Elena Foulis: Digital Storytelling and Community


When I applied to participate in OSU’s digital storytelling workshop in the summer of 2014, I expected to learn about how to create a video.  I wanted to go through the process of building my own digital narrative so I can better assist and guide my students when they are ready to build their own for the service-learning classes I teach.

Initially, I was apprehensive about my limited technical abilities but trusted that the experts would guide me through the process of choosing the right “stuff” that would make my digital story visually appealing. I feel I accomplished that, but the workshop also helped me put into words the passion I have for the work I am doing. I’ve always been a reader of stories and a photography aficionada, so I was able to use images, sound and voice to tell about what I’ve learned from the stories of others. This workshop helped me highlight my oral history project about Latino life in Ohio in a way that speaks about how I have been moved by the life histories of my participants, and also by the transformations I’ve witnessed in my own students and myself.

Needless to say, this workshop spends quite a bit of time on script writing and editing, perhaps as much as the time spent on picking the right image that represents the words written on the page. I learned to listen deeply to the stories of the other participants in the classroom as well, and was sweetly touched by each and every one of the stories I heard. As participants in this workshop, we provided feedback to each other and, at times, we were speechless by the stories heard and also by the unanimous realization that our group formed a type a kinship through storytelling. This was unexpected.

Digital storytelling not only provides a venue to express yourself, it also helps to carefully consider each and every piece of the puzzle you are about to construct. For example, what is the dramatic question you want your viewer to consider? The combination of visual images, voice-over and musical background bring to life the stories we carry with us, or the stories of those we want to honor. In the classroom, digital storytelling aligns well with reflective thinking, which is a major component of service-learning pedagogy. It pushes students to experience a profound sense of place and a real-world connection to language and people as they work in the community and carefully draft their digital narratives. It allows them to document lived experiences of proximity to people and places new to them.

Digital storytelling gives life to the written text, promotes students’ creativity and provides a new and innovative platform to assess student learning. Since digital narratives are short, only 4-6 minutes, it demands that we capture the attention of the viewer/listener immediately so he or she will listen closely to the story we are trying to tell. As an instructor, I am able to review this process and I provide feedback on my students’ scripts. Ideally, I can also provide feedback on images and music they choose for their project. Their final stories are shared with classmates at the end of the semester and I am able to evaluate their participation in the community in a way that a final power-point presentation could not.

Thank you Queenie, Alex and Brian for helping me go through the process and more confidently make use of digital storytelling in my classes!

Elena FoulisElena Foulis is a Senior Lecturer and Outreach & Service-Learning Coordinator from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

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