A Story Of Human Connection, Whether Digital Or Not



In my spare time, I am reading the book below, ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. The first part of this book is about ‘The Cognitive Revolution’, which is specifically based on the advancement of humankind during what we usually term as ‘The Stone Age’.

Book for sale on: https://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-Humankind-Yuval-Noah-Harari/dp/0062316095
Image is also courtesy of Amazon.com

The theory (because we can only really have theories about humans at this time, based on the artifacts that archaeologists find) communicated by Harari in this part of the book that is particularly enlightening for me is about storytelling.

We have evidence to suggest that humankind may have moved around the Earth during the Stone Age, most likely in small family-based groups, or tribes. Human beings were, most likely, afraid of the world that they found themselves in. They were at the middle of the food chain, and could be hunted on a daily basis (as much as they hunted prey themselves). Many groups would have relied on gathering a largely herbivorous diet to survive, in a habitat where they were still discovering which plants were actually nutritious and harmless.

Gossip, storytelling and the general passing on of information, therefore, could have been absolutely crucial to the survival of our species. Without this, we would not have built up an understanding of which plants to eat, which animals to hunt, how to design tools to accomplish different tasks, new discoveries such as fire and how to use it, and so on. It was also critical to establish and maintain the close family or tribal ties that would have been essential for survival on an inhospitable planet.


As we progressed through history, storytelling remained at the heart of the central pillars or human society. Whether this be the passing on of stories within religions, stories about philosophy or stories about society itself. Myths and legends were tales that helped us to understand the mysteries of our planet, such as natural disasters.

Incidentally, a brilliant site to show your students different myths and legends is: e2bn.

Classroom Context

As educators, storytelling has of course always been a crucial tool with which to build communities, teach important lessons and transmit knowledge. In modern times, we have swathes of technology at our disposal, which has afforded us further devices with which to tell each other our stories.

Digital storytelling, then, is defined on elearningindustry by Tiziana Saponaro as a combination of spoken narrative and visuals which are supplied to the audience using digital tools. Saponaro suggests that this may include a soundtrack and the user can then use technology to subsequently edit. The following quote on digital storytelling is on the 50ways Wikispace:

…multi-segment narrative that usesmore than one type of media (images + text, audio + images, etc) that are assembled on the web, and can be presented on the web or embedded into other web sites – 50ways.

Possible types of digital storytelling.
Image via http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2013/08/12/managing-distractions-maintaining-focus-and-creating-media/

Also see Creative Educator for six more ways to implement digital storytelling in your classroom.


So, if we have told stories to each other through our entire history, then is digital storytelling actually any different to the more traditional versions?

Again Tiziana Saponaro on elearningindustry makes some prescient points here. She explains that the process of creating digital stories aids students with skills in research, resource selection, script writing, voice overs, technological skills, collaboration, presentation and expressions of creativity. The scope for children to practice each skill is to a much greater degree than either spoken or verbal versions of tale telling. Indeed, as a process it is simply more complicated, with a far larger amount of elements involved, so pupils therefore have to be more flexible and adaptable to each stage of the process.

Anna Warfield, a guest author on GettingSmart.com, also provides some ways in which story telling is advanced when it is communicated digitally. She highlights that collaboration is far easier, and shared stories can be created in person or from afar. She also explains that teachers can assess the understanding of their students with an immediacy which is sometimes lost with verbal renditions of tales. In addition to this, she says:

Digital storytelling is also very audience-driven because of the necessity to help your audience understand your story through various media. By taking part in various digital storytelling activities, students can reflect on their own projects and on those of their peers – Getting Smart.

Indeed, if we are creating tomorrow’s leaders, then knowing about an audience or being part of an audience is crucial if our students are to be successful leaders of the future.



Yet, the image above is a perfect example. That visual could just as easily be applied to ‘analogue’ storytelling as much as it could be ‘digital’. No advanced technology can replace a good storyteller. No fancy gadget can replace a well thought out tale. So, what should we and our students keep in mind, as we create stories digitally, verbally or in writing?

Kids have meaningful things to say, so challenge them to produce visual content with purpose and with pride – strengthofweakties.

The very best stories have emotion at the heart. If we can learn how to convey messages emotionally, where we show that emotion rather than just telling it, then our stories will hit the spot. Our audience may well have experienced such similar emotions and may well empathise with our characters or with the events at play. If our stories utilise a myriad of images, videos and sounds, yet lack emotional resonance, then they will not be enjoyable tales for our audience (no matter how clever they are).

Good storytelling is a journey for every author who is digging deep into the meaning of their stories for themselves and others…connects the humanity in all of us – Creative Educator, The Art of Digital Storytelling.

A good story is a good story, no matter what tools are used to convey it. If an author communicates a personal message and it is done with a knowledgeable grasp of humanity, then it is likely to strike the heart of the people watching or listening. An effective storyteller has a message to pass on or a deeper meaning to communicate, and if they connect the dots with events in the world or with the issues to matter to us, then even better.

So, digital storytelling is a wonderful way to bring tale telling to life (particularly in writing, though this subject could be another blog post/essay in itself). But, please please please…remember that human connection lies at the beating heart of any decent story and without it, a story in any medium will fall flat and lifeless.

We and our students should always strive for this connection, whether in the digital world or ‘analogue’.


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2 Responses to A Story Of Human Connection, Whether Digital Or Not

  1. Hi Rory,
    As always, it is so enriching to read your blog. You have become a skillful storyteller yourself. The book you mentioned, ‘Sapiens’ reminded me of a book I read recently, God: A Human History by Reza Aslan. The author mentions that as societies grew bigger supported by agriculture, the way they imagined God also changed. With a more established society came writing and this is how we know now what they believed. The author argues that throughout history, we have shaped God as having human characteristics. As an example, he provides the numerous myths that the Greeks created for their own gods. So, storytelling definitely shapes culture, creates an identity and may be paramount to its survival.

    In addition, I agree with you that a good story has an emotional component, so how do writers and digital storytellers use different elements at hand to accomplish this? It is important to study the craftsmanship of storytelling. We have excellent educational programs to teach writing; we have standards and benchmarks that delineate what objectives to teach in writing. However, in digital storytelling, besides having a good story, there are other elements (as you know) such camera framing, lighting, pacing, music, etc. which contributes significantly to the message of the story. Here is where the gap exists, and why we need to continue learning about incorporating non-traditional ways to express learning in the classroom. But, to accomplish this, we need to be versed in the language of digital storytelling. As a start, as we do in writing, we need to start collecting exemplary work so we can analyze it with our students. I found StoryCenter which not only provides free webinars about digital storytelling, but it has great examples too. I signed up for the next webinar here.

    Finally, I have copied these wonderful words to Tweet.
    “…remember that human connection lies at the beating heart of any decent story and without it, a story in any medium will fall flat and lifeless.

    Thank you for your insight!
    Have a great week

  2. Rory Bell says:

    Hi Carolin,

    Thanks for the comment here and for the Tweet – really appreciate it.

    So true, exemplification and modelling is so important when we investigate writing and placing the emotive aspects at the center of our tales. Thank you for the link – I will check it out. So much also comes from the focus of our conversations when we talk about storytelling with our classes, specifically moving from the ‘doing’ to the ‘learning’. The Year 3 team that I am a part of this year has worked hard on aspects of continuously modelling writing, particularly language usage, and in discussing the effect that our choices have on the audience or reader.

    As you say, selecting aspects such as framing or camera angles adds so many more layers to this process, and is so important.

    Thank you again and I look forward to reading your next blog post 🙂



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