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Digital Storytelling for Design Thinking and Inclusion


Digital Storytelling for Design Thinking and Inlcusion

Digital storytelling for Inclusion/ Design Thinking project is a digital storytelling consultancy project which linked in to a larger project on Inclusion that has been undertaken by the project team of Erasmus X (an academic development unit developed at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) that spearheads innovation in teaching and learning projects for the university) in collaboration with the Rotterdam School of Management. Dr Teti Dragas was approached to develop, lead and deliver a digital storytelling course that sat within this larger project. The Project was led by Fanny Passeport (Erasmus X) and the workshops were co-facilitated by Teti and Dr Sonja Wendel who was the lead of the first funded project ‘Connecting through Voice‘ at Erasmus University Rotterdam, that Teti Dragas and Laura Mazzoli Smith were also a part of.


This project is supporting learning objectives that sit within a Management of Innovation programme at RSM in which 100+ Master’s degree students are enrolled. As part of their MA programme, students take a 3-week course on Design Thinking  for 100+ students and are asked to work on designing solutions to enhance inclusion at EUR. Their solutions take the form of an App as they will then take a subsequent course on App design which will lead to new innovations. The course is designed in ways that integrate Universal Design for Learning (including the assessment) and integrate a UDL Guide development at Erasmus X as well as involve group work and inter-group work with real users.

Design Thinking teaches students to put the user at the forefront of their design process and as such the human element is important. It involves working through a framework that supports this understanding of which one key component is empathy. To support the students on this Design Thinking course as part of their work on ‘empathy’ in their understanding the experiences of people with functional impairments and disabilities, they will have the opportunity of interacting, and learning about the firsthand experiences of people who have these.

This will be supported as follows:

  1. A group of students/staff from EUR who identify as having a functional impairment/ disability will form a group. The students participating might have various mild to moderate disabilities.
  2. The group is invited to take part in a Digital Storytelling Workshop wherein they are supported to create a digital story (a multimedia artefact/ video) of their experiences.
  3. The digital story is used as a resource and forms an integral part of the Design Thinking Process for the MA students on the course and helps them with the ‘empathy’ and ‘understanding’ of real users with a functional/impairment and disability. These videos might also be shared on the D&I platform.
  4. The group of students/staff with functional impairments/disabilities who have participated on the DS workshop will then be invited to further support the Design Thinking students throughout the process by being available to answer student questions (online), to take students on an ‘experience’ (on campus).
  5. Finally the group are invited to share feedback on the challenges met and insights gained.


Image icon of a person in a wheelchair with the word 'toilette' underneath

Digital Storytelling for Inclusion Workshops

The key project aim for the digital storytelling component of the larger Erasmus X and Design Thinking Project was:

  • To design and deliver a digital storytelling workshop for a group of students/staff with functional impairments/disabilities with the aim of supporting each individual to create a multimedia artefact in the form of a digital story that tells a story related to their experience of their disability

Students and staff responded to a call around the community at the University that outlined the aim which was to help improve the experience for EUR students and staff with a functional impairment: “We believe that the university needs to become more inclusive and better understand the actual experiences of people with a functional impairment, by asking them first-hand, rather than making assumptions.  It is with this reason that we are organizing a 2day ‘Digital Storytelling Workshop. Over the course of two days, you will articulate your personal experience of being a staff or student with a functional impairment into a creative exercise. You will decide whether you would like your story to be shared in a course on ‘Design Thinking for Inclusion’ for students to listen to your perspective as they strive to solve inclusion challenges at EUR. Likewise, you will benefit from becoming part of a community where you may freely express yourself and share your experiences, together with others.”.

Digital Storytelling Workshops took place at Erasmus University Rotterdam in October 2022. Dr Teti Dragas led to workshops with Dr Sonja Wendel co-facilitating. Fanny Passeport was also supporting and ensuring the smooth running of the course for participants and staff. The students had self-selected following a number of calls for participants. There were 10 students registered but our final numbers were 6 who were able to fully participate in person. This was partly due to constraints of timetable and asking for 2 full days of students’ time which considering they were already attended a full programme of study in the university, was difficult to commit to.

The workshops were held on Campus and students engaged really well across the two-workshop, all of them being able to produce a final and complete digital story which spoke about their experience of disability and to being a student/member of staff in the university. Students spoke about the following disabilities and functional impairments: cerebral palsy, visual impairment, ADHD, complex PTSD, obesity. What was striking was the way in which the whole group bonded, and in particular the sense that a community spirit was born and upheld with a sense of shared understanding and openness and acceptance of each other’s stories.

You can read some of the feedback and reflections from staff and students on the workshops below.

Feedback on DS for Inclusion/ Design Thinking Project

The following extracts are reflections and feedback gathered on the final day and end of the workshop, as well as written reflections following gathered from a questionnaire. Staff reflections are also captured.

Our voice has become our body. It's the first time in my life I feel really heard.

Digital Storytelling for Inclusion Participant