Digital Storytelling (EL231: Topics in Creative Writing)

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Meets SHU’s “Artistic Expression” core requirement.

EL231 “Digital Storytelling”
(Dec 18-Jan 22)

  • Unit 1 (Dec 18-22) mostly experiencing digital stories (reading, watching, listening, playing, whatever), and reading articles & discussing them online.
  • (We take a break Dec 23-Jan 1: no classes, no homework.)
  • Unit 2 (Jan 2-7) trying out 4-5 tools for creating digital stories, and learning two in a little more detail.
  • Unit 3 (Jan 8-14) planning and creating your own original digital story.
  • Unit 4 (Jan 15-22) revising, polishing, and presenting your digital artifact.
  • Regular Semester Begins (Jan 23)
  • Final Reflection (Jan 29) Submit final version of digital artifact.
  • Grades Due (Jan 31) my deadline for submitting final grades.

What is storytelling? What makes a story digital? How does storytelling change when it becomes digital? What can we learn about storytelling from stories that are born digital — stories that could not happen in any other medium? How do we go about making, revising, evaluating, and sharing such stories?

What would a student in a “Digital Storytelling” course create? Here are some examples:

  • A hypertext choose-your-own-adventure story.
  • A fictional relationship that unfolds in real time, across multiple Twitter or Facebook accounts (all controlled by the student-author).
  • A collection of images, sound clips, and words, carefully chosen to create a specific effect.
  • A collaborative wiki that presents Wikipedia-style articles about an event that never took place (but should have).
  • An activist website that combines personal stories, factual research, and a call to action.
  • A news story that uses photos, sound, interactive maps, and traditional writing to tell a compelling story.
  • A video that uses traditional cinema techniques as well as special effects, creative editing, and social media engagement to explore (and perhaps participate in) the viral video phenomenon.
  • An augmented reality story (such as a real-world treasure hunt or “assassination” game, with clues embedded into a fictional online narrative).
  • Something else — something completely different, that nobody has imagined before.

More details about each unit follow.

Unit 1: Discovery and Exploration (Dec 18-23)

We will study examples of innovative, influential, and otherwise noteworthy digital stories. These will include text-based interactive fiction from the 70s and 80s and from today; point-and-click adventure games from the 90s and from today; literary and creative hypertext; virtual reality communities; and various exploratory, emerging examples. Successful completion of this unit will include sampling (reading, watching, playing etc.) digital artifacts; reading academic and news articles about the artifacts, their creators, and their significance; participating in online discussions with your peers; and writing a short reflection paper.

Unit 2: Analysis and Skill-Building (Jan 2-7)

Students will choose a small number of digital genres to explore in greater detail; students will familiarize themselves with 3-5 different content creation tools (such as Scratch for 2D games, Blender3D for 3D games, Inform for text-based games, ChoiceScript for multiple-choice games like “Choice of the Dragon,” etc.). All of these tools are free. Successful completion of this unit will include creating an entry-level artifact in each tool (basically completing a tutorial and supplying some original content), choosing two different artifacts to develop in more detail (to the level of an exploratory draft), and writing a short synthesis paper.

Unit 3: Planning and Creating an Original Digital Narrative (Jan 8-14)

Students will propose, plan, and build an original digital storytelling project. The project can be a game, creative nonfiction, a landscape to explore, a puzzle to solve, a position to argue, or some other computer-mediated artifact that your user can experience as a digital story. You may create your own version of one of the storytelling genres we explored in Unit 1, or you may choose a completely different genre. You may use one of the tools we explored in Unit 2, or a completely different tool. Successful completion of this unit involves researching, planning, prototyping, self-assessing, completing, and sharing with the class a digital storytelling artifact.

Unit 4: User-testing, Revising, and Presenting the Artifact (Jan 15-22; final due date Jan 29)

Students will present their digital artifact to volunteers (not students in this class) who closely represent the intended audience, and then revise the artifact with those results in mind. (For example, if users found a particular puzzle impossible to solve, or they wanted more opportunities to interact with a particular character, or they give up before getting to what you consider to be the most important part, you would revise your artifact accordingly.)Successful completion of this unit will involve recording and reporting the experiences of at least three volunteers, demonstrating how you applied specific user feedback to improve some specific part of your project, presenting a polished version of your project to the class (and, if you choose, to the general public); and writing an analytical self-reflection paper (due Jan 29, the last day I will accept any work).