Just today, I sat through my fifth (sixth? seventh?) viewing of a digital story. The same digital story.


Don’t get me wrong: I love digital storytelling and think it’s a powerful tool to empower developing writers (especially those who are struggling with English). My problem is that when someone puts “English” and “technology” in the same sentence, they inevitably come up with “digital storytelling.”

For better or worse, we are stuck with technology. We know more about it than our parents and teachers, and our students know more about it than we do. We live in a digital world (if we didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this), and digging in our heels while clinging to our quill pens and parchment manuscripts isn’t’t going to change that. So, yes, we need to incorporate technology into our classrooms.

Still, every time I hear the phrase “digital storytelling,” I fight my involuntary gag reflex. It’s a fight I’m starting to lose.

I have no problem with technology. In some ways, a #2 pencil is high technology, especially in the Third World. I happen to like the smell of a freshly sharpened #2 pencil, redolent of ancient cedar. In my mind, there is nothing like it to suggest the power of creation.

Of course, I also get excited at the prospect of a blank blog entry, just waiting to be filled in. As I see it, that’s the problem with technology. A #2 pencil can create the draft of Walden, or it can be used to pick one’s nose. A blank blog entry can create, if not Walden, at least something that hopes to be as great, but all too often, it’s just the digital version of picking one’s nose.

So my problem isn’t with technology, but with how we use it. I have a cell phone, I use the internet daily, I have multiple e-mail addresses, and I participate in a number of forums. I like technology, I like what it adds to my life, and I’m willing to tolerate the time I lose in dealing with it (which is considerable, since I’m in a rural location and still on dial-up).

But I’m tired of hearing about digital storytelling. I’m tired of hearing the word “technology” in the same sentence with “digital storytelling.” And most of all, I’m tired of being told that, as a teacher in the twenty-first century, I must utilize technology, and well, look, here’s this thing called digital storytelling. You don’t want to be left behind, do you, so just incorporate technology in the form of digital storytelling and be done with it.

That’s the crux of the issue: Need technology? Okay, throw in some digital storytelling. Technology? Digital storytelling. Check.

Except that there’s more to technology than digital storytelling. A lot more. What we seem to forget is that “digital storytelling” is just another name for “movies,” and those have been around for a long time. And of course, the origin of movies is in drama, and that goes back through Shakespeare (who, with his trap doors and off-stage sound effects, utilized the technology of his day) to Homer, and into the depths of the Lascaux caves, which, for their day, was high technology, indeed.

Horse from the Lascaux cave.

All of which is to say: technology is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re old (and if you’re a teacher, believe me, you’re old, no matter your age) your students are light years ahead of you. Yes, you should use technology (but never at the expense of content), but don’t limit yourself–or your students–to digital storytelling. This is a good place to start, but you don’t want to finish there. Keep exploring, keep pushing the limits of what all those one’s and zero’s can do. Don’t rest on your laurels, and most importantly, don’t let your kids rest on theirs. Find out what else you can do with technology, starting here:


and then keep moving forward.

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