Why Open A Creative Writing Course with Multimedia Experiments

How many creative writing courses include multimedia writing? Hypertext writing? How many creative writing/English departments (in small liberal arts colleges, at least) include multimedia writing courses at all? Do all painting classes insist on students grinding their paints? Do all photography classes insist on film-cameras only? Do dance departments insist on all-ballet-all-the-time? Shouldn’t students have a range of experiences? Shouldn’t we encounter the tools of the time, the full range of the art of the time at some point in the curriculum? Shouldn’t we move out of our comfort zones and play?

atthemilwaukeemuseumofart

Three weeks into creative writing class, a course that the students, when they signed up, had no idea would pull them into multimedia writing (all sections of Introduction to Creative Writing carry the same generic description, and no other section involves writing beyond text-on-paper), and already I am in awe of my students’ creative daring and their willingness to move into expressive terrain new to them as writers. Yes, they have a lot of experience looking at media–at multimedia, and writing–essays and poems and stories and shards of things in their journals or on Facebook; some of them have tried out a movie, many have taken pictures. But few have actually actively explored multimedia as an avenue for creative writing as viable as straight-up text-based creative nonfiction, fiction or poetry. Many of them, in their reflective blogging, even admit to some early consternation about multimedia and blogging being a part of a creative writing course at all. They are surprising themselves by how much they have learned about story and narrative and structure and voice–all traditional concerns of the writer, by moving outside the confines of words alone. It happens every semester.

in the kitchen, february

So why blog about this moment of the semester again? After all, I’ve been peppering the Twittersphere almost daily with my delight and astonishment over the discoveries; over the years here I have blogged repeatedly about how if you just help students open the window beyond what they thought it was okay to do in school, they would astonish you and themselves and anyone watching with their inventiveness, their intelligence, their boldness, their desire to reach down into their deepest creative recesses. I have long opened my courses with a multimedia unit. What’s different this semester is the quality and range of these early projects, the use of Web-based tools and the willingness to shake their own need to be right, to be good, to be, well, best. Most of them have also forgiven me for NOT being a famous writer. They are peeling away the layers of preconceived notions about being in a creative writing course in a school known for creative writing. And wow…

We spent the first three weeks exploring image and sound and text, individually and integrated. We played, we looked, we played, we listened, we played, we talked.

IMG_2362

And then I set them loose to create a multimedia piece that expressed something they felt they had to express, something that was not merely dazzling but meaningful. I urged them to consider the emotional as well as narrative arcs of their work; to think about entrances, exits and the terror of the middle; how the piece has to do more than exert their own fascination with their experience. It has to matter. And they had to make discoveries in the process. Or as Robert Frost put it, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”
IMG_2374

This group of 17 used all kinds of media and each other to extend their toolset, their subject matter, their creativity, their understanding. They truly taught one another and themselves and me.

One student is making an installation; some used audio/image, some text/image, some audio/text/image; lots of iMOVIE, some hypertext, slides–we used no college server, few expensive high-end tools. It was scary. Frustrating. Yet already they have stretched themselves to consider themselves as writers both in traditional ways–hunkering down with words on paper, and in emerging ways–exploring the ways in which words, images, and sound can come together on the computer screen or in a gallery space.

Here’s just a narrow sampling, including reflections (check out their individual blogs for more):

A project that lifts iMovie to new heights: Memory plus Kyle’s reflection–a first in this course–on Voicethread

A project using music as effectively and essentially as image and text:Imagine a Little Girl

Another use of image, text and voiceover: Shira And from her Reflection:

That is what multimedia has taught me. Know your story and know the tool you wish to shape it with. Because we have more options, we also have a greater responsibility – obligation, almost – to choose the best media, present our story exactly as it should be presented. As writers of the twenty-first century, we should know our alternatives and learn how to use the multitude of media available to us. If we choose to peel a potato with an axe, we should do so not out of ignorance at using the potato-peeler, but out of knowledge that the final effect, as well as the process, is the one we are after.

A project containing the student’s paintings: Catharsis

A dramatic narrative playing with voice, text and image Laura Lying (in the lane) plus reflection–excerpt here:

That being said, this has been an awkward unit for me. While I’m more willing to “put myself out there” in a realm where perfection has not yet been defined and creativity is key, it is still tricky to try to navigate through the world of electronics with words. I’ll admit that I was displeased when I learned that I was going to be blogging and creating a multimedia project in my writing class. I was set for the traditional write-my-piece-get-it-critiqued-do-a-rewrite-hand-it-in-for-comment-by-the-professor course. After the first couple of days, however, I saw that this wasn’t a unit focused on my technological prowess (or lack thereof) at all. To me it has become about physically expressing the images and sounds that I already see and hear through my words. The same agonizing decisions one always faces over word choice were made and then they had to be followed by additional agonizing over how to give visual and audio expression to those fragile sentiments without jeopardizing their integrity. It isn’t easy, but it’s an excellent exercise in awareness that I believe I will take with me into the upcoming units. I think perhaps the disquieting nature of this unit is precisely what I needed to remind me not to get too adjusted to what I “know” – writing is a never-ending pursuit that does not take kindly to comfort.

Hypertext project using only image and sound and her reflection.

Using picnik.com and Slideshare:

The Middle of Nowhere

As we move into creative-nonfiction-with-words-only, we’ll see how working on screens has an impact on working on the page. Of course, several students have already asked if they can use multimedia. I say vague things about rules, and about breaking rules.

IMG_2286

I will miss this…

Advertisements

One Response

  1. I am collecting examples of how educators are using Voicethread in their classroom or for professional development on a wiki at: http://voicethread4education.wikispaces.com/

    My plan is to share these examples with other technology teachers who provide professional development in their schools.

    Feel free to add your own examples or links to resources. Thanks in advance,
    Colette

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: