I Was Captivated

Initiating a venture is challenging but bringing it to fruition is no less so. Two months ago, I posted about the launch of the UTSC Management Department’s first Captivate digital storytelling competition. The actual competition was held a few days ago. Of the thirty students who were initially interested, ten ultimately submitted digital stories of up to four minutes in length.

The judging panel consisted of myself; two UTSC colleagues, Professor Joanna Heathcote and communications coordinator Raquel Russell; and Ray Ligaya and Daniel Shim, both executives at Viral Nation and presenters at the launch. We narrowed the field to five, commented on the five short-listed stories at a public event at UTSC, and selected first, second, and third prize winners.

Wonderful Diversity

I am posting this blog in advance of the official release of the stories and so will not include students’ names or links to their stories. I hope to present the top three stories in a future post. Under the competition’s rubric of personal storytelling, there was an impressive diversity of topics and digital approaches. An animated story about the nation-wide college entrance exam in China, in which all 340,000 candidates wrote about an assigned topic. A story about a student’s lifelong ambition to be an entertainer, incorporating video of their performances back to childhood, that concluded by asking whether this would lead to a meaningful career. A rap song about facing adversity, loneliness, and self-doubt. A poetic statement of life-lessons using the metaphor of a chessboard, narrated and enacted by the author. A story about overcoming a childhood speech disability, spoken directly to the camera.

This diversity made judging like comparing apples, oranges, and pomegranates. I think we were all basing our decisions on how much we were moved by the student’s story and how much mastery over their chosen digital medium the student displayed.

The Digital Challenge

I’m fascinated by digital storytelling, but I’ve never done it myself. Listening to judges Ray Ligaya and Daniel Shim talk about the projects made me realize how complicated digital storytelling – even for a two or three-minute piece – actually is.

There is a great deal of animation software available, but it is difficult to use.

There is endless stock video out there, but it is not as authentic as personal video. Past events may not have been recorded. If they were, it may be hard to locate people whose images are in the video to get their permission to appear in the project.

If the student is making a video of themself now, they will need a videographer willing to do the work gratis.

The student will need to put together the components of digital storytelling: moving images, narration, background sound or music, and closed caption text for the hearing impaired. They are unlikely to create their own background sound or music, so they will have to identify it and purchase rights. Finally, once they have all the components, they will need to sync them together in a way that seems natural, with all components moving at the same pace and reinforcing the message.

The Take-away

Given all the challenges of digital storytelling, I am profoundly impressed by the work of the ten students who entered the Captivate competition. And this was an extracurricular activity, not coursework. Perhaps digital storytelling will become their passion and a talent they will develop and exercise in their careers.

The Captivate competition has planted the seed, and I hope that digital storytelling – my legacy project – will blossom in the UTSC Department of Management.

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