Ramu and his friends sit huddled together around a computer screen, playing a game called “Rory’s Story Cubes.” Shaili hits the spacebar key and the 9 virtual dices roll. When it stops, the dice fall next to each other in this order:
“I’ll go first,” says Ramu. His narration begins: “An arrow hits a boy playing on the streets.”
Shyam looks at the second image of a footprint, pauses for a minute to think and adds, “The boy wonders what just hit him and sees footprints of an animal near him.”
It’s Shaili’s turn next: “The boy called Ali follows the footsteps across the bridge.”
Ramu excitedly cuts in: “Ali soon comes to a tree where the prints have mysteriously disappeared.”
“He searches for the prints in all directions,” continues Shyam.
“Ali hears a voice from below that asks him, ‘Who are you searching for?’ When he looks down he sees a turtle,” contributes Vinay.
The story plot thickens with each person’s turn.
“The turtle was eating an apple. Suddenly, the turtle disappears.”
“Ali is puzzled. He loudly asks ‘Where did the turtle go?’”
Shaili looks at the last block and concludes the story: “And then a thought strikes Ali like lightning – ‘Maybe the apple was poisonous,’ he exclaims.”
The friends now begin discussing how the images can be interpreted differently and, within minutes, another story is built.
While the library space opens up a world of stories to children, technology can provide tools to make readers active producers of stories. In the online version of the game “Rory’s Story Cube” we saw how children were guided by images to collaborate and build stories, thereby fostering their imagination. Storytelling is a part of building up one’s imagination and while there is a lot being said about using technical tools for storytelling, there is a little discussion when it comes to tools for story creation.
Tools like audio clips, videos, PowerPoint presentations, e-books, e-pubs are some mediums that are widely used as storytelling aids. One could, of course, argue that story creation can be done without the help of technology; by simply asking students to write an essay, for instance. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, in fact, if they could draw their essay on paper? Even better to have them add sounds to their essay through narration. One could even have them form groups, build, create and even act out the essay together.
All of these and more can be accomplished with ease if we bring technology into the picture. When we give let children build stories with different tools, we are actually providing them different mediums for experimenting and in turn, developing their creative confidence. “Rory’s Story Cube” is just one way in which stories are built using images. Besides images, video, audio, and animation are other media that have immense potential to bring to life the stories kids imagine. “ACMI Generator” (Australian Centre for Moving Image), for example, is a website where children can create animated stories using multimedia. Once a user is registered on the site, they can log in and start using the story generator available on the website. To do that, one needs to select photos from existing libraries or upload new ones. A camera movement can be chosen for the same, along with a time frame for that particular photo which creates the animation effect. 24 such frames are be woven together to create a video in the storyboard generator.
ACMI Generator also has a huge repository of all the work done by its users. They are categorised under different themes such as “Belonging and Identity”, “Ability and Disability”, “Community” etc. which can be used as a springboard for interesting discussions involving sensitive topics.
All of the stories cited were created by children with little to no adult intervention. We often envision children as mere content consumers when it comes to technology, their interaction with it limited watching videos or listening to audio. These tools, however, enable them to build stories, ideas and objects, which makes them content creators as well.
Take MIT’s “Scratch” which is an excellent open source tool that helps children build stories, games, and interactive art and also helps them share these creations with others around the world. Children start experimenting and building stories by simply placing blocks one after the other in a sequence and then creating structures out of them. Interestingly, “Scratch” was developed keeping in mind the Lego theory of building blocks. It also acts as a learning exercise in logic and progression.
Although “Scratch” is essentially a programming language used for building stories and animations, let it not fool you into thinking it’s too complicated for kids. Programming language here refers simply to using logic and not complex syntax and languages. It is essentially built for elementary school students and the user interface, therefore, is remarkably easy to navigate. “Scratch” has been called the “YouTube of interactive media.” Each day, people from around the world upload more than 1500 new projects on the site which are then freely available for sharing and remixing. There is also a lot of online help and tutorials available for beginners as the community keeps growing.
Since I come from a background in technology and feel very passionately about libraries and storytelling, I believe that our rhetoric needs to shift from seeing technology as a dangerous disruptor. I instead envision a space where the two, technology and libraries, are integrated into a mutually nourishing setup that multiplies the choices and tools available to young book lovers everywhere. Technology cannot replace the cognitive processes and emotional moorings of a storyteller but it can certainly enable them to tell their story in a more creatively expansive way.
(With inputs from Lavanya Murali, friend and curriculum development researcher at CLIx, whose close reading and wonderful advice helped the piece take its final shape.)