Sadness and beauty together.

Having listened and watched to a number of digital stories now, this one struck me more powerfully than any of the others because of the the sadness and beauty in the story.  StoryCorps  gives us this story by Beverly Eckert whose husband died on Sept. 11, 2001 in the attack on the World Trade Center. For the last 30 minutes of his life, her husband Sean was on the phone with her knowing that he wasn’t going to make it out alive.NYT2009021308495579C

Beverly tells how she met Sean when they were 16 year old students in high school  When he died, they were both 50 years old and had been together for 34 years.  Even without seeing Sean in the story, we get to know him because of her description of his “warm brown eyes” and that he was “a good hugger”.  On the day of the attack he called her and told her that he was on the 105th floor and couldn’t find a way out because of the smoke in the stair well.

In one of the most moving parts, she described how she asked him if it hurt to breathe, and he said “No”.  But she knew that he was lying to spare her feelings, or as she said “he loved me enough to lie”.  Instead of talking more about escape, they talked about the happiness in their lives.  She told him that she wanted to be there with him, to die with him.  But he said no, that he wanted her to live a full life.  Again thinking of her and not himself.

In the end he just kept saying “I love you” over and over, until she heard the sound of something crashing, which was the last thing she heard on the phone.She sat with the phone for a long time and didn’t want to go to sleep again so that the last day with her husband wouldn’t end.  But in the end, she went on to live a life for both of them, and she said that “she likes to think Sean would be proud of me”.  Sadly, Beverly died in 2009 in an airplane crash as she was going to celebrate Sean’s birthday.

May they both rest in peace.

Ohler’s assessment criteria –

  • Originality, voice, and creativity: Beverly’s voice is what makes this story so powerful.  It’s clear that, as she tells the story, she still feels the pain of this experience very deeply.  She speaks softly throughout the story which gives us the feeling that she doesn’t really want to be telling the story, but that it’s too important to her to not tell it.   And you can also hear in her voice a little lift when she talks about living her life for Sean.
  • Media application: StoryCorp does an excellent job of making the video interesting by writing out her words as she says them in a variety of shapes and sizes.  This writing helps us focus on her words, but it also includes drawings of other key elements of the story, like an image of Sean, a picture of an escape route, holding hands, and more.
  • Economy: The story is only 2:44 minutes long, but it feels like a life-time of sadness and beauty wrapped up in the short story.  There are no extraneous parts, with each part giving us an important part of the story.


Emotions and Interactive Digital Storytelling

Doing a deep-dive today into digital storytelling research with a look at research from Zhao, Zhang, and McDougall (2011) titled Emotion Driven Interactive Digital Storytelling. The premise of their research is that most interactive digital storytelling is based on participants achieving specific goals, whereas their research indicates that emotion can be the driving force to move the story forward.


The author’s work is based on Smith and Lazarus’ cognitive-motivational-emotive theory, which states that there is an “appraisal process” that affects how the participant will respond based on their current needs and situation.  Two players may react similarly or very differently to situations based on their personality.  For example, the emotions of the participants may vary from attacking in anger, fleeing, or avoiding the situation entirely due to anxiety.

The research was based on creating an interactive digital story based on an episode of the TV show Ugly Betty.  The participants were shown the episode, but at different points in the narrative the story would stop and the participants were asked what emotions they were feeling at the moment. Based on their emotions, the story could go in any number of different directions.  The result was that each participant would see a story based on their own emotions.

In their research, empathy with characters in the story was a driving factor for how the participants navigated the story.  When they felt the emotions from a particular character’s perspective, they tended to influence the story based on their feeling towards that character.  And there was a significant difference between female participants (who tended to feel empathy towards the character and that character’s situation) and male participants (who tended to make up their own goals not based on the character’s situation).   The researchers also found that the participants preferred method of interaction with the game (game-players vs TV watchers) also had a significant influence on the results.

This research is an indicator to developers of interactive digital storytelling that emotion based story development can be an interesting and compelling means of player interaction that will create a unique story based on their personality.  As an instructional tool, it can be used to increase participation and interest in digital storytelling.


Radika’s Dream

Another story about how soccer (the beautiful game) empowered someone to strive for their dreams.  This time it’s a story from Nepal.  Radika’s Dream is a moving story about a girl in Nepal who wouldn’t let her dream of playing soccer be squashed, even when she was scolded and beaten by her mother for playing soccer.


One of the most powerful statements from Radika is when she said, “Being a girl…are we allowed to dream?”  Raised in a society where girls are meant to stay within four walls, she shows all of us the power of not giving up on our dreams.  She talks about how she didn’t have any equipment when she was growing up, so she played barefoot with her feet painful and swollen.  That still didn’t stop her.  And being the only girl in her neighborhood who wanted to play soccer, she had to convince other girls to play soccer too.  So not only did she break down the barriers on a personal basis, but she also convinced other girls to breakdown those same barriers.

And Radika talks about the pain of her family wanting her to marry and raise kids.  She knew she wanted something different, even to the point of dreaming of playing with Ronaldo, one of soccer’s greatest players. Her strength shines through when she talks about how she had to fulfill her dream herself because she didn’t have any help from her family, friends, or neighbors. And then one day, a man approached her and asked if she wanted to play for a club team.  Just two weeks after she joined the club she was named captain of the team.  She was so proud because she showed her mother and her society that a girl can play football like a boy.  “And girls can dream…”

This was a very simple story with very basic production values.  It was just a series of photos and Radika narrating the story.  But the story is powerful because of the content and emotion behind it.  A lesson to all of us instructional designers who want to use digital storytelling in our work.

Ohler’s assessment traits:

  • Story – The story is the most powerful part of this digital story.  It’s about a girl striving to reach her dreams in a society that doesn’t normally allow this type of activity.  But through a series of images and the narration we get a real sense of who Radika is, and how much she wanted to play soccer.  And the images often emphasized the emotions of the story, like the picture of Radika feeling the pain of being told not to play.  It was a very powerful image.
  • Content Understanding – It felt as if Radika really felt the story as she told it.  Even though her English was not the best, she was still able to convey the strong emotions because she lived the story for so many years.  This was not a story about a quick redemption, but about a long struggle that began when she was very young.
  • Sense of Audience – If felt that Radika was talking to two audiences.  First, she was talking to the world.  She wanted to let the world know that even in a remote place like Nepal, young girls are struggling to reach their dreams.  And secondly, and probably most importantly, she was talking to other girls who might be in her same situation.  I got a very strong sense that she wanted every girl to dream, and then to got out and achieve those dreams.




A Road Traveled – a look at the roots of digital storytelling

This week we got to explore the roots of digital storytelling with Joe Lambert in his book Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community.  Chapter 3 of the book is titled A Road Traveled – The Evolution of the Digital Storytelling Practice.  It is a fascinating look at how Lambart evolved from an early participant in the American folk song scene to his later involvement with the San Francisco theater scene and on to involvement with early storytelling in short films and eventually landing in the middle of the early days of the revolution in digital storytelling with computers.  He ended up as the founder of Story Center where he continues to ply his craft of teaching storytelling to others.

Reading Lambart’s story brought a sense of how all of these different phases of his life are tied together by one common theme – telling the story.  As he points out, coming out of the folk music movement  there was “the sense of significance that resulted when a person ‘found their voice and made their story heard’ was fundamental to our healthy living.”  It was the voice of the common person that mattered to them, not the wealthy or elite.

This voice of the common person was also found in the San Francisco Bay area in the progressive theater culture that was thriving in the 1980s.  According to Lambert this was a time of experimentation and it was a struggle for him to make ends meet,  but it was also a time when many artists were interested in telling their own stories as a counterbalance to the commercialism of the 80s.

And there was a new force that was coming into play – computer technology.  With the advent of personal computers a “Digital Tsunami” started in the early 1990s that would change how stories would be told.  Interactive multi-media became something that everyone could work with to tell their stories.  Creating web sites and presenting stories in the new format became the focus of his work.  And teaching this skill to others was where he focused his talents.

But it was always about the stories.  As he said, “I am moved by the stories more than the organization required to get to the stories.”  This is lesson for all instructional designers.  That in the end, we need to tell the stories, and help others tell their stories.  The methodology is a useful, but whether it’s folk songs, or theater, or web sites, we need to keep the focus on what brings us to these methodologies in the first place – the story.


Selfie with my pet

For my daily create I chose the Selfie With Your Pet assignment from DS106.  Not being one to take a lot of selfies, I thought it would be good to have one with my biggest fan – my dog Lizzy.  If you ever want to know what it’s like to be followed from room to room with a look of an admiring fan – get yourself a dog.  My cat, on the other hand, waits for me to stop by his perch and entertain him.  Which usually means some sort of scratch on my hands.

So anyways, here it is – me and Lizzy hanging out together: