Personal narrative has traditionally been used as a starting point for writing in first year English composition classes. Student writers can be motivated by the opportunity for self-expression, and familiarity of subject matter can facilitate scaffolding. Personal narrative can also be used to introduce a critical examination of ideas about identity, experience, significance, and cultural context. From this entry point, the first year composition course usually progresses to more formally structured genres of academic literacy including expository, analytical, and persuasive essays along with attendant research components. Because of technological and paradigmatic shifts in the way that information is created, accessed, and used, digital literacy has taken on growing importance in preparing students for full participation in society and in the world of work.
The context of teaching academic literacy in first year composition is complicated by the existence of multiple literacies among the student population, within society at large, and within the individual student. Adding multi-modal—or new media—literacies to this mix further complicates the context of multiple literacies.
How can an increase in pedagogical scope beyond traditional alphabetic literacy to include new media literacy be achieved while at the same time meeting the needs of basic or developmental writers? In coming back full circle to the personal narrative there is opportunity for expanding into the realm of multi-media technology and multi-modal literacy, while at the same time returning to a fundamental grounding in the voice and written word.
In this paper I set out to answer the question: Can a digital storytelling project be used to effectively teach new media literacy as an integral extension of traditional academic literacy, and can it also be used to teach critical reading and writing in the developmental composition classroom? In order to discover some answers on which to predict learning outcomes I read a series of articles that make claims about what experiences digital storytelling make available to first-year college composition students, as well as students in high school and middle school. I also consider a critique of formal constraints on the genre as set forth by the Center for Digital Storytelling which has been instrumental in the spread of the digital storytelling movement.