What is digital storytelling? In the simplest words, digit">

Digital storytelling in history teaching


What is digital storytelling? In the simplest words, digital storytelling is the use of digital solutions to prepare and share narrative content. It is an approach that is increasingly being used both commercially and non-commercially, not only in education, but also in media or product promotion. 

There are an increasing number of solutions that are free or partly free. A great example of this is the timeline creator jointly developed by Google and the British Museum. The Tiki Toki app, which was developed through this collaboration and allows the creation of interactive and animated timelines, is also available free of charge.

Digital storytelling is part of a much broader phenomenon – no-code solutions. It involves creating digital solutions without having to learn to program and with relatively little effort. Something that was previously only available to programmers can now be done by people who are experts in their fields, but know nothing about programming.

This phenomenon has received additional acceleration as a result of the popularisation of AI-based IT solutions. AI-based applications are widely used commercially today, including for the creation of narrative content. And it is not just about content generated by Chat GPT or better performing search engines. Today, we have the possibilities to easily create images and drawings based on a description, to generate a voice from text, or even to antedate static images. An example of the latter application is an animated portrait of Cyprian Kamil Norwid, polish poet, that lived in XIX century, ‘telling’ the story of his life and work. The preparation of such an animation seems complicated and requires high digital competence. Meanwhile, a similar film can be prepared after a fairly short training in 2-3 hours.

The potential for using this approach in teaching, especially the teaching of history, is quite obvious, but let’s bring the arguments together in one place. 


Why use digital storytelling?

Firstly, we can all see that teenagers today consume information and assimilate knowledge differently. Limiting ourselves to a traditional lecture would therefore be ineffective. This is especially true for students who are not passionate about history. For similar reasons, we have long used visual and audiovisual aids. It is therefore worth looking at digital storytelling as an extension of the technical solutions we use in teaching.

Secondly, for reasons that the COVID-19 pandemic has made us realise, we will increasingly use distance education, including hybrid education. It’s not just that even the most interesting lecture delivered via Zoom or MS Teams will be far less effective than a live one. Increasingly, we will encounter situations where the necessary independent work of students is de facto hybrid education. And using well-crafted digital narrative content is a great alternative to reading school textbooks.

Thirdly, the form of storytelling in digital storytelling is similar to the form of content presentation in social media, which is now a natural environment for young people to communicate. Again, there is an opportunity for education to be more effective, especially for students who are not very interested in the subject.

Last, but not least, is the opportunity. The ever-accelerating development of digital solutions for communication and education has also meant that more and more of them are available free of charge. We are able to create more attractive content ourselves with relatively little effort and for free. It would be a shame not to take advantage of these opportunities in education.

Of course, the preparation of digital content requires time, above all to master the use of the applications used. It is worth starting here in small steps. First, by using in our own classes content prepared in the digital storytelling formula by other authors. Then, we can select from a very large range of free applications and programmes the ones that best suit our teaching style and try to prepare simple materials using them. The course How to create digital historytelling content?” developed in the Digital Historytelling programme, can help in finding such a tool by providing a comprehensive overview of digital storytelling applications. Most digital solutions for use in education have a very well-developed educational tutorials. 

One thing to bear in mind, however, is that our habits from traditional ways of using different forms of narrative should not be directly transferred. Digital timelines are a good example of this. We are used to the fact that the timeline used in education is usually very synthetic. On the other hand, the advantage of digital solutions, is that one material at the same time can be very synthetic and provide information to deepen knowledge. Moreover, it is much easier to present not only the linear nature of the historical process, but also the relationships between phenomena occurring in different areas of social life.

The potential that digital storytelling creates in education is great and it would be a shame not to use it in history teaching. What is interesting and worth noting – although pupils are indeed much more proficient than older generations in digital communication, many of the solutions (tools) used in digital storytelling are unfamiliar to them. Therefore, it is quite easy for them to get involved in learning to use them together. 


Author: Rafał Szymczak – Polish expert in the field of Data Storytelling, Business Intelligence and communication consulting. He has over 25 years of experience in communication consulting, project management, qualitative and quantitative data analysis and training. For the last 10 years, he has been developing his competences in the area of data analysis and communication using digital tools and provides training in this field. 

This article was created as part of the Digital Historytelling programme run by the School with Class Foundation in collaboration with Asociación Smilemundo and the King Baudouin Foundation with funding from the European Commission’s Erasmus+ programme.