Instructional Storytelling

In the reading McDonald (2009) describes the principles of filmmakers that can be used by instructional designers to develop engagement by students. The study was conducted to investigate the principles of storytelling used by filmmakers. McDonald posed two questions in his research: “First, what principles do filmmakers use to engage and educate their audiences? Second, can instructional designers use these principles to create better instructional environments?” The study found that first the storytelling processes and instructional design processes are quite similar, second that principles filmmakers use to engage the audience can engage students, and third that instructional designers can use these principles for educational design. The similarities in the processes of film making and instructional design are important because in both you must know your audience, set goals and objectives, and evaluate. One of the filmmakers interviewed stated, “Good [teachers] are good storytellers. It doesn’t mean they’re funny. But they’re engaging and passionate, and that passion shows in the depth of the stories they tell.”

Now on to the principles of good filmmakers, the three principles are conflict, authenticity, and entertainment (McDonald, 2009).

1. Conflict- Good storytellers use conflict  in their stories they understand that a good story is more than a sequence of events. The structure of a story using conflict can be setup using three acts allowing the conflict to develop, climax, and then in the conclusion be resolved. This structure was compared to scaffolding in education. An easier way to develop conflict in a story is to use choices and consequences. In the inquiry curriculum I use to teach biology and earth science conflict is one of the strategies in earth science the conflict is whether to build a new development on the flanks of Mt. Rainier. In this conflict students are given roles of volcanologists and scientists  that must present evidence of the volcano to a development committee to decision on the new housing development. In biology the conflict students are presented with is the human population crisis. In both of these conflicts students are asked to take a stand and use scientific evidence to support their position. They must consider the consequences involved with whatever position they take. I believe this might be a great opportunity for me to have students create digital stories in place of the position paper that they are asked to write. In the following educational video the conflict being presented is biodiversity and what we can do to protect it.

I hope the link works I could not find any embed code so link was all I could do. This is a conflict because biodiversity is being threatened by the actions of humans. Our population is growing and reducing habitat. Humans are also changing the environment so rapidly biodiversity is unable to adapt fast enough to survive these changes. Education is the only way that some of this damage may be reversed. It has been estimated that five to seven species/day goes extinct. The rate of extinction is unknown though because we don’t know how many species exist. This video also has the principle of authenticity because the ecogeeks are real people and students will relate to them, I did.

2. Authenticity- This principle makes the film real by giving credibility to the character. The characters evoke emotion and create a connection to the audience so the audience will empathize with the character. The connection that is created by authenticity can create a change in the viewers behavior or self-improvement. There are probably a ton of these type of instructional videos in commercials for self-help promotions stop smoking advertisements come to mind. An example of authentic learning videos called the Adventures of Jasper Woodbury came up when I started to search for this principle in instructional videos. Of course that search lead to a series of pretty expensive videos. So I went to YouTube and search for the videos and found one that fits here. It is actually a video that is teaching how the method works, but it uses an authentic lesson that students might connect to.

The video has Spanish closed captions. It could have been done better. The narrator who plays one of the characters is a little dry and could have made a better connection if she was a bit more animated. The story the students were involved in and the students themselves were better. I use a series of videos with my class called Biologix that use the principle of authenticity. The videos main characters are a biology teacher and his students. The videos include lab experiments that the students conduct so students can relate to them. I have had my students tell me that they liked the videos and it helped them with the concepts we were learning in class. These videos are long and I don’t have any clips to add here.

3. Entertainment- The third and last principle is entertainment. This is the ability to capture the audience’s attention and interest. Entertainment may be humor, but it can also be suspense like the Hitchcock strategy. The first video clip I have is Bill Nye the science guy explaining how entertainment can be used to teach science and he should know because he has been doing it for years.

My next video clip is cartoon clip teaching about the research of an ornithologist that has been researching intelligence of crows. One of the things he discovered is that crows can recognize people. Crows not only recognized people, but they can also teach their offspring to recognize the same person. The crows teaching their young is not part of this video clip, but it is part of a documentary on PBS.

My favorite entertainment videos is a series called Standard Deviants. This series is by a group called Cerebellum Corp. These videos are made by professors and university graduate students and include a variety of topics in science, math, and many others. My students sometimes try to say they are corny, but I know they enjoy them also maybe not as much as me. I have even had students ask me to design a lesson so that they could make standard deviant videos. I have a couple of great videos made by students who love Standard Deviants as much as me. If I could figure out how to put them on here I would share, but I think I would have to pay to upload them. So I will share a trailer from YouTube of Standard Deviants instead.

Literature Cited

McDonald, Jason K (2009). Imaginative instruction: what master storytellers can teach instructional designers. Taylor and Francis Online, Volume(46) Issue (2). Retrieved March 9, 2013, from


About jdoster17

I am a teacher in bush Alaska. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Limnology and a Master’s Degree in Biology from the University of Central Florida (UCF). My Master’s Thesis was Analysis of Reproductive and Spatial Nesting Patterns of a Wading Bird Colony at Gatorland, Orange County, Florida. This research was an integrated approach including reproductive ecology, ornithology, landscape ecology, wetland ecology, and statistics. I also attended the University of Memphis and earned 12 credits towards a Ph.D. in Biology. I will graduate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in May, 2012 with a Masters in Education. I received my three year teaching certificate for the state of Alaska in October 2005 and my five year Professional certificate for the school year 2008/2009. I am highly qualified in accordance with NCLB to teach biology, chemistry and art through college credits and degrees. I have completed and passed PRAXIS II for Earth Science and Physical Science. At present I am highly qualified to teach art, biology, chemistry, earth science, life science, and physical science.
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5 Responses to Instructional Storytelling

  1. Larry Mitchell says:

    Enjoyed the read … I am finding that Instructional Storytelling is just one big venue of exploration. I have enjoyed seeing how each person has embraced this assignment in a slightly different way as it reveals more about each person’s interests within the context of the overall assignment.

    • jdoster17 says:

      Thanks after I looked at other posts I thought I did this one completely wrong. I agree with you I could spend infinite amount of time exploring instructional storytelling. Storytelling is such a large part of teaching telling students our stories to engage them and more importantly listening to theirs.

  2. Kristine rosevear says:

    Your approach was different than mine, but it worked great. Finding an instructional video that is a good example of all three parts of filmmaking is extremely difficult. With your approach you were able to find a good example for each part. A little blurb about how each of the videos could fulfill all the aspects and become more effective would be a good addition to your entry.

    I enjoyed the videos you chose and how you shared teaching ideas with us. Thanks! Good work.

  3. Edward Alexander says:

    I enjoyed this post. It started off a little slow, going over the reading and so forth, but it started to pick up some steam towards the middle. I liked a couple of the videos a lot, and I found myself just enjoying Bill Nye and the bit about the crows, so I think they were very good examples of instructional storytelling. I thought Bill’s explanation of letting students discover things on their own as a method was great.

  4. Kelly Gebauer says:

    Interesting choices for videos and I especially enjoyed the ones you picked for the entertainment principal. I agree with the above comments. All the content is there it just needs a little reworking to make it flow. Also a conclusion would be nice at the end to bring everything back together. It has a academic feel to it and I found myself not as engaged as I have been in you previous blog entries. Maybe do a mini break down for each instructional video commenting on which principle is strong or weak. It is clear you have a grasp on what each of the principles are and you explain them well. I would just like that discussion to be integrated with your videos a little bit more, if that makes sense. Thanks for sharing.

    Technical stuff for APA. Use References instead of Literature Cited.

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