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"Flaming marshmallows" by Flickr user Jamie McCaffrey. CC BY-NC.

Storytelling as Pedagogical Practice

Stories give meaning to information. The narrative structure of a story transforms disconnected facts, events, or images into a coherent whole. Storytelling produces a relationship between listener and audience and, through this relationship, cultivates communities of learning. No wonder, then, that storytelling has consistently been found to enhance students' understanding of difficult concepts and improve retention of knowledge.

Educational storytelling can take the form of informal conversations, like those we have at academic conferences, in office hours, or as we pass by each other in the hall. It can be a form of autoethnography or literacy narrative in which students relate and reflect on their own educational experiences. It can be an oral history or interview, the story of an object, or the story of a scientific experiment. It can enable students to intervene in, retell, or contextualize an existing narrative. These forms all call on students to conduct research, consider their audience, identify and employ effective rhetorical strategies and narrative structures, and present their findings in a form appropriate to the situation at hand.

Digital Storytelling

Recent technological advances have not changed the underlying pedagogical value of storytelling, but they have expanded the range of forms a story can take. Innovations in nonlinear storytelling and electronic literature have enabled forms that grapple with the nature of digital communication itself, as in Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse's Between Page and Screen or William Gibson's Agrippa.

Similarly, digital tools allow us to incorporate storytelling into the practice of teaching and learning in new ways and with new kinds of media. Podcasts, interactive maps, and curated exhibits are just a few examples of the forms that these digital stories might take.

Tools for Digital Storytelling

A comprehensive guide to all the tools you might use in digital storytelling would be nearly impossible, but here are a few easy-to-use tools to get started:

Social Explorer
A homegrown Queens College product co-founded by Andrew Beveridge and Ahmed Lacevic. A simple online interface gives users access to demographic data using visual mapping tools.

Story Maps
Tell multimedia stories in a variety of prefab layouts, with our without maps. This tool is designed to help users tell stories or convey information with geographic data; it pulls maps and data from the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World.

Tour Builder
This easy-to-use tool is based on Google Maps. Users must sign into a Google account to create an interactive "tour."

Timeline JS
An open-source tool that generates visually rich, interactive timelines from spreadsheet data. Proper organization of the spreadsheet is key and can be time-consuming.

An easy-to-use, open-source audio editor.

Developed by faculty and staff at Baruch College, this tool is designed for educational use. It facilitates media (including video) uploading and transcoding, annotations and drawings, rubric generation, evaluations, data visualizations, and threaded discussions.


Life Out Loud. [Podcast]. Directed by Christen Madrazo.

"Black at Bryn Mawr." Digital walking tour by Emma Kioko and Grace Pusey, directed by Monica Mercado.

"Learning Places." Course co-taught by Anne Leonard and J. Montgomery. Fall 2018.


Justin Hicks, Laura Winnick, and Michael Gonchar. "Project Audio: Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcasts." The New York Times. April 19, 2018.

American Women's Bestsellers. Course taught by Catherine E. Saunders. Spring 2015.

Queens Memory Project.

Séan Richardson. "How to Set Up an Academic Podcast." November 14, 2018.

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