Digital Writing and the SOTU

Digital Writing and the SOTU

Like many other Americans, I am currently watching the 2012 State of the Union, both on our TV and in another tab of this web browser.

While there are many opinions bouncing around Twitter (and other spaces, too, I am sure) about the political statements being made, the rhetorical effectiveness of those statements, and people’s opinons of them, I am interested in watching this event as an unfolding act of digital writing. Touted earlier in the week as an opportunity to participate in an enhanced livestream, I was curious to see what would unfold.

#sotu on Twitter

In some ways, the “enhanced broadcast” is simply a slide deck to accompany the SOTU speech. Edward Tufte has already criticized the ways in which PPT affects our cognitive abilities, so there is not much more to say about that here. Some of the criticisms of it coming over Twitter focus on the quality of the design of the graphics, yet I do think this is an interesting way to add to the broadcast. I had hoped that this would provide a kind of “fact check” type of resource rather than simply being a repetition of the main bullet points from the speech. But, that will come in the analysis of the speech, I suppose. A YouTubed version of the speech with the fact checking overlaid would be nice.

Still, it does make for an interesting case of digital writing in action: how can a planned media-driven event use web-based technology to “enhance” what is happening? How does this “enhancement” utilize other social media tools? What is the goal of the enhancement, both in the sense of more accurately or robustly delivering the message as well as in the sense of engaging people in active dialogue about it? More importantly, what are all the pre-, during, and post-writing activities (and roles) that the President and his team of speechwriters and social media specialists needed to think about in order to design this overall experience?

One idea that I wondered about was if there would be a live feed of the #sotu Twitter feed right on this White House site. Instead, I had to have another device opened up to do that. If I wanted to see dissenting opinions, I needed to seek them outside of the White House site. So, in order to fully “engage” in this “enhanced” experience as a citizen — one who is open to hearing the message being delivered, yet wanting to be both skeptical of the way it is presented and hear dissenting opinions — I had to have the live broadcast from TV on one screen, the live stream on my laptop (because it wouldn’t play on the iPad), and my HootSuite opened up with the hashtag.

Multitasking during SOTU

Talk about multitasking.

I wonder how many people got outside of their own filter bubbles and really tried to view and respond to the SOTU by taking in the multiple inputs and, ideally, taking in opinions and ideas from other voices, too? I wonder if “enhanced” is the correct term for the web-based broadcast, since it was really only a PPT delivered on the side, adding to the idea that the speech really is just the sum of its sound bites.

All the same, it was an interesting experience, and the most engaged I have been in a SOTU speech, even if it was a bit disorienting and disappointing as an exercise in digital writing.


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Digital Mentor Text #6: Feminist Frequency

One last post here on digital mentor texts for the week, with some time to read and reflect planned for the weekend.

I have to admit, my original plan to end the week was an “oldie, but goodie” (we can we consider 2007 “old,” at least in YouTube terms, right?): The Machine is Us/ing Us by Michael Wesch. It’s still worth a watch, for sure, and maybe I will use it to frame my reflection on this process of writing and thinking about digital mentor texts.

For now, I want to share one in a series of videos that I hadn’t seen before this week. Thanks to Ryan Rish for sharing a link to the “Feminist Frequency” series of videos created by Anita Sarkeesian. Ryan tweeted a link to the first of Anita’s videos in the “Tropes vs. Women” series, and that led me to the FF website, where there are many, many more of Anita’s videos. I watched a few, very much enjoying Anita’s critical, feminist reading of popular culture. She doesn’t hold back in her commentary — either with the critique or the humor — and some of the videos wouldn’t work well in middle, or in some instances, even high school classrooms.

That said, here is one that I think would fit a broader audience, and there are quite a few points/questions about digital writing that can be made from this mentor text.

Besides the topic itself — the gendered way in which television advertisements for toys position our sons and daughters — the video itself helps me think about a number of issues:

  • First and foremost, how Anita employs techniques from and pushes against the styles of  the typical format of television news and Hollywood style talk shows. What are the moves that she makes — as a newscaster, as a producer, as a video editor splicing together elements from commercials — that make this an effective digital mentor text?
  • In her framing of ads for  boys vs. girls, Anita talks about how boys are able to “make” or “construct” things, and how that is the foundation for creativity and a fulfilling adult life. She then juxtaposes that analysis with comments on the girls’ commercials, ones that she describes as __. However, the girls are making something, albeit snow, hairstyles, cupcakes and the like. Yet, one could argue that the boys’ act of “making” — following the directions to build a Lego set, for instance — is actually conformist, not creative. This could make for an interesting discussion in, you guessed it, a student-produced video essay/response.
  • Clearly, and without hesitation, Anita has an agenda is these videos. From the logical sequence of the segments to her word choice and tone of voice — “How fun!” with a sarcastic tone and giddy shrug of the shoulders — she makes her concerns known. This is both a strength of these videos (making them emotionally engaging and compelling to view) and a weakness, in that there is no viable counter-argument.
    • That said, the argument that she makes is persuasive, relying on ethos (her appeal to authority, in that she is certainly knowledgable, and has taken considerable time to produce the video), pathos (her appeal to the audience’s emotions, in that she is a passionate speaker and picks pertinent examples), and logos (her appeal to logic, in that she uses both actual examples of commercials aimed at children and statistics from the advertising industry to back up her claims).
    • She also extends her argument to the video game and technology industry, not just television commercials.
    • She makes a strong claim, too, towards the end: All advertising towards young people needs to stop, no exceptions.
  • Finally, there are significant issues surrounding copyright and fair use — because she uses so many clips from popular media — and she includes a disclaimer at the end of each video describing how she meets the standards for fair use. As an example of how someone can employ copyrighted materials in service of commentary and critique, Anita’s work provides a great example, even though she has suffered take down notices, too.

All that said, Anita’s work with Feminist Frequency is amazing, and leads me to think about how we could also invite students to do feminist critiques of Disney films or other pop culture icons. That would provide better fodder for a persuasive essay or research paper than the old stand-bys of school lunches, uniforms, and vacation lengths.

And, with this being my last official entry in the digital mentor text series, I want to send a hearty thanks to my colleagues, BillKatieKevinTony and, especially Franki, for inspiring us to do the series. I have many posts to read, review, and reflect upon, and I have appreciated having some company this week in the edublogosphere.

Until next time…

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Digital Mentor Text #5: “Changing Education Paradigms”

As we continue to look at professionally produced videos as digital mentor texts, the fifth video genre that I want to explore is what I would, for lack of better term, call “infotainment with a creative twist.” I mean this less in the sense of “soft journalism,” as described in this Wikipedia entry, and more in the sense of information presented in a creative manner that — while not exclusive to the internet — is powerfully enabled by distribution on the internet.

For instance, the often-humorous, yet clearly-written and produced “Common Craft” videos offer overviews of many technology-related topics, all “in plain English.” I use them all the time in workshops and courses.

Another slightly different (and more “live action”) take on the genre has been made popular by sites like eHow, which also uses videos, and who knows how many individual examples of how-to videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites. In short, people can make videos about how to make stuff, or do stuff, and they keep on making those videos.

One of the interesting takes on this kind of video comes from the group RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and their RSA Animate series. What I find amazing about these videos (besides the animation itself) is that they are, in many ways, born of the collaborative, open nature of the internet. For instance, the video below is crafted from Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Talk (he also does a similar talk on TED), which was made available online, for free, and then adapted to this animated storyboard. For a little more info on how the videos are made, check out this (and other) forums on Quora, this overview on Cognitive Media’s site, or this interview with Abi Stephenson from the production team. So, on to the video…

As an exercise in visual literacy, then, I wonder how we can use RSA Animate — “scribing” ideas as they are spoken to create a visual synthesis — as a digital mentor text for students. Some possible questions:

  • As you view the video, note which concepts are drawn and which are printed as text. Why would the scribe make that choice for each of the different ideas?
  • What are the drawings representative of? Are they meant to be literal or symbolic? How is the main speaker represented?
  • There is very minimal use of color in the video, so what does the use of color say about the importance of ideas? What is emphasized through the use of color?
  • When the scribe chooses to write words that are not spoken (for instance, at about the :54 second mark when writing, in a speech balloon, “I know where I am from”), what meaning does that add to the spoken text and the visual synthesis as a whole?
  • At about 1:15, notice the animation of the baton and the hearts. How does this contribute to/detract from the “scribing” approach that has been used up to that point in the film?
  • At about 2:23, notice how the scribe changes one of the existing characters in the scene. How does this approach work as compared to drawing an entirely new character?
  • From about 3:40 to 5:50, the scribe draws a map, most likely one similar to what the speaker used in his actual talk. How does the scribe’s representation of (and additions to) the map accentuate the speaker’s point in ways that he may not have been able to do himself in the live speech?
  • The editing of the actual speech from about 9:10 to 9:46 leaves out the subsequent statistics from the speaker’s talk and the scribe does not write them down and, at about 9:50, begins making a claim about the results. What are the challenges in making meaning from this?
  • At the very end of the video, what effect does the camera panning back and out on the entire visual synthesis have for you as a viewer? Would a different panning/zooming strategy have been more effective for you?

Also, we can consider stop motion, as Kevin and others in our series this week have shared. Punya Mishra, for instance, has worked with his own children to create a wonderful series of stop-motion videos highlighting ideas about creativity. This led to a series of stop motion videos we produced this summer in MSU’s MAET program, too, as well as this one that I did with my own children. Although these videos do not rely on narration, specifically the type of natural speaking that occurs in the RSA lectures, they do require digital writers to think carefully about the story being told. With the right kinds of questions from a thoughtful teacher, those decisions can be seeds for great discussions about the storytelling process.

Finally, when thinking about the possibilities for creating videos, I also wonder how we might invite students to construct infographics and, via screencasting, capture their thoughts. Almost like a kinetic type construction of an infographic. Hmm…

I hope to get one more digital mentor text tomorrow and, over the weekend, some reflections on what I have read from everyone else’s posts this week.

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