Storymaking Methods For Project Videos

For close to 20 years I have studied, experimented with, taught, and presented on digital storytelling — and I still have much to learn. For the purposes of the Project Community video projects, I wanted to assemble something to share to help you with the modality of making a video. Mostly, I hope to encourage you to think of the typical report / essay approach of presenting information.

Initially I was planning to produce a video about making video, but I have many examples to share, and decided on a blogged approach so you can go through to skip at your own pace. What follows below is distilled from a collection of talks and workshops from the last few years (found among the pile at

Mostly, I like to ask students to consider the narrative format of media they watch for interest or pleasure- film, television, internet meme videos, even commercials. Rarely do you see bullet points, outlines, or telling you of the conclusion from the start. For effective video campaigns, you really ought to consider what works well for effective storymaking, and then be prepared to say, none of the rules are etched into truth.

So make a big batch of popcorn, and sit back for a long blog post. Continue reading Storymaking Methods For Project Videos

An introduction to visualising development data (The Open University)

In conjunction with the BBC, the UK’s Open University has produced a fabulous video and lesson series on visualizing data related to international development issue. These feature the fabulous TED speaker and world health expert Hans Roling.

In An introduction to visualising development data explains the principles of visualizing data and how you can do the same using tools such as his GapMinder.

These are possible tools that you can use in your international projects.

This is part of a series on Don’t Panic – How to End Poverty in 15 Years

On Video, On Story, On Movie Making

In a short hangout today with Yasin (look at him embed video like a blogging pro!) we discussed thinking about the video your teams will produce at the end of this project (your teams will combine to produce a single video for your NGO client). You all know what video is, you see films, movies, funny shorts on YouTube all the time, but how are the good ones made? And we are not just talking about the mechanics, but actually the craft of creating a short story.

In this post I will offer some points (and yes tools) to consider, largely based on my experience and open digital storytelling course called DS106 — many of my resources I will mostly link (you do know now, the power of hyperlinking, right?).

Perhaps the most important understanding of why stories work (see more from DS106 on Storytelling) comes from novelist Kurt Vonnegut who explains the shapes of stories:

When you start thinking about your video as a story, try to focus on what you can portray as a journey for a person in your video, and what kind of surprise/unexpected part you can have happen. Do not give away the end of your story at the beginning.

In addition, neuroscientist Paul Zak explains the brain science behind why stories work – they cause the release of neurotransmitters associated with seeing someone in distress and having empathy for that person. His talk presents the important of Vonnegut’s shape in a new way.

Before you think about how to make movies, it’s worth practicing what we in DS106 call “Reading Movies” — take a closer look at video you see on your various screens, and start paying attention to details. Listen to the ideas too of documentary film amkers sucj as Ken Burns, who focuses too on the story element:

In film, you do not see them using a lot of fancy video transitions that you find overused in video software. Look at camera positions, cuts of shots, lighting, sound, staging (positioning). Look at some of the short videos from DS106 Reading Movies (open the “reading Movies” header) that explain or identify techniques of filmmakers, e.g.

As you look at video content you see, see if you can identify these methods.

As far as the tools part (yes I know you want to hear it), you can do all of what you need for this project with the basic software that comes with your computer- either Windows Movie Maker or Apple iMovie (I do all of my video work in the latter). If you or anyone on your project has experience with more advanced software, by all means, let them go to town with it.

But every computer comes with this software that allows you to import photos, graphic., video, sound and turn them into a video, plus add titles, and other elements like end credits. While you are still developing your ideas, you may want to start assembling media that might lend itself to your project. And you are more than encouraged to combine using media that you find online with photos and video you acquire yourself.

If you use media that is not yours, keep a record where it came from. Make a document that includes the name and source URL of where you found them (not just “on Google”). Just because you found it on google does not mean you have the rights to use it, so use search tools like Creative Commons to find media licensed for reuse. I have a project site that lists over 50 sources for open licensed media. Or look in Wikimedia Commons. Or in Google Images search, learn how to restrict your results to items licensed for reuse.

To use clips you find in YouTube or vimeo and many other sites, the best tool (there are hundreds of them) I know and use is — the browser add ons add a download link to all compatible sites.

Your mobile camera is made for capturing media, but also as you do this for your project, you will want to consider for video trying to not do hand held shaky video (unless that is part of the script). Look for ways to prop your mobile against a book to keep it steady or maybe you have a small tripod device to hold it steady.

Pay attention to audio too- if you record, make sure your sound levels are audible, think about sound effects (or what is known as Foley) and background music.

You will also find ideas in the projects done by last year’s Project Community Students

We look forward to seeing on the big screen in November what the 2015 teams produce!

Every Blog Post Should Be Able to Stand Alone

When you are blogging about your projects, you are in the middle of a familiar forest of information. When you write your post, you may want to consider this question:

If this is the only blog post someone finds from our site, will they know what it is part of? What it refers to?

Your posts may show up on search results, shared through social media, maybe linked from a large international paper (think BIG). Look at your post- if it is the only thing a reader finds, will they understand what it is about? What it is part of?

Every blog post should be a stand alone island. It should stand alone and be able to be understood from it’s content.

Public Domain image from pixabay
Public Domain image from pixabay

This does not man you have to explain your project in every blog post. This is where a link is your friend.

If you refer to “our NGO” — will a reader know what that is? The easiest way is to make a link to something that represents your NGO. If you refer to “our last meeting” — will a reader know where that information is? link to another blog post that explains it.

You do not have to explain everything or link everything, but try to look at your blog post through the eyes of an unfamiliar reader.

<hr />

Featured image credits: flickr photo by piczoom shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Taggable Ideas

Another thing we should think about while blogging is using tags to organize and connect our content. Just open the TAGS & CATEGORIES box to the left. Categories are fixed organizers your blog steward set up to organize your posts. As soon as you click in the box, you can associate your post with one or more categories.

But tags are open ended. You can use it to connect posts across your site. So your group may agree upon comment sets of tags. And each tag becomes a URL on your own site to show all other posts with the same tags. So if you save a post about a video on crowdfunding, you might tag it coolstuff and crowdfunding. On your blog, the URLs and  can display all posts with the same tags. Your site steward can then add these as links to your sites menu. Or look at the widget to add a Tag Cloud to the sidebar.

Because of the way we connect all Projcomm15 blogs, tags can work across all sites, so connects commonly tagged posts across all sites. Think about how you might use tags to connect ides and resources.

(I am writing this post to make a screenshot, but hey, might as well publish)

Top / Featured Image Credit: flickr photo by pseudoplacebo shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Read This “Signal, Space, Structure”

Nancy and I are exploring ways for the #ProjComm15 to generate a community built resource. There are many ways to group curate content yet most involve asking you to Sign Up For Another Tool And Go There All The Time. We want to try something easier that works into the flow we are already asking you to do– use your ream blog.

When you find a resource really worth sharing, most typically people push it to a social media stream, our facebook group, maybe even twitter with our hashtag more or less saying “here is something neat”. That works if you happen to see it, but it just rushes on by.  We still encourage you to do this as a stream of raw information resource just include a #projcomm15 tag in it; it will flow into our tagboard.

But go one step farther. If the resource is really useful, write a short blog post on your blog. Make sure you add a tag (a box for tags is on the side of your composer and add the tag coolstuff (one word, no space), and any othe useful descriptor tags. When published, all of these post will show up on our site via Automatically. Without using another new tool.

When you blog, be sure to write more than “This is cool”. Explain why you chose it, what is its value/relevance to our community. Or maybe its an opinion you disagree with. Our resource collection is much more useful when you provide context.

So here is my attempt an an example.

Signal, Space, Structure: Designing for Communities of Interest (by Christina Xu

This article provides very practical suggestions for community building for a course in Entrepreneurial Design that seems similar to Project Community.


Whether it’s an invitation to an event, a call to action, a piece of art, or a literal flare, the signal is how you get the attention of the people you are trying to gather. Sometimes, it can also be a shibboleth to filter out who you don’t want, a way to indicate who the community is safe for and from.

I like how she describes signal as not having to be loud and attention getting, that often signals are small, but get amplified in the network “Whispering on an unoccupied but sought-out radio frequency can be much more effective than screaming at the top of your lungs on an occupied one.”

Read the rest of the article for her ideas on Space, Structure, and Scatter.. they are ideas that obviously come from experience.

 Top /  Featured Image Credit: Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons — I found it by doing a Google Images search for “signal space structure” with the settings for “licensed for reuse” — one of the results was for a graph of analog signal that I almost used, but the link to the page had a better image of this old TV

Some Blogging Sleight of Hand

This was my idea as a change for 2015 Project Community. Previously we had students created individual tumblr blogs for their reflection, and I put the magic move on to have the course site syndicate those posts into it.

I suggested tumblr because it is easy to set up and post. I have to say we saw mixed usage of it; of course it is new to many, and some students took several weeks to get going with it. And many used it more like a place to dump assignments.

So I suggested we move the platform to a shared author blog on — in a group blog they can be more accountable and supportive to each other. And we can now syndicate in maybe 20 team blogs rather than 80-100 individual ones, still having ways to link to student work, team, and also to aggregate via the teams being part of a larger NGO group.

The schematic for the teams and groups is one Laura shared:


I also think students will get more practical experience out of knowing a bit of of using WordPress, because it is something many web sites are built with, than tumblr. So it’s a transferrable skill.

My newest idea is to do a mid term twist. Usually when people set up a blog, they fuss a lot over the theme and design before they have content and a structure. It is like building a house and wanting to put up the wall paper in the bathroom before the foundation is poured.

So in the beginning I am going to urge them to ignore the theme, and in fact, use the simple Twenty-Fifteen on used on this site. The goal is work on the infrastructure, the categories, tags, and a regular practice of self narrating, plus more publicly summarizing the teams’s progress.

It will look like a normal flow of blogs- post, post, post, post.

As the teams work towards their final project, I will do some work to show them how they can shift the blog, via a new template or simply creating a static landing page, to convert the site into something more like a project portfolio than a narrative blog. All the narration is present, but we can pull it off the front page, and make the project the focus.

There will be a bot more that needs to be explained up front for this, so I have been building out a multi-page blogging guide. It’s only half or less done now at

(and this post is a bit of modeling consuming one’s own dog good)

Feature Image Credits: flickr photo by jmayer1129 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license