Digital Storytelling for Deep Engagement and Learning at OLu

When it comes to innovation in the classroom, OLu English teacher Bea Wakeling is an amazing leader. 


This year, she partnered with OLu’s service learning and global citizenship curriculum consultant, LeeAnne Lavender, to explore the power of digital storytelling as a way to create deep engagement and learning for OLu students. What transpired involved an exciting learning journey that is impacting students across the school. 


Bea’s initial goal was to create a digital storytelling guide for use in a variety of English courses to facilitate a range of digital storytelling experiences. But, to get started, she wanted to enhance her own understanding of digital storytelling and digital literacies, so she enrolled in LeeAnne’s 4-week online course called “Becoming a Digital Storyteller”. 


The course leads educators through an introduction to the what, why and how of digital storytelling, helping teachers understand how they might use strategies like blogging, photography, graphic design for infographics, podcasting, animation and video creation. Digital storytelling approaches can be incorporated into everyday teaching and learning to generate increased student engagement and to improve traditional and new literacies (new literacies include things like digital literacy, media literacy and visual literacy). 


Digital storytelling can also be used in the redesign of summative assessments to foster a greater sense of student agency, advocacy and creativity. For instance, instead of a class presentation, students could create podcasts or videos that could be shared beyond the walls of the classroom. Or instead of an essay, students could write a blog article or personal narrative essay that could be shared in a variety of purposeful ways online. 


There is a large body of academic research that shows how digital storytelling positively impacts student learning, including: 


  • Increasing literacy (reading, writing, speaking and listening)
  • Improving word choice and sentence fluency in writing
  • Improving the ability to write more fully and effectively
  • Growing digital competencies and literacies
  • Increasing student motivation and engagement
  • Fostering more independent learning
  • Increasing creativity
  • Improving organization skills
  • Improving the ability to ask questions
  • Improving academic performance
  • Increasing self-confidence
  • Providing more opportunities for quality reflection
  • Increasing a sense of relevance related to learning (linking learning to tasks to everyday life)
  • Increasing interest and participation in civic engagement


Bea loved the course and became a fan of a digital tool called Canva, a site that offers templates for many types of products such as infographics, brochures, and videos. 


“Canva is so useful and I am using it with my Honors Writing Experience students to create resumes and cover letters,” says Bea. “In grade 9, my students used Canva to create infographics and some students were so keen to do the task that they completed it the same day it was offered to them.” 


Bea chuckles when she remembers being nervous about trying a new digital tool: “I know you said to just let students try it and they would figure it out, but I didn’t really believe you at first,” she smiles. “It turns out the students were able to figure it out and it’s been wonderful to see them grow their skills.They are better at problem solving than I realized.” 


Bea ran a tech workshop with one group of students this year to help them master core skills like creating hyperlinks, copying and pasting parts of documents, and organizing documents in a Google drive folder. She was able to identify the students who needed support in solidifying basic skills, and was also able to design new learning experiences and assessments for students ready to develop more advanced skills. 


“I learned a lot this year about healthy tech integration, and I have become braver at trying new things. It’s been a fun adventure!” says Bea. 


In addition to learning about digital storytelling and incorporating new strategies in her own classes, Bea worked with LeeAnne to create and publish a Digital Storytelling Guide for OLu teachers and students. The guide is available as a support for anyone at OLu interested in learning more about how to engage with digital storytelling. 


“I think this is all so important in this new era of AI,” reflects Bea. “There’s a lot to learn about redesigning assessments so we can continue to teach students about how to write well and think critically.” 


Next year, Bea is planning to create a TLC (teaching and learning community) for OLu teachers interested in evaluating pedagogical approaches to maximize students’ learning experiences, and she plans to bring her new digital storytelling mindsets into these conversations. Plans are also in the works for OLu Muse students to launch a new podcast series.


“It’s an exciting time to be innovative as an educator,” says Bea. 


To learn about digital storytelling, check out LeeAnne’s blog for a variety of articles that explain how it can be incorporated into all levels of PreK-12 education. 

Topics from this blog: Academics