Summer Institute, Stillness, and (Digital) Storytelling

Digital Storytelling on We Video
Digital Storytelling on We Video

We are in the middle of week three of our Chippewa River Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute, and I am sitting in the late afternoon calm of writing time.

At this moment, eight of the seventeen of us are here composing various pieces, including our digital stories. The rest are scattered around our building, or around campus, doing the same. Teacher writers who have found some time, space, and stillness to do meaningful work, both personally and professionally.

For me, it is digital storytelling — the recursive process of writing words, finding images, recording our voices, and repeating each of these steps over and over again — that makes for the most compelling type of writing that we do each summer. I am continually fascinated by the ways in which teachers work on this multimodal composing process.

Some begin with a hint of an idea for a story; others have a strong lead with a clear picture of the story they want to tell. Some begin with their own pictures, digital or digitized, and are able to easily form them into a timeline. Others are stumped, searching the web for countless images that will fit with their vision. Narration is scripted, recorded, revised, and re-recorded.

Joe Lambert, the Director of the Center for Digital Storytelling, offers some specific advice on this process in their Digital Storytelling Cookbook:

Finding and clarifying what a story is really about isn’t easy. It’s a journey in which a storyteller’s insight or wisdom can evolve, even revealing an unexpected outcome. Helping storytellers find and own their deepest insights is the part of the journey we enjoy the most. (10)

 

Digital Storytelling
Image by Casey Fyfe from Unsplash

We don’t often talk about how to gain insight from our writing processes, at least not in school. This is the joy and opportunity that we find in the summer institute.

Time.

Space.

Support.

All of these intangible elements combine to allow us to take risks, be creative, and open ourselves up to discovery. This is the space in which digital stories are born, are nourished, are revised, and, eventually, published and shared with the world.

This afternoon, we took some time to talk about revision, too, and it was interesting to hear how many of us talked about revising our digital pieces, especially our digital stories. Changing one word, just one small element of a script can result in an alteration of the entire timeline. The exact moment when a picture should appear, timed with our own voices or a sound effect, can make or break a digital story.

Digital storytelling, unlike any other form of writing, is a recursive process of discovery, a process that I continue to enjoy as a teacher, teacher educator, and storyteller myself. I look forward to sharing my next story soon.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Reflections on Co-Facilitating a Digital Writing Workshop

As a part of my day at the “Write to Learn: New World, New Literacies” conference yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a keynote, do a breakout session on using mobile devices for digital composition (see this Google Doc for many links), and then do a three-hour writing workshop with fellow teacher/author Penny Kittle. While the morning sessions went well, and were quite enjoyable, I wanted to reflect specifically on the afternoon session that Penny and I led together.

Originally, we had each been slotted to lead our own three-hour workshop, but with only six participants, we decided to combine efforts and lead teachers through the process of creating digital writing, in a workshop format. You can see our agenda (in the form of a Google Doc), and it was an engaging, organic afternoon of learning. We taught in a workshop approach, “to, with, and by.” We began by talking about the idea of creating digital writing, sharing a great example of a PSA from one of Penny’s students. We then read and annotated an example of a This I Believe essay. Penny read aloud, and I captured many thoughts about what could be used in the essay to turn into a digital video.

Annotated TIB Essay with Diigo
Annotated TIB Essay with Diigo
  • Images of the oboe, orchestra
  • “I was mediocore…”
  • Sound effects, classical music
  • Mediocore people never change the world: contrasting images with MLK, Ghandi, etc
  • Baby pictures of the author?
  • Find/download Mendelssohn’s Concerto
  • Find picture of young musician
  • “What kind of thoughts…” — text on screen?
  • Split screen of author/musicianLife with passion… what image do I want? Dawn?
  • Tinkerbell image as contrast — Disney pics?
  • Split screen? Fade through at end? Image of a baby?

That led to me then doing a “think aloud,” modeling how I would find images, music, and the like to include in a very much-shortened, rough draft of this essay as a digital video. Nothing fancy here, except that you can see how we talked, as a group, about the possibilities for the movie: using the scrapbook theme, having the text of her mother’s quote appear on screen, using the music in the background, ending with the image of a baby. It isn’t much, but it was interesting to see what we could all come up with in just about ten minutes of websearching and using iMovie. It is only a draft, not “done,” just “due,” so here is my attempt: Sample This I Believe Digital Video

The six participants in the workshop then worked on writing and finding media for their stories. I was able to watch Penny compose on-screen (she was using my laptop connected to the LCD), and it was really incredible to watch her voice pour out in the Google Doc. Really, go read her story about Donald Graves and Donald Murray.

The process reminded me of a few things: how the teachers appreciated the time to write, permission to play, and the guided practice, especially with technology. A few said that they felt confident enough to go into their classrooms and try digital writing. Soon. Others were less confident, yet happy that they had the opportunity to try digital writing in a safe space.

My thanks to Penny and all these teachers for the opportunity to work with you yesterday. I will remember this process that we went through together as I introduce digital storytelling to my pre-service teachers this spring.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Digital Mentor Text #3: “The Power of Words”

My third contribution to the digital mentor text series centers on the idea of creating a short, live action film. As I mentioned in my post last week, and Franki reiterated, so many times in video production we give students the camera and simply hope that something good comes from it. As (digital) writers, we need to help them become much more intentional about their storytelling.

This short film, “The Power of Words,” went viral (I first saw it from a forwarded email). Sadly, the concept was not original, yet this short commercial gained more traction than the original short movie, “Historia de un letrero, The Story of a Sign.” Yet, that is part of what makes this digital mentor text — an imitation or, more artistically stated, an homage — so interesting. Matt Eventoff has outlined a number of key points related to the construction of the film (as well as implications for public speaking and advertising), so I won’t repeat all of them here, and Lou Hoffman interviews the filmmaker, who acknowledges the influence of the original film. Take a moment to view the video, then let’s think about how we can watch this as a digital mentor text.

There are times when we ask our students to imitate published authors, and to do so quite intentionally. We recognize this not as an act of plagiarism, but as a way for them to study and learn technique. It is interesting to think about the different teachable moments that could come from this conversation about the idea itself — and whether it is “unique” as an intellectual property — as well as about the media employed in the film, thus raising questions about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. In academia, it is so ironic that we are all about enforcing the idea that students come up with original writing and that they don’t steal the words of someone else, yet we cram five-paragraph essays and scripted research papers down their throats. If we invite them to imitate a digital mentor text, we need to help them learn how to do it appropriately, and do it well.

I think that this film, as an imitation of another Cannes Festival short, can tell help us generate a number of important questions about when, how, and why we may want to use imitation. Obviously, there are so many examples of what we could want our students to do ranging from movie trailers to PSAs, yet the idea of creating a short film, especially one that imitates an existing film, could be useful for a variety of reasons.

  • What are the decisions that the digital writers will have to make about the characters, setting, dialogue, framing, pacing, and other related elements of the film itself? How might you adapt this to your own context?
  • What is the main message from the original film and how is that message conveyed? Are there elements in the original film that could be replaced? What must stay the same?
  • In what ways can you construct a complete narrative to fit within a certain timeframe, both in terms of the time you have to film it as well as the total length you want for the film? (This reminds me, in some way, of creating a six word story).
  • What are the rhetorical techniques at play in this film? Why did the filmmaker(s) construct it in the manner that he/she/they did? What can you, as a digital writer, learn from that construction?

So, those are some thoughts on this short film, one that was created in the image of another short film. If the film itself doesn’t raise some questions for you, then I at least hope that this idea of imitation — when, how, and why to use imitation — certainly does.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.