For the past few years, I’ve been looking for an easy-to-use tool to create digital stories in the classroom. This past semester, I used Steller, an app that allows students to construct digital stories on their phones by easily importing photographs and video from their phones, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.
One goal of the project was to push students to maximize the capabilities of this tool. Steller is often used superficially to document vacations or to share streams of personal photos, and while I wanted students to consider how to write with images, I also wanted them to think about balancing images, videos, and text in a multimodal writing context.
As we prepared for the project, we viewed several Steller stories, and talked about their structure. One tendency we noticed was that most leaned too heavily on photographs with no explanatory text to contextualize the images. Other pieces, however, were filled with text and failed to compellingly hold the viewer’s attention. As multimodal writers, their goal was to find an effective balance among the various mediums and to consider how the mediums relate to one another.
Students chose a diverse range of topics. One student documented her trip to New York, but unlike most of the travelogues on Steller, she added historical context to the places, using her story not only to entertain but to inform the reader about the places she visited. Documenting her family’s tradition of cooking potstickers, another student took a more poetic approach, reflecting on the the tensions between simplicity and complexity, exploring the ways in which college students can navigate the stressors of finals by appreciating the simple things in life.
Here is the assignment sheet I gave my students:
Unit #4 Digital Essay
to engage and reflect upon the digital writing process
to gain awareness of rhetorical choices in multiple mediums & their effects on audience
to craft a voice/style tailored to a close audience (i.e., classmates)
to copy edit for audience
For this assignment, you will create a digital story on a topic of your choice using Steller, a platform that allows you to create visual stories.
Some possibilities for your narrative include:
a personal story
a persuasive essay on a topic that you are passionate about
an oral history or interview with a friend or family member
a how-to guide
an activist toolkit
a travel guide
As you decide on your topic for your digital story, consider not only exigence and audience but also the medium itself. In other words, choose a topic that allows you to play with both visual content and text.
The Writing Process
I also encouraged students to take original photographs for this project. We analyzed still shots, and I sent the students outside to compose their own photographs. I was impressed with how quickly they picked up on how to take photographs.