3. Authors

Who Creates Digital Stories? How Are They Used?

Student Privacy: Coppa & Ferpa

The process of creating digital stories can evoke students' feelings and personal memories. Educators should take care to protect students' privacy and the stories that they create. During the process of sharing stories in class, students should be asked to maintain confidentiality. Before publishing students' digital stories, permission should be secured from the students or parents, if under 18.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) requires schools to have a student's consent prior to the disclosure of education records. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children's privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.

Both of these laws require different levels of permissions on content in faculty and students' digital stories. Care must be taken when selecting photographs to include in a digital story, to hide student identity in photos (showing hands, backs of heads or other strategies where students cannot be identified) or permission slips must be collected from students, or parents of students under 18. Most universities have a standard permission form that can be signed by students or parents.

The application of the COPPA Act to photographs of children is a matter of interpretation that is yet to be tested in the courts. However,
one US government department says "There is no restriction on the dissemination of photos of children, if they are taken in public spaces, with no identification, and are used only for editorial (not advertising) purposes. The use of pre-arranged photos, taken in a protected environment such as a school or hospital, and showing a highly-defined and recognizable image, requires a release". Source: Wikipedia

Preservice Teacher Education

Digital stories can be powerful tools in teacher education, to provide teacher candidates with a new model of reflection and and a new form of publishing. Here is a testimonial from a Teacher Educator from Florida who wrote to me about her experience using digital storytelling with her students:

My colleague and I were inspired by a presentation you conducted (long distance) last summer in Tampa, Fl at a Dept. of Education Meeting. Each of my students this semester produced two digital stories, one focusing on their philosophy of teaching, and the other dealing with their field experience, We used PhotoStory 3 because it was a free Microsoft Download. I was most impressed with their efforts and they have told me it was a most meaningful activity.

The story told by Audrey Rogers on this website, provides a current example for using digital storytelling with teacher education students. My first experience with digital storytelling was with teacher candidates in Alaska in 2001, where I introduced the process along with their development of electronic portfolios. For many of these student teachers, the process of developing a digital story was their favorite part of the process.

Inservice Professional Learning

Teachers may also find digital stories to be a powerful source of reflection. Here is a message I received from a teacher educator in Ohio:

This past quarter, I worked with my graduate students (all inservice teachers) on telling their "digital stories" of why they have stayed in teaching for so many years/or why they went into teaching, their thoughts on the future of education and their philosophy of teaching… Some of the stories were so passionate, I cried as I graded them. [In fact my whole hallway cried and laughed as we watched them.] Digital storytelling is a very powerful medium for expressing the art and passion of inservice teachers about their own teaching. It was one of the most fantastic experiences for my own "learning about my students" that I have had in recent years! We used Moviemaker and VideoStudio 8, one free and the other $69. since we are doing all of this in an online environment and the teachers have to purchase their own software for the courses, the teachers loved it -- and keep sending me ideas now of how they are going to use it in their own classrooms. Enjoy the digital storytelling -- it is well worth the time

College Faculty Members

Digital stories created by faculty members can serve:
  • As a Lesson Hook
  • As a Way to Integrate Multimedia into the Curriculum
  • As a Way to Make Difficult Content More Understandable
  • To Facilitate Classroom Discussion

College Students

Digital storytelling can be an effective learning tool _for students, helping them develop and demonstrate the following skills:
  • Research Skills
  • Writing Skills
  • Organization Skills
  • Technology Skills
  • Presentation Skills
  • Interview Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Problem-Solving Skills
  • Assessment Skills

K-12 Students

Digital Stories can be powerful tools for K-12 students, especially when used to help them develop their e-portfolios, or build a plan for their future beyond school. To see examples of digital stories created by K-12 students and teachers, review these websites:
Learning to create digital stories in a teacher education program will help new teachers realize the value of developing these stories when they get their own classroom of students.

College Students (Medicine)

I found an interesting research project conducted by Christopher Murray and Dr. John Sandars, Medical Education Unit, University of Leeds in the U.K.: "Reflective learning for the net generation student" focusing on digital storytelling! (Scroll down about a third of the way through this issue of the newsletter of the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine, Autumn 2008.) Quotes I particularly like:
Reflective learning is essential for lifelong learning and many net generation students do not engage in the process since it does not align with their preferred learning style (Grant, Kinnersley, Metcalf, Pill, Houston, 2006).The combination of multimedia and technology motivates students to creatively produce digital stories that stimulate reflective learning. Digital stories present a personal and reflective narrative using a range of media, especially photographs and video. In addition, students can feel empowered and develop multiple literacies that are essential for lifelong learning...

Why don't students spend time to reflect on the things they are learning? Our initial research suggests that Net Generation students dislike using written text, but their engagement increases when they use digital storytelling. Digital storytelling is an innovative approach to reflective learning in which pictures and sound are collected and assembled to form a multimedia story.

The digital stories created by the authors' first year medical students began as blog entries using Elgg plus images taken by many of them with their mobile phone cameras. Their digital stories for class were actually told using Powerpoint. The student comments reported were very encouraging and the authors concluded:

Overall, we appear to have successfully engaged our undergraduate medical students in reflective learning by using a range of new technologies and also by the use of mobile phones. Blogs were used as a personal learning space that combined both media storage with a creative space. Images were obtained from a variety of media sharing sites. Most mobile phones have a camera function and the “always to hand” nature of mobile camera phones encourages spontaneous image capture at times of surprise during an experience, the “disorientating dilemma” that Mezirow (1991) regards as being an essential component of transformative reflective learning.


Digital storytelling offers a practical teaching approach that combines multimedia and technology for reflective learning. Our work in undergraduate supports the use of this approach to engage Net generation students in reflective learning but it also appears to stimulate deep reflection. You can read more about our work and see examples at www.ireflect.org.