Storytelling has been around since humans have, as one of the oldest communication methods among people. For McDonald (1998) storytelling was the main means of teaching basic social principles. Egan (1989) stresses its value for teaching/preserving the cultural capital, moral values and history, while Bruner (1991) values storytelling for preserving a civilization’s values. Stories are utilized for conveying information and motivation (McDury & Alterio, 2003), provide meaning to experiences (Schank, 1999; Abrahamson , 1998). Vygotsky (1978) viewed stories as means of connecting new information with prior knowledge and considered storytelling as a key process for internalizing and externalizing knowledge in the context of meaningful social interactions. In addition, good stories are easy to remember (Rex et al., 2002), further highlighting their significant role for learning, useful or applicable to all subjects and educational levels (Pedersen, 1995).
Digital Storytelling (DS) is practically the contemporary form of storytelling, combining traditional, oral narration with multimedia elements and communication tools. For Robin & McNeil (2012) it is a form of art that combines different semantics for narrating a short story on a specific subject or concept. As for traditional storytelling, also DS is utilized for cultivating additional skills and literacy types associated with modern society (Moutafidou & Bratitsis, 2013).
Digital stories are used as educational material to present new material and attract students’ attention (Robin, 2008). Burmark (2004) claims that digital stories facilitate students’ interaction with the teaching content, making it more understandable. Also, existing online services allow students to express thoughts, ideas and opinions through digital stories, while sharing them with a wider audience. This provides them with the opportunity to improve writing skills by not only creating their own stories (Gakhar and Tompson, 2007), but also by becoming more active and productive in individual or collaborative communication activities (Bratitsis et al., 2011). With modern technologies, digital stories can be utilized in various educational environments following a very innovative approach (Bratitsis et al., 2015; 2017).
Building upon the significant educational potential of DS, an attempt to correlate and connect it to other innovative approaches which are also gaining momentum over the past few years was made by Bratitsis (2018). Specifically he attempted to connect Design Thinking (DT) with DS following the reasoning that if a digital story can be considered as a product to be designed and implemented or even a problem to be solved (since DT is practically a problem solving approach when applied in education), then tools that are already available in DT could be utilized in DS. Through a process comparison, the connection among the two fields became evident (Bratitsis, 2018), thus allowing DT tools to be utilized for story element developing or the analysis of existing digital stories by following a “reverse engineering” process, as mainly the analysis of digital stories was based on objective evaluation rubrics.
In the following years, such tools have been used throughout various teaching settings, including undergraduate and postgraduate courses, teachers’ professional development seminars and training, but also children of various ages starting from early childhood, up to secondary education. Furthermore, a toolkit explaining and providing utilization ideas of DT tools for DS purposes was designed and tested in the context of an EU funded project (Bratitsis, 2021).
This paper reflects upon 4 years of intense use of DT tools, especially focusing on the Empathy Map. The latter is a tool used in the first step of a DT process in order for the designer to understand his/her target group. It is a template which describes the outer and inner characteristics of an individual. In the case of DS, it was used for developing story characters, mainly the protagonist of the story. In the reverse approach, it was utilized for analyzing characters within existing stories. In this paper, the ways that Empathy Maps have been used are explained and conclusions are being reached, highlighting the significance of this tool for the DS approach and making a clear statement regarding the future research and also educational approach of such tools, especially in the context of distance and blended learning.
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