Paulo Freire, Sense-Making Methodology, and Digital Storytelling: Framework and Practices for Reflective Voice, 'Radical Listening,' and Assessment

11th International Digital Storytelling Conference
Panel: Methodology and the Reflective Practitioner
Montgomery College, Cultural Arts Center
21 June 2023, 12:30pm-2:00pm

Presentation (accessible pdf, 9.1MB)


John W. Higgins, retired, University of San Francisco USA;  
Email: Jhiggins [at]     Twitter: @ProfHigginsJ
MediaProf website:


Digital Storytelling (DS) shares theoretical frameworks and practices with Critical/Engaged Pedagogy (EP), a synthesis of critical and feminist pedagogies based on the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. These pedagogies encourage life-long learning and involvement in the world for the purposes of personal and social transformation. Brenda Dervin's Sense-Making Methodology (SMM) provides a meta theory and means of implementing EP. DS's "Story Circle" reflects EP's and SMM's emphasis on empathy, radical listening, spaces for marginalized voices, and balance between group process and individual reflexivity, within and outside the educational setting.

This presentation looks at parallels in frameworks and practices between Engaged Pedagogy, Sense-Making Methodology, and Digital Storytelling; shares the SMM-based instruments used to prompt reflection and assessment; and provides examples of participant responses – written, and as digital stories. Data were gathered between 2004 and 2019 in university undergraduate classrooms and civil society workshops in the United States, Türkiye, and Cypriot communities across the island.

Keywords: Paulo Freire, Sense-Making Methodology, digital storytelling, critical pedagogy, engaged pedagogy, deep listening, radical listening, reflection, reflexivity, assessment 



John W. Higgins has been a puppeteer as a busker and on television and video for over 40 years, a community media participant and researcher, video and media educator, and low-tech enthusiast. He attended his first digital storytelling workshop in 2004 at Berkeley's StoryCenter (formerly the Center for Digital Storytelling) and has been hooked on the process ever since. In 2010 he was a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Cyprus, using digital storytelling and community media to help build bridges between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on the divided island. John is former president of the University of San Francisco Part Time Faculty Association, AFT Local 6590, the trade union representing 650 adjunct faculty; and is retired from teaching in Media Studies at USF. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication (Telecommunications, Media Studies) from Ohio State University.

Additional information: Higgins


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updated 14 June 2023