Digital storytelling resources

Guidelines for an ethical practice of digital storytelling for teaching & learning, research and community engagement in higher education

Link to document

Lecturers at CPUT have been using digital storytelling (DST) since 2010 across all faculties and many disciplines: for teaching and learning, in community engagement projects but also more and more as a research methodology. In our context we define digital storytelling as the process of creating a (personal) narrative that documents a wide range of culturally and historically embedded lived experiences, by combining voice, sound and images into a short video, developed by non-professionals with non-professional tools within the context of a digital storytelling workshop (Lambert, 2010; Reed & Hill, 2012).

Introducing DST at our institution has improved digital literacies and student engagement, provided a space for critical reflection and enhanced multicultural learning and an engagement across difference. However, adopting this sometimes emotional and process-oriented practice into an educational context, with its constraints of course objectives, assessment regimes, timetables and large classes, raises ethical concerns. We have put the personal in brackets in the above definition, as although there are some ‘flavours’ of DST which focus on the deeply personal, others, and in particular in HE, combine the personal with curriculum content. This can be where much of its power lies, in creating personal connections to curricular knowledge. This leads to a continuum of DST, from highly personal to purely content-based stories. Many of the guidelines listed below are drawn from projects that are more personal and hence more ethically charged. Thus, the guidelines below target the most ethically risky models, but will also be helpful for lecturers aiming for less emotionally charged stories, with a stronger curriculum/content focus. It’s useful to stay mindful of the fact that the personal can surface unexpectedly, even when it has not been specifically invited. 

These guidelines are aimed at opening up a space to reflect on possible ethical questions and dilemmas you may encounter in planning and running a DST project. We offer a list of questions or issues to consider rather than fixed solutions because context is critical: it’s important to ask the questions, but different constellations of lecturer, students, discipline and access to resources will require different answers.

This document is divided into three parts: guidelines for teaching and learning, research and community engagement. Lecturers thinking of using DST for community engagement are advised to read through the first two parts, as the third part covers only additional elements that apply to community engagement only.

These guidelines are the result of a one-year consultation process at CPUT led by Ass Prof Daniela Gachago, Jacqui Scheepers, Dr Candice Livingston and Pam Sykes. It draws from lecturers’ and students’ experiences with and perceptions of digital storytelling. We also draw on our own experiences as digital storytelling facilitators and those of colleagues outside our institutions. Our thinking around the ethics of digital storytelling was shaped by the Ethics Working Group participants at the 2017 Untold Conference. In particular, this experience allowed us to recognise the many DST practices with all their different ethical concerns and encouraged us to work towards specific guidelines for higher education. A special thanks to our digital storytelling friends and colleagues Kristi Stewart, Brooke Hessler, Antonia Liguori and Michelle Van Wyk, who gave detailed feedback on these guidelines. We would also like to thank the SA Story Worker Group, who helped us think through some of our ethical dilemmas. And finally, our colleagues, students and community partners – without their passion and stories there would be no DST practice at our institution. 

This is work-in-progress and will be continuously updated. For questions, comments and feedback please email

Link to document

Ethics in DST guidelines

Online course on Research with Human Subjects

Readings on ethics and DST at CPUT

Sykes, P., & Gachago, D. (2018). Creating “Safe-Ish” Learning Spaces ‒ Attempts To Practice an Ethics of Care. South African Journal for Higher Education (SAJHE), 32(6), 83–98

Gachago, D., & Sykes, P. (2017). Navigating Ethical Boundaries When Adopting Digital Storytelling in Higher Education. In G. Jamisson, P. Hardy, Y. Nordkvelle, & H. Pleasants (Eds.), Digital Storytelling in Higher Education (pp. 91–106). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Gachago, D., Scheepers, J. & Livingston, C. (under review). Telling stories about stories: Towards ethical guidelines in digital storytelling for higher education. In K. Weaver, B. Bobo, J. Bezerra & S. Paphitis (eds.): Challenging the ‘Apartheids’ of Knowledge in Higher Education through Social Innovation.

Gachago, D. & Livingston, C. (under review). Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Exploring the tensions between normative research and an ethics of care for DST in Higher Education. Paper submitted to Reading and Writing.

International literature around the ethics of DST

Black, G. F., Davies, A., Iskander, D., & Chambers, M. (2018). Reflections on the ethics of participatory visual methods to engage communities in global health research. Global Bioethics, 29(1), 22–38.

Gubrium, A. C., Hill, A. L., & Flicker, S. (2014). A situated practice of ethics for participatory visual and digital methods in public health research and practice: A focus on digital storytelling. American Journal of Public Health, 104(9), 1606–1614.

Hill, A. (2014). Digital Storytelling and the Politics of Doing Good: Exploring the Ethics of Bringing Personal Narratives into Public Spheres. In H. Pleasants & D. E. Salter (Eds.), Community-based Multiliteracies and Digital Media Projects (Vol. 39, pp. 174–178). Peter Lang Publishing.

Rieger, K. L., West, C. H., Kenny, A., Chooniedass, R., Demczuk, L., Mitchell, K. M., … Scott, S. D. (2018). Digital storytelling as a method in health research : a systematic review protocol, 1–7.

Stewart, K. D., & Ivala, E. (2017). Silence, voice, and “other languages”: Digital storytelling as a site for resistance and restoration in a South African higher education classroom. British Journal of Educational Technology.

Stewart, K. D. (2017). Classrooms as ‘safe houses’? The ethical and emotional implications of digital storytelling in a university writing classroom Kristian D. Stewart. Cristal – Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning, 5(1), 85–102.

Readings on DST – internationally

Digital storytelling cookbook:

Digital storytelling tips and resources:

Robin, B.R., 2005. The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling.

Long, B., 2011. Digital Storytelling and Meaning Making: Critical Reflection , Creativity and Technology in Pre-service Teacher Education. In Digital storytelling conference. pp. 1-27.

Kajder, S.B., 2004. Enter Here: Personal Narrative and Digital Storytelling. The English Journal, 93(3), pp.64-68. Available at: [Accessed October 10, 2010].

Barrett, H., 2006. Digital Stories in ePortfolios: Multiple Purposes and Tools. Available at: [Accessed January 25, 2011].

Rolon-Dow, R., 2011. Race(ing) stories: digital storytelling as a tool for critical race scholarship. Race Ethnicity and Education, 14(2), pp.159-173. Available at: [Accessed April 15, 2011].

Interesting sites

Center for Digital Storytelling

Center for Digital Storytelling YouTube channel:

University of Houston Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling

Silence speaks digital stories:

Sonke Gender Justice network (South Africa) 

Darcy Alexandra’s work with undocumented migrants in Ireland:

Pip Hardy and Tony Somners’ patientvoices in the UK:

Info on copyright / fair use and digital storytelling:

Interesting conferences

9th International Digital Storytelling conference, Loughbourough, England: 

CPUTstories YouTube channel:

Join our Facebook CPUTstories group

Digital Storytelling at CPUT – Other Writings

  • Gachago, D., Clowes, L. & Condy, J. 2016. Family comes in all forms, blood or not’: disrupting dominant narratives around the patriarchal nuclear family. Gender and Education (online publicaton).
  • Gachago, D. 2016. the Performativity of Digital Stories in Contexts of Systemic Inequality. South African Journal for Higher Education (SAJHE), 30(3), pp. 296–308.
  • Stewart, K. & Gachago, D. 2016. Being human today: A digital storytelling pedagogy for transcontinental border crossing. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(3), pp. 528–542.
  • Condy, J. 2015. Sharing stories to shape teachers. The Conversation.
  • Barnes, V,. Gachago, D. & Ivala, E. 2015. Digital Storytelling in Industrial Design. In P.C. Layne P. Lane, eds. Global Innovation of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Springer: 47-69.
  • Barnes, V. 2015. Telling timber tales in Higher Education : A reflection on my journey with digital storytelling. Journal of Pedagogic Development, 5 (1), 72-83. timber tales in Higher Education A relection on my journey with digital storytelling.pdf
  • Gachago, D., Condy, J., Ivala, E., & Chigona, A. 2014. “All stories bring hope because stories bring awareness ”: students ’ perceptions of digital storytelling for social justice education. South African Journal of Education, 34(4).
  • Gachago, D., Ivala, E., Barnes, V., Gill, P., Felix-Minnaar, J., Morkel, J. & Vajat, N. 2014. Towards the development of digital storytelling practices for use in resource-poor environments, across disciplines and with students from diverse backgrounds. South African Journal for Higher Education (SAJHE), 28(3): 961–982.
  • Gachago, D., Ivala, E. & Chigona, A., 2013. Disruptive use of emerging technologies in teaching and learning – lecturers’ experiences at a University of Technology in South Africa. progressio, 35(3): 37-60.
  • Condy, J., Chigona, A., Gachago, D., & Ivala, E., 2012. Preservice students’ perceptions and experiences of digital storytelling in diverse classrooms. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology (TOJET), 11(3): 278–285.
  • Gachago, D. et al. 2014. Using Digital Counterstories as Multimodal Pedagogy among South African Pre-service Student Educators to produce Stories of Resistance. Electronic Journal of e-Learning (eJeL), 12(1): 29–42. Available at:
  • Gachago, D. , Ivala, E., Condy, J. & Chigona, A., 2013. Journeys across Difference: Pre- Service Teacher Education Students’ Perceptions of a Pedagogy of Discomfort in a Digital Storytelling Project in South Africa. Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning, 1(1): 22–52. Available at:
  • Ivala, E., Gachago, D., Condy, J., & Ivala, E., 2014. Digital Storytelling and Reflection in Higher Education: A Case of Pre-service Student Teachers and Their Lecturers at a University of Technology. Journal of Education and Training Studies. Vol. 2, No. 1: .217-227. Available at:
  • Ivala, E., Gachago, D., Condy, J., & Chigona, A., 2013. Enhancing Student Engagement with Their Studies : A Digital Storytelling Approach. Creative Education, 4(10): 82–89. Available at:

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Summary of the 7 steps of digital storytelling

Software used

We are using mostly WeVideo at CPUT, as this offers a comprehensive platform which covers all the elements of digital storytelling and works both web-based and as a mobile app (both online and offline). However, there are other approaches as week, such as recording the narration via Audacity and then creating the digital movie in MovieMaker (slightly more complicated but with better results) or using Photostory for Windows, which allows you to record within the software programme.

Approach 1

  • Windows MovieMaker to create and edit digital movies: XP or Live depending on Windows software on your laptop
  • For a YouTube video tutorial click here
  •  Audacity and Lame encoder to record and edit audio

Approach 2: Photostory

  • for a YouTube tutorial click here

Approach 3: mobile apps

Approach 4: Web-based digital storytelling

  • WeVideo: full video editing suite, allows app 4 mins Video per month for free

Other  useful software

  • Artweaver for image editing

  •  Real player to convert audio files

Royalty free images and sound

Article on 8 resources to find and edit digital images without being sued:

Another article listing best free image databases: is a search portal that allows you to search for media shared under the creative commons licence, will give you direct links to Google images, flickr, sound databases etc…

Images (under advanced search you can tick Creative Commons only) Pics4Learning is a safe, free image library
for education. Teachers and students can use the copyright-friendly photos
and images for classrooms, multimedia projects, web sites, videos,
portfolios, or any other project in an educational setting.

Sound (for royalty free sound tracks)

Some examples of stories developed at CPUT

2010 Education student project

[vimeo 24409792]

2011 Education student projects

[vimeo 36266930] [vimeo 36266821]

2011 Train the trainer workshop

[vimeo 36329915]

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