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…