WMU News

Digital storytelling focus of WMU summer institute

April 13, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- With e-stories, e-books and e-libraries available at the click of a mouse, digital storytelling is signaling a new era not only in literature, but also in the teaching of reading and writing.

A special institute at Western Michigan University this summer will show teachers how to use digital storytelling, which involves creating short multimedia presentations for dissemination on the World Wide Web, as an innovative new instructional method.

The Institute for Storytelling and Writing through Digital Media will be held July 9-13 on the WMU campus as one of four summer institutes offered by WMU's Third Coast Writing Project.

"Literacy is different now. Kids are visual learners and are very familiar with technology," says Corey Harbaugh, institute instructor and a high school English teacher in Gobles, Mich. "In this workshop, the teachers become the students and learn to use the traditional reading and writing process to create a digital story. They can then take those processes and stories back to their own classrooms and schools."

A dozen elementary and secondary school teachers will be selected for the institute, which also will also be taught by Caleb Paull from the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, Calif. Harbaugh attended training in digital storytelling at that center last year.

"This is the best thing I've ever seen," says Harbaugh, who is using the digital storytelling in his classes this year. "It has transformed my teaching. This is the next thing in teaching and soon everyone will be doing things like this. Being able to share it with teachers in Southwest Michigan now, while we are right on the cusp of it, is so exciting."

The institute will teach participants how to take a multimedia story from idea to publication, using such techniques as writing for a digital medium and storyboarding. Class members will create their own digital stories using still images, voice, video, music, sound, text, animation, artifacts and other materials.

Harbaugh says that while some may think digital storytelling emphasizes the medium rather than the message, crafting a digital story still requires the basics of good writing.

"You still have to know what a good story is," he says. "The emphasis is on the process of writing and knowing how to create and manipulate the elements of a good story. But with digital storytelling, you engage the audience differently. You are concerned with what the audience sees, hears and takes in. Digital stories are incredibly powerful because so much is happening."

Teachers of grades kindergarten through 12th are invited to apply for the institute. Applicants are not required to have any specific computer skills.

"We made the requirements for this institute purposely vague," says Harbaugh. "Curiosity and the spirit of adventure are the most important qualifications. There are ways to use digital storytelling that we have never even thought of and we want the teachers to tell us how they can fit this method into their teaching."

The application deadline is May 1 and the cost for the institute is $375. Participants can receive two hours of WMU graduate credit for an additional charge.

For more information, contact Dr. Ellen Brinkley, director of the Third Coast Writing Project, at (616) 387-2581 or <ellen.brinkley@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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