Scholars across disciplines have long discussed how human beings encounter the world multimodally through “our multiple senses, our emotions, our actions, and our reflections” (Boyd, 2009, p. 155) and how storytelling has evolved to include digital technologies (Hull & Katz, 2005; Lambert, 2013; Sharma, 2013). Those in rhetoric and writing have increasingly paid attention to the ways digital composing tools and environments are challenging writing instruction and rhetorical education (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, & Hicks, 2010; Selber, 2004; Selfe, 2009; Sheridan, Ridolfo, & Michel, 2012). Additionally, the rise in access to digital technologies and platforms continues to provide new opportunities for digital storytelling in educational environments and beyond (Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, n.d.; Lambert, 2013; Pleasants & Salter, 2014; StoryCenter, n.d.).
Similarly, efforts to understand rhetoric as multidimensional (Halbritter, 2013; Kirsch & Royster, 2012) led to the publication of scholarship on audio-visual (Briggs, 2014; Halbritter, 2013; VanKooten, 2016) and sonic composing (Ceraso & Ahern, 2015; Comstock & Hocks, 2006; McKee, 2006). In his work addressing the challenges of using digital storytelling in higher education, Ghanashyam Sharma (2013), defined the practice as both mediated and evolving: “[I]n the case of colleges and universities, because digital storytelling has been used as a ‘mode’ of composition into which various different genres have been included, the original idea of its being just a ‘narrative’ composition has been left far behind” (“Defining”). Sharma also pointed out the difficulties and constraints associated with using a singular definition of digital storytelling, as the practice has been widely applied across community-driven and educational contexts (which I describe at more length in the “Context” section).
In discussions of the digital storytelling assignment I share in this webtext, I define digital storytelling as a short form (2-5 minutes) of digital media production that provides students the opportunity to tell a culturally rich story about the lives of everyday people through multiple modes of media (images, video, and sound) using film techniques. The pedagogical goals of this assignment are inspired by scholarship on digital storytelling (Burgess, 2006; Chilsolm & Trent, 2013; Lambert, 2013; Wake, 2012) and place-based learning (Powell, 2014; Theobold, 1997). Through the analysis of student projects, interviews, and written reflections on process, I work to describe how this digital storytelling assignment succeeded in making small steps towards what Linda Flower (2008) has described as a “rhetoric of engagement,” a powerful process that brings together community members and students to tell stories and has the potential to develop in community projects. In this webtext, I explain how the Ohio Farm Stories project challenged and affirmed students’ views about the rural culture around them and how they became “rhetorical agents by seeing, supporting, and giving a public presence to the agency, capacity, ability, and insight of community partners” (Flower, 2008, p. 217).
In the Context section, I share reflections on the scholarship that supports this type of digital storytelling work in college classrooms, which builds on research on place-based learning, multidimensional rhetoric, and digital storytelling. Specific information about the assignment and logistics of the Ohio Farm Stories project can be found in the Background section. Student projects, video interviews, and written reflections are included in the Video Projects section. I also include my own reflections in the Key Takeaways section, with a focus on technological guidance, assessment, and insight into how I account for student feedback, observations and evolving scholarship in other renditions of the assignment.