Learning through the Art of Storytelling

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Can student learning be improved with the use of digital storytelling and technology? A newly developed course captured personal stories of people associated with adoption. Using the art of storytelling students reflected through discussions, reaction papers, and presentations. The presenters will discuss the concept, development process, and students’ feedback.


Louise Sharrar is an instructional designer in the College of Health and Human Development at The Pennsylvania State University. Louise has worked in the instructional design field for approximately 15 years in various positions and has also worked in industry as a training consultant and technical trainer for approximately 5 years. She currently works with developing and overseeing online courses for Penn State’s World Campus for the following programs: biobehavioral health; health and human development; nutrition; and recreation, park, and tourism management. Louise’s interests include group work and peer interactions, microcredentialing, faculty development, quality matters, and exploring the use of instructional design models and processes. Louise is a lifelong learner and is passionate about learning and teaching others to ensure success.

Extended Abstract

Chapter 1: Teaching with Stories

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of teaching. It is a simple but powerful way to share knowledge and assist students in learning complex topics, often using historical references and real-world, learning experiences. With the rapid change of technology, storytelling has evolved into a new method of delivery, known as digital storytelling. To tell digital stories, we captured human emotions as they unfolded in front of us. We were able to break down the five core issues members associated with adoption face. We will share how we captured emotions of identity, grief, loss, guilt and shame, and rejection using the power of storytelling and visual design.

Chapter 2: Crafting & Capturing Stories

We will also share how digital storytelling helped bring to life the adoption experiences of birth mothers, adoptive parents, adoptees, and professionals in the field. Although it may seem easy to sit down and videotape an interview, it isn’t!

Before capturing our digital stories, we considered a number of items such as: speakers, recording locations, storyboarding, post-production, accessibility, and visual design. We addressed the who, what, when, where, and why at the beginning of our project. This preplanning was the key to our success. We asked ourselves:

  • Who would our storytellers be and would they be interested in helping us tell our story?
  • How would we capture their stories?
  • Where would we capture their stories?
  • What information would we want our storytellers to focus on to ensure the learning goals were being met in the course?
  • How would we like the final output of the stories to appear, and what would be the best way for them to appear to our target audience?
  • What did we need to do to ensure instruction would be accessible to ALL learners?
  • What types of visuals would we need to entice our learners to remain engaged with the instructional material?

Now, you may be thinking that this is a lot of planning, and you are right, it was. We will take you behind the scenes to share our story from planning to post-production.

Chapter 3: Demonstrating Learning Through Stories

We will demonstrate how a variety of media components were infused to express concepts, humanize lecture material, and engage students in a way to create meaningful and transferable knowledge. We will reveal how students became storytellers, creating their own stories through discussion forums, reaction papers, and recorded presentations. Finally, we will share students’ feedback based on survey results.

Chapter 4: Publishing Stories

Visuals can be a powerful tool. They can enable students to form a connection with content as was indicated by students who took this course. In the final chapter of our story, we will show how we used visual design to create an adoption course that captured the heart and soul of individuals intertwined with adoption. We will share tips on how to enhance your stories and share visual examples from our course. We will briefly discuss our process of capturing human emotions with icons, and how those icons were used to bring the emotional aspect of adoption to an online course. Video was a large part of this course, it's how we captured our interviews and how students presented their digital story. Best practices will be provided for displaying videos in playlists and tips to ensure a positive student experience with transcripts.

So, come and join our course development team as we unveil our story on the process and benefits of digital storytelling.

Level of Participation:

This session will be structured to simulate a classroom. At the beginning of the presentation, participants will be given a booklet that outlines the chapters of the lecture. They may use this brochure to take notes and will use it later in the presentation for an interactive and engaging activity. The presenters will each share information about the importance of storytelling in terms of course content, course development, and student learning. Conference participants will then have the opportunity to engage in their own storytelling experience. They will view actual clips from the course (an interview with an adoptive father), and use their brochure which will have questions/prompts to reflect and react to what they viewed.

Session Goals

At the conclusion of our presentation, we will have:

  1. Explained the rationale for using storytelling as a teaching method.
  2. Examined the work process for crafting and capturing stories.
  3. Demonstrated how digital storytelling was infused into student assessments.
  4. Illustrated visual design used throughout the course to ensure consistency.