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When we are having trouble verbalizing what we are feeling, art can help us see the things in fresh and clear way. Photo: ArtDico Project

Learning & teaching

Digital storytelling combines art and technical skills

Authors: Michael Sommer Published:

When we are having trouble verbalizing what we are feeling, art can help us see the things in fresh and clear way. Photo: ArtDico Project

Digital Storytelling helps people visualise their personal stories in a simple but creative way. At the same time, they learn important digital skills.

Michaela Mast is a mother and a housewife living in Lembeck, Germany. During the pandemic, she unexpectedly had to take on a new job: the IT expert.

Mast’s children were home-schooling online and many activities suddenly required a suitable computer device, up-to-date software and good internet connections – and a parent’s know-how in these things. But she didn’t have that, so she had no choice but to ask her children.

Mast’s situation is quite typical if you look at the statistics. It seems that women from middle age onwards in particular are having a hard time with the digital revolution.

It is the first time that I was able to put my experience into words and pictures.

In Germany, 18 percent of the population have little or no computer or internet skills. These people often live in rural areas, have a low level of education and are at least 60 years old. 14 percent of Germans are “offliners” who do not use digital media at all. The majority of this group are over 70 years old, female and live in rural areas.

Turning personal into videos

Michaela Mast wanted to learn more digital skills – but ended up doing it in a format that is quite unusual.

She has been one of the participants in workshops organised by an Erasmus+ project exploring digital storytelling tools. The project, called ArtDiCo, is taking place between six project partners in Portugal, Italy, Lithuania, Slovenia, Greece, Belgium and Germany.

Together with other participants and teacher Pia Ziyout from the Akademie Klausenhof in Germany – one of the project partners – , Mast learned how to use tablet PCs and art postcards to create a digital story about her personal experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the workshop, participants talked, looked at the pictures and reflected on their own lives and situations.

For her story, Mast chose a cheerful, relaxed piece, The “Boating Party” by the artist Mary Cassatt. Her task was then to create a small video using this picture and the connotations it evoked.

For the 48-year-old, the experience was surprisingly emotional.

“It is the first time that I was able to put my experience into words and pictures,” she said.

Tell your own story

The method used in ArtDico workshops, digital storytelling, helps people visualise their personal stories using simple digital methods. It is widely used in youth and adult education in some European countries, such as the United Kingdom or Denmark.

Without much technical knowledge, people can create videos that communicate something important about their own story, personal experiences or feelings.

In digital storytelling workshops, tablet PCs and art postcards are used to create a simple but personal stories. Photo: ArtDico Project

One of the project partners, an organisation called MAKS (Media Actie Kuregem Stad) in Anderlecht, Brussels, uses the storytelling method with young people and refugees. Many of them are working on their personal biography for the first time.

“The participants get to see that they have an exciting and impressive personal story. They deal with it and learn to communicate this story to others. At the same time, they go through a very creative process and learn – quite incidentally – digital skills, using the devices not only for passive reception. Most of them are very motivated and feel that they are being taken seriously as human beings,” confirms DST expert Petar Veljačić from the Innovation Team at MAKS.

Digital storytelling is not about making complex videos. Following certain dramaturgical principles, a story is first created, read out and saved. Then suitable photos and images are added to it.

“My group was able to learn the method with some help. But the biggest challenge was to first get to grips with the basic functions of the tablet computer,” Pia Ziyout says.

To tackle this, Ziyout started giving participants small tasks during the course. They might include writing emails or doing some research on the internet. One meeting even took place on Zoom.

“My women learned how to use technology in a very casual way. The focus for them was always to tell their story, not to learn how to use the computer.”

Art as an expression of the coronavirus pandemic

Thematic focus on art can open up completely new perspectives for digital learning.

“I can’t paint at all,” admits Prof. José Paulo Oliveira from the Universidade Lusófona in Lisbon, one of the project partners.

“In the project, we did virtual art tours, went through an art therapy session, online lectures on art education and collected online artworks that explicitly deal with the pandemic period. It was a whole new world for me, a fascinating world.”

Artists across Europe have widely responded to the pandemic and its affects, so there is plenty of material to draw from. During the past two years, the significance of art as a means of expressing various emotions has become clearer for many people.

Works of art are also particularly suitable for incorporating into video stories, as one project partner, Valentina Grineviciene from the Vilnius Academy of Art, confirms.

Learning new awareness

The little videos created at the six different project locations across Europe will be shared at virtual Online Storytelling Cafés where the participants will present their own stories live.

The project will also produce a situation report on digitally disadvantaged people in Europe and a guide on how to use the digital storytelling method in adult education.

Michaela Mast feels she learned a lot in the workshops. The biggest lesson, however, has been around new awareness.

“Above all, I realised how it really was for me during the pandemic. So locked up at home, together with the children, without my everyday contacts in the village. But now my children no longer take my new tablet from the project to do my things for me. I can do that myself now!”

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Michael Sommer (PhD) is an ELM magazine editorial board member. He was the editor of the German magazine "Erwachsenenbildung" (until 2021) and works as a project developer for the Akademie Klausenhof. Email: sommer(at) Show all articles by Michael Sommer
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