On Digital Story: Reflections on My New Course & on Sara Kajder’s EngChat Session
I’m in the fourth week now of a new course, Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice, a general studies class for about 60 undergrads at the University of Maryland. The design involves mixing the constructions across the oral, print, and digital cultures: I tell from mythic/fairytale lore; we read from Idries Shah’s World Tales; and we translate from these into the making of our own digital narratives (in 15-person lab groups) with the purpose of composing a more just world, inner and outer. I have a 200-page commentary around the stories & narrative theory that gets revised, adapted to our ongoing work, & posted in our on-line space. We’re also reading Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories. Our path in this course coincides fairly closely with his subtitle, Evolution, Cognition, & Fiction, and with his continuous theme around our developing human capacity for cooperation that is inseparable from play and story. While we have capacity does not automatically mean that we act in accordance; again, our intention is that we compose ourselves toward a destiny of cooperation—peace and justice.
EngChat’s focus on digital story Monday evening (2/14/11) brought in many of the questions my course explores including the basic one: what is a digital story? Also, how does its potential get compromised if the print culture’s mode of story gets overimposed? What classic rhetorical/narrative themes inform and shape expression of story in the digital media? How do we know when our work advances in quality? The moderator for the EngChat session, Sara Kajder, very helpfully posted in advance her considerable thinking on the topic: http://reasonstowrite.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/talking-and-tweeting-about-digital-storytelling/ .
I feel fortunate to be teaching the Good Stories course because digital media offer a constructivist’s dream–or a nightmare. As persons who know me would predict, exploring the dream/nightmare terrain puts me on my horse, my all-purpose metaphor for charting meaning along the borders of consciousness. While some persons grip the reins around digital story as if afraid it might run away, I find the process-defining as exhilarating as riding a spirited horse. Both require soft hands, a solid center, and subtle cueing because these allow the breath-taking-dissolves across bodies, minds, and spirit. Digital stories interplay among the multiple tracks of sound, image, letters, movement, and others so that we swirl with the invitation to wonder, to create, and to risk making a better world.
Let’s not allow a cold script to limit the whispers from ancestors. Let’s invite the mostly invisible potentials of images to slip shapes as they re-form and in-form. And let’s ride into the frontier of composing in digital media with purpose and connection to our disciplines. Otherwise the chaos of a worried crowd runs out of control because the center wobbles and the wide spaces are too scary. A spirited horse matches up fine with a balanced rider; digital media promise great composings when orchestrated by an instructor confident in the discipline, practiced in the media, and in trust with being one with learners in the spirit of web2.0.
Yesterday I watched the world-makers of our class as they sketched in magic marker and colored pencil. Images were remembered from oral tales about making order out of darkness and about searching for the true beloved, the “felt sense” of what fits, the muse, maybe more. We were translating those dream images into digital media as we filled spaces where we felt something missing: a new image, a certain translation, some words, music . . .
Using the camera capacity of their laptops the drawings were photographed and moved from the laptop to the imovie storyboard in a couple of minutes. Individual’s images were shared in that contagious spirit of collaborative play. Text was evolving in the womb of their developing consciousness. For most this was their first digital production. Days before they’d said they didn’t know how to do this, and already I was trying to follow how they were figuring it out.
As their image stream was approaching narration, I prompted with a requirement that each voice of the 2-3 persons in a group be included in their production. They asked about also including other voices, and I agreed, excited at the prospects they added. I encouraged them to divide the flow into segments so that each person might draft wording for a part; or they could interview or have conversation with each other to discover the best wording. I want them to “write to learn,” to compose in digital media at the edge of discovery. More expressive vocabulary and phrasing should be generated in this confluence of music, image, transition play, and collaborative talk. Our objective is not the polished product but the experience of revelation.
Concerning our purpose, I free associate–Some twitter friend retweeted a YouTube video this morning: Microagressions in Everyday Life by Derald Wing Su, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAIFGBlEsbQ . Microagressions are those semi- to un-conscious words and acts that perpetuate the violence and divisions in our world. Our purpose with the digital media production in Good Stories includes the intent to unmask our microagressions and to remake our capacity to translate better words and more caring collaborations. This meshes with Boyd’s theme: let’s enact our capacity for cooperation.