Digital Stories in ePortfolios: Multiple Purposes and Tools

©2006, Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.

I have been exploring the many uses of digital stories in electronic portfolios. An ePortfolio is a purposeful collection of work that demonstrates effort, progress and achievement over time, stored in an electronic container (CD, DVD, WWW). In this context and in terms of the technology, a digital story is a digital video clip, told in the author's own voice, illustrated mostly with still images, with an optional music track added for emotional effect. Rhetorically, a digital story is a personal narrative that may show the author’s identity: strengths, weaknesses, achievements, disappointments, learning experiences, passions, and hopes for the future; in other words: reflection.

Catherine Howell provided this commentary on the integration of digital stories in response to this paper. She emphasizes the importance of identity in the development of personal narratives

Personally, I would wish to emphasize the writing (and media-savvy) skills that are acquired/investigated as part of the process of creating digital stories. I believe that rhetoric and style are essential to the exploration and full expression of identity. My interest in rhetoric (and learner-directed essay writing, in particular) means that, when it comes to learner engagement and the expression of identity, I would wish to articulate concepts of "voice" and "identity" more fully. I perceive that the language of "voice", as used in relation to digital storytelling, can sometimes appear to express the belief that "voice" is something "natural" or inherent. Instead, I would emphasize that learner identity is inherent, but that "voice" is an expression of that innate identity, and hence a product of good communication skills. Hence I would like to focus on how it is that we can best encourage students to explore different styles, and what are the most effective ways that we can model good practice for them, as they learn the skills they need in order to communicate compelling personal narratives.

In this paper, I address two issues in developing digital stories in ePortfolios: Why? and How? or the Multiples Purposes for adding digital stories to ePortfolios and the emerging Web 2.0 tools that can be used to develop digital stories. Where I have examples of digital stories, I have provided web links. If you have examples that you would like to share, send me a link and an e-mail, giving permission to post the link on this page.

Introduction of Self Reflection Artifacts

Introduction of Self

Voice, Personality & Identity

The Northwest Regional Education Lab (2001) defines Voice (in its 6+1 Trait® Writing Model) as follows:

”The Voice is the writer coming through the words, the sense that a real person is speaking to us and cares about the message. It is the heart and soul of the writing, the magic, the wit, the feeling, the life and breath. When the writer is engaged personally with the topic, he/she imparts a personal tone and flavor to the piece that is unmistakably his/hers alone. And it is that individual something–different from the mark of all other writers–that we call voice.”

Voice, as defined above, is often missing from electronic portfolios, both literally and rhetorically. A digital story provides that voice: listening to the author, we hear a real person, getting a sense of their unique personality.

The example below was recorded in a hotel room in San Antonio, the night before our presentation at the National Educational Computing Conference in 2002. I only used iPhoto to make this story, selecting and organizing images from her portfolio to accompany the recorded and edited conversation about my granddaughter's work; a “quick and easy” solution when time is short. The personality that comes through in her voice is wonderful!

Victoria’s 1st Grade Portfolio Reflection/Conversation


Digital stories can provide us with an opportunity to leave a legacy of our family stories for those who come after us. Legacy stories are usually told about a person or place.

This example is partly a digital family story and partly an encouragement to capture these stories while our older relatives are still with us. I created Legacy at the CDS Training of Trainers Workshop in March 2005. Jonathan was created by a young mother to tell about her young son, using the pictures she was always taking with her digital camera. Jonathan also shows what can be done with Microsoft's MovieMaker2 and Audacity.





A biography provides the facts about a life, whether of the storyteller or another person.

My favorite example was written and recorded by my oldest granddaughter. She presented her 2nd grade portfolio with this story at the National Educational Computing Conference in Seattle in 2003, to a round of applause. Even when I show it as part of one of my presentations, I also get spontaneous applause. Only in second grade could you summarize a life in one minute! This story was created in two formats: iMovie, with her input on the titles, and this version in iPhoto, as an example of a “quick and easy” process.

Victoria’s 2nd Grade Autobiography



Whereas a legacy story is told for or about another person or place, a memoir is very personal, told in the first person, focusing on the memories of the storyteller. Memoirs are autobiographical in nature, but are much more personal and reflective. They are usually much longer than a typical digital story.

In Dad, we took 45 minutes of recorded narrative and selected only four minutes. We originally intended to create a story about the waffle breakfasts held for soldiers by my grandparents during World War II in the little town of Sequim. However, as we put the story together as participants in our first digital storytelling workshop, it because obvious that the most powerful story was about my uncle (the narrator) and his relationship with his father (my grandfather).
No Ideas
was the first digital story created by my daughter (a clever approach).


No Ideas


Reflection is the “heart and soul” of a portfolio. Digital storytelling is a highly motivating strategy that can make reflection concrete and visible. Some definitions of reflection:

This digital story was written for the NECC conference as a reflection on Professional Learning in Conferences.



Some learners reflect on the major changes or transitions in their lives. Reflection can help us make sense of these changes. Telling digital stories could also help the transition to retirement or any other major life change.

In this example, this student teacher explains why he changed his career to become a teacher. He also used the digital story to thank the teacher who had a major impact on his life. The second story is about coming to terms with a major change in my own life.

Coming Full Circle


Decision & Direction

Digital stories can be used to either weigh the options in a decision to be made, or document the decision-making process. Stories can help us shape our direction or our preferred future.

In this example, an early learning experience had a major impact on how I made career decisions (based on Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”). Finding the voice recording on the Internet of the poet reading his poem was a bonus.


Benchmarking Development

In a podcast published by Mike Searson (Kean University) in advance of the 2006 SITE conference, Joe Lambert made these comments about digital stories in portfolios:

“The idea of portfolio is storytelling... looking back at what you've done, assessing what you intended to do, what you did, and what you think about it after the fact. To me that is in the form of a story: what did I hope, what did I do, and what insight did I draw out of that. And in that sense, the digital story format as a sort of PowerPoint on steroids, would be an appropriate way for education to take a snapshot of the educational process, for my ideal world, at the same point that people are being tested: in 5th grade and 7th grade and 11th grade, and getting into college, surviving the first year of college, and getting out of college, and into graduate school. It seems to me that at each point a digital story snapshot would be an extremely appropriate part of a portfolio to tell you in a very succinct, entertaining, effective and emotionally engaging way where the students are and we would learn as much about them [as from tests] and we would have a form that people actually want to use or see.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have these snapshots of development to share over the decade time span described here. The closest that I have are the three snapshots of my granddaughter's development over three years, as shown in other areas on this page. Here is an electronic portfolio with digital video clips from Kindergarten through High School.


Change over time

An important element of an electronic portfolio is to maintain a collection of work over time, so that the learner can recognize when growth and change has occurred. Children often forget what it is like not to know how to do something. By seeing earlier work, they can reflect on the changes they see in their own performance. The recognition of this change has the potential to increase students’ self esteem.

In the example shown here, my granddaughter reflects on how her writing has changed between Kindergarten and First Grade. She also tells us that a portfolio “shows how much I've grown.”

Victoria’s Kindergarten Portfolio Reflection/Conversation


The story types described above are constructed as part of the portfolio development process of reflection. The initial phase of portfolio development is the collection of artifacts, or pieces of work that are created in the course of ordinary school work or professional experience. These artifacts in electronic portfolios often take the form of text or images; a digital video clip adds another dimension to this collection.


Evidence of Collaboration

Much of the work in both schools and the workplace is the result of collaboration. To document the results of team efforts, a digital story could explain each person's role in the process.

At this time, I do not have an example in my collection.


A digital video can take the place of a research paper or PowerPoint presentation. These stories take on the characteristics of a documentary, often fact-based without emotional content.

The example shown here was created at a Digital Storytelling workshop at Kean University. This student teachercame to the workshop without a story, sent by her principal to learn the skills so that she could come back and teach them to the rest of the staff! She finished this story in a day with images from the Internet.

What is Digital Storytelling?

Record of Experience

In many learning activities, such as a field experience in teacher education, there may not be a concrete product that can be represented in a discrete artifact. A digital story could be used to reflect on and document an experience in a format much richer than just text and images. A digital story could provide the final evidence of a project-based learning activity, especially if digital pictures are captured as part of the experience. As John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.”

The example here was created by a student teacher in Alaska in 2001. Our students spent two weeks in a rural village, and were told to keep a journal and take a camera. The script for this story was drawn directly from her journal.


Oral Language

Whether for students learning to speak in a second language, or early childhood students learning to read in their native language, recordings of speaking and reading aloud have often been been documented through either tape recording or live presentation before an assessor. A digital story could provide another approach that allows learners to record their voice, speaking or reading out loud at different stages of development, demonstrating growth over time. A "podcast" could be an audio-only digital story without the visual components.

While not created as a comparison with prior language skill, this poem won an award in the PTA's "My Favorite Place" Reflections contest. The poem was later read by the author with images added for illustration. This is Victoria's fourth story in this collection; this one was recorded in 6th Grade.

My Beach Cabin

Postscript on the Purpose of Digital Stories in ePortfolios

Perhaps ePortfolios can become the Trojan Horse for integrating digital storytelling into the curriculum. Most ePortfolios today are digital paper: text and images only. Digital Stories can humanize any model of ePortfolio using any type of ePortfolio tool. Digital Stories add VOICE to electronic portfolios. Digital Storytelling is also a motivating strategy for involving students in their own learning using 21st Century tools of engagement.

Emerging Web 2.0 Tools for Developing Digital Stories

There is a recognized process for developing digital stories, as developed by the Center for Digital Storytelling and practiced around the world (Stephenson, 2006).

  1. Script development: write the story, often with a group called a story circle to provide feedback and story development ideas
  2. Record the author reading the story (audio recording and editing)
  3. Capture and process the images to further illustrate the story (image scanning and editing)
  4. Combine audio and images (and any additional video) onto a timeline, add music track (video editing)
  5. Present or publish finished version of story

Here is a brief guide to the tools of digital storytelling. The following list of desktop software is listed in order of cost and ease-of-use. All of these software tools must reside on a personal computer. Here is a list of common software used on for both major operating systems, along with recommended hardware (Barrett 2006):


Software-Macintosh OS X

Software-Windows XP


Audio Editors

Audacity O/S
SoundStudio ($50) T=14 days
GarageBand* (Apple’s iLife06 Tools)

Audacity O/S
Audio Record Wizard ($25 S/W)
any Windows-compatible audio recording program

Microphone + Mixer
OR USB Microphone
Image Editors

Graphic Converter ($30 S/W)
Photoshop Elements ($100) T= 30 days

HP Image Zone Express
Graphic Converter ($20 S/W)
Photoshop Elements ($100)** T= 30 days

Digital still camera
or Scanner

Video Editors

iLife Tools: iMovieHD & iPhoto*
*Bundled free with new hardware or OS, $49 upgrade
Photo To Movie ($50) T= watermark

Pro Tools:
Final Cut Express ($$)
Final Cut Pro ($$$$)

Microsoft MovieMaker2
Microsoft Plus! PhotoStory3

Slide Show Movie Maker
Photo to Movie
($30) T= watermark
Pinnacle Studio ($80-$99) T= 15 days
Ulead VideoStudio ($100) T= 30 days
Adobe Premiere Elements ($100)** T= 30 days
**Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements bundled price $150

Digital video camera

There are an emerging group of tools that are server-based, where the software exists online, not requiring the software be installed on a personal computer. Below is a sample of some of the Web 2.0 tools that show promise for supporting digital storytelling.

  1. Collaborative writing tools for script development and collaborative writing: or any wiki
  2. Audio editing tools (primarily created to capture and publish podcasts online):,
  3. Image sharing tools (primarily created to share images online):,
  4. Video editing tools (primarily created to create and publish short video clips online):,,
  5. Media publishing services (primarily created to share video online):,,,

Other papers in this book have included many of the tools listed above. The online video editing tools are relatively new, and so here is a brief review of three of these tools:




While these Web-based tools are not as sophisticated as the desktop versions, they are more accessible to a larger number of digital story authors. There are more tools for publishing the stories online, regardless of the tools used for development. Of course, the speed of the Internet connection will influence the quality of the experience. More tools are under development, so this should be an exciting area for development in the next few years.



©2006, Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D. ~ ~ ~ updated July 16, 2009