Deakin students connect old stories with new technology

06 March 2017

The stories that live within the minds of older Australians will be shared with younger generations using modern technology thanks to a new app being developed by Deakin University students.

While Australia's senior citizens may have grown up a few generations before smartphones, bloggers - and now vloggers - and social media, the new StoryPod app is designed to help bridge the gap between generations and communities in general.

StoryPod is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Sophie Weldon, and the app is being brought to life by Deakin IT students.

Ms Weldon, the CEO of Humankind Enterprises, originally launched StoryPod last year as a travelling video booth prompting participants to share important and personal stories.

But she was keen to take the project further, and that's where the Deakin Incubator Group (DIG) came in.

"We wanted to use the power of storytelling to meaningfully connect the generations and improve the way we value and include our elders," she said.

"What if, when joined together, young and old could lead our communities towards more resilient and flourishing futures? That's our vision, and stories are the catalyst."

DIG is a product of Deakin's School of Information Technology, a hub where students can come together to work on start-up type projects from start to finish, offering their technical expertise to big ideas like Sophie's.

IT Lecturer Dr Greg Bowtell said his students brought a fresh perspective to the StoryPod initiative.

"We want to offer our students the chance to work on something that makes an impact in the real world and has value for not only the client and the students themselves, but also for the wider community," Dr Bowtell said. 

"Technology as a driver for social change is a concept we try to instil in our students and StoryPod fits this brief perfectly.

"Sophie loved the idea and story around a student team developing the app and this fit her ethos for what StoryPod is and represents, so it's been a perfect alignment."

A team of five students has since been working on bringing StoryPod to smartphones.

The app, currently under development, will allow anyone anywhere to use specialised story gathering technology to help share their own story or the stories of friends, family and community members, with simple steps, helpful tips and personalisation fields to enter prompts.

The aim is to give every person in Australia the opportunity to become a "Story Collector" and contribute towards the country's biggest national archive of personal, short stories.

This month the app is being trialled within an aged care program at Jewish Care. Young people will be recording life stories of 16 residents, as well as teaching them how to use digital technology to help them get more connected.

Third-year student Chris Williams has taken the lead on the app project and said work went far beyond developing a way for users to interact with StoryPod on a handheld device.

The app uses a scalable cloud-based storage service and features an extensive backend and custom algorithm developed by the students that allows stories to be categorised, searched and analysed - creating a "metadata" narrative through video data analytics that can be used to identify the big issues that a community cares about.

"I've particularly enjoyed the fact that the project has a positive social goal in mind, it's not just aiming to make money," Chris said.

"It's been an opportunity to learn about a range of different software and development practises, while trying to make some kind of a difference to people's lives."

Further financial support is needed to grow the StoryPod app and program to full potential.  To find out more about the project and how you can help, visit www.humankind.enterprises.

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Media release Faculty of Science Engineering and Built Environment, School of Information Technology

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