Digital storytelling with illiterate adults

HURISTO interactive session
Moderator: Eric Gijssen, MAKS vzw; freelance media coach and writer of the HURISTO manual

The “Digital storytelling with illiterate adults” session was held at the ALL DIGITAL Summit on 18 October 2018 in Brussels as part of the "Stops on a Digital Journey" breakout sessions. The purpose of the session was to discuss whether digital storytelling is an appropriate technique to work with low-skilled and even illiterate adults, which the challenges they may encounter and possible approaches to overcome them.


At the beginning of the session, Eric presented the HURISTO project and introduced some of the HURISTO partners who attended the session. The session started with an energizer. Participants were asked to align according to different criteria, e.g. from the oldest to the youngest or how old they were when they first took their first picture, etc. In doing so, they couldn’t speak to each other. The aim of the exercise was to make them experience the difficulties that an illiterate adults may face when they want to express themselves. Eric also suggested that using an energizer is a good way to begin a workshop.

After the energizer, the discussion was first focused on the main challenges when working with illiterate adults. First participants watched a digital story produced in the context of the HURISTO Project (Ali’s bus – Terremondo, Italy), and the trainer from Terremondo told Ali’s story and shared some of the difficulties that they encountered during the HURISTO digital storytelling workshop.

During a brainstorming session, the following challenges have been highlighted:

  • Language barriers, especially in writing and reading the scripts
  • The risk that the digital story is too abstract
  • Difficulties in creating a safe environment. Ana Belen, trainer in CEPA Montes Norte and partner in the HURISTO project, said that it is easier when people don’t know each other. They feel freer to share their stories
  • Difficulties with the use of the digital tools due to low digital skills
  • Lack of participants’ interest when they see that their stories don’t have much visibility
  • Sometimes, participants in a digital storytelling workshop are obliged to participate in it and hence less motivate.

The discussion then addressed the possible solutions to tackle these challenges.

  • One participant shared her experience in a workshop in southern Norway with refugees from Syria, Somalia, Eritrea. As part of the integration process, they had to attend the workshop, but they didn’t speak the language. A good idea was to have an icebreaker where participants were smelling food and reminding stories related to the different smells. Icebreakers are effective solutions when people are “obliged” to attend a digital storytelling workshop, as they bring people together.
  • Participants all agreed about the importance of the facilitator’s role within the group. Their role is mainly to support participants in expressing themselves by creating a safe environment and helping them to shape their story when they find some difficulties. It would also be useful to have more than one facilitator. In this case, one facilitator could leave the group with a specific person when needed. Another good idea would be to contact the storytellers within a week after the workshop to ask their feedback.
  • It is also very important to respect the stories, even if they seem too violent to someone’s eyes or they seem to address sensitive issues. After all, the aim of a digital storytelling workshop is to share real stories!
  • Concerning the scripts, even though the storytellers can be helped in writing them, they face anyway the challenge of reading them. On this issue, Eric showed another digital story (Closed heart) of a woman who couldn’t write and read. She didn’t write the scripts, but she used drawings as a roadmap of her story. This can be a practical solution for similar cases.
  • Participants also shared their experience with the different devices and digital tools to understand which are easier to use:
    o Ipads are preferred to laptops
    o Premier Pro is a paid software from Adobe, but it is very easy to use
    o Vlogit app is a very good app that can be used through the phone, both android and apple
  • A way to give good visibility to participants stories is to organise a peer-to-peer event where they can share their stories with other peers. In the HURISTO project a peer-to-peer event was organised in each project country.

The third digital story showed at the session has been produced by the HURISTO workshop participant in Piedrabuena, Spain (La peli de Vicenta), who was also present at the session.

The interactive session helped participants realise how digital storytelling can be the perfect technique for low-skilled adults to express themselves in an audio-visual way. They left the breakout session with a lot of inspiration and a bunch of practical ideas and tips.

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