Experimenting with Storify in the classroom

After learning about Storify from Ryan Cordell on ProfHacker, I went to the site and requested an invitation to the private Beta-test. This past Tuesday evening I got my invite and went to work on this piece for use in my introductory cultural geography class. The next day was the last day of class and we were finishing up Marjane Satrapi’s Complete Persepolis and I wanted to show my students what kind of cultural and political figure Satrapi has become since the success of her books and film adaptation. I also thought that this was a good moment to elaborate on the kind of textual analysis we had been doing with the book as they prepared to write their final papers.

In showing the service to a colleague, I was asked how Storify was different from a blog, and that’s a fair question. Most of what you can do with Storify you can also do with a blogging service. However, I also see some important differences that make the newer platform useful for specific purposes in a way that a blog might not be.

For starters, the timelines or stories that you build with Storify are cataloged and presented as standalone works, making the service useful in situations where what you want to do is share something in particular with students outside the context of a wider web of content, as would be the case on a blog. Yes, students can navigate back to your homepage on Storify, but whereas that kind of movement is promoted in most blogs, it is not the focus of Storify; the individual pieces are.

The user interface is also different. You have two columns. On the left is where you search for content within a variety of services, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google. There is also a url importer for pulling in specific images, pages, etc. On the right is your timeline. You drag and drop content from the search column into that column. Once you have done that you can reorder items in the timeline, or delete them. You can also add text above or below each item in the story.

The integration of web search into the interface for composing is one advantage I see for Storify over most blogging services. The drag and drop function, as opposed to going through a series of downloads and uploads, copying and pasting of content, is another.

I also think that it is worth noting that Storify is mainly about pulling in and organizing content from elsewhere, whereas blogs are primarily used and intended for original writing. Again, people do use blogs to aggregate content, and someone certainly could use Storify primarily for their own writing, but, comparatively at least, I don’t think those choices take best of advantage of the respective platforms. As Cordell notes in his ProfHacker piece, when you have a presentation in mind that would benefit from incorporating a variety of online media, Storify looks like an excellent choice for composing that work.

The service is still under development, obviously, and I have encountered a few flaws or bugs. After saving my Satrapi story on a couple of occassions, for example, I found some of the items placed in a different order than where I left them. There were also a few times where I had trouble getting a drop to take in the timeline. I’ve noticed that if you drag something from the search column and add it to the timeline and then remove it from the timeline, it does not reappear on the search side unless you redo the search. So, still working through out some rough edges to be sure, but if this seems interesting to you, well worth requesting an invitation.

I have already begun building a piece for use in my geography and film class (the screen grab is of that work) next term, and am thinking of using Storify to create a supplemental “narrative” for some of my classes where I can pick up on points of interest that would otherwise go without much elaboration due to constraints of time or outlets for presentation and discussion, or to provide ready reference resources to students.

Update: I have a few more stories for use in my classes going at Storify. My homepage is here.