital storytelling--or creation--tools for every platform, it's important to revisit old questions. For example, here are some of the no-cost tools that folks are using for digital storytelling on various computers:

This is a program that are costs nothing and is designed for folks who want to create photo/video slideshows easily and upload to free video hosts. (eg. YouTube) to share it with friends and family. However, educators can use it to create video files.

  • Windows XP: MS PhotoStory or MS MovieMaker

Both of these programs come loaded on your Windows XP computer, but if not, you can download and install it provided you have the authority to do so.

  • Mac OS X: iMovie

This is the classic digital storytelling tool, very easy to use and powerful.

But I have found that there are always problems. For example, PhotoStory uses a proprietary format for the movies it creates (WMV files) that have to be converted to another format for sharing on the Web. Moviemaker tends to crash frequently, and iMovie...well, two examples is enough, isn't it? What if you could find other, web-based tools that could get the job done?

New Answers to Old Questions

In the first installment of this series on Digital Storytelling (read the series here), I asked a few questions. In re-reading those questions, the following struck a chord. I realized that the answers to these questions had changed dramatically in the few months since the first installment on digital storytelling had appeared. The questions were as follows:

  • How can I use Read/Write Web technologies (like blogs and podcasts) to enhance the storytelling experience and story-swapping?
  • What can I do to connect with a larger community of storytellers outside my classroom and district?

Using Read/Write Web Technologies

Usually, when one refers to the Read/Write Web, they are talking about the ability of people to communicate, collaborate, and share that process online. In my school district, my team and I are modelling the use of a variety of tools to share digital stories online, including blogs, podcasts, wikis, and Moodle.

These are powerful tools that enable us--and students, whether children or adult learners--to quickly publish digital stories created with iMovie (Mac), PhotoStory/Moviemaker (Windows) with others. As powerful as these tools are, they involve these steps:

  1. Learn to use the software (e.g. iMovie, PhotoStory)
  2. Learn the digital storytelling process
  3. Create the digital story
  4. Convert the digital story into a movie format usable on the web (for example, using the free video converter--Format Factory ( convert a PhotoStory WMV into an MP4 video format that others can view via the Web regardless of their operating system).
  5. Publish the video of the digital story online
  6. Share the location of the digital story with others.

New tools that have become available recently simplify this process tremendously. Furthermore, these tools allow us to answer the second question, What can I do to connect with a larger community of storytellers outside my classroom and district?

Enhancing Story-Swapping

"There are so many different ways lives work out, so many stories," shares Sean Stewart, "and every one of them is precious: full of joy and heartbreak, and a fair amount of situation comedy." How can we communicate those stories with a larger audience? Publishing them via a blog is one way that invites written comments, but we already know that many of our children are swapping stories online via YouTube. Whether we like the content of the stories they swap is one thing, but these children are becoming familiar with the language of images and sound. So, with that in mind, how can we enhance story swapping in such a way that we take advantage of this media-rich language our children are using online?

There are many tools available online that teachers can use to accomplish this. Once you become aware of these new tools, the "old" steps are shortened. Instead, you might take the same steps that Alan Levine suggests:

  1. Outline a story idea that can be created in a Read/Write Web tool using images, audio, and/or video.
  2. Find a Read/Write Web tool where you can create the story quickly
  3. Share your example and observations on the value of the tool

Levine lists over 50 different tools you can use on his web site. You can find the web site at Since we lack unlimited pages of the Web, we're going to focus on one tool you can use immediately.

Story Tool: VoiceThread

The power of VoiceThread is that it can be used regardless of what type of computer you have since it is web-based. VoiceThread describes itself in this way:

A VoiceThread allows every child in a class to record audio commentary about the ideas and experiences that are important to them. Whether an event, a project, or a milestone, children can tell their story in their own voice, and then share it with the world.

For teachers, VoiceThreads offer a single vessel to capture and then share all the diverse personalities of an entire class. You will hear the pride and excitement in their voices as the students "publish" their work. A VoiceThread can be managed with little effort, creating an heirloom that can be shared by students, parents, and educators alike.

Moderated Comments

After you manage to get the Internet Security Officer in your District to agree that VoiceThread is a benign digital tool usable in the K-12 classroom, you will want to point out that communications are moderated.

One of the key components of VoiceThread is the possibility of inviting moderated audio, or written, commentary on the work created. Imagine that. Other children can leave audio or text comments on a piece of digital work, and you, as their teacher, can choose to allow it or not. It is is incredible that children can interact with each other via the Web through the sound of their voice. How powerful is that as a way to create a sense of audience?

Variety of Uses

There are many more VoiceThreads available online, spanning a variety of media genres including poems, self-portraits, lectures, book reviews, multimedia presentations, and digital stories. Why not add your students' work to the mix?

For example, consider the following projects (with more being added every day):

  • Poem book: In this activity, participants share their favorite poems to create an audio poem book. Imagine your bilingual/ESL students creating their favorite poem book, adding their audio narration, and then sharing that online.
  • Great Book Stories: According to Wes Fryer (, The idea is basic: Narrate five pictures to share why you love a specific book, and why other people should read it. If you’re interested in contributing, please check out the site and the guidelines. The password to edit the wiki is “share” without quotation marks.
  • Online Literature Circles: Wouldn't this be a neat way of having literature circles online?
  • Social Studies/Geography Applications
  • Using Moodle in Technology Applications Classrooms: This was created by TA:TEKS teachers as a way to explore VoiceThread while at the same time share ideas about using Moodle, an online discussion forum and teaching tool in their classroom. Note that someone Allanah King, a New Zealand teacher was able to leave an audio comment on one of the "slides."
  • Teaching Chemistry Lecture: No, digital creations aren't just for elementary school students.
  • A Book Review by the GED Book Club
  • A student presentation regarding The Invisible Children

In Your Classroom

Want to use VoiceThread in your own classroom? Consider these resources to get you started:


"Digital storytelling begins," says Joe Lambert, Co-Founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling, "with the notion that in the not [too] distant future, sharing one’s story through the multiple mediums of digital imagery, text, voice, sound, music, video and animation will be THE PRINCIPAL HOBBY OF THE WORLD’S PEOPLE." As that world becomes more connected through the Internet, the importance of learning to use digital tools to share your ideas, your vision, your stories becomes all the more critical.

Given the choice of drill-n-practice or digital storytelling that is authentic, involves multiple media forms, which would your students select? I invite you to join the digital storytelling revolution, adding your voice to the mix.

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Anonymous said…
Thank you for sharing this, Miguel. It's a great resource.

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