Participatory Storytelling

Participatory Storytelling

via Twitter

Ed 677 Digital Storytelling

When beginning this assignment I had a feeling of dread. I am not a storyteller. Although I do consider myself creative in some regards, writing is not my thing. The idea of creating a story with my cohort members, which up to this point had proven to be excellent writers, made me very apprehensive. Additionally, my avoidance of Twitter to this stage of my life set my confidence back even further. This being said, I really enjoyed the final outcome of this assignment.

For my deconstruction narrative I am going to break the process down into what I feel are the separate parts of the assignment. First the process of creating the story, followed by deciding how to re-create our story and the process involved.

The story:

As stated earlier I have had no interest in joining the Twitter community on my own up to this point. I am not much of a social media person. So the first task was to create a Twitter account, which in itself was not that hard despite having to select who I wanted to “follow”. I then researched programs that I could use to collect the tweets made by our cohort. I ended up choosing Twitonomy because of it’s data features. Being a science teacher, I like data. Twitonomy tracks and graphs tweets made, people who are following me, retweets, and more. It all looked pretty cool on the site so I set up a account only to discover that all the features that I thought were cool I had to pay for. None-the-less, it did a great job when I needed to follow our storyline. Now that I am all set up, time to create the story.

This was a very interesting process, the idea of several people that are spread out around the state (and Montana) creating a story by adding tiny pieces separately, with no interaction and it was supposed to make sense? However, it worked! For me, the ability to choose when I wanted to add to the story made me more comfortable with the writing process. Additionally, the limit of 140 characters evened the playing field. I felt that with everybody having the same constraints when tweeting, forced our whole cohort to write at a closer level. Although a few tweets were very descriptive when being limited to the number of characters. Once I was more at ease, I found myself checking for tweets on a regular basis, eager to see what had been added to the story. As I stated in our Google+ community, I was glad to see Keriann take our story to “a dark place” because it was starting to seem like our story wasn’t going anywhere without that conflict. I had thought about doing the same thing but couldn’t seem to bring myself to do it. Once she did it added a whole new level to the story.


When the time period for adding to the story ended I was disappointed since we had reached a point in which it could have gotten really interesting. So my initial thought was to try and continue it in some way. I quickly discarded this idea because as I said, I am not a writer! So back to researching the internet on how to tell/retell a digital story. I came across Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice right away. Both allow you to access the Adobe community for images that are copyright free. I decided to go with Adobe Voice, which is an app for the iPad. Voice allows you to search photos as well as a library of icons to import into your creation. Then the user records their voice to go along with the images. I thought this would be a great way to re-tell our story. Once I started using it, I had a hard time finding images to go with the events/characters of our story. Thinking that Slate might give me access to more pictures since it is a web based application, I changed my focus to using it instead of Voice. Not surprisingly, I had similar issues with finding images to coincide with our story. Back to researching options.   I found many other sources for telling stories but met the same limitations of not finding the images I wanted.

Fortunately, we had a “Hangout” via Google+ with our cohort. Hearing the ideas of others helped, but what helped the most was Skip saying that I didn’t have to tell the whole story. Just pick a part of it. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?! I was so focused on telling our story as a whole, that it was limiting my options. To me, the part of our story with Ti’s brother and mother seemed to never really take off so I decided to delete it. Once I did that, ideas for simplifying the rest of the story started coming. I returned to Adobe Slate because I liked some of the examples I had seen on Adobe’s site. I knew I wanted to use images from our thread for those key points of the story. I also knew that I wanted to integrate Ti’s father’s text via an image. My son agreed to help me out so I changed his contact to that used in our story (with the heart) so when he sent me the text from the storyline the image would include both parts; the message and the identity of the sender. The rest of the images I found either in Adobe community (which are listed at the end of my story along with their creator) or via Google. After that, it was a matter of streamlining our story and working with the limitations of Slate. For instance, font is dependent on the theme you choose, and placement of text boxes are limited. However, these were minor issues.

Overall, I am very pleased with the results. In fact, I am trying to think of how I could use Slate for my classroom lectures. I think it would be helpful to students to be able to see images while reading the text rather than having to click on a link and navigate to a separate window.


Part II: Story by a handful of students

Ti gingerly inserted the last key into the padlock hanging fro the rusted hasp. It fit. She turned the key. As she opened the door she heard a noise and froze suddenly. She stood in shock, she jumped as she heard gunshots nearby. She took off and tried to run back through the door but it closed and locked her inside. A big figure outlined in black appeared. The figure reached and grabbed her… and covered her mouth before she could scream for help. She heard an evil laugh then the lights came on and Donald Trump walked in the room. He got closer, almost cornering her, and started to reach for his pocket. From it he pulled out an envelope bedazzled with diamonds.   Donald Trump laughs and slowly walks away, he says “it’s all a dream”.

Suddenly she wakes up. “Was it really a dream?” she wondered as she opened her hand clasping a rusty key. Ti sat up and looked around. Seeing a faint light coming from down a hallway. Key in hand, she went towards it. The light never seemed to get closer so she started to run. As she was walking the hallway seemed to get longer and longer…. and the she heard something. She heard a piercing scream from behind a door. She had to make up her mind in that moment… help…or escape! Escape!!

But where? The door behind her seemed locked. She had to continue down the hall towards the light or go towards the scream. The light got brighter as she approached it. Another scream rang out. But this time it was different…familiar even…it sounded like the voice of her. She recognized the voice and was in fear of their troubles so she started to run for help until she ran into…all at once, the memories came flooding back. She had been down this hall before!! She stopped to think…was it last year? Was it with….? Memories came running back. She was in her old house from when she was a kid. She misses those days when she was a kid, when life was simple. When she was free to do whatever and had no thoughts drowning her of worries. What should she do with herself?

Why was she here? Who else is here? All these questions flooded her head. Then suddenly she remembered it all. She remembered that she was a secret agent that went by the name Meligna and was sent on a special mission by the FBI to…. Destroy all traced of last summer. Her double agent cover was blown while she was overseas in Russia. Now the whole mafia wants her dead. How is she going to get out of this one?

Frantic and confused, Ti began to wander the room looking for a way out, until a movie started projecting onto the wall. “Whose there?” She screams as the movie suddenly got paused. “Hello Meligna,” said the voice of her old director. “I need you to open the door to the lit room so we can get out of here.” She struggled, she was surrounded in a room of doors… which one would be the right door to choose? But then she remembered the scream she had heard from one of them and decided that was the one to choose.

The walls around her started to close in fast and she made her decision to open that door, but it wouldn’t budge. Straining , she continued to push. Finally the door gave way and she walked through to see her partner laying on the ground. Hurriedly Meligna fell to the side of her partner and began to assist him to a standing position so they could escape together. She got her partner to stand up but he was too weak to walk to safety. Together they hopped towards the only exit until he…collapsed. But Meligna found the strength she didn’t know she had to drag her partner out. When they were finally outside she took a quick look around, only to realize that she didn’t recognize where they were. Her partner did though as he whispered.. “back to safe house..” so he weakly gave instructions to the safe house. Once they were inside Meligna wasted no time and asked… how he knew about it. He said he had received an urgent letter from “the agency” with a description and instructions to it. In order to complete the task they needed to start now.

I am going to keep this somewhat brief since I was lengthy on my narrative above.  I was intrigued by this assignment and my first thought was to have some high school students go through the same process.  However, I felt like this would be cheating the class assignment since I wouldn’t be doing the work, so I chose to use Adobe Slate instead.  But I was still interested in what it would be like with teenagers as opposed to adults that are furthering their education.  When I first posed the possibility to the students that participated, they were very excited.  In fact, a couple of them had discovered my account on Twitter and had seen some of our cohort’s tweets while creating our story. So I laid down the “ground rules” and we created #dcoxstory together.  Note, I did get permission from my administrator first and shared our story hashtag with her so she could follow along or contribute.  She then shared it with a assistant principal to join in.

My thoughts:

  • It is interesting how both groups entered the building after unlocking it.  Both groups described a “dark” room.  Both groups had a “figure” of some sort appear. Both groups created conflict with an injury or assault. Both stories were getting interesting at the conclusion of time span.
  • The students would “respond” to the tweets of others instead of using the hashtag.  As if they were having a conversation. This resulted in much shorter responses since they would all start with a hashtag of the person they were responding to.  In some cases, several hashtags.
  • Due to time constraints of a week, I often had to remind them to tweet to the story. Many of the participants have lunch in my classroom and I could hear them talking about what was going on in the story.
  • A couple of participants started getting frustrated with the process;  others didn’t tweet often enough, tweets by some were frustrating to others because the story seemed to be going nowhere.  Similar to my feelings about our cohort story until Keriann “went dark”.
  • The maturity level appeared a couple of times with the introduction of Donald Trump and the “bedazzled” envelope.  I had to chuckle!
  • I tried to refrain from tweeting because I didn’t want to steer the story but I found that I had to tweet a couple times to help the story find some direction.

I was only able to do this for about a week and yet I was surprised at how quickly a story came together, despite the occasional sidetrack.  The overall length of the story when done surprised me as well since it didn’t seem like the students were tweeting very frequently.  Their excitement for the story ran out after a few days. I would love to do this type of story with classes if I was a English teacher.  What I think would be interesting would be to give an end goal.  A place where we want the story to end.  By doing so, it might give participants some direction and still allow them the freedom to choose how to get there.

7 thoughts on “Participatory Storytelling

  1. Awesome David!
    What an amazing tool to showcase our story! I loved how the story text can be scrolled to the top or bottom of screen.
    The additional media pics were very visually interesting and you also included pics from our Twitter story. You did a wonderful job and also added more detail to the class story.

  2. !

    Can that be all I say? 🙂 This is such a neat way to present a story (or a presentation, etc.). I loved seeing the imagery you chose, and even more loved the way it presented with movement. What is this called again? This style of moving overlays? The name escapes me. In any event, thumbs up on the media portion of the assignment! Feedback on clarity, depth, and writing will have to wait until you’re able to work on the narrative.

    1. Thank you D’Arcy. It wasn’t my original plan despite being the first media tool I found but I had a moment of clarity and it took off. Narrative will happen this weekend.

  3. That was great! I think the Slate presentation really worked with the story — the pictures were a nice enhancement, and the text scrolling over was much more interesting than a stationary slide. I think you did a good job of choosing visuals to match the tone and content of the story.

    The story your class came up with was interesting too. It was cool to see the parallels in the what they wrote. This does seem like it might be a neat project for an English class. I also appreciated the explanation of why you chose Slate, and your experience with Voice, as well as your class’ go at Tweeting a story.

  4. Blown away. I hardly know where to start in my response, as your post is so rich on so many levels–conceptually, visually, and in execution and decompression. Slate is an interesting tool–I’ve played around with it a bit–but this is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished with it. I don’t know how long it took you to locate the images that you used, but they are just perfect.

    I’m glad you chose to include your crowd-sourced student responses. It’s a creative approach to thinking about how the story was constructed and it provides so much insight into how stories evolve based on our interpretations of story elements. It’s interesting to me, for example, that so many of us chose to make the room mysterious or ominous–as opposed to, say, finding a hidden treasure or a room full of curios. A rusty lock on an old door must have some iconic place in our memories.

    And all this started from a simple tweet…

    1. Thank you Skip. It took some time to find the right images and that was probably the main reason I went back and forth on how to approach the assignment. I agree with your observation of the path that was chosen by both stories. Makes you wonder how different it would be if instead of rusty the lock was bright and shiny chrome, or something similar. This was a fun project.

  5. This is a great way to represent and re-write our story!
    I will admit, I love making stories go to those dark places (the darker the better) because that’s when you really see how people respond and react. I also love how our stories started out very similar. I am really impressed with the amount of work you put into this assignment!

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