When I started this project, I thought about how I wanted to approach a “mashup.” A really good highlight reel? Maybe a timeline? Come on, we can do better, right? Ends up, my brain is more linear-sequential than I would often like to admit, so I quickly found that it was difficult for me to talk about ideas other than in the order they arrived. I was banking on a kind of through-line appearing to tie my bigger ideas together as the project developed, leading to a capstone epiphany! Unfortunately not. The concept that led the way did so mostly in process rather than product. Alexander’s idea of platforms/proscenia really stuck with me through the semester as we tried out new digital storytelling tools, and I was curious to see what happened when stories were displaced from their original proscenia and translated into another. I did quite a bit of messing around with different animation tools before I found one that 1) I could figure out how to use, and 2) had the right “feel,” because this project was more personal than others. In the end, I chose Video Scribe, and I took advantage of their generous 7-day trial offer. What I found most interesting about throwing all of the projects into Video Scribe, was figuring out which ideas from those stories were still salient and expressible on the new platform. It was a genuine struggle to not recreate an entire project in the animation (and you better believe I tried, but I like you all too much to make you sit through a 5+ minute video). I was forced to pare down my projects till all that was left was the core, which is exactly what a mashup should highlight.
“There may be someone out there already hard at work on the Great American Twitter Novel, tweeting and retweeting and subtweeting it one day at a time” (Crouch, 2014, para. 9).
I had a professor in college who over the course of a semester wrote a novel in tweets. He was a “cool” professor, of course, and he had devoted followers both in real life and online. I think he was a welcome contrast to our more traditional English department faculty, someone looking forward instead of back. He was probably the first professor I had who actively engaged with the question “What kind of writing will develop with new technology?”
“If you have a name like Benedict Cumberbatch, that’s half your tweet gone … you have to modify a few of the elements of the story to accommodate the brevity” (Taylor & Williams, 2014, para. 6).
Tackling Twitter storytelling myself (though as a community assignment instead of an individual effort) I found that the arbitrary boundaries of the platform called for a different kind of creativity. I’m not a strong creative writer and it is not something I necessarily enjoy, but having to play within the rules of a tweet gamified the assignment for me. I liked thinking about the economy of words—how could I move the narrative forward, keep it short and sweet, and still produce a quality of writing I’d be willing to put my name to? My favorite moments in the assignment were when members of the cohort discovered tricks or work-arounds to enhance the story, but still play within the rules. I’m glad to have participated in this assignment, and to have done it as a team, as I know it would not have been a storytelling venue I would have ventured into by myself.
Project #1 – Infographic
To continue my game analogy, I like statistics. I like keeping them, analyzing them, and improving them (which drives my volleyball team crazy). For having spent my extensive educational career firmly within the humanities, I really do have a soft spot for data. This naturally leads to a minor obsession with infographics. If you want people to pay attention to your data, put it on a colorful poster with interesting formatting.
This was my first try at making an infographic from scratch, and after a couple hours it was clear why there are so many free templates available: effortless design is not easy. I can be rather detail-oriented so I fought with this infographic for way too long, posted it, took it down, fixed it, and posted again. So, God bless the graphic designers out there, and keep up the good work!
I chose the topic for my infographic “How We Write When We Write Together” because I was curious about what kinds of writing and narrative decisions would naturally occur during the process. I think we all have a writing style that we’ve developed over the years, but how do we adapt when we write as a group? When making my initial list of items, I focused on having a mix of foundational numbers (tweets, authors, images, locations), notes about the kind of writing (type of narrator and genres), and a little bit of linguistic data (most used, unique, literacy test). While I do not think anything particularly exciting was revealed, it was interesting to see the breakdown. The one stat that I was somewhat surprised by was the result of the readability test. I ran our text through an online Fry readability formula (assesses average number of sentences and syllables per 100 words). We are a pretty highly educated group, but when we write together, according to the Fry graph, it would be at the appropriate reading level for a class of 5th graders. I would have guessed at least upper middle school, but we should keep in mind that it does not account for there being a second language, and, because of the boundaries of Twitter, our sentence structure and word choice were likely on the short side.
Project #2 -Book Track
I confess my second project was an afterthought. I was feeling that my infographic may not have fulfilled the creative requirement for the assignment, so I poked around a little more until I found Book Track. The site allows you to upload your text and essentially make a soundtrack for your book. It is dirt simple to use, and it’s clear from looking at the site “bookshelf” that even elementary-age students are using it in classrooms. But, part of being simple comes at the cost of more advanced customization. The sound library is limited (though you are able to upload your own mp3 files), the text cannot have images embedded, and other than adjusting the volume there is little else you can manipulate once the sound in placed in the text. While I probably would not pursue another project with Book Track, I think it is an interesting concept. Layering sound files over the text does help set the scene, and, in our case, build suspense. I liked that I was able to layer more than one sound at a time (ex. background music and sound effects), and that the reader was able to control the reading speed. I could see the benefits of using it in a classroom because it does require close reading of the text to make an effective soundtrack, and for students who cannot read in silence, it provides sound that enhances their reading experience.
Crouch, I. (2014, July 23). The great american Twitter novel. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/great-american-twitter-novel
Taylor, A., & Williams, M. (2014, September 30). Alexander McCall Smith on the art of Twitter fiction. ABC Radio National. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/beta-nav/alexander-mccall-smith-on-the-art-of-twitter-fiction/5777056
Aurasma Channel: nvmischenko
Next fall, I will be teaching Tourism 1 & 2 at the high school level. It hasn’t been taught in a while and the recommended textbook is approximately 13 years old. There is some really excellent information in it, but the media just isn’t up to par if it’s going to catch the eye of my students. I’m sure you’ll agree that these photos are lacking pizazz.
These pictures are taken from a section of the textbook called “Attractions.” Unfortunately, they are presented without any context beyond their location, so they could be easily skipped over while reading. How could you possibly discuss travel without pictures? And, why would you want to? Especially for semi-rural Alaskan students who rarely leave the state, seeing photos of global tourist destinations and understanding how easy it is to get there is a big moment! It was important to me to tie the photos into better conversation with the text content of the book, because really, why would a student want to learn about how to book a flight if they don’t have anywhere they want to go?
My end goal for this project is to have Aurasma overlays that link to 360 degree photos that have stereoscopic capabilities. I recently purchased a class set of Google Cardboard viewers so that students could see 360 degree photos in VR. I’m hoping with these pictures that we can use this shared viewing experience as a jumping off point for class discussions and to wrap up the textbook chapters that precede the photos.
At the moment, the platform I’m using to view the photos doesn’t have Cardboard mode for mobile browsers (though it should be up in the next 1-2 months). So, if you scan the trigger images right now, it will send you to a 360 degree photo of the location within a mobile browser. From here, you’re able to swipe around on the screen to see the whole photo. The platform is called Round.Me and actually has a really nice mobile app. I considered just having students download the app, but it takes away the direct connection to the textbook. You’re able to use their collections of 360 degree photos or upload your own. I found that you are able to add more features to ones you upload yourself and am in the process of replacing the ones created by other users. There are interesting features such as adding embedded photos (allowing you to “travel” from one place to the next) or informational “hotspots,” both of which I could see myself using in the classroom.
I learned a lot about the lack of cross-platform communication in this project. After a few false starts with Aurasma (webpage overlays are still very much in beta), I found that adding “additional actions” to image overlays was an effective way to link to a webpage. Then the real trouble started. I usually consider myself someone who can handle basic tech issues; sometimes I enjoy all the researching and trial and error. But, I kid you not, it took me an entire day to find confirmation that “photospheres” within Google Street View are not externally linkable. Of course, Google Street View has the broadest collection of 360 degree photos that are Cardboard capable. This was a serious setback and I went through a couple other options (Sphere, Holobuilder, 360vr) before I settled on Round.Me. I was never able to figure out how to link to something in a way that forced that app to open instead of a mobile browser. Once this becomes available, projects like this will be a breeze, instead of relying on the capabilities of mobile browsers.
All this being said, it’s clear this project isn’t finished to the point where I would bring it into the classroom. A more final product will be available sometime before next August when I hope to roll this out. There are tech issues still to tackle, and I want to make sure I’ve structured the AR –> VR experience in a way that is strongly tied to the curriculum. On a different note, all this searching through 360 degree photos has inspired me to add a photo assignment to the Tourism syllabus. We’ll be able to take 360 degree pictures in our community and upload them for tourists who want to check out Talkeetna!
Trying to discuss the nature of “story” is like confidently wandering into quicksand. You think you know what to do. You may even have a degree in debating the purpose and interpretation of quicksand. But alas, by the time you have consulted your guidebook (just for a quick refresher), you are chest deep. As you start to contemplate the limits of such a treacherous pit, the sand fills your ears, and swallows you whole.
For anyone who has taken a theory class in the humanities, peeling apart words such as “art,” “literature,” and “text” will cause similar anxiety. Regardless of the boundaries you put on the word, you will never truly pin it down; there will always be an exception to the rule. As we now look to dissect “story” please know that my sweeping generalizations were made with the best of intentions.
One really should not start a conversation about storytelling without giving Aristotle his due. So, consider this my “Aristotle elevator pitch.” Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle put forward his Poetics as a sort of playwriting guide, of which we now only have the section concerning tragedy. While he listed six essential elements of tragedy, the first two were the most important: plot and character (Aristotle, n.d./1998). And boy, did he have a mouthful to say about them. He must have been on to something though, because those two elements still seem to loom large in contemporary conversations about the makings of a story (Alexander, 2011). But do our stories really use plot and character the way Aristotle envisioned? Well, kind of. I would say that people still like a logical plot, though they may not all be shaped like Oedipus Rex, and while we like our heroes, I certainly would not describe all our main characters as noble (looking at you, House of Cards). If we are not quite living up to Aristotle’s standards, just imagine how upset Thomas Aquinas would be with our lack of moral instruction…
As we travel down the Literary Theory syllabus the more auxiliary elements of a story change with each new era of storytellers as they experiment with form and content. Aristotle’s Poetics did not delineate what should or should not be considered a story. He just highlighted the elements that he felt made a tragic story effective (in his case, inducing catharsis). I think the most important thing that we can glean from Aristotle’s Poetics, Freytag’s pyramid, Kurt Vonnegut’s “The Shape of Stories,” and Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey,” is that humans like patterns in their stories. Plots with beginnings, middles, and ends; conflicts with resolutions; characters who change in recognizable ways during the course of the action, are all popular elements in Western storytelling. At its most basic level, a story is the intentional communication of actions to an audience. The rest of these elements make it good. But good is relative, and cultural trends will change as storytellers push the boundaries of expression and creativity.
“[W]e find that the edges of new digital stories are often unclear” (Alexander, 2011, p. 85).
Because storytelling is so intrinsic to our human experience, it is necessary for it to evolve with us. We are racing through a technological revolution, and telling stories on online platforms is finally breaking into the mainstream. In his book The New Digital Storytelling, Bryan Alexander (2011) describes this variety of online storytelling platforms as “multiple proscenia” (p. 42). Although this term borrows from an older form of storytelling, I find that it cleverly expresses one of the unique aspects of digital storytelling. The word “proscenium” is both the frame of the stage as it is seen from the audience, and in Ancient Greece the name for the stage itself (“Proscenium” n.d.). Choosing a platform, or proscenium, from which to tell a story not only affects how you share content, but how it is received.
While some digital storytelling takes place in a singular proscenium, many take advantage of spreading a story between multiple proscenia. The audience may watch or engage with a story on one platform, and then respond to their experience on another. A story may travel between blogs, social media, and wikis, maybe even change medium, as it adapts to a new stage.
In 2015, author Margaret Atwood collaborated with animator Drew Christie to create an animation of her musings on digital storytelling entitled “A State of Wonder: How Technology Shapes Story.” Throughout the video, Atwood meditates on the role of platforms in how stories are told, “The way you can move content from here to there does influence what gets written and how it gets written” (Future of StoryTelling, 2015, 2:25). She also mentions that when there is sudden accessibility to a new storytelling platform, whether it is the printing press or Wattpad, that “mountains of crap” get shared as we explore how to transmit and receive stories with new technology (Future of StoryTelling, 2015, 0:22). We must go through this period of narrative trial and error. Digital storytelling should be allowed to be experimental, and it’s important that we treat the process as such.
One concept from this animation that I find particularly compelling is that storytelling has gone through many transitional moments. We are not unique in our feelings of excitement and fear as storytelling works to keep pace with technology. This also reassures me that despite detractors, digital storytelling will find its place. As someone who is most at home in an English department, I understand the hesitancy of adopting new technology and digital texts in fear of losing the classic narratives we hold in such esteem. In one of her recent courses, Helen Meyers (2016) encouraged her English students to become digital humanist who understand how “digital skills can coexist with other forms of literacy” (para. 14). We can no longer exist in an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to technology, and it does a disservice to our discipline to ignore stories beyond those written on a page. The future of storytelling is not going to wait for us. And really, there’s no time to waste because as Naomi Alderman (2015) smartly puts it, the great works of digital storytelling are already here, “it’s the noise you’re trying to get your children to turn down while you pen your thoughts about the future of location-based storytelling” (para. 4).
Alderman, N. (2015, October 13). The first great works of digital literature are already being written. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/oct/13/video-games-digital-storytelling-naomi-alderman
Alexander, B. (2011). The new digital storytelling: Creating narratives with new media. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Aristotle. (1998). Poetics (S. H. Butcher, Trans.). New York, NY: Hill and Wang. (Original work published n.d.)
The Future of StoryTelling. (2015, September 10). Margaret Atwood – A state of wonder: How technology shapes story [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/138888472
Meyers, H. (2016, January 25). Feeding English majors in the 21st century. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Feeding-English-Majors-in-the/235042
Proscenium. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Online, Retrieved February 6, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/proscenium