We live in a world that is often described as abstract, impersonal and uncertain which makes it increasingly difficult to know what interpretation of events to believe. On 11 October 2018, Dr Phillip Towndrow, Senior Research Scientist at National Institute of Education, NTU, proposed Digital Storytelling (DST) as a contemporary platform for taking control, exploring and understanding our lives, as well as making a difference to those around us.
Dr Towndrow began by giving an introduction to DST and how it is different to the storytelling we are commonly used to. He has observed that DST, or the art of telling stories using digital tools, has become more prevalent, especially as a way of spreading one’s brand.
However, in the education sector, it is still considered to be a relatively recent curriculum innovation. The educative values and benefits of DST are still being worked out so it is not yet clear how useful it is in a school context. Dr Towndrow went on to share a study which he conducted that explored how it could be of use in classrooms.
In an everchanging world, DST is a way for us to take control and understand our lives. However, not all stories are heard and understood equally. It is important to put the storyteller at the centre of the storytelling process; between the story and the act of storytelling. In an education setting, it is also important to create a safe and exploratory learning environment for digital storytellers. This is not as simple as it seems, as we all have long-held beliefs and biases of what stories are and who are supposed to tell them.
Dr Towndrow shared a case study about a student, ‘Tommy’, who participated in his study and shared “What Singapore Means to [Him]” through DST. His teacher, Rethi, was able to glean insights and observe from this exercise how strong ‘Tommy’s’ “voice” was when he used this medium. Through ‘Tommy’s’ conscious or subconscious choices in making the video, he was also able to express ideas and feelings that he may not have been able to express as impactfully in writing. As a teacher, Rethi learned to see each student as an individual with their own voice and was able to better understand their needs.
In terms of educative values, the digital arts are a way to move beyond written and spoken words, the unquestioned starting points for narratives. It also allows students to gain more confidence and feel valued because of the work they have produced, and eventually transform as students and learners. Such stories should not be graded as this implies that one story is better than another. Therefore, when we look at stories with such an approach, all stories are potentially good. This creates a safe environment for students and allows them to build trust and confidence.
Dr Towndrow then invited Rethi to join him in answering questions from the audience, which included how educators can shift their approach and key characteristics of DST that makes it a powerful learning tool.