A Review of “Digital Storytelling Pilot Course”
By Celeste Pedro
Building a narrative around a scientific concept, or around a corpus, for example, will change how your work is perceived; and the way you communicate it will also change how the public reacts to your message. Having the skills to adapt research language to simplified, unambiguous and, at the same time, captivating storytelling can do a lot for academic research and the communities it wants to impact. We have all seen some of that during Covid-19, with huge amounts of data visualization research supporting public action.
Digital Storytelling is, to put it very simply, telling a story using digital tools.
It is a figure of style, one could say, that makes use of digital media (image, sound, and movement) to captivate and entangle the user. Depending on the tool one choses, it can also imply the possibility for the user to interact and take part of the story. This means that there is a higher chance that the message and/or meaning of the story gets through to its viewers.
This pilot course on Digital Storytelling was created and delivered by the Center for International Health of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (CIH-LMU) and promoted by EUGLOH. Although the course was connected to One Health thematic, the participation and project development was not restricted to health issues, every participant had the opportunity to use any topic as case study for the requested assignments.
The asynchronous course ran on the CIH Moodle Platform, with sporadic online sessions with the team, general meetings, tutorials, and regular feedback.
The course stretched from May to July, in a total of 90 hours (3.0 ECTS) and was divided into five chapters:
- The fundamentals of digital storytelling: what is it and why use it.
- Developing a writing process and style and creating a script.
- Storyboard planning and the difference between scientific writing and storytelling.
- Using Pageflow to draft a digital storyboard.
- Presentation of digital stories.
What is Pageflow
“Multimedia storytelling for the web.” That’s how the product is presented in the applications’ website. And, indeed, this tool allows the user to combine image, sound, video, interactive charts, and textual content, including links, into an online presentation/story.
Pageflow was developed as an open-source code: https://github.com/codevise/pageflow
And as a software-hosting service here: https://www.pageflow.io/en/
The most convenient feature of this service is that it provides webhosting and a subdomain for your stories (up to three stories with the “personal plan”), which makes it a lot easier to set things up by yourself: once the content is ready, it takes a few minutes to publish it to any platform you’d like (during the course, the students were given access to features that were not available in the “test for free” version).
“If you want to plan a Pageflow, it is important to organize your work well and reflect about a good structure for your chapters and pages.” This is the trick, a good tool (software/application) can do wonders for your story, but you need a story first. This pilot course on digital storytelling teaches us just that.
Laura Volbracht and Hannah Low were the faces of the course. Everything went smoothly on my side of the screen: all information was timely and precise, the course structure and the support given were just right. The variety of backgrounds among the course attendees, and the possibility to get peer-feedback before submitting the assignments made the course even more interesting: we could learn from each other’s stories and methods, which varied across disciplines, and get relevant commentaries at every step.
I have a background in communication design, it was easier for me to sketch a storyboard and find suitable images, but I still had to think about what truly mattered about my research and what kind of story I could tell – which can be hard enough when the other students had topics addressing urgent matters of our days, while I was working with medieval diagrams… Personal struggles apart, my summarized review is that this course is a great introduction and practice-based alternative for those who wish to use digital means to disseminate and communicate research outcomes in an uncomplicated way; it is moderately time consuming and requires some dedication, but totally worth it!