Digital storytelling is the practice of using digital tools such as timelines, audio, videos and images to create non-traditional forms of scholarship. We are no longer required to rely only on text to explain concepts in our writing. Traditional online articles are now becoming interactive storytelling experiences. For example, we now have the ability to transform a text-heavy list of dates and events into an interactive timeline that allows readers to take part in the storytelling process.
There are a variety of digital storytelling tools available on the web that can be embedded into a WordPress website. Below I will discuss my top five digital storytelling tools and how they help create more interactive experiences for readers.
Traditional timelines in written format are often text-heavy and lack engagement with readers. TimelineJS is a free, open-source tool created by the Knight Lab at Northwestern University. This tool allows users to create responsive, media-rich and interactive timelines without requiring sophisticated coding skills. The timeline is generated from a Google Spreadsheet where users use the template provided on the TimelineJS website to add dates and information. Since TimelineJS uses Google Spreadsheets to collect the data, this tool works well for both individual and group collaboration.
It can be challenging to find tools that support map-based and linear narratives. One tool you may be familiar with is Google Maps. Google Maps is a great mapping annotation tool for nonlinear narratives; however, Google Maps does not allow storytellers to choose the reader’s path from one map marker to the next.
The Knight Lab at Northwestern University has created another tool called StoryMapJS that allows storytellers to create linear narratives. StoryMapJS is a free, open-source storytelling tool that uses maps to tell stories. Storytellers are able to arrange the map markers in a predefined order for viewers. As seen in the screenshot below, when the readers interact with the map they are presented with a map on the left, and some text along with embedded media on the right.
One challenge I have encountered with using StoryMapJS is the inability to collaborate on creating a single StoryMap. Unlike with TimelineJS, when you create a StoryMap it becomes linked to a single Gmail account and doesn’t allow for collaborators to be added to the project; therefore, StoryMapJS works best when one individual is responsible for creating the map.
Unless your school has access to the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription it can be hard to find an inexpensive and high-quality image editing software to use in your classroom. Canva is a free tool for creating and editing images for both print and web. This tool allows users to create a variety of graphics with an easy to use interface and their large selection of templates, layouts, icons and fonts to choose from. Canva has been used for a variety of ways in the classrooms such as for promotional print materials, infographics, blog images, photo collages and logos.
Canva provides some great resources such as lesson plans and workshops for teachers looking to integrate Canva into their classrooms.
Depending on your background, you may find it challenging to design an infographic. Typically, infographics require some graphic design expertise, and time for brainstorming and planning the layout of your design. Piktochart is an easy-to-use platform for creating interactive infographics for the web and static versions for print. When creating an infographic you have the option to start with either a blank or pre-designed template. The pre-designed templates allow you to focus your time on collecting your data and communicating your message to readers and less time on the design.
Piktochart also provides a large selection of articles in the education section of their blog, which can be found here. A few articles I found useful are listed below.
- Piktochart in the Classroom: Infographics & Education
- How to Use Piktochart in Any (and Every) Classroom
Sometimes in the storytelling process it can be helpful to display an image with annotations or hotspots that link to additional information. This feature is often referred to as an image map. Image maps require a lot of time and knowledge of HTML and CSS to create a seamless experience for users. Fortunately, there is a tool called ThingLink that makes this process easier for content creators. ThingLink is a simple to use image and video annotation tool that allows users to create content-rich interactive images and videos. Free accounts only allow you to annotate an image using text, images, and URLs; however, they do offer discounted plans for teachers that will allow you to explore additional features such as 360° and virtual reality editors. Checkout the ThingLink Education Blog for resources and examples of projects used in the classroom.
The digital storytelling tools mentioned above can be adopted in any classroom from grade school to graduate school. These tools are easy-to-use and allow content creators to focus their time on crafting their message and less time on learning the technology.