In her article, "The Art of Digital Storytelling," Bernajean Porter provides a brief description of what Digital Storytelling is, which I am not going to recount in this blog. What I would like to address are the elements that Porter claims are essential for creating an effective Digital Story: Living in the Story and Unfolding a Lesson Learned.
When she says that an author needs to "live" in his or her story, Porter is simply reminding Digital Storytellers that it's the story that matters the most, not the technology used to tell it. Stories need to resonate with their readers / viewers on a personal level. Good storytellers create this resonance by recounting their experiences and universalizing them so that we can see ourselves in the tale.
We can taste the freshly grown tomatoes.
We can smell the brine wafting off the tide pools at low tide.
Creating these sensory details pulls us in. Without them, we do not have a frame of reference in which we can access the storyteller's intended lesson, which is the second element that Porter feels is necessary for crafting a memorable Digital Story. At some point, in almost every story, we are going to ask ourselves, "Why am I reading this?" Or, "Why am I watching this?" If our answer is, "I don't know," than we have a pretty strong indicator that the storyteller has failed to include a lesson in their narrative.
Failing to finish a book or movie once bothered me a great deal. Now that I am a bit older (and wiser?), I have no issue setting aside a story that is not teaching me something. Even if I am learning something I already know, I will continue to engage with a story if it satisfies Porter's Living in the Story element.
So, Bernajean Porter, thank you for reminding us Digital Storytellers that if our story is not personally engaging or fails to teach a lesson or, gasp, does not do either, it is a story that is not worth telling.
Opinions? Thoughts? Please feel free to leave them below.
In "A Struggle Within Reach," Jacinta tells the story of Lucha Alcanzable, an indigenous Mayan woman living in Peru. Lucha’s father believes that she should discontinue her schooling so that she can get married, have children, and take care of her family. However, Lucha has plans of her own. She wants to continue learning so that she can help others in her community. Through hard work and dedication, Lucha eventually earns her college degree.
Using Jason Ohler’s Digital Storytelling Assessment Traits, I decided to review this story using the following criteria: Story, Project Planning, and Sense of Audience.
I thought this story was well told and engaging. Not only did Lucha need to overcome poverty and her father’s lack of support, she also had to transcend cultural expectations of a woman’s role in society. The ending was quite satisfying. Lucha tells women “that we have equal rights. Start your struggle today for a better future!” I think this story would be inspiring for anyone striving to overcome adversity and continue their education.
This project showed the proper amount of project planning. Jacinta culled a lot of photos from various stages of Lucha’s life (childhood, adolescence, etc.). She shot additional footage of Lucha, which combined well with more recent photos to give the audience a sense of Lucha in the present-day. Jacinta also chose to use Mayan music in the soundtrack, which lent the video a sense of authenticity that might have been lost had she chosen to use a more western style of music. My only criticism would be the ratio of photos to video. This story is very photo heavy. I think some video of Lucha teaching would help the viewer connect to her in a more personal way.
SENSE OF AUDIENCE
This video was categorized in the “Education” section on StoryCenter’s website. Thus, its primary audience seems to be teachers. A story detailing one woman’s struggle to earn her college degree is sure to resonate with teachers. Jacinta was wise to detail how Lucha is using her education to benefit others in her community. Such philanthropy lies at the heart of teaching, a point that the audience will no doubt appreciate.
Overall, I think “A Struggle Within Reach” is a well made video that tells a story worth hearing. Its intended audience, teachers, always appreciates an “underdog” story of a person overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds in order to continue their education. I believe that anyone, especially teachers, can find something in this story that will speak to them.
“Some see the format and process of remix itself as ideological in nature and part of a larger cultural critique of ideas and assumptions about authorship or the ownership of art. For this reason, reworking parts of the existing music canon (e.g., a Beatles song, a Beethoven symphony) and re-envisioning it is seen as a political act.”
Music Remix in the Classroom, p. 31
This week, I was asked to read and respond to Chapters 2 & 3 of Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. While I read both, I am very much the kind of person who experiences great difficulty writing about topics that do not interest me. So it was with Chapter 3, which addressed podcasting. I’m sorry, but podcasting does absolutely nothing for me. That’s not to say that I doubt its capability to deliver diverse points of view to all corners of the world. I don’t. I also would not deny that the practice of podcasting can be extremely useful in classrooms. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with Shamburg’s assertion that “with podcasting, students can create original content as they ethically and effectively collect and remix the work of others and become participants in culture, politics, and society” (p. 68).
It’s just that, well, I’m a music guy.
I listen to music when I drive to work. I listen to music while I work. In fact, I am listening to music as I type these words (John Fahey’s The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick, in case you are wondering). Thus, I found Chapter 2, Erik Jacobson’s Music Remix in the Classroom, absolutely fascinating and am choosing to respond to it alone.
In his Chapter, Jacobson argues that the community that has gathered itself around the act of remixing music practices a method of artistic creation that is just as valid as the one employed by authors, playwrights, painters, and musicians. Remixing music is the act of appropriating someone else’s work to create your own. Jacobson argues that such appropriation is directly related to two important ideas that we hold about art. “First, it supports the idea that no work of art is created ex nihilo or “out of nothing.” Second, appropriation understood as a creative response to other work exemplifies the kind of conversations we see happening in other art forms. Art implies, either explicitly or implicitly, a commentary on other art (and the world)” (p.44).
For lovers of hip-hop, remixing is a familiar and beloved pastime. Skilled hip-hop DJs are even able to remix live via a technique known as "beat juggling." Simply put, beat juggling is when a DJ manipulates two copies of the same record in such a manner that he or she creates a new beat.
Here is an example (DJ Babu juggling Blind Alley by The Emotions; juggle begins at 0:58):
“Awesome, totally awesome!”
-Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
In all seriousness, though, I find Jacobson’s claim that remixing is an ideological, political act extremely important. In fact, I think that remixing as an ideology can be extended to the music industry itself. While record executives and a small minority of grossly overpaid musicians viewed the downfall of the traditional music industry as tragic, many independent musicians saw it as liberating. No more kowtowing to men in suits, many of whom couldn’t distinguish a B♭from an H ♯ (trick statement, the musical scale does not contain an H note). No more “selling out” to meet the demands of a fickle buying public. With the advent of social media and other web-based outlets, musicians can now independently distribute their music to their fans. They have turned the music industry on its ear, in effect, remixing it.
For someone who came of age in the “anti-establishment” 1990s, I find the democratization of music, whether it be in how it is created or how it is distributed, to be incredibly exciting. I also think that it is important to teach our students that they can now create their own music, via remixing or other means, and distribute it to the world at large. Music industry politics no longer matter (well, not as much). Their songs can be heard. Who knows? The next (fill in the blank with whatever musician you think is “hot” right now) may be sitting in your classroom.
Comments? Questions? Hot tips on new DJ mix tapes? Feel free to leave them below.
"I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2,000 step process."
In her digital story, posted on Storycorps, Eileen Kushner recounts how she was able to learn how to add by using McDonald's containers. During her entire scholastic career, Eileen experienced difficulty adding and writing. When she was in her mid-thirties, she was diagnosed with a processing disorder. Eileen describes the disorder as a "door in my brain (that) would drop and....(not) allow me to process any of the information."
As a result of her disorder, Eileen avoided working. She married Larry Kushner and, together, they had three children. Since Larry was a bank teller, the family had a difficult time making ends meet. When finances became so tight that there was not enough food in the refrigerator, Eileen decided that she would need to enter the workforce. She procured a job at McDonald's and, for a time, all was well. She enjoyed the work and did so well that her boss decided to promote her.
To the cash register.
Eileen was terrified. Back then (1960s), there were no automated cash registers. McDonald's employees had to manually total the bill and return the correct amount of change. Fearing that her employer would discover that she could not add, Eileen told Larry that she was going to quit. Larry decided that he was going to help Eileen learn to add.
So, he came home from work one day holding a wad of cash, mostly fives, ones, and coins. A few days later, Eileen brought home some fry, burger, and drink containers. The two then "played McDonald's." Larry would place orders and Eileen would calculate the totals and return the change. After enough practice, Eileen felt confident enough to take the promotion. She continued to rise up in the ranks and, eventually, Eileen and Larry owned and operated five McDonald's restaurants.
When asked if she saw herself differently after achieving so much, Eileen cited the famous Edison quote, "I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2,000 step process."
Using Ohler's Digital Storytelling Assessment Traits, I chose to critique this story on the following traits: Story, Economy, and Flow.
All in all, this was an inspiring story about one woman's will to overcome her lifelong math disability. I would recommend it to anyone who works with students with disabilities or likes a good underdog story.
Please feel free to leave your comments below.
IN THE SPECIAL
In their case study, "Digital Storytelling in the Middle Childhood Special Education Classroom: A Teacher’s Story of Adaptations," Paige Michalski, Dodi Hodges, and Savilla Banister recount Michalski's mission to use Digital Storytelling as a means to help her Special Education students improve their writing. With adequate planning, appropriate scaffolding and a heaping dose of energy, Michalski's efforts came to fruition. Her students created personal stories that far outstripped their previous writings.
As detailed in the study, Michalski's students have IQs ranging from 55 to 70. Writing is a daily struggle for them. Their grammar is poor, vocabulary limited, and sentence structure unvaried. Compounding matters, many of Michalski's students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Some even suffer physical and sexual abuse. As a result, these students are understandably discouraged; they give up easily and do not glean much joy from the act of writing. A veteran Special Education teacher of fifteen years, Michalski decided to try something different.
With the aid of some members of the Center for Digital Storytelling (headquartered in Berkeley, California), Michalski's students used PowerPoint and digital video editing software to create stories about their homes, pets, neighborhoods, and favorite rooms. Though the road was sometimes rocky, the students were able to craft final products that showcased improved writing skills across the board. Michalski even commented that she was convinced that one of her poorest writers could not have possibly produced the work that she did (she, of course, did).
Since the students were going to share their works amongst themselves, thus going "public," they took extra care when revising and editing their writing. They even approached the formerly tortuous act of writing with something akin to joy. They were eager to share and help each other. They were proud of their finished products.
Michalski was elated.
As a Special Education teacher myself, this study rings true. I, too, teach a Special Education Language Arts class. Most of my students do not like to write. Many of them come from impoverished backgrounds. I have met most of their parents and they are all wonderful people. However, most of them possess, at most, a high school diploma. Some of them do not. Thus, the only time many of my students write, or are exposed to writing, is when they are with me. Suffice to say, writing is not something that they always willingly engage in.
Much like Michalski, I am now looking to use Digital Storytelling to both improve my students' writing abilities and their attitude towards writing. Last week, my students began using WeVideo to create their own stories. They chose their own topics. My only requirements for their final product are that the contain the common story elements (plot, character, setting, theme, etc.).
They will present tomorrow.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.