5 Digital Storytelling Unit

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Essay Assignment

Length: 3 minutes (and a script/storyboard)
Due date: TBD
File name: YourNameDigitalProject.file (mp3, mov, mp4, wmv, etc.) – post online (YouTube) or bring on a flash drive

Introduction to the Assignment
In our class discussions of narrative choices, we often focus on strategies (dialogue), awareness of audience (pacing and tone), and arrangement (5-part dramatic structure). An overlooked factor that plays a big role in each rhetorical situation is genre or medium. In a writing classroom, it is assumed that all assignments are typed in Times New Roman with standard 12-point font and MLA style. However, this isn’t how we often see rhetoric in our daily lives. Video, audio, and images bombard us on televisions, social networking sites, and news Web sites. In fact, YouTube has popularized the vlog (video log) and many post digital first person narratives via Web cam videos on Facebook each day.

In this continuation of your Narration/Description paper, you will construct a digital storytelling project that builds on your previous narrative and further develops your inquiry by engaging what others have said about the topic. In a 3-minute video or audio piece, you will construct an open-ended argument about an issue you can relate to in some specific way by including both your own experience and evidence from research. These two kinds of evidence should mutually inform each other; that is, you should be able to analyze and reflect on your experience through the lens of the research you do, and you should read the research with a critical eye, informed by your own experience. The idea here is that you should use the research to critically consider your experience and develop your argument.

The choice is yours as to which media you will use. Perhaps you feel comfortable filming video with your Macbook or web cam. Maybe you prefer to use still images with an audio voiceover. Be creative and remember that the rhetorical choices of modes you make will impact how your audience understands your Experience and Other Evidence project. Gunther Kress’s term transduction – translation from one mode to another – will be one to consider when transforming your script or storyboard into your multimodal project. Want to create a YouTube video? Perfect! A PowToon cartoon? That works. Prezi? Sure.


For your first paper, you began with your own experience. Now, you will move that to the next level. Consider how some element of your experience relates to a broader situation or issue. We will read and view examples of such connections between personal experience and public issues in the arguments from various Web sites. Many of the authors relate their experiences as a kind of lesson, using imagery, voiceovers, and video as rhetorical tools to persuade their readers.

… And Other Experience (a.k.a. Research)
When academics write and investigate, they bring research to bear on their thinking and writing, informing their experiences with observation, reading, discussion, and conversation. In addition to conveying your own experience of an issue, you will also research the issue, ideally building toward a broad research paper. You will apply your own ideas as evidence in making a claim and you will expand those ideas with research on the topic. You must engage at least 2 other sources in your digital storytelling project, whether they are summarized verbally, quoted in a text overlay, or interviewed on video. Your script will include MLA style citations for all outside material cited or consulted.

No doubt you often make sense of your experiences by talking about them with others and reflecting on them yourselves; if you think of research in the same way, your research and therefore your writing will be richer, more meaningful, and part of your critical development rather than an onerous task.

Weaving together Experience and Other Evidence
The point of this project is not just to talk about two kinds of evidence but to synthesize those two kinds of evidence, using each to inform the other. That is the way research works: each new piece of evidence builds on the evidence that you already have, expanding your understanding and perspective of a given issue. One tactic you may want to use in preparing the paper, while both reflecting on the points you want to make and considering your research, is stasis theory. It might serve as a guide to help you categorize and articulate your ideas. Is the claim you want to argue one of fact, cause, value, action, or jurisdiction? What kinds of claims are the authors of your research making?

Many of you are familiar with filming video, recording audio, and taking pictures; however, the synthesis of these components into one file will require careful attention to the digital software. We will review free software for audio (Audacity), screen recording (Camtasia), and slide-based presentation (Microsoft Powerpoint, Prezi).

I encourage you to explore the different software and consult our tutorials posted on Blackboard for more information on how to use each program, but do not feel overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles. Even a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation can piece together video, audio, and imagery to create a successful digital project.



  1. Weeks 5 and 6: I will introduce the assignment and available technology to the class. Please jot down any questions you may have so that you do not fall behind in creating your digital project. You should also begin work on a script for your project as soon as we discuss the assignment, but you will also want to begin filming, taking pictures, and recording audio.
  2. Week 6: Bring a script/storyboard of your digital storytelling project to class with an audience analysis. This script will integrate evidence in MLA style and demonstrate how you plan to arrange the digital project. This script should be 2-3 pages and include a half-page audience analysis, detailing who your project’s intended audience is and why. Since your script should be a helpful document for creating your digital project, it does not need to be in formal, paragraph-based essay form.
  3. Week 8: We will conduct a digital project workshop for our entire class period. You have this time to work on Camtasia, PowerPoint, or other software in class and receive guidance from peers. Please come prepared with a flash drive or external hard drive that holds all your documents. You may also prefer to bring a laptop that has all of your software installed.
  4. Week 9: Bring your digital project to class for a “ draft workshop.” In groups of three, you will view each other’s pieces and comment on the following: content, exigence, inquiry, use of evidence, narrative (showing instead of telling), arrangement of experience and research, technological expertise, pacing, originality, voice/sound quality, and picture/video quality. (NOTE: Be aware that you may need to make changes to your draft, so save copies of your project at many different stages!)
  5. Week 9: Digital storytelling project and script will be uploaded to YouTube or transferred to my flash drive in class. We will view some projects at a future date.



Sample Topics

Here are some topics that students in past classes have used for this type of assignment.Some students later narrowed down a particular topic to use it as their research topic for the rest of the semester:

  • Stereotypes about Africa perpetuated by US educational system
  • School uniforms
  • The differences in the ecological mindset of Germans and Americans as represented by their cars
  • Same-sex vs. mixed-gender education
  • Multiculturalism in the American educational system
  • Stereotypes of Asian students as geniuses
  • Sexism in the workplace in Latin America (later narrowed down to relationship of sexism to underdevelopment)
  • Racial profiling in airports
  • Opportunities for amateur sports in Europe and America
  • School tracking
  • McDonaldization
  • Religion and orthodoxy, or how religion affects our personal choices
  • Images of beauty in the media and African American women (later narrowed down to the issue of skin bleaching)
  • SAT tests
  • Growing in a single-parent household
  • Stereotypes due to accents
  • Drug testing of low-wage workers or high school students
  • Sexual harassment in certain professions
  • Teaching evolution versus creation science or intelligent design
  • The effects of advertising on childhood obesity
  • Hiring practices based on appearance (such as Abercrombie and Fitch’s policy)
  • Racial self-segregation in high school lunchrooms
  • Culture of “ whiteness”
  • Addiction to computer games
  • Immigration and its effect on labor-intensive industry
  • The challenges faced by first-generation college students
  • Metal detectors and other security measures in high schools
  • The deterioration of the coastal environment
  • Religion in schools
  • Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

This list is not meant to provide you with a list of topics to choose from; rather, use this list to think about the kinds of topics that students write about that relate to larger issues. The most successful papers tend to come out of topics that are more original to the student writing the paper.

Supporting Resources





Student Samples

Sample Storyboard (.docx file)



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