Arts Journalists on a Collective Blog

Arts Journal, which is using blogs quite effectively, has come up with a brilliant project–a 10-day topic-centered blog “exploring the future of BIG IDEAS in classical music”: Here’s the description by Douglas McLennan–

There was a time when great cities had multiple newspapers and culture was hashed out daily in the press, strongly-held opinions battling for the hearts and minds of readers. Today it’s rare for a city to have more than one or two outlets where culture can be publicly discussed, let alone prodded and pulled and challenged…

Our culture is the lesser for it, as critical opinions about art, music, theatre, and dance get squeezed, and public debates about culture in the print media grow fainter. That doesn’t mean there isn’t great writing about culture still to be found in print (there’s evidence of it every day in ArtsJournal). But the writing is one-way, and rarely do we see a good back-and-forth debate bubble up.

Now comes the internet, where a lively mob of voices has taken up discussions of culture, politics, and just about anything else you can think of. Daily, thousands of bloggers fire up their computers to register opinions, and one of the things that makes the best of them interesting is their willingness to engage in dialogues with their readers.

So what if we gathered up some of the best print critics and asked them to engage one another over an issue in a blog? Their opinions could be challenged, their ideas explained, and a lively debate might ensue.

That’s what we hope will happen over the next ten days in this “topic blog” exploring the future of Big Ideas in classical music. We’ve invited a dozen of the best American classical music critics:

Charles Ward of the Houston Chronicle
Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News
Kyle Gann of the Village Voice
Justin Davidson of Newsday
John Rockwell of The New York Times
Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Greg Sandow of The Wall Street Journal
Wynne Delacoma of the Chicago Sun-Times
John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune
Kyle MacMillan of the Denver Post
Alex Ross of The New Yorker
Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle

I’m all for this kind of dialogue. And it’s beautifully organized and posted on the blog. Two aspects of this dialogue I particularly like: one, that they’ve invited the public in to make comments (and some of these additions have thus far been as interesting as the journalists’ take on the topic; and two, that they plan to extend the conversation by concluding it with a f2f discussion at the Aspen Arts Festival. Will there be bloggers in the audience? Will it be live-blogged?–they’ll have to be mobloggers, I believe from the sounds of the tent locale.

This is just the kind of experiment I want to carry out on my new Arts Writing Course Blog–right now it’s bare bones, but I plan to make it look and act more like a ‘zine than the previous version did. Nice work by Douglas McLennan and crew!


More on SMS: in Africa (Am I On a Jag Here?)

I belong to a forum discussing open source developments and equal access to the power of technological developments, and just received an email about a newsletter Pambazuka News–An Information Service for Social Justice in Africa which is putting out a call for mobile phone users throughout Africa to SMS messages in support of the Protocol for Women’s Rights in Africa! Remarkable–

And I thought that organizing, discussing and contributing online to the Dean Campaign last winter was pushing the envelope for non-profits and politicians…yesterday it was mobroadcasting…what will be tomorrow’s development?

Scary thought–

Via Rick Heller ‘s Blogmarlette.gif

Will the next cartoon feature blogs in classrooms? Moblogging, I bet–

Scary thought– I can just see my students taking photos of me doing something particularly foolish (as I am wont to do) and posting them (or worse, videos) to the blog. Aiyiyiyi… Can you imagine what kids in middle school classrooms are dreaming up? Digital stories on the go of the class in session, or what they wish they were doing instead of sitting through class… Might have to experiment with this in arts writing this fall. What if we all took our little flippy phones to an art exhibition and wrote our responses incorporating video/sound/image right there from the show?

What a New Flippy Phone Leads to…

Just as I started thinking about my experiments with my new camera/mobile phone for the first time this weekend on the drive to Maine in a car packed with extended family (yeah, I’m slow), wondering how this little flippy phone would change my thinking about my upcoming artswriting course and how I had to read, finally, Rheingold’s SmartMobs (yeah, I am VERY slow) I come across Suw Charman’s post on her new Corante blog Strange Attractor where she writes about mobroadcasting and its entrance onto television news coverage. And then I read (funny how reading one blog is never enough) Anu’s post on his Scalefree blog about how he’s wondering about whether different new modes of communication have been graphed in relation to one another.

And on the other side of my desk is James Duderstadt’s article I mentioned in my response to Héctor yesterday, “Preparing for the Revolution:The Future of the University in the Digital Age” in As the Walls of Academia are Tumbling Down. Among the many interesting assertions he makes is this one about our students:

“The traditional classroom paradigm is also being challenged, not so much by the faculty, who have by and large optimized their teaching effort and their time commitments to a lecture format, but by students. members of today’s digital generation of students have spent their early lives immersed in robust, visual, electronic media–home computers, video games, cyberspace networks, and virtual reality. they expect–indeed, demand–interaction, approaching learning as a ‘plug-and-play’ experience; they are unaccustomed and unwilling to learn sequentially–to read the manual–and instead are inclined to plunge in and learn through participation and experimentation…They learn in a nonlinear fashion, skipping from beginning to end and then back again, and building peer groups of learners, developing sophisticated learning networks in cyberspace. In a very real sense, they build their own learning environments that enable interactive, collaborative learning, whether we recognize and accomodate this or not.” (pp.42-43)

My guess is that my students–if I just follow their lead–will let me know how to use moblogging and voblogging, how the modes of discourse intersect and interact to create something larger, more interesting and vital than I can predict at this juncture. I am beginning to see what Sebastien Fiedler is getting at with his smorgasbord course in which he provides the tools and lets the students find and create their own courses, and what he has found in his rereading of George Kelly and how it links to his own writing about “Personal Webpublishing as a reflective conversational tool for self-organized learning”. I am starting to hear “the recurrent themes in the monotonous flow” of my thoughts and what I am reading and discussing as to how to integrate these technologies effectively in the classroom.

Now I gotta hurry up and figure out how to download the photos to my blog (yeah, I’m way slow)…

Convergence Theory?

I am struck by the convergences in my life (usually I am talking about emergence)–never before have I found myself nodding my head quite so vigorously when my older brother, who works as Director of Organizing and research for CSEA, speaks about his work in California, for example. And I don’t mean to imply that Michael and I do not see eye-to-eye on the issues confronting our culture and our world. Not at all. Indeed, I just gave a toast at his fiftieth birthday party crediting him with much of my political-consciousness education and for the gift of a passionate relationship with Ireland among other essential parts of my life. But before now I have always admired his work rather than felt I could contribute to it in any way–I listened but rarely if ever advised –he, trying to change the whole world by working to change the political realities of wherever he is–California, in particular. What could I, writer and college teacher, possibly have to tell him the ultimate do-er?

But during this brief weekend family celebration in Maine we just had, he started talking about the work he’s doing in leadership training with the union, how he has to help the natural leaders in every locale truly lead by not just getting their people to the polls but to run for office themselves. Why shouldn’t they take an active role in government. He showed me books–among them James MacGregor Burns’ Academy of Leadership and his Transforming Leadership. I found myself thinking–yup, blogs, Michael and digital storytelling, these tools, these modes of communicating, expressing, chronicling and connecting, could help in this essential work of unseating a rogue governor and an even worse president. Getting these leaders together in the workshop and then providing them with the means of staying in contact with one another as they move into this work, makes sense to me. And I don’t think I’m getting carried away…

All weekend I found myself turning to one family member or another, and saying, “You should really think about how digital stories [or blogging] might serve you in this work”. It was uncanny. And not a little unsettling. This medium is taking off all around us in ways no one could have anticipated. It’s glorious and inspiring and makes me think that we have a chance to make a difference in the world, to make sure that everyone has equal access to the power of stories and publishing tools and communication opportunities.

Think about how many people have viewed Jib Jab’s Bush/Kerry “This Land”? (thanks, Patti) My students could put something like this together and have some five million hits to their blog. Okay, so that puts us back to to Steven Johnson and Emergence . The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts…

Yet another example of how efficacy is the underpinning of all of this work. Yup. Im still hammering away at the convergence of emergence, efficacy and collective intelligence. I know that Héctor Vila would say it all returns to old Emerson, and I don’t doubt that he is right, but I love the fact that through emails from teachers, conversations with activist brothers and educational-software researcher sisters-in-law, symposium encounters with IT people and young software developers–all quite new to me– my understanding of the work I am undertaking in my own classes is really beginning to take shape.

Back from the Digital Storytelling Symposium

Héctor and I spent a very worthwhile (and full!) day down at Williams College yesterday with Joe Lambert and Emily Paulos and some twenty digital storytelling advocates/practitioners/visionaries from around the Northeast. In the two years since we brought Joe and Emily to Middlebury and CET, the movement has clearly exploded into a worldwide phenomenon with significant projects in eight countries (even infiltrating the House of Commons), and just about every state. Project sites to explore include Waag in Amsterdam and Streaming Stories. Schools, community groups, museums, businesses–you name it, they’re making digital stories. Hats off to our two indefatiguable stars.

Héctor has blogged the details of the day over on his blog, so check his out for a more complete view.

Some reflections on the day:

Joe’s recent project in Italy centers on a changing community and cultural displacement–how can cultural memory be developed through stories of the survivors of WWII, who were in the village when it was liberated. Pretty powerful story he showed us.

Digital Storytelling at Williams: Joe and Emily have now offered at least three workshops at Williams, training some 10% of the faculty! IT has invested in the stories to help faculty become comfortable with technology, to “bring them into the building.” Faculty are using DS in a variety of ways: for research and in classes, for community building and as part of a 10-week summer project process with students. I didn’t hear about many specific projects incorporating DS into the classroom, but it sounds as though it’s happening. Someone mentioned Primo Levy’s article, “Carbon” as a fabulous entry into storytelling in the sciences. I will check it out.

Tash Freidus of Creative Narrations in Boston and Vanessa Pabon spoke about their work with an inspired group of community activists in the north end of Springfield, Massachusettts. Not only did the community leaders make their own digital stories and go out into the community as DS trainers, they made a group digital story about what digital storytelling has brought to their work, themselves and the community they serve. A terrific use of digital storytelling as a means of leadership training. Something for Orton to consider. Tasha’s next project will be with adult/education– voter education groups across the country.

She’s also one of the designers of the Storylink software , a user-generated, non-hierarchical package that allows communities to drive the site with options to reflect, to search, to add stories, to discuss…It will be launched on September 1.

Noah Hendler is working on a tool (Totem) to democratize the process of creating digital stories (of a sort), archiving and interviewing. While working on stories in geriatric wards, he saw the real need for an easy-to-use tool to videotape, record and archive the stories of our elders as a valuable process for them and as an essential component our cultural memory. The tool, to be launched this summer, looks very promising. We’re going to stay in touch with him and his work. It was heartening to see these two software demos created by forward-looking humanists trying to make sure the Web and its opportunities stay accessible to all. Now if we can get everyone to see the beauty of adding a blog to these tools!

Hilary McClellan,who teaches elearning distance courses at Empire State and the University of Washington and is also the conpiler of the DSA site list, talked a bit about her experiences teaching digital storytelling online. She told a remarkable story of one student who was working on her story as a drive-by shooting occurred outside her window, and veered into that bizarre moment in her story, incorporating streaming media from local news sources to extend and contextualize her own piece. Very interesting.

Questions circling the room involved, of course, the issue of copyright, Creative Commons and how to find and access copyright free visual materials. Among the sources mentioned, Magna Tune and ArchiveDotOrg were mentioned. Music presents the most formidable obstacle–who has the time or ability to compose and record music? What constitutes fair use? This question arises every time I present my students’ work. Bryan asked about incorporating GIS into digital stories–maps are coming up a lot these days. I’m thinking of Mikel Maron’s BLOGTALK presentation on maps in blogging. I would like to incorporate maps and GIS in future classroom endeavors–for instance, what if Kpoene had had access to mapping when she was working on her huge project on the <a href=””Pomona Arts Colony? Or Lia Lopez when she was looking at Vermont artists and their relationship with place?

And our presentation? It was very well received and generated a good deal of interest in the integration of digital storytelling into higher ed, beyond the writing classroom. What strikes me about what we saw and heard was how people are eager to use the medium and use it well. What we do especially well at Middlebury is integrate the tools–blogging and digital stories and traditional forms of academic inquiry and discourse–into a wonderfully fluid mix. It’s not about single tools or applications, but about the whole nature of a messy liberal arts education and how if we put the tools into the hands of students who are learning to think critically and creatively for themselves, and if we have the courage and the humility to stand out of the way, they will come up with far better ways to use these tools for their own educations than we could ever dream of. We can model and entice, show them through our own work and collaborative efforts how they might think about using these tools to engage with their subject matter.

After the Digital Storytelling Symposium we zoomed over to MassMoCA to check out, in particular, the new Ann Hamilton show. But that’s for another posting…

Nora’s Baking Business…

…is going swimmingly. I’ll post some pics later of her latest creations. She first started this business at 15 when she couldn’t figure out how to earn money when no one was hiring kids her age, and so because she had received a good deal of praise for her cakes, and she saw an ad in the paper for the farmer’s market, she opened up shop with a table covered in cakes. And week after week, she sold out. Now she’s selling by special order only–six cakes in the last two days, two more for the weekend. Not bad.

And I’m here working on my Alumni College course by topening a new blog (fledgling at this point, but, the wonderful thing about it is that I can use the first-year seminar blog’s contents as the living course. Once again the students will see how their work matters. And yesterday I heard from Héctor that Paul Amsbary has a little gizmo that rates sites and the Irish film/lit one is doing very well indeed for itself. Who would have known back in 2001 when we put the first blog in place midway through the semester!

I am frustrated that I cannot get my hands on several Irish short films. What do they do following their film-festival runs–die on the filmmaker’s shelf? I gotta ask Valerie about this conumdrum.

Digital Storytelling in a Liberal Arts Context

Thursday, Héctor and I (and Deb Ellis, if she’s not filming in Boston) drive down to Williams College to join the folks at the Digital Storytelling Symposium. I know that Bryan Alexander will be there, but who else? And what kinds of projects have they embarked on? I really know nothing of the digital storytelling going on in the Northeast and am especially interested in hearing about other liberals arts teachers are incorporating the work into their classrooms.

Héctor and I will give a short presentation of our work at Middlebury:


Digital Stories within Six Academic Settings: Emergence Theory at Work

I. Literature and Film-based First-year Seminar:
Contemporary Ireland through Fiction and Film

DS Pedagogical Goals:

A. To Build A Learning Collaborative through the Process and Outcomes

B. To Enable Students to Connect the Course Content to their Own Cultural Context

C. To Expand Viewpoints and to Deepen Understanding of Film and Literature

Example: Dan’s Story

Additional/Emergent Outcomes:

C. Coupled with the Blog and A Strong Student-Centered, Project-Based Syllabus, students, without prompting, folded digital storytelling into their own collaborative research projects, using digital stories as a means of serious academic discourse.
Example:Dan and Elise’s Project

D. Students Incorporated Digital Storytelling in the Interpretation and Analysis of Literature.
Example = Amanda’s’s “The Frontier of Writing”

E. Students used digital storytelling to add a personal context to a research project.
Example: Marisa’s Final Project

F. Student-made digital stories became course material.

II. Creative Writing Course

Pedagogical Goals:

A. For students to re-see language, to re-invigorate their relationship with words, to have them explore the relationship between text, sound and image.
Example: Alex’s Digital Story

Additional Outcomes:

B. Students moved digital stories into a realm of slam poetry/visual improvisation, what I believe might be a new genre of writing:
Example : Zoey’s “Dad Dance” (on DVD right now)

III. Composition Classes

WP 101

Arts writing course

Pedagogical Goals:

A. To foster the learning community

B. To help students move gracefully between formal and informal, academic and create modes of discourse.

Examples: Suzie Mozes
Katy Olson

Additional Outcomes:

C. Students re-create citations as digital stories: the story becomes the source and the authority.

IV. Independent Study Courses–Advanced Work

Dominique’s moving from Digital Stories in El170 to an independent study with Héctor in Diigtal Stories to filmmmaking courses with Deb Ellis.

Alex Moody’s Full-Year Project : A Collection of Digital Stories

V. Digital Storytelling as Service Learning


Irish Film Project

Links to the Rural Medicine Preceptorships and
The Digital Storytelling Community Collaborative

VI. Storytelling in the Library

In Process: Library Stories to Celebrate the Opening of the New Middlebury College Library

Writing about Food as Art

–Making progress on the >WP 200 Writing Across the Artscourse. I’m continuing to grow my ideas about how this course might best serve my students.

For one, I would like to follow up on my informal invitation to Roland Tanglao at Blogtalk about participating in the blog discussions. Roland is a food writer, ( and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading his food blog, VanEat,), but how many people around here would consider food prep one of our arts? Coincidentally, I just read on Middlebury’s fall calendar that on October 22 there’s to be a lecture given on the history of French cuisine–aha!–Roland could fit in brilliantly! It might be interesting, too, to get Amy who writes for Lonely Planet and Williams Sonoma cookbooks to respond to the kids interested in food plus travel writing…am I getting too far awy from the fine and performance arts??

But food writing– how could I forget that our own young creative writing teacher, Stacie Cassarino, cooked up a storm in one of the big-deal NYC Italian kitchens, or that gorgeous little exchange Jim Grant and Letitia Williams had about cooking and food passions on the course blog a couple of years ago? Artswriting alum, Lia Lopez, has done some serious food writing, both in her work for the course and during an internship at Eating Well Magazine last winter, and truth be known I’ve been known to write a food review here and there myself.

So let’s by all means add food writing to the list of possible arts for the group to explore.

Storytelling on the Web

I’ve just waded into an e-mail discussion for the first time, one I;ve been listening in on invited, but until a post was made about storytelling and communities, specifically digital storytelling a la Joe Lambert and his Center for Digital Storytelling, I didn’t feel the urge to jump in. Now that I have, I suddenly see digital storytelling in educational contexts all over the place. Here, for instance, is a compendium of Courses worldwide using storytelling. Mind you, we’re always talking digital storytelling here, but it seems as though more and more classrooms are seeing the benefits of having kids tell stories/make movies as ways to a) create community, b)teach media literacy and production skills and c) initiate civic engagement.