Multimedia Storytelling: Student Projects for the 21st Century

Posted by Rhett Morgan on November 4, 2015
Rhett Morgan

Educators across the country have long used smart classrooms and online learning platforms to transform traditional lectures. Students now expect film clips, PowerPoint presentations, and message boards in their learning experience. But, has this technology also transformed the work students produce?  What should educators expect from students with the same access to so much digital media? A 21st century education calls for competency-based outcomes, and much of today’s job market expects young people who can easily manipulate digital platforms. To hit on all of these points, and transform traditional assignments into more dynamic projects for today’s world, more teachers across many disciplines are turning to multimedia storytelling.

multimedia storytelling

What Is Multimedia Storytelling?

Journalists, artists, and documentarians have experimented over the last twenty years with producing shorter, cheaper films by combining found images, short film sequences, and their own audio--creating digital or multimedia stories. Educators and nonprofit organizations across the country have seized on the format, finding a more exciting tool to engage a wider range of students. These assignments hit on the fundamentals of any project: communication, collaboration, research, and additionally, technology. Students choose a topic, research it, write a script covering their analysis, put together digital content, record their narration, edit it into a short film, and finally share it with classmates or larger audiences online.

The Learning, Design and Technology program at the University of Houston has championed the format as a learning tool, cataloging student projects on a diverse range of topics from history to personal essays. No matter the subject, multimedia storytelling asks students to utilize many of the same skills tested by traditional essays or group projects, but with the added benefit of engaging with multiple media formats and learning to manipulate them.

Why Choose Multimedia Storytelling?

John Seely Brown, visiting scholar at USC, has said that digital storytelling provides new ways for students to tell stories: “They have the ability to build interpretive movies very simply and to lay soundtracks around the content. They condition or ‘sculpture’ the context around the content.” Finding appropriate content, organizing it, and then adding their own context means students engage with the assignment on multiple levels, from practical skills to more critical thinking.

Working with narratives could also have additional benefits for students. Writing for Edutopia, Broadcast Journalism teacher Michel Hernandez asserts that Multimedia Storytelling can be empowering: “Rather than wait to be defined by others, it’s important that students learn to create understanding by sharing their story, their worldview, their concerns, and their triumphs with others.” In multicultural classrooms, this means that a wider range of students, from ESL to minority groups, can develop topics of interest to them, building confidence and self-expression in new ways.

How to Create Multimedia Storytelling

Many professors who incorporate multimedia projects into their curriculum advise students to find content online or produce their own with the use of smartphones before editing with free software online like Microsoft Photo Story 3. However, acquiring appropriate content should not be the objective or the most time consuming aspect of a project. This approach can also lead to liability issues for teachers, students, and schools if students use protected existing content.

With stock film footage, students have access to hundreds of hours of professionally produced content. Easy to access and free to manipulate without any legal ramifications, stock footage cuts out extra work, freeing students to focus on their ideas and then to share their productions as they want even outside the classroom. Stills, short clips, and newsreel footage can be found on almost topic and more easily integrated with their own narration or self-produced content to give richer context and more polished presentations.

VideoBlocks' Digital Backpack organizes a massive amount of professionally-produced content appropriate for social outreach, historical investigations, or any creative idea students want to pursue. Students have access to hundreds of hours of film footage, photos, audio and more that they can use as they please to fit their ideas as they develop their voice and digital media skills. It’s a resource with as much potential as this exciting format for student projects.

The multimedia story below, created by Phil Noelting, is made almost entirely from VideoBlocks stock footage paired with a powerful voiceover narrative. This short film comments on the topic of 'Managing Complexities,' with a focus on the role that managers, entrepreneurs and other leaders play in creating and amplifying significance.



Digital Backpack Edu