Tool Review: Storify

Using Storify to Support Multimodal Learning and Multimodal Composition

Storify is a social networking site that let’s you curate content from other social media sites and from across the web to create “stories” of particular events. Storify has particularly been used to catalogue responses to news events like elections, but has also been used within the academic world to curate social media posts and content from conferences all in one place. Though not intended to be a pedagogical tool, Storify can be useful in an online writing class as a way to promote multimodal thinking to help students create simple multimodal compositions.

Storify is a web program that can be accessed at that is used to bring together web content in one place to create a type of multimodal narrative. It has typically been used socially, but has increasingly been used as a venue for online journalism providing up-to-the-moment updates about events, as a vehicle for activism, or for organizations to create a record of events. Recently, Storify has embraced the journalistic and institutional uses of the program and created Storify 2, which is meant to be a collaborative curation publisher. However, this review will focus exclusively on the original, free version of Storify.

Though not created to be a pedagogical tool, I think Storify is an appropriate and useful tool in an online first-year composition class because it is a free tool that is useful for many different kinds of assignments, is relatively easy to use, and compositions created within it are easily shared. Ultimately, Storify’s strengths lie in its ability for students to easily craft texts that integrate alphabetic text, social media content, images, GIFS, and videos with the ability to search for much of that content in one place.

In discussions of their use of Storify in the writing classroom, writing instructors typically focus on its use for low-stakes multimedia assignments or its use as an introduction to research. Bridget Gelms claims, “Composing reading responses and reflections using Storify gives students the option to create intertextual, multimodal documents where they can interact and engage with the material.” I have used Storify in a similar fashion. Prior to discussing a reading in class, I’ve asked students to create a buzzfeed-like “story” of the top 5 most important ideas from the reading as way to get them to engage in the material. This is not only a creative way to get students engaged, but can also be an opportunity to get them to think about a genre they encounter in their everyday lives, the listicle. Finally, assignments like this are also a way for students to express themselves and share their interests in ways that help the instructor and other classmates get to know them better. For example, last semester when I used Storify in a first-year composition class, I had a student that managed to use GIFs and images from the show Parks and Recreation in every Storify assignment. His ability to incorporate media that aligned with his interests outside of the classroom allowed me and his classmates to get to know this facet of him. Having students create and share Storify assignments with each other in the online classroom could support OWI Principle 11, “Online writing teachers and their institutions should develop personalized and interpersonal online communities to foster student success.” Storify allows integration of personal social media content as well, which could offer students the opportunity to share aspects of their lives outside the classroom and connect with each other through this knowledge.

Gelms also discusses how she uses Storify as a way into the research process, asking students to discover and create a story from the online conversations happening about their research topic. In this way, Storify can help students enter the Burkean Parlor of their topic, realizing that it is part of an ongoing conversation, as opposed to a fixed topic that they are simply finding sources about. Rebecca Harris also discusses her use of Storify as an introduction to research. She claims:

Because the site lets you collect different types of information and visual material from around the web, I felt that the site would introduce my students organically to the process of integrating research into their writing.  Where you would slide a link or a photo into your story, you would use an academic source in a more traditional research paper.  To my mind, the evolution from story to research was more natural than jumping feet first into the world of databases, academic monographs, and bibliographies.

Harris is ultimately pointing out the scaffolding potential to help students understand how, why, and when to integrate research into their writing.

While Storify has several pedagogical uses, it is important to consider its use within OWI Principle 2, “An online writing course should focus on writing and not on technology orientation or teaching students how to use learning and other technologies.” Ultimately, using Storify in an online writing class does not violate this principle because it is relatively easy to learn. You can search for content right in to tool and simply drag and drop what you want to incorporate.  Additionally, it only allows minimal customization, making design less of a worry than might be present in other multimedia tools. For example, Storify only let’s you create a vertical text. While you can move different pieces including images, videos, or original text into different orders, you do not have the ability to create an alternate arrangement. Additionally, you cannot change the size of media or change font type and size within the Story. This lack of customization actually makes it an ideal tool for FYC because focus can be on the composition itself instead of design. Storify, thus qualifies as what Daniel Anderson calls “entry-level technologies” with “simplified interfaces, limited feature sets, and broad availability” (43). Anderson advocates the use of entry-level technologies because “[e]xperimenting with unfamiliar technologies can facilitate a sense of creativity that can lead to motivation” (44). Harris touches on this in her discussion of Storify, claiming, “Multimedia writing is both familiar and frightening for my students because while most of them regularly use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, Storify was an unfamiliar medium to them.” I think this balance of familiar and new positions Storify as a valuable tool for online writing courses.

Here’s what a student who used Storify for a social work course had to say of her experience:

I found getting started on Storify to be uncomplicated.  It is a unique tool for organizing a collection of information from different sources and provides a fun visual experience for readers.  Dr. Mitchell provided detailed instructions in class, and links to tutorials, which I used throughout the experience.  I also viewed other stories within the site, to see the various ways in which the topic of “Women in Sports” had been presented. (Hitchcock)

This testimonial not only suggests the student’s enjoyment of the tool, but also reminds instructors that even when a tool is relatively easy to use, support should still be offered in the form of clear directions and access to tutorials. This is especially important in the online environment when students cannot simply ask for help from the instructor if they are having problems. Youtube has several tutorials on using Storify that can be made available to students. One issue with these tutorials, however, is that many of them are several years old. Since the release of Storify 2, Storify and Google search do not seem to be compatible the way they once were and when using the Google search button within Storify, lately a “No Results Found” message has been appearing. This can be worked around, though, because students can integrate articles and media through the URLs found through a standard Google search. Having to go outside of Storify to do some of the searching, dampens Storify’s appeals as a one-stop-shop for searching and curation of course, but warning students ahead of time about issues like this and sharing potential workarounds can empower them to get the most out of the tool and allay some potential frustrations they could encounter.

Finally, Storify stories are easily shared because they are public once a student publishes them on Storify. This ability to make their stories public online provides the opportunity for students to feel like they have an authentic audience and engage in conversations around various topics. The public nature of these assignments is important to disclose to students, however. Harris shares that she had students publish under “code names” so they did not have to publish under their names. She also cited the use of a public writing forum as an opportunity to discuss topics such as “public writing, privacy and social media, trolling, FERPA, internet copyright, and a host of other issues facing writers in the digital age.” Storify, then, can be used as a vehicle to help students think through the rhetorical landscape of their school, personal, and public writing.

Ultimately, though not designed as a pedagogical tool, Storify is worth considering for instructors teaching online writing classes because its simplistic usability stays in line with OWI Principle 2, while its ability to let students incorporate engaging content that shares aspects of themselves and their interests could promote OWI Principle 11. Additionally, Storify allows students to consider the multimodality of composition in the 21st century and consider how their social and academic writing practices might intersect.


Works Cited

Anderson, Daniel. “The Low Bridge to High Benefits: Entry-Level Multimedia, Literacies, and Motivation.” Computers and Composition 25 (2008): 40-60. Print.

The Conference on College Composition and Communication Committee for Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction. “A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI).” NCTE. March 2013. Web. 17 May 2016.

Gelms, Bridget. “Potential Uses for Teaching with Storify.” Gradhacker. Gradhacker. 21 March 2014. Web. 17 May 2016.

Harris, Rebecca. “Storify for Composition: Some Successes and Some Epic Fails.” Rebecca L. Harris. 27 March 2013. Web. 17 May 2016.

Hitchcock, Laurel. “Using Storify in the Classroom: A Student’s Perspective from Natalie Savoy.” Teaching and Learning in Social Work: Exploring Ways to Enhance Life-Long Learning for Professional Practice. 10 March 2014. Web. 17 May 2016.

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