Digital Storytelling for 'hard to reach' students
Digital storytelling can be a powerful tool for capturing student voices, especially those which seek to challenge a norm or prevailing culture. They can raise awareness of the differences experienced by students pre-HE, through transition and induction, on feelings of confidence, and of the challenges faced in retention and progression. Digital storytelling takes many forms including blogging, curating, and videoing. The form utilised in this project is the collection of digital images coupled with audio narration, using Adobe Spark software.

STEER has worked with students from SHU to develop their digital stories as part of a project with the Yorkshire Universities 'hard to reach' group. These stories are used as examples of how the tool can be used, and to encourage other institutions to explore this method for capturing the student experience. The stories and a Toolkit are hosted online at:

What does the scheme entail?

STEER have run workshops with students to teach the digital skills necessary to develop a digital story, and to support the art of storytelling. Students were encouraged to reflect on their own journeys in higher education and were helped to develop a personal narrative alongside the consideration of digital images which may represent life events or emotions.

What support do you get from the University?

STEER has supported this project due to the overlap with our work on student engagement and University priorities around retention and inclusivity.

Further work to develop digital storytelling is exploring course cohort experiences and students self-assessment of learning gain.

What are the motivations behind the scheme?

This project is particularly interested in capturing hidden voices, especially those from student groups which have been labelled as 'hard to reach'.

Key benefits to students

The student participants benefit from the process of reflection involved in digital storytelling. In addition, the participants have learnt to use a new and innovative piece of software which may be beneficial to their employability skills set. However, whether digital storytelling should focus on the process (benefit to the individual) or the product (benefit to others) is an important consideration.

Key benefits to the University

Digital stories allow different voices to be heard so that the institution can better appreciate diversity in student experience and the challenges faced by different groups of students. For example, digital student stories allow staff to better understand their students and develop pedagogy and initiative accordingly.

Key benefits to the sector

The YU project looks at student stories across the Yorkshire region. There are similarities and differences in their experiences. Cross-institutional work to explore student digital stories could have value.

Telling digital stories shifts the locus of control from the establishment to the storyteller; in many ways it has huge potential to become an accessible tool for those whose voices are less likely to be heard. Slippery concepts such as belonging can be articulated in new ways that go beyond survey mechanisms. We are exploring use of the tool at scale as a pedagogic evaluation process concerning distance travelled by cohorts, as well as by individuals, in order to develop more nuanced understanding of identity, values, experience and overall learning gain.