finding your voice through digital storytelling

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  • 10 TechTrends May/June 2012 Volume 56, Number 3

    ICT International

    Finding Your Voice Through Digital StorytellingBy Luca Botturi, Chiara Bramani, and Sara Corbino(Associazione seed, Lugano, Switzerland)

    ommunicating experience is the natural way to make sense of it, to reflect and attribute meaning

    to our lives. Giving words to our ex-periences is not easy; it takes time for children to learn to name things and events, to understand their own and others feelings and thoughts, and to identify the gist of what is happening beyond mere factual information. It takes time to find your own voice and start telling your story. Accompanying children through this journey is part of educating, and is the heart of the projects presented here.

    Vulnerable and special needs chil-dren often experience difficulties in communication with adults and peers, both as language difficulties and as in-ability to focus on personal feelings and thoughts, and consequently to ex-press them properly. Removing such barriers to help them find their own voice is one of the main goals of spe-cial and social educational projects, and a key step towards integration and personal development. Digital story-telling (Meadows, 2003; KQED, n.d.), i.e. telling stories creatively exploiting digital media, offers an opportunity to

    tackle the issue. The projects briefly presented here propose a pathway to explore such opportunity.

    Digital Storytelling for Development

    Seed, a non-profit organization based in Switzerland, had developed a program to help children in special education and children in developing countries or disadvantaged contexts to find their own voice. Seeds approach is based on digital storytelling, and has been implemented in integration and education projects in Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Mexico and Brazil.

    In its basic form, sharing expe-riences takes the form of stories, as

    their narrative structure corresponds to our perception of life in everyday life (McKee, 1997). But the magic of stories has two sides: one for hear-ers, and one for storytellers. Learn-ing to tell stories is an opportunity to enhance personal communication skills, and start the journey to find ones own voice. Mastering storytell-ing means two different skill sets: (a) understanding narrative structures, and (b) being able to give them shape, verbally, visually or aurally, and with the aid of different media.

    Differently from biographical digital storytelling approaches (such as Lambert, 2010), seed works with imagination. More than the ability to entertain fancy thoughts, imagination

    A group of preschool children working with an educator on their digital story in Croatia.


  • Volume 56, Number 3 TechTrends May/June 2012 11

    is the ability to imagine reality, to vir-tually try out actions, and to generate visions to guide experience.

    How it WorksThe key thing in digital story-

    telling is, of course, the story. In our workshops, children work in group, supported by an educator, and develop their fairy tale. The setting pirates, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. is not important: the theme is. In all the experiences we had, children project their emo-tions, values and feelings in whatever story. Making it fantastic is a way of creating a safe space, where difficult things can be said without harm. This was the case of pirate stories in Mex-ico: through them, children from a disadvantaged area where stable families are almost unknown, could talk about abandonment, love, trust and brotherhood.

    Digital storytelling techniques allow creating compelling narratives with a relatively low technical effort. Digital media provide tools to blend different languages for the same story (Burgess, 2006): words, voice, images, music, sounds in a way, this requires to tell the same story with different voices. In Croatia, one group included an autistic girl, who found her voice when asked to draw the main charac-ters in the story. In Switzerland, a dif-ficult child sat still for 3 hours while editing his story with MovieMaker, exploring video effects and finding the best way to tell it as it should be.

    Finally, digital media allow creat-ing a product the digital story that can be showed, brought home, hand out as a present: something that can be shared and of which children can be proud of. Often, parents, relatives and friends come to the show that closes and celebrates a storytelling workshop, making it an event that en-gages the whole community.

    Seeds projects are always de-signed on a double track, conceived to generate new local expertise after the projects end. We start with a digital storytelling workshop with local edu-cators, where they can learn the meth-od and experience it themselves; this usually takes three days. This is fol-lowed by a field project with children, led by participating teachers or edu-cators, with scaffolding from seeds staff. Here the method is adapted to specific local needs; this usually takes three or four days. Seed only uses free (like MovieMaker or iMovie) or open source (such as Audacity) technolo-gies for its projects, so that all tools remain available at no cost for partici-pating partner institutions.

    Learn More ...Seed is a non-profit enterprise

    based in Lugano, Switzerland. Found-ed in 2007, its goal is promoting edu-cational technologies in local and in-ternational development. Currently, seed brings its expertise to non-profit organizations in Italy, Switzerland, the Western Balkans, Mexico, Ecuador, and Brazil. The authors contact infor-mation is found below.

    Seeds approach to digital story-telling for vulnerable groups has been described as the Digital Storytelling for Development method (DSD). A full paper describing is scheduled for publication in 2012 in the In-ternational Journal of Art and Tech-nologies (IJART). More information about this project and some training materials, including the digital sto-rytelling handbook, are available on seeds blog at telling

    A screenshot of a story about the value of family (Mexico). It is made with drawings and collage. The characters are like puppets.

    A three foot tall advertisement announcing the premiere of digital stories in Croatia.

    ContactsLuca Botturi, luca.botturi@seed Chiara Bramani, Sara Car-bino,

    ReferencesBurgess, J. (2006). Hearing ordinary voices:

    Cultural studies, vernacular creativity and digital storytelling. Continuum: Jour-nal of Media & Cultural Studies, 20(2), 201-214.

    KQED (n.d.). Digital Storytelling Initiative. Retrieved on January 10th, 2012 from

    Lambert, J. (2010). Digital Storytelling: captur-ing lives, creating community. Life on the Water.

    Meadows, D. (2003). Digital storytelling: research-based practice in new media. Visual Communication, 2(2), 189-193.

    McKee, R. (1997). Story. Substance, Structure Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: Harper Collins.

    ICT InternationalFinding Your Voice Through Digital StorytellingDigital Storytelling for DevelopmentHow it worksLearn More...ContactsReferences