Digital Storytelling and the Hero’s Journey

“Stories are interesting in ways that normal conversation is not,” says David Noah. In Noah’s freshman seminar course at the University of Georgia, students are invited to be part of a hero’s journey* that combines narrative design, digital storytelling, and personal experiences.

“I wanted students to journal in a reflective way about their own academic experiences be able to engage their own experiences?” Noah’s twist on the assignment was to have each student tell his story through a fictional character and narrative, written in the third person.

Students in his class wrote their stories, orally presented their stories, and created digital presentations for their stories. Each presentation was dramatically different. The written stories were submitted weekly and compiled for the two other presentations. The oral presentations became a performance event. The digital stories combined the recorded word and image in a way that gives stories an emotional pull unlike the visual or oral imagery alone.

Some key learning that informed the course:

Students asked if the stories needed to be true. Different arenas have different requirements for truth, says Noah. Journalists, for example, are expected to get as close as possible to the truth, whereas short stories about childhood are often embellished and expanded.

“I expected hero’s journeys, but what I read were more like immigrant stories – people arriving to a new country, with a new setting and a new vocabulary.” When freshmen arrive on campus, says Noah, we might want to hand them a dictionary of collegiate vocabulary, like majors, departments, and key contacts that can acclimate them to a new setting.

Noah used a gaming motif to complete the course grading. Students were assigned avatars and Noah created a weekly leader board with the avatar names that showed overall score. Scores started at zero and, each week, the scores were tallied.

*Noah used Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s journey as a framework for storytelling. The Hero’s journey, according to Campbell follows the following pattern: Ordinary world, Call to adventure, Refusal of call, Mentor, Crossing the first threshold, Allies, Enemies, Tests, Belly of the whale, Ordeal, Reward, Road back, Resurrection, Return with Elixir

This session was presented at the Teaching Professor Conference held June 1-3, 2012 in Washington, DC.

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