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28th April
written by Tom Banaszewski


I’m changing my job title from Technology Integration Specialist to ICT Integration Specialist. Maybe then I’ll get a chance to demonstrate how technology in educational settings is linked to developing students’ digital literacy skills and not a separate set of software skills. Also, maybe then teachers won’t confuse me with the person who was hired to fix their computer. ICT Standards have made my job a lot easier. When teachers are presented with a set of standards that emphasize effective communication
with technology they often feel that this makes more sense to them than
"doing technology for technology’s sake." 

When we talk about 21st century skills for our schools, one key strand is digital literacy. While some teachers and administrators see these terms as buzz words that muddle school reform conversations, it can’t be denied that technology use is integral to the development of students’ current literacy skills.
The ICVET website explains that:

Today‚Äôs technology driven society also requires digital literacy, which means that an individual can read and write digitally in order to ‘access the Internet; find, manage and edit digital information; join in communications; and otherwise engage with an online information and communications network…’ (Blackall, L 2005).
Digital literacy also includes an ability to ‘identify‚Ķintegrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect upon this process’ (DigEuLit project, 2006).

According to these definitions, some may say that Facebook has facilitated students’ digital literacy skills more than their daily classroom work.  I’ve spent the last ten years helping students and teachers communicate information in story form using technology. To me, digital storytelling helps develop story literacy, media literacy, and visual literacy. When implementing a digital storytelling project and teachers address the skills associated with these three literacies then we’re on the path of developing digitally literate students.

Eliot Eisner wrote in The Kind of Schools We Need that "what we ought to be developing in our schools is not a
narrow array of literacy skills limited to a restrictive range of
meaning systems, but a spectrum of literacies…to serve as a vision of
what our schools should strive to achieve." I’d also include procedural literacy as a component of digital literacy. Students who can use entry-level programming tools, such as Scratch or ALICE are learning a set of skills that transcend manipulating a machine. They are learning the key steps of the iterative design process that will be a part of many 21st century jobs.

I just finished Jason Ohler’s new book Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media PatOhler_digitalstory_2hways to Literacy, Learning, and Creativity. When I was writing my thesis on Supporting Digital Storytelling in Grades 4-12 (Download TB_thesis_2008_edits.doc), I found the earlier draft of this book on his website. Thrilled at the clear language he used and his support of Kieran Egan’s storytelling work, I felt his first draft was the best book to date on helping teachers understand digital storytelling in the context of the classroom and within the larger pedagogical domain of "So, why is this important?" Unfortunately, it was too good. I hit a wall with my thesis, feeling deflated that he’d beat me to the punch, and said everything I had planned to say. But I pushed on and found that I still had a lot to say about the challenges teachers face in planning a successful digital storytelling project and the continuing challenge of how exactly do we teach students to tell a story. This version of his book covers it all – the important connection between communicating with digital tools and literacy development, visualizing story development, media grammar, and recommendations for necessary computer equipment.

I really feel that this book should be required reading for all teachers. One of Ohler’s frequent reminders to teachers is "story first, technology second." But I find that when I mention "story" to teachers they feel that this is a step backwards in their drive to develop 21st century learners. I’ve got to find a new term. Telling a good story is hard, just as is writing an engaging five paragraph essay. It’s often overlooked that students receive far more drill in essay writing than story practice. In every digital storytelling workshop I’ve run, when I ask participants to tell a story about themselves, it is a very foreign experience for them. Telling an engaging, convincing story should be a skill that we impart to our students (as well as making sure they can tell at least one good joke). Although story does not appear in many ICT documents, it does remind that us that story is one of the oldest ways that information has been communicated, and it should not be abandoned in the Information Age. 

We need to make sure we give students the tools to create engaging digital stories, podcasts, Powerpoints, animations, and larger multimedia productions. The story spine and story mapping templates were just a few resources from Ohler’s book that I’m looking forward to testing out with students soon.

Story Spine

Once upon a time…


But one day…

Because of that… (repeat three times or as often as necessary) Until finally…

Ever since then…

And the moral of the story is…(optional)

Virtual Portrait of a Story (VPS)


A digital story adds the new challenge of doing what Bernajean Porter refers to as "dancing text, images and audio together on the screen."  A key step that is easily confused with storyboarding is what Ohler refers to as "story mapping." The simple visualization tools Ohler encourages are
invaluable to teachers who feel very comfortable with a template for
students to follow. Porter’s book DigiTales: The Art of Telling Digital Stories is another excellent resource for teachers wondering what digital storytelling has to offer them.


  1. 30/06/2008

    Hi, Tom. Long time, no see…
    I was nodding in agreement with your point (and Jason Ohler’s) that it’s important for students to be taught how to tell a good story, regardless of medium, until you said, “But I find that when I mention ‘story’ to teachers they feel that this is a step backwards in their drive to develop 21st century learners. I’ve got to find a new term.”
    I would urge you NOT to find a new term for “story” but to hold onto a word that has meaning for people in the larger scheme of things, and help them understand what new media have to offer ancient and eternally relevant arts. We must not cave into the conventional pressure to separate digital literacies from traditional literacies. We must help people understand that we are interested in exploring how new media offer novel ways to achieve the deeply human purposes of expression and communication. Yes, they must learn how to operate the tools, but if they lose sight of the ultimate purposes, the technical skills will be worthless.
    And if the “Trojan mouse” of “21st century literacies” gets you in the door, use it to help teachers understand how to better teach the art of storytelling writ large, as that will serve students throughout their lives, no matter how the media they use continue to evolve.

  2. 22/12/2008

    Hi Tom,
    I must say that your article is very impressive. In fact I completely agree with you that some people consider storytelling a passe practice. One needs to present the stories in an innovative and interactive manner. The new electronic gadets attract children’s attention a lot. And what can be better than digital stories for the kids of new generation.
    I have a passion for storytelling and have chosen digital storytelling as the medium to spread the good stories for kids. I have just started a small start-up, with the aim of making stories more entertaining for children.
    I would like to have your frank comments on the concept and presentation and any further help/association possible.
    Thanks and congrats once again on the nice article.

  3. 09/02/2009

    I’m not sure but I think that the actions and attitudes of those who use these tools alot influence the uptake of those that use the tools less. Maybe a combination of the ‘experts’ having a proprietry feeling over their knowledge ‘I’m a bit special because I know about the computer stuff’ and the ‘novice’ feeling like the computer stuff is too hard so I won’t bother. I haven’t quite nailed my thoughts on this but I think perhaps if we are interested in leveraging the advantages of ICT then we need to think about how to encourage the ‘experts’ to give the ‘novice’ a helping hand up. I think this will be a bit of a cultural shift.

  4. 05/08/2009

    It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I’m sure you had fun writing this article. Excellent entry! I’m been looking for topics as interesting as this. Looking forward to your next post.

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