Thoughts as We Near the Fall Equinox, The Time of Between

featherinthegrass

I am lucky to live in a place as beautiful as this–from my door every day I walk for miles across the farmlands. An 18-mile loop trail crosses our neighbor’s land, but mostly I prefer to range pathless with dog and camera across fields and scrublands.

neighbor barn

And without the burden of frustration welling up from banging my head against the Academy wall, I wake up each morning with thoughts of the land and the family instead of how conflicted I am about working within a system in which I no longer believe. I watch my friends still there too busy and stressed to breathe deeply while I can put the garden to bed before a frosty night.

putting the garden to bed before frost

Yes, since extricating myself from the Academy’s fetters, it’s been easy to step out my door for a break and focus on the nuances of daily changes on the land. It’s easy to be overly pleased that the localvore movement flourishes, that our neighbor’s dairy still has its honor system store (you write down in the ledger what you’ve taken from the milk coolers, and they eventually clip a hand-written bill to your page), that many people around here don’t even have locks on their homes, that we all gather once a year to discuss and vote on town business. We buy our wood from our neighbor and eggs from a friend; our dog loves the UPS man; the trash man calls to check on us when we forget to drag the garbage down our nearly half-mile driveway. Our senators and congressman (yeah, we only have one) are enlightened and fearless and in touch with us back home.

from across our land

It’s a breeze to step back into my barn studio and wing about a larger world from my laptop. On Twitter and on the blogs I can range about taking in the wonders offered up by the smart people who share their thinking, be dazzled by the Reverend and inspired by ingenuity and pushed by cluttermuseum. I can grow in my thinking by delving into old books and films and music on the Internet Archive, by following an MIT course, by signing up for any number of free, online conferences of my choosing, by participating in a MOOC. I can collaborate on projects with colleagues scattered about the globe. I can make cool stuff, mash-ups and digital stories to share with the world. I can feel liberated, creative, and collaborative.

Why, then, am I worried about all of this? Because it’s too easy to stay in places I like and listen to people I admire and leave it at that. It’s too easy to slip into smugness, to be self-congratulatory. To save the saved and think I’m doing something worthwhile.

Finn and Rope at the beach

But then along comes a bizarre presidential contest and economic and natural disasters, and I shake myself awake to a more complex, more troubling world, even close to home. Vermont has lost an appalling, disproportionate number of of its youth to the Iraq war. No one talks about how many Iraqi have died. We have a milktoast governor who will walk back into office because the Democrats and the Progressives can’t see beyond party politics to collaborate on a single candidate in this extreme time. (And to see what I think about the presidential race, you can head over to Small Town Mamas (and Papas) for Obama.)

spike

People around here worry, as our senator Pat Leahy puts it, whether they will “eat or heat” this winter. There’s a nuke in the southern part of the state that keeps breaking down. Violent crimes are way up in the state. Heroin dealing has snaked its way into our bucolic county. Many youth are bored in our schools, can’t wait to get out of here (including my own children). Our Mom & Pop shops are vanishing, giving way to chains. It’s hard to find union-made clothing. People are moving here and building HUGE, generic houses–some neighborhoods are indistinguishable from those in the worst suburbs. People are putting locks on their houses. People are in their cars, not on their bikes. I’m in the car more than on my bike. Although we built our home largely from recycled materials and have worked to make our land a wildlife corridor, it’s two miles from town and I’m not yet D’Arcy Norman enough to brave rain or cold on my bike–and it’s only two hilly miles. I can’t say, truth be told, that I know all of the people who live on my road; our mailbox sometimes ends up in the front pond, knocked off its post by a baseball bat in the night. The beauty of Vermont sometimes feels like a scrim.

long shadows across the lawn

And so here’s where things get interesting for me as I pace about the boundaries, conflicted, uneasy. This is where I like to be, on those cusps, stretched to find other ways, better ways. And this is what I’m finding:

I’m conflicted about the open-education movement, about MOOCs and online affinity groups and online communities. The openness is exemplary. The learning possibilities mind-boggling. The chance to even the playing field–open access to all–downright thrilling. But I also sense, as a natural outcome of networked individualism, an increasing movement towards the ME and away from the US, both online and off, towards polarization and insularity rather than expanded horizons and inter-cultural understanding. I’m concerned about Negroponte’s “Daily Me” . Participatory learning, both online and off, can help us counter this risk, by enabling us to bump into one another and other ideas if we work at it, in keeping withSunstein’s Republic.om contention that “Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself.”

Yes, people are gathering together on the Web to interact, to learn from one another, to explore all manner of subjects. But who? But what about home? What about the physical communities in which we live? Are people gathering together there to discuss the future? To understand one another–to open one another’s minds? To discuss the complex, convulsive changes sweeping across the world? Are we interacting in physical spaces with people from other ends of our communities? Are we bringing home the lessons learned from these extraordinary online gatherings or are we keeping them to ourselves? Will we get even more narrow-minded if we can graze, avoiding what we don’t like, hunkering down into clans? Just because we can talk online with anyone anywhere, does that mean we will talk with people who think differently from ourselves? Will we actually grow any wiser? Are rural communities being left out?

to be airborne

This is why I am emphatic that the Centers for Community Digital Exploration be PHYSICAL places, rooted in rural communities, to help ease the digital divide, and to help people reap the benefits of the internet and Web practices while also staying connected to our lived-in communities lest they crumble around us while we’re glued to our computers and cellphones and iPods. I want to reap the benefits of online open ed and in-person community-based ed. Simultaneously. Together. In tension. Checking and balancing. I envision a place where people from all parts of a community gather to discuss this new world, to explore the benefits and risks of being plugged-in, of connecting across as well as within affinity groups. Of walking along the borders, discovering the Other. Of old people learning from kids, of teens and adults have positive interactions, of nonprofit staffs gathering to pool their knowledge, of people from all walks of life sharing their expertise and cultures both online and in person, of college kids not “volunteering” in town but participating actively, learning and teaching. A new learning space. And not a place already trailing associations and baggage. A new kind of third place, both online and in the town. Neutral except for its goal of serving open, accessible, connected sustainable learning. Not outside.in., not 826 Valencia, not the local coffee shop. All of these kinds of places bundled into a space in the heart of a town.

Imagine a MOOC group gathering at the center to talk over the course, or a group of people learning about blogging in schools, or digital storytelling to connect the stories of the townspeople to the place and to the world, or nonprofits exploring folksonomies, or–and this is Geeky Mom’s idea– parents trying to understand WoW or SL by participating in a workshop dreamed up by them and taught by their kids?

Am I dreaming? Perhaps. But the response I am getting from rural towns and nonprofits is quite encouraging. Now to write grants, pull up the pilot centers in 2009, and get the dang paperwork completed for the 501(c)3.

late summer in the garden

Now to making green-tomato chutney and sharing recipes with bee dieu in Brazil. Now to meeting an artist in town at a new gallery space and to creating a digital something for my upcoming Vancouver visit–though not simultaneously. 😉

Working On Community Storytelling Projects

the beauty of boundaries
The Beauty of Boundaries

I’m happily immersed in my new work helping communities with digital expression, right now through several projects involving storytelling in and by and for small communities, using digital tools and collaborative Web practices. I’m also making good progress (with my fabulous cohorts) on making The Centers for Community Digital Expression a reality–more on that soon!

This afternoon, I return to Middlebury College briefly to teach a three-hour workshop for an Environmental Studies course (running on WPMU blogs!) in capturing the stories of a small county town. I am delighted to be a part of this course as it exemplifies the kind of learning through doing, through participating in local communities, and through a mix of online communication and in-person experience. I look forward to following their work. Here’s the course description from the catalog:

ENVS 0350 Portrait of a Vermont Town (CW) (Fall)
In this course we will record, reflect upon, and present the stories of one Addison County town. Students will talk with a diverse range of local residents about their memories, choices, hopes, and anxieties related to the place in which they live. We will offer an intensive experience of interviewing, writing, and videography, and will also count both as an intermediate-level writing workshop in nonfiction and as a cognate for the Environmental Studies major. This workshop will be enriched by a close affiliation with current programs of the Orton Family Foundation and the Vermont Land Trust that are dedicated to celebrating the stories of community. These two outstanding organizations will work with us in indentifying the town on which to focus, in helping students gain significant access to its residents and institutions, and in planning a final series of public presentations. The exact nature of presentations and publications coming out of the course will be determined in the course of the semester. NOR (J. Elder)

… and below, the outline and some links from the workshop (I WILL BE UPDATING THESE LINKS ON OCCASION)

STORIES FOR A VERMONT TOWN ENVS 350

A Workshop with Barbara Ganley & Joe Antonioli

1. The Power of Blogging Your Learning Experience

—Blogging as Reflection

—Blogging as Creative Cauldron

—Blogging as Connection

See Flickr Slide Set

2. Ways to “Publish” your Stories

Considerations

Do you want these stories to be interactive? How? Why? will you collaborate on the stories with the townspeople? Who is your audience–the class, the town, the world, all of these?

How do we learn to “read” our materials and be willing to change our minds to serve those materials and the stories best? In other words, how much to we control the story, and how much does it control us?

* The Power of the Written Story What kinds of stories seek text alone?

* Digital Stories–the power of the medium, the peril of the medium (Student Examples on DVD–I’ll put links here soon)

* The Power of the Voice (Listen to Logan–on DVD)

* The Power of the Image (Flickr Set Exercise )

—Oral histories (podcasts, etc. Vermont Folklife Center will help with this medium, so I won’t)

—Image Stories (Soundslides and Web 2.0 options, see Alan Levine’s WikiList of Story Tools)

—Audio-Image/ Text-Image Stories (Soundslides and Slideshare, Flickr and Picnik, Flickr Notes) Exercise in pairs: Telling a Story in Five Flickr Images (lessons in searching, in associations, in color, in transitions, in story arc, in what images convey easily and not so easily; Exercise in telling a story dominated by image, punctuated by text using the same five Flickr images as before, this time manipulating the images in picnik and writing on them)

—Multimedia Stories (video editing possibilities, looking at a simple documentary and digital stories)

RESOURCES

THE ROLE OF STORYTELLING

Storytelling and Rural Communities

Scott Russell Sanders “The Most Human Art”

Storytelling and Fund-raising

Bryan Alexander’s Web 2.0 Storytelling

STORYTELLING PROCESS

Ira Glass from This American Life: Tips on Storytelling

Storyboarding for Macs

Storyboarding from Berkeley’s Knight Media Center

Berkeley’s Knight Center for Media Tutorials on Multimedia

The Center for Digital Storytelling’s Cookbook

OurMedia’s Oral History Resources

WQED of San Francisco’s Guide to Digital Storytelling

The University of Minnesota has done excellent work both in digital storytelling and in facilitation

Here’s an example of ways to curate the stories from ACMI Museum in Melbourne, Australia

An example of a way to screen stories that include letters, old pictures, scrapbooks

Storytelling Examples

City of Memory Project in New York City (StoryCorps)

Place Stories in Australia Software and Server hosting stories combined into on

The Elder Storytelling Place (Ronni Bennett is from Portland, Maine)

Rural Voices Radio

Joe Lambert’s DS about Saving the Albany Bulb

M.I.T.’s Landphoto

Listen UP! ” a youth media network that connects young video producers
and their allies to resources, support, and projects in order to develop
the field and achieve an authentic youth voice in the mass media.”

The Washington Post’s “On Being” Project

Apalshop

The Moth

Touching Hearts Stories (narrative made up of several individual stories–note the simple use of image, sound and text)

360 Degrees Perspective on the U.S. Criminal Justice System: Background, Timeline, Stories and Discussion

NYT Project: Race in America site

Mediastorm ***Great example

Shifting Ground

Interactivenarratives.org

American Diversity Project

EveryBlock.com

Holding Up the Memories

***Mountain Workshops

Marching Together Soundslides

Saving the Sierra

Meadowlark Project

Capture Wales Digital Stories

National Writing Project

Digital Stories from Canada

Stories for Change Digital Storytelling Portal

Storytelling Project in Oakland, CA

OurMedia How-tos

ArtMobs Tours of MOMA

Murmur Project A Whole New Way to Tell and Hear Stories

Museum of the Person Digital Stories

Maps and Stories

Mapping the stories using Wayfaring

Flickr MemoryMaps

Bay Area Map of Dangerous Intersections

Travels of Marco Polo and Google Maps

Storymapping including this example from Ukiah, California

IMAGES

List of Things You Can Do with Flickr Images

MIT Course in Photography

Flickr note posting example Xrays

Visual Literacy

Pomona’s Visual Literacy Project

Dave Gray on Visual Thinking

Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen

Cornell University’s Introduction to the Elements of Design

DIAGRAMS

Gliffy for Diagrams and Flow Charts

Mind mapping

Flowgram

Video

Videoediting on Jumpcut

Moviestorm Making Animated Movies

TAGGING

Alan Levine’s List of Tagging Resources

SOCIAL MEDIA

PEW Internet and American Life Project

FullCircle Associates Online Facilitation Wiki

Davis, California Wiki

Umberto Eco From Gutenberg to the Internet

Social Media in Plain English

A Primer on Social Media

Should Your Organization Use Social Networking Sites?

Digital Storytelling Early Process: Choices and Gathering Material*


Script

Write a one-hundred to two-hundred word draft of a narrative. (Topics shift course to course.) As eventually you will be reading this narrative aloud in a voiceover, it is important to consider the following questions:

Where is the dramatic moment—the actual moment in time when something momentous occurs?
What does this story reveal about the topic?
Why is it necessary to tell this story in this course?
Do you open by grabbing the reader’s interest in hearing this story?
Do you end in a way that suits your objective?

Write the three-sentence version of narrative:
Sentence 1- Beginning:

Sentence 2- Middle:

Sentence 3-End:

How do your sentences work individually and with one another to create a flow?
How does meaning build because you are reading it aloud?
How will you use your voice? How do timbre, speed and modulation affect the meaning? Practice different ways of reading your script. Record and listen to yourself.
How might images and soundtrack pull their weight and not act as appendages; in other words, why can’t this story be a radio story?

IMAGES
Consider what kinds of images will help tell the story: literal or metaphorical, concrete or abstract, long-shot and close-up, color or not, and how the images will move from one to the next, considering how an image is “a peculiar and paradoxical creature both concrete and abstract,” (W. J. Thomas Mitchell (2005) What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images, University of Chicago Press p. xvii) and experiencing scholar Craig Stroupe’s “visualizing English.” (“Visualizing English: Recognizing the Hybrid Literacy of Visual and Verbal Authorship on the Web.” College English May 2000. Reprinted in Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook . Ed. Carolyn Handa. Boston : Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 13-37.)

Gather 10-30 images you might use, being mindful of copyright restrictions.

Questions to ask:
Why these images?
How do they contribute to meaning rather than look pretty?
How do they work individually and together?
How do they carry the story’s drama?

Write the three-sentence version of the visual narrative:
Sentence 1- Beginning:
Sentence 2- Middle:
Sentence 3-End:

How are you keeping in mind what Ron Burnett says: “In a general sense, the meaning of a photograph depends on the discursive efforts I put into it and on the tensions between my own interpretation and that of other viewers. This is at least one part of the creativity and tension of viewing, which encourages the development of a variety of different vantage points as well as contestation around the meaning of images.” (Ron Burnett (2005) How Images Think, M.I.T Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p.14)

SOUNDTRACK

Consider the audio elements, how you will use your voice and/or the voices of others, and how non-vocal sounds might interact with voice. Consider whether you want to include a music soundtrack or ambient sound. If so, what kind of music would help tell the story? What role does the music play? Try out several very different kinds of soundtracks that create contrasting moods and tones.

Write the three-sentence version of the sound narrative:
Sentence 1- Beginning:

Sentence 2- Middle:

Sentence 3-End:

STORYBOARDING
Storyboard the digital story, exploring the repercussions not only of pushing image against image, word against word, and sound against sound, but image against sound against word. Think about the way someone “reads” a digital story: “Because users can click on a video clip, turn it off by closing the window, replay it, or skip forward or backward in the narrative, the use of video becomes a dialogically fraught element: it enhances, disrupts, complexifies the notion of narration itself.” (Helen Burgess, Jeanne Hamming, Robert Markley “The Dialogics of New Media,” in (eds) (2003) Mary E. Hocks, Michelle R. Kendrick Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media MIT Press, Cambridge, MA p. 75.)

* Excerpted from a chapter on digital storytelling I’ve written fro a forthcoming anthology.