If you’re looking to fund a curriculum around digital storytelling, or, more broadly, digital humanities, do what Anne McGrail of Lane Community College (LCC) did, and go after a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).


Photo credit: Russell Shitabata

In Summer 2014, McGrail asked me in the hallway if I wanted to get on board with her idea of having a summer institute for educators here at LCC called, “Doing Digital Humanities at the Community College,” aka “Doing DH @ the CC!” I pitched an idea, she wrote it into the grant, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a full house of NEH Fellows from across many disciplines and states. Everybody was smiling at me as if they were thinking, “Oh boy! Now we’re going to have some fun!”

I had them start by using their five human digits to write down the answer to this prompt: “What is it you don’t want to forget when teaching digital humanities?” During the round table session, they were asked to come up with at least three metaphors to represent what they didn’t want to forget; it was a handy mental exercise.

Next, the fun began! I sent them all out of the room into the bustling streets of downtown Eugene with their pocket technology. Their assignment was to film each metaphor they found for 10-15 seconds while explaining its relevance to teaching digital humanities.

Fellows pointed smartphones at busses, bicycles, graffitied walls, flowers, Venetian blinds, and hammocks; they created their pieces and emailed their video files to me, so I could splice them together using iMovie for iPad. On day two, we had collectively created a digital story to watch on the silver screen.

storyspineAs intended, that low stakes activity got the Fellows excited about doing their own digital stories. We met for an hour each day that week, starting with basic theory, then discussing how to use the Pixar story spine to generate a script. Afterwards, we initiated Story Circles to workshop scripts, finally ending with the mad, late-night scramble of production where we all felt like undergraduates again. On Friday, the “lightning rounds” commenced, giving each Fellow an opportunity to introduce his or her digital humanities project and to play it for the group.

I saw full grown professors go from nervous to radiant in a five minutes as their productions were enthusiastically applauded by the crowd.

Because I was involved in the inner workings of this project, many Fellows confided in me, and I was taken aback by how much fear of technology I heard expressed — this from a group of professors currently working in or interested in digital humanities. It was so unexpected at such a gathering, but it was pervasive enough that I covered this topic in my own digital story for the event.

Turning Tech: A Difficult Journey from Sandy Brown Jensen on Vimeo.

At the end of that roller coaster ride, I feel the “Doing DH @ the CC” Fellows went home with a new set of teaching and tech tools for their digital humanities work. More importantly, however, they would be able to help their students tell their stories with more courage and higher hearts.