It starts with people.

Roughly two years ago, Steve Kertis of Kertis Creative and I launched our digital storytelling elective class at Fern Creek.  We had little equipment, except for a few flip video cameras.  We switched classrooms three times.  Students who enrolled in the class had no idea what they were getting into and, unluckily for them, they were curricular and pedagogical guinea pigs.

We placed Macbooks in front of the students, believing that they’d take advantage of internet access to seek out great models of audio slideshows, short documentaries, and eagerly share their thoughts on a class blog.  Instead, they watched hip hop videos incessantly on YouTube and complained about having to make posts.  You’ve got to be kidding, I thought at the time, these students can use more technology in my class than any other, but all they do is waste time.  Now in its second year, the Unleashing Digital Storytelling class is evolving into a more productive endeavor.

Technological developments are neither good nor bad, but without deliberate instruction, most students will default to thoughtless tweeting and YouTube use.

It’s first about people–and not technology–if you want to become an effective creator and user of digital and social media.  The Atlantic’s cover story this week, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? is a perfect example of how social media use alters our communication and notions of intimacy, possibly making us stray from maintaining effective human bonds.  While we are connected to more people than ever, what do we lose if the maintenance of our digital connections trumps real interactions?

Our omnipresent new technologies lure us toward increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment that they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy. The beauty of Facebook, the source of its power, is that it enables us to be social while sparing us the embarrassing reality of society—the accidental revelations we make at parties, the awkward pauses, the farting and the spilled drinks and the general gaucherie of face-to-face contact. Instead, we have the lovely smoothness of a seemingly social machine. Everything’s so simple: status updates, pictures, your wall.

Creating an audio slideshow or short documentary is the antithesis of the simple status or wall update–it takes face-to-face communication, sustained thought and the possibility of messy human interaction.  Because most teenagers filter their thoughts through texting, Facebook, and Twitter and avoid real-time conversation, it has proven to be difficult to bring students to the point where they comfortably engage in face-time.


Above, students engage in structured communication activities in preparation for audio slideshow interviews.  Steve and I feel pretty good about changes in the course and curricular development.  Regardless of the fact that newer, faster computers and mega-resolution cameras are released weekly, we know that if students don’t disengage at times from tempting gadgets, status updates, and tweets, they’ll never reach their potential as digital storytellers.  It starts with people.

Are you familiar with how schools are embracing or resisting social and digital media? 

Should technological restraint be taught in schools?

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