Research Supporting Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling allows students to share their stories outside of the traditional written form. It allows students to develop creative presentations utilizing a number of different skills, including writing, performance, and technological skills. In addition, digital storytelling provides an opportunity for collaboration and cooperation among teachers and librarians. Studies suggest that both digital storytelling and librarian-teacher collaboration has an impact on student achievement.

Research Supporting the Use of Digital Storytelling in the Classroom:

Lesley Farmer (2004) argues that digital storytelling is not as simple as it may at first sound. She asserts that "for students to succeed in this endeavour [sic], they must know their facts, make decisions about the key elements, and shape those within the parameters of telling a story. Such work involves high-level information literacy, critical thinking and creativity; the result is an original and authentic product of the child's knowledge and imagination" (156-157). Following are additional examples of research demonstrating the skills digital storytelling helps students develop.

Building "Multiliteracy"/Multimodal Literacy Skills:

Today's students must be literate in both traditional print texts and multimedia. This requires the ability to read and write text as well as understand and create media to communicate their ideas. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) considers multimodal literacy crucial to students in the twenty-first century, particularly for those not exposed to it at home. The NCTE Executive Committee published guidelines for multimodal literacy, suggesting that "in personal, civic, and professional discourse, alphabetic, visual, and aural works are not luxuries but essential components of knowing" (

Projects such as digital storytelling devoted to developing multiliteracy also teach students to work together as a group. According to the NCTE, the complex nature of multimodal projects require collaboration among students with a variety of skill levels. Maier (2006/2007) concurs, citing a 1991 study by Rysavy and Sales which found that cooperative education paired with technology helped "students make cognitive knowledge connections through the practice of elaborate rehearsal" because of the discussion, debate and consensus needed to make decisions as a group (177). The collaborative work also proves a benefit of its own, beyond building multiliteracy skills. Maier cites Vygotsky, who "believed that learning was a lifelong process and is dependent on social interaction, and that social learning actually leads to cognitive development" (181). Maier suggests that additional research is needed to definitively prove that "shared experiences promote permanent achievements in learning," but he argues that digital storytelling is an excellent way to develop both multiliteracy and cooperative skills (181).

Understanding the Role of Media in Today's Society:

Related to the idea of multiliteracy is the need to understand the role of media in today's society. Ohler argues that students who create digital stories have the opportunity to "think critically about media" (47). Students today must learn to recognize the ways media influences American culture and society and the ways we view the world. Ohler uses Kay's (1996) assertion that "Stories are enjoyable because we give ourselves over to them; this is also what makes them dangerous" to stress the need for students to understand the power of stories portrayed in media (as cited in Ohler, 47). Creating digital stories and understanding the impact they have on their audience will develop classroom discussions about the power of media and help students recognize the difference between their digital story and an advertisement.

Building Writing Skills:

Studies also suggest the importance of writing in digital storytelling, since "it is the patient development of ideas with pen and paper or keyboard that bring the story to life" (Maier, 179). Ohler (2005/2006) argues that "writing is key," noting that students must first develop written scripts and storyboards before working with the technology (46). Although the written form of a digital story may not require the same "polish" as that of a story meant for the page, students cannot simply start a digital story without a clear understanding of its structure and purpose.

Developing Interdisciplinary Connections:

Digital storytelling incorporates art, drama, writing, reading, and technology skills. While primarily described in terms of the language arts curriculum, digital storytelling can be used to illustrate problem solving in math or science, to tell the story of immigrants in social studies, or simply to tell a story in language arts. Working in conjunction with school library media specialists, art teachers, and another subject teacher, students learn to translate a story into a visual medium. In an Art Education article Chung (2007) argues that "digital storytelling provides art students with a stimulating aesthetic means of developing hands-on critical-thinking and problem solving skills, of addressing relevant social issues and personal concerns, and of cultivating aesthetic sensitivities" (22). Not only does digital storytelling allow students to express themselves visually, it also addresses skills relevant in other subjects; it is a perfect tool for interdisciplinary projects.

Develops and Rewards Skills not Always Recognized in Schools:

The interdisciplinary nature of digital storytelling also appeals to students with skills not always rewarded in school. The student with excellent art skills who has difficulty writing an essay may find the skills required for digital storytelling to aid his/her ability to write a story. In addition, digital storytelling encourages students to develop skills in areas they might not have known they had. Ohler argues that "creating a digital story taps skills and talents - in art, media production, storytelling, project development, and so on - that might otherwise lie dormant within students but that will serve them well in school, at work, and in expressing themselves personally" (47).

Engaging Reluctant Readers:

In Bringing the Outside In: Visual Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers (2006), Kajder relates the success she had in using digital storytelling with reluctant readers. She describes the school as "a culturally diverse, socioeconomically challenged suburban school ten minutes from Washington, D.C." (15). Kajder implemented digital storytelling in a unit on personal narrative because it provided an opportunity for the students to share their stories in a different way; she hoped that a different media would spark the students' interests.

Kajder found that students who had been uninterested in reading or writing became motivated thanks to the ability to choose the contents of the digital story. She describes how they "dove into the bookcases and read actively in the library after school" and notes that "more students" completed this assignment than any other (20 and 29). In addition, Kajder saw an increase in the number of students engaged in the class during and after the digital storytelling project. As a result, she was able to challenge the students beyond what they thought they were capable of.

Finally, Kajder also reports that digital storytelling facilitated greater comprehension of texts. "Students were not reading for information," she insists. "They were reading to relate, to connect, and to understand" (21). Students could not tell their stories with pictures, music, and words without relating to it and engaging it in a new way.

Improving Reading Comprehension:

Kajder's work with reluctant readers points to an improvement in reading comprehension as well as motivation. In addition, Farmer saw that the requirements of digital storytelling "improves or reinforces reading comprehension" (158). She argues that when children search for visual representations of the story they link the story with that visual representation and demonstrate understanding of the story itself. Visual representations in digital storytelling can include found objects or objects created by the students to represent setting, character, an object, or a symbol. As a result, it forces students to think critically about the story and express what it means using their own words and visual representations.

In another study, Kajder and Swenson (2004) demonstrated that digital storytelling improved reading comprehension when using a technique called "visual think aloud" in which students use traditional think aloud methods in a digital environment.  Kajder and Swenson note, "Good readers often visualize the action of a story, creating a mental movie of images evoked by the story. Struggling readers often lack this skill" (18).  Through visual think aloud, students were encouraged to develop images to illustrate the story and "select images that represent the mental images the printed text evokes" (18).  Kajder and Swenson found that upon completion of the digital story developed using the visual think aloud method, students had improved their reading comprehension ability.

Improved Quality through Motivation:

The NCTE suggests that current technology allows students to create polished projects, such as digital stories, which may resemble digital media they will later create in the workplace. In addition, they assert that students will work harder to develop their products when they know that others may see it. "With more opportunities and greater ease in sending their work out into the world, the quality of the ideas and the effectiveness of the communication media will become more important and more relevant to students" ( If students merely turn in an assignment for their teacher, the grade and the approval of their teacher are their motivators. If students turn in an assignment that will be published on the internet for friends, family, and possibly future colleges or employers, they may feel a greater motivation to produce a quality product.

Kajder found that both technology and the students' ownership of the stories they created served as additional motivation to develop quality stories. Rather than dictate her project in a top-down manner, Kajder worked with her students to define the project and gave them the opportunity to determine what story they would tell and how they would tell it. She shares the story of Rochelle, a troubled and rebellious student who found the digital storytelling project allowed her to express herself. Rochelle noted in her class journal, "we started class with where I was instead of starting with everything I didn't know" (Kajder, 16). Kajder allowed her students to tell her who they were rather than imposing worksheets and assignments and criticizing them for not knowing. Digital storytelling motivated the students in Kajder's class to create quality projects in a subject they ordinarily would not have made an effort for.


Research Supporting Teacher-Librarian Collaboration:

While teachers may undertake a digital storytelling lesson on their own, they are more likely to tackle such a project in conjunction with another educator, particularly if they feel intimidated by the technology. Since digital storytelling can be utilized across all subject fields, it is an important and useful tool that school library media specialists can offer to teachers as a collaborative project.

A number of studies reveal the importance of collaboration between teachers and school library media specialists. Keith Curry Lance, director of the Library Research Service, completed a number of studies demonstrating the impact of librarian-teacher collaboration. His 1999 study of Pennsylvania schools found that test reading scores increased on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment when librarians increased the amount of time spent teaching cooperatively with teachers.

In 2000, a Colorado study produced similar results. Lance's findings indicated that students' scores in the reading portion of the Colorado Student Assessment Program increased in conjunction with increased school library programming in four areas: program development, information technology, individual student visits to the library media center, and teacher-library media specialist collaboration. Lance argues, "A central finding of this study is the importance of a collaborative approach to information literacy. Test scores rise in both elementary and middle schools as library media specialists and teachers work together" (as cited in Buzzeo, 2002, 10).

Toni Buzzeo, highlighting the importance of collaboration suggests, "all this research adds up to new and indisputable knowledge: school library media specialists, particularly those working in collaboration with teachers as teaching partners, have an impact on student achievement" (10). What better way to collaborate than with digital storytelling, which builds students skills in a multitude of subjects and helps them collaborate themselves?



Buzzeo, T. (2002). Collaborating to Meet Standards: Teacher/Librarian Partnerships for K-6. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing Inc.

Chung, S. K. (March 2007). Art Education Technology: Digital Storytelling [Electronic version]. Art Education60(2), 17-22.

Farmer, L. (2004). Using Technology for Digital Storytelling: Tools for Children [Electronic version]. New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship10(2), 155-168. 

Kajder, S.B. (2006). Bringing the Outside In: Visual Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Kajder, S. and Swenson, J.A. (May 2004). Digital Images in the Language Arts Classroom [Electronic version]. Learning and Leading with Technology, 31(8), 18-19, 21, 46.

Maier, Robert Brick and Mercedes Fisher. (2006-2007). Strategies for Digital Storytelling via Tabletop Video: Building Decision Making Skills in Middle School Students in Marginalized Communities. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35(2), 175-192.

National Council of Teachers of English. (November 2005). Multimodal Literacies. Retrieved November 7, 2007, from

Ohler, Jason. (December 2005/January 2006). The World of Digital Storytelling [Electronic version].  Educational Leadership, 63(4), 44-47.



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Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
LIS 506
November 2007