¡Adelante! Digital Storytelling is…

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.27.07 PMI began experimenting with digital storytelling (DS) in my classrooms last spring and continued with it this spring.  For my purposes in my own classrooms, DS is a short video (4-6 minutes) that showcases a powerful story in your life (I used Cynthia Davidson’s assignment as my initial model). I am not as interested in students’ final products as I am in their processes though.  They upload their final videos to their ePortfolios but they have many webpages along with the video (about the music, the story, their images, their process, etc).   Here are some of the questions that I also ask my students to reflect on:

  1. When we combine ALL of these elements— sound, images, video, and words— what does this achieve for rhetors?  For digital rhetorics?  
  2. What makes your work part of 21st century storytelling?
  3. Your first year of college has coincided with some of most charged political events of the 21st century (bookended by the kidnapping/murder of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico to mass uprisings in Baltimore).  Local media— largely through social media/digital outlets— insist that national news coverage got it all wrong and inserted its own voice.  In many ways, you have all entered that same kind of social justice advocacy with your own digital projects. Think back on this digital project.  Does it too make an intervention?  How and why (or why not)?

For my ¡Adelante! students (a Leadership program for Latino students who I follow for two semesters in my first year writing courses), however, I asked an additional question… a rather simple one, but one that I thought most critical:

What is ¡Adelante! Digital Storytelling (ADS)?

Like what I assume all contemporary composition classrooms like mine do, I had students read composition research and, in this case, they read scholarship about digital storytelling.  Though much of it was interesting, I was concerned that this scholarship was focused on digital tools and storytelling too generally and not on what that might mean in the context of Latin@ cultures, communities, and histories.   Storytelling is ALWAYS culturally, socially, and historically relativist… and therefore, so is digital storytelling (DS). So when I ask my students about ¡Adelante! DS (ADS), I don’t mean this to be a simple question.

After students watched one another’s final videos in the classrooms, I asked them to map out, using large chart paper, their answers to the question of: What is ¡Adelante! Digital Storytelling (ADS)? I had no idea if my question would make sense to them; I only knew that the specific local context of New York, the connections they had made to another in their first year of college, and the histories of their lives and families were specific to what their DS was.  This kind of question wouldn’t have gone over well in all of my classes this year, but for the ¡Adelante! students, I didn’t need to even provide clarification.  We took the collective comments, wrote a group statement, and now here is how that looks, to the beat of DJ Raff (play song with the soundcloud player at the top)… here is how my students defined Adelante Digital Storytelling in a 2-minute video:

This definition impresses as much as, if not more than, the actual finished video products.  While most of my more “privileged” students would have seen DS as a hindrance to writing their “papers” (which are usually ONLY about summarizing secondary research rather than about primary objects, real data, or original ideas/arguments), ¡Adelante! contextualized cultural traditions of storytelling within digital contexts, within their own cultural communities, and within their own local context.  That, to me, is just more sophisticated than any of the glorified, book-report-styled “papers” I have read from the self-anointed privileged few.  ¡Adelante!… what an appropriate name for how this group moves!

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