Digital Storytelling and the Ostrich

This morning, I heard an entertaining story about an ostrich—with its head in the window—chasing a car and aggressively eating the kibble from the hands of a terrified young girl at a drive-thru zoo. What made the story so entertaining was not only the absurdity of the situation, but the way the speaker (the woman recounting the ludicrous experience from her youth) crafted her story and gesticulated her hands and arms to build the tension toward the climax of the high-speed chase between ostrich and car.

The story was how this woman introduced herself. All of the participants of the digital storytelling workshop at the Digital Pedagogy Lab were instructed to introduce ourselves with a one-minute story. It was an effective exercise, not only as an ice breaker, but as preliminary practice in crafting and sharing a short narrative. Although the instructor didn’t set any parameters for the story, they were all nonfiction, personal, and humorous (with few exceptions). We followed this sharing of narratives with a discussion of why we chose the story we told.

I plan to use this introductory exercise in my Digital Storytelling Creation I course. But I’d like to extend the discussion on the choice of narrative. I plan to guide the students through the introductory story exercise into questioning what a story is and perhaps even what it is not (following a suggestion by Bryan Alexander in his book The New Digital Storytelling). A humorous ethos was certainly important as we performed stories for complete strangers this morning.

But it also shows that Horace’s assertion of the purposes for telling a story—to entertain and to instruct—were being followed by this new group in choosing a story to tell. And, although most of the narratives were told to merely entertain, there was certainly some instruction happening in those stories, too, such as the knowledge that a car will not always outpace a fast and determined ostrich.

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