Multi-Media Narrative in the Liberal Arts Classroom: NITLE CONFERENCE–Presentation Notes and Slides

Here are my notes for yesterday’s presentation at NITLE (I touched upon most, but not all, of the following):

Pedagogical Rationale for Multi-Media Authoring in the Literature and Writing Classroom

A. Classroom Narratives
We often overlook the role of narrative in the classroom, both as an integral component of the course content itself, as our lens through which we examine the subject matter and as our primary means of oral and written communication and expression. We’re always telling stories to illustrate, to punctuate, to explicate; indeed, in our classes we are, essentially, constructing our story of the discipline. Creating stories within the context of an academic discipline helps students to learn about story function and form, about scholarly perspective and a writer’s choices.

B. Stories as Contextualizing Devices
Creating multi-media stories helps students to ground the classroom experience within their lives and to contextualize it (creating digital stories about the awakening of their interest in the subject matter, encounters with the themes of the course, or experiences with the context of the course).

C. Building Community
The challenging, often-frustrating collaborative process of creating digital stories (a la The Center for Digital Storytelling) builds a strong, committed learning community, one of the cornerstones of Pierre Levy’s notion of collective intelligence, of reciprocal apprenticeships creating effective knowledge spaces. (See his book, Collective Intelligence)

Process/Media Literacy The process of selecting and then juxtaposing image, sound and text creates an opportunity to analyze the grammar of image, sound and language separately and in correspondence with one another. Pressure is put on structure and organization, on every image, sound file and word, on pacing, tone, and transition. Students become better critical readers of media and skilled writers as a result of this process of “doing the discipline.”

The Digital Storytelling Experience: Examples

Digital stories created at the beginning of a blogging first-year seminar, Contemporary Ireland through Fiction and Film, and at the opening of a first-level creative writing class, did indeed foster strong communities of learners, underline the relationships students had to the course material, and aid the development of critical reading of media and effective writing skills. Student reflections on the process (see BLOGTALK paper or course blogs themselves for their reflections)

Examples: Dan’s story about his relationship to his own cultural heritage
All the Creative writing digital stories are here; Alex’s story, a humorous look at a transcendent moment in her adolescence, is particularly interesting.

Emergent Outcomes

Students, together, in collaborations and in solo efforts found new ways to incorporate fragments of multi-media narrative within Web-based, hypertext collaborative research projects, literary analysis and creative writing projects. In considering function and meaning first, the students gravitated towards multi-media authoring because it offered them a rich, open canvas, multiple routes of expression, hyperlinking and the possibility of multivocality and multilinear narrative.

Example: Dan & Elise’s collaborative research project: “The Evolution of Street Art in Northern Ireland. They embedded clips and still images, sound files and voiceovers within a heavily linked, threaded project to create a complex, multi-faceted portrait of the street art of Northern Ireland. (Note: They found that they sacrificed something of the writing to achieve a new effect of taking the reader on a journey through Belfast—time constraints created unforeseen challenges. While certain that they were headed in the right direction with their approach to the project, they felt overwhelmed by the options, by the pull of so many media on their time and focus.)

Example: Amanda’s “From the Frontier of Writing”, a comparative analysis of poems and a novel about Northern Ireland. Inside a hyperlinked document that wove together literary analysis, personal narrative and research, she used a digital story to interpret a Seamus Heaney poem, selecting images and a soundtrack that expressed her understanding of the poem, narrated by Heaney himself. In also linking her original heritage digital story to her comparative analysis of two writers of the North, she found a way to connect her New York 9-11 experience to her reading of the events of the North in the 1970s.

Three students in the first-level creative writing class used digital stories as a creative act of authoring slam poetry, fiction and personal narrative.

Course Archive
The digital stories enter the course archive, open to readers outside the class as well as to future classes. Students in subsequent iterations of the course build on the accomplishments of previous students, learning from their models and their failures, even incorporating clips from previous student digital stories within their own multi-media projects. The research stays alive, having an impact on its readership. The work is therefore meaningful to the students and exemplifies efficacy in action.

The opportunity to learn from their peers creates a student-centered learning collaborative which explore a project-based approach to learning, and offers opportunities for service-learning as students bring their knowledge and skills to area elementary schools and community organizations.

Students have subsequently used digital stories in independent research projects, including
–a group of four students shooting contextual webfilms in Ireland, in which they examined the issues raised in the novels and films, against the backdrop of the country and its people;
–a senior creative writing student authoring a digital-storytelling cycle as a new form of connected fictional stories;
–a senior using digital stories as a means of reflecting on fieldwork conducted in the town of Middlebury;
–A student proposing a digital storytelling project in Southern India over January term as a way to capture the stories of women in three cities, juxtaposed against the story of her journey as a first-generation American whose parent emigrated from India;
–Students using digital stories in an artswriting class as a means of authoring performance reviews and artist profiles.

Introducing multi-media narrative into the classroom cultivates what Maxine Greene terms “ingenuity and curiosity,” helping our students on their journey to becoming bold thinkers, confident learners, and skillful writers as they gain fluency in the medium of the Web. They learn that the merging forms of communication and expression allow them to think in new ways about old material. The students learn that the best scholarship is intensely creative.

I won’t include the Powerpoint file here because of course I must point out how much I loathe using what-is-a-static-tool-in-my-hands-anyway to demonstrate what is going on in the fluid environment of the Web.

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