Netskills’ journey with digital storytelling

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A fuller description of digital storytelling and its uses can be found in the literature review section but in order to set the scene, some explanation is needed here too.

Digital storytelling is not a new concept. It was initially developed in the late 1990’s by practitioners such as Joe Lambert and Dana Atchley who recognised that due to emerging digital media technologies, non-experts were increasingly able to produce their own digital films to tell their personal stories.

The approach that developed was both a technological and a social one. The technology of digital storytelling primarily used consumer level software such as Apple’s iMovie or Windows MovieMaker to combine a narrated voice over with images, text, music and other sounds. It was designed to be simple and straightforward, allowing the individual to focus on the story they were trying to tell.

The technology is seen as being secondary to the act of writing and sharing the story. As Joe Lambert (2013) describes, much of the process of digital storytelling relies on the storyteller finding their own particular voice and writing about something that is deeply personally relevant to them. Daniel Meadows (2003), who led one of the UK’s first large scale digital storytelling projects, emphasises the importance of the fact that the digital story is written, edited and produced by one person, making it authentically theirs. It isn’t filtered through any other editorial processes. An example of a typical digital story is embedded below.

Cheese Sandwich from Chris Thomson on Vimeo.

Lately the definition of what makes a digital story has broadened to include other types of digital media including social networking, maps, multi-modal texts and other more advanced web tools.

Netskills’ interest in digital storytelling goes back to 2010 when it started developing a workshop on digital storytelling designed for people involved in teaching and learning. It quickly became apparent that the interest in the approach extended further as workshops attendees started to include more people involved in university marketing and other forms of outreach.

In 2012, Netskills started work on a pilot project with Northumberland National Park Authority (NNPA) to construct a website that was suitable for access by mobile devices such as smartphones and to work on providing some of the content for the site.

Some of that content was to take the form of digital stories, produced by Netskills in collaboration with NNPA, about various locations within the National Park along Hadrian’s Wall. An example of two of these stories can be found in Appendix 1.

Interest was growing within the organisation into the different uses of storytelling either as a communication tool for Netskills itself or as a way for the projects it supports to demonstrate the impact of their work to wider audiences.

In April and May of 2012, Netskills and Infonet invited an external consultant to run an intensive workshop on digital storytelling and later in the year the two organisations ran trial workshops with Jisc programme managers and “critical friends” to gauge the potential for its use within project communications. In the spring of 2013, Netskills ran a series of workshops for Jisc-funded projects who were working on technology inspired organisational change on using storytelling techniques as a dissemination tool. At the same time members of Netskills began to actively produce digital stories about some of its more high profile activities.

It was against this background of this more intense activity that the research for this dissertation was undertaken.

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