This year's Forum on Education Abroad conference in Atlanta felt like it was over almost as soon as it started. Abbie and I arrived a day early to take advantage of a pre-conference workshop on digital storytelling in education abroad. The session ran from 8 to 5 and was intense. Time flew by, as it does when you are engrossed in meaningful work.
The session was team-taught by IE pros Doug Reilly and Thomas D'Agostino from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Joe Lambert from StoryCenter. Joe was a founder in the digital storytelling movement. It was wonderful to have all of them in the room, coaching us in our endeavor.
Before we arrived in Atlanta, the team sent us all an email with our homework-- find a compelling story we wanted to tell, location images to go with the story, and draft a 200-word script. This prep work, while not exactly what you want to do right before you scoot out of the office for a trip, was what made it possible to cram the 3-day workshop into a 1-day session. I started with an article I wrote for this blog. Abbie found a poem she wrote during her re-entry from study abroad in Spain.
The workshop started out with an intensive on digital storytelling principles and a few samples of the art form. We then moved to the story circle phase, where we pitched our script ideas and gave constructive feedback to one another. I cannot say enough about the value of this step. Sometimes we have the kernel of an idea but we don't feel confident about direction or the message we convey until we let others tell us what they are hearing. Having a safe space to do this, and reflecting on the elements of a good story, was a valuable and fun exercise.
As a professional, I write all the time, but rarely (if ever) do I write about deeply personal topics in an emotionally expressive way. Digital storytelling demands this. Somehow limiting our stories to 200 words is a magical formula. It's like poetry. This restriction taught us to be efficient and intentional in our art. You have to find ways to convey a message through thoughtful imagery, words, and tone when all you've got is 200 words. You learn where to cut and where to linger.
The software we used was called WeVideo. It's available free online if you want to try it in the basic version. I found it far more intuitive than iMovie or Moviemaker, but that is just me. It's an easy drag and drop system. You can layer sound and images as well as add in all the fancy effects like other video editing systems.
In the end the technology really takes a back seat to the story. I came into the workshop thinking we'd get a lot of technical training-- and we did learn new things like how different fade effects signal transition or conclusion and ways to layer music. Most of what I learned was how to dig inside myself to find a good story and work hard to shape it into something that draws others in.
At the end of our day we did a little screening party and it was so moving to not only see other people's personal stories, but to acknowledge how far they'd come when just a few hours ago we were in a circle hearing the initial pitches and giving feedback.
On Friday, Tom, Doug, and Joe had a Forum conference session that incorporated our work. They gave an overview of the process to a packed room. They showed a few of our films (Abbie and I made the cut), invited us to speak about how we see ourselves implementing the pedagogy on our campuses, and let us share how it felt to participate in the process. They even added our names to the slide-- so I guess it was not just a workshop but a backdoor to a Forum conference presentation.
It was a strange but rewarding feeling to be able to look around the room and see the response of people watching my story...to see their smiles or hear their gasps and side comments. It is unlike anything I have experienced. Normally when I am presenting my work I am standing in front of a room, too focused on delivery and nerves to really soak up more than a few faces in the crowd. This felt so much less threatening. I can't wait to try digital storytelling with my re-entry students and let them experience the same.
We only had a day so our end products were rough. I'm still a little embarrassed by mine and have so many tweaks I want to make to the images. And I'd love to add a music track. Abbie also feels that hers is just a start so I promised I'd share a disclaimer. She plans to add in more images after a trip to Spain this summer.
But you can at least get the idea of what is possible in a few hours if you let go of perfectionism and allow yourself to reflect on life's lessons:
Abbie's Digital Story
Kelly's Digital Story (adapted from this post)