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Re-inventing the lecture

Digital Story Title:

Re-inventing the lecture
Why online lectures don’t work, and what we can do about it.

Brief description:

While many who use digital technology in education are attempting new and innovative approaches to teaching over the internet, the use of videotaped lectures is still commonplace in distance education and in open education initiatives. This video argues that the lecture– a classroom technique that can be argued to be vestigial at best, even in the classroom– ought to be updated rather than reproduced in the online classroom, by paying attention to the limitations and strengths of online video as a medium.

Main goal(s):

My primary goal is to encourage people to think about the way that various media affect how we communicate, that there should be different pedagogical approaches online than in the classroom.

It seems rather obvious, but there’s also a lot of tone-deaf stuff out there. And my pet peeve is the use of recorded classroom lectures for open ed and distance learning programs.

The only thing more boring than a bad lecture is a decent lecture on Youtube.

Who is your intended audience?

People in postsecondary education interested in or involved in distance learning, open education, and edtech, Basically, the people I follow on Twitter.

More largely, grad students and people involved in postsecondary ed. People like the folks in this class.

Category: Final Summary  Comments off
My copyright post…

I posted it over in my blog… I hope that’s okay…

Please click through and read.


…And if that title’s not enough to entice you, I’ve included a bit of “original” art that sums up my reaction to this week’s readings pretty well:

My Fair Use Manifesto.

Progress Report

So. I had an idea that I liked, a project that I thought was good.

But as it came along, I saw it didn’t fit the timeline for this course well enough.

So then I changed my topic. Last week I brought in the storyboard of my new idea. Conferencing, Kelly didn’t really like how I was framing it. And as I thought about it and looked into it more, I came to agree with her.

Now I’m working– once again– on getting a script worked out that works, dealing with topic number two.


At this point, I’m kind of reconsidering my feelings on digital storytelling as a pedagogical tool. I feel like my original project idea was feasible, could have created a good video, and could have been completed on time. But it didn’t work with the way that the class– that classes in general– are set up. I think the problem is the fact that different projects require different creative processes.

If you’re doing something that’s interview-heavy, you’re going to take a lot more time gathering sources and editing, but there won’t be as much time needed for other processes. Storyboards and scripts may come later if at all, once the sources let you know what they’re going to say. If you’re going for a Junior-League Ken Burns kind of thing, scripting and storyboarding are far more important. Your research will be mostly finding pictures to pan over. Filming won’t be as time-consuming.

And those are just two broad examples. Everyone works on every project differently. You have to work with the project, you’ve gotta go with the grain, and let the logical demands of the project inform your timeline.

Grading and classroom supervision aren’t like that, however. They have to be rationalized. People need deadlines, and the deadlines need to be the same for everyone. Introducing something like DST to students requires that you keep on them with a timeline, etc. That you supervise and micromanage and, at least to a certain extent, that you standardize. You have to schedule assignments and deadlines as if everyone’s process is the same, when in fact, different projects have different timelines because they demand differing amounts of attention to different aspects of the process.

I think that DST could be an incredibly useful tool for students in, for example, a Montessori classroom, where individualized attention and learners setting their own pace is the norm. But that’s not a luxury that many of us will have. Most of us will have to be in classrooms where things are, as a matter of course, basically standardized. Classroom size, teaching loads, etc. mean that this is basically outside of our control. And in that sort of setting, I’m starting to question the utility of trying to teach DST techniques, etc.

This is not a rejection of the class as a whole, of course. I do think that it’s important that scholars and teachers use techniques like this. We need to see beyond the chalkboard, the powerpoint slideshow, the monograph. And this *is* a good way to approach certain topics, and can lead to different sorts of learning outcomes for those who take the time to do it.

I’m just wondering– is it really compatible with most people’s classroom reality?

Interactivity and Standards

NB: This is late. Very late. Class starts soon. I have no excuse, I just had three major deadlines this week, and this post fell by the wayside. But I figure better late than never.

Okay– I had a couple thoughts on this week’s readings.

I tried to view various interactive storytelling projects on my Droid, just ’cause I was out and about and had some free time on the bus. I had various levels of success, but in general, not great.

In general, interactive storytelling projects seem locked into flash, high-bandwidth stuff that is too slow on a mobile device, and in general are locked into a single, not-phone-friendly style sheet. Really, the most successful projects are the simplest, the ones that stick to text, HTML, and maybe pictures.

This is problematic. Being mobile-accessible is quickly shaping up to be the new digital divide, especially when dealing with minority populations, who are more likely to have a wireless device be their primary means of accessing the internet.

Personally, I’d predict that with the new generation of tablet devices taking off that’s starting with the iPad, this will become even more true, and that poor white populations will likely start following this pattern more as well. Handheld is the future for people who don’t need heavy computation power and don’t need to write stuff of length.

HTML5 isn’t all the way there, yet, Flash doesn’t work on most handheld devices– and at least Apple so far has decided that even when Flash starts working on handheld devices, it won’t be supported on their mobile OS.

I think that interactive storytelling is a really exciting potential, but it is honestly going to be hindered from the most fruitful kinds of development until we can get some standards out there that make these projects accessible to everyone. And especially since we’re all looking at this issue as public historians and educators– it’s important that we use the tools that work for the greatest number of people, if we really see our missions as democratic. A balkanized web is good for none of us, if our mission is really outreach, education, and enlightenment.

Of course, there are incentives. In the process of finding interactive standards that work across devices, you can also incorporate place-based computing deep into the standard. You want immersive digital storytelling? You can’t get more immersive than actually moving around in real life. That’s what makes ARGs such a great way to get people involved– it gives you that “through the rabbit hole” experience that changes the way you filter your experiences as you go through the day… In other words, it does exactly what we’d like to do as educators and academics.

Again, though, the potentials for place-based stuff are limited by the lack of standards. The move in smartphones toward apps has been great in that it’s opened up development, and sped progress by letting developers try to make what they need rather than waiting for the phone carrier to make it for them. But again, it’s had a balkanizing effect. Augmented reality and place-based applications are scattershot, and many are locked into one or another OS. If I’m a Droid and you’re an iPhone, there’s a lot of stuff we can’t both do, unless there are MULTIPLE avenues by which we can get to that data.

And since interactive storytelling is rhizomatic to begin with, forcing developers into this sort of reduplication is almost ENSURING that deep, interesting projects don’t get developed.

Five Card Nancy…

The picture-sorting exercise we did in class reminded me of a game created by the cartoonist Scott McCloud, best known for his book Understanding Comics.

The game is called Five Card Nancy. It’s a cooperative storytelling game similar to what we were doing in class today with the five photo assignments, but in a more game-y and less classroom-y way, and using panels from Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy.

(I’ve personally found that panels from Archie comics work well too.)

To give you some idea, Dave White at 741.5 Comics has put together a little PERL script to create a solitaire version. Takes away some of the fun of vetoing other player’s narrative moves, but it’s still pretty neat.

…Just something I thought y’all might have fun playing with.

My Pitch… In video form…

Okay, I’m having a horrible time getting video embedding to work on this site– a problem I’ve never really encountered on WordPress installs before.

So yeah– Just go to this post on my personal blog, and you’ll find the videos I created as my pitch.

Quick help…

Could I schedule an appointment with anyone in the class for a quick, one or two minute video chat on Skype?

I bought software that’s supposed to record the audio and video, but I wanna make sure it works before soliciting interviews…

Animoto Video

Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards

I have to admit, I finished my movie before I looked back at the assignment and realized it was supposed to be ABOUT teaching and learning, and not just “something with some pedagogical value.” I hope that’s alright.

I decided to do a very brief sketch about the life of Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards– best known today as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, but a superstar in his own right in the 1920s.

I don’t know what to think of Animoto. It’s a nice tool in that it makes things quick. The video I made looks, to my eye, far more professional than the amount of time I spent on it would indicate.

That said, a lot of that “look” is somewhat distracting flash, and honestly, it PAINS me to sacrifice so much control. There are some transitions that work quite well– I especially liked the one between the cartoon of Edwards and the picture of Jiminy Cricket. But some others were far less effective– and a couple were just downright ugly.

The trick, of course, is to have lots of tools, and to use the appropriate tool for the appropriate task. Don’t go after a lug nut with a hammer, or what have you. And Animoto is a nice tool for turning out something quickly with a good deal of flash and apparent polish. I wouldn’t trust a tool like this for anything that I wanted closely related to my name, though– or anything on too sensitive a topic. It seems like a good tool for working fast and loose, and less so when a sensitive hand is called for.

At any rate, it was a fun little project, and I’ll definitely try to use the site again before the end of the semester.

As an aside:

1) Why can’t we embed videos on this blog? This confuses me, given the class.
2) Has anyone else played with Xtranormal? See any pedagogical value there? I only played with it once, recreating a scene from “Glengarry Glen Ross,” to limited effect. I’m linking it here, but be warned– there’s some Not Safe For Work language in there, if you’re not familiar with the play…

Category: W5: Animoto  2 Comments
Murder at Harvard: An Opportunity Missed

Like the book upon which it was based, Murder at Harvard was not without merit. It was an interesting story that can be used to tell an interesting story about the nature of history as a discipline and a profession.

That said, both the documentary and the novella-zations fell flat under the weight of the self-promotion and self-importance of the author. In the book, Schama is the narrator who cannot help but interject on his own behalf, who cannot even feign any attempt at objectivity (no matter how impossible a goal that may be), who aims comments randomly at dead intellectuals outside his weight class (how does that feel, Foucault?), and who ultimately takes the story of one man taking another’s life… and makes it about the man telling the story.

In the novel, Schama analyzes the texts involved in an interesting manner– but then obfuscates what he’s doing by not giving us even the illusion of access to his sources, and by burying the whole thing in his purple prose and confusing flourishes. The reader is left feeling misled and confused by his storytelling just as often as he is left feeling like he’s heard the story or understood the truth.

This process is reproduced, to a lesser extent, in the film version as well. Schama is not hindered by his confusing prose patterns, and thus seems to be a bit more forthcoming and straightforward. And yet at the same time, this is still the story of a man, struggling with interpreting difficult and ambiguous texts that are full of lacunae

And told in such a way that said texts are conspicuously absent. This is a story about interpretation that, like the book, does not trust its audience to actually do any interpreting itself.

And that’s the rub, for me, at least. I’m all for what Schama’s doing. I’ve been saying for years now that I’m all for ambiguity, that “historical truth” is a misnomer at best, that “objectivity” in the creation of history is a pernicious myth… I want to like what Schama’s doing because it fits in with how I see history. And yet when I look at either of these works, all I really see is Schama. They feel like ego projects.

The book had, at best, mixed results. But honestly, I felt like the documentary was the real missed opportunity.

I loved the bits with the various historians arguing about his approach, about whether or not this book is “history,” etc. But it all could have gone further. I think that the story of a simple but perplexing murder, such as this, could have been a perfect opportunity to introduce lay audiences to what it is that historians really do, namely, that they debate historiography, methodology, that they interrogate texts and try to see ambiguities as the complex heart of the truth– that the past is always up for debate, unknowable, a matter of opinon and subject of argument.

Made a bit longer, and with more historians debating the advantages and shortcomings of Schama’s approach, and the film could have been a real comment on the profession of history– something that illuminated the processes and debates we go through to a more general public. Instead, we ended up with a movie that, like the book, used the rest of the historical profession to reaffirm why Simon Schama thinks he’s such a rock star.

Defining Digital Storytelling…

It seems to me like we’ve got one of those blind-men-and-an-elephant problems, here. I’ve been playing around with trying to come up with a working definition of “digital storytelling” for a couple days, now, and honestly, anything I can come up with is simultaneously:

  • So broad as to be meaningless.
  • Still far too restrictive.

This does not bode well for the prospect of coming up with anything that even resembles a “definitive answer” to the question of what “digital storytelling” is.

Which makes this class seem a bit amorphous.

The best I can come with is this: “Digital storytelling” is the use of digital (non-analog, usually computer-based) media to create (or suggest) a narrative (or set of narratives or narrative possibilities).

I could unpack that a little, but I’m afraid to do so too much, because the more you do, the more restrictive your definition becomes. So let me just sort of ramble about a couple of the implications of this.

The use of digital techniques alters older technologies by lowering barriers to use in both cost and necessity of technical skill. While techniques like sophisticated 3-d rendering are still prohibitively difficult for amateur users, digital photography, videography, sound recording, and image alteration have continued to get cheaper, faster, and easier. Looking at a the technological forces behind this, things like Moore’s Law, Rock’s Law, and Nielson’s Law all suggest that this pattern will continue. All things digital will continue to get faster, cheaper, easier, and better, as long as research and development continue.

Not only is this true with individual digitized media, but it is also true of the ability of computers to integrate various forms of media into a coherent whole. Digital technology continues to make it easier, faster, and cheaper to put together still and moving images, sounds, and written words, to combine them into new integrated wholes.

And just like the words and pictures of a comic strip, each of these elements gains something in combination with other elements– it’s a synergistic relationship. Looking at just the words or just the images of your average comic strip, you realize that either element is less meaningful when not interacting with the other. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. It’s the same thing with digital stories that incorporate multiple media.

While words, pictures, sound, and video are all clearly important building blocks for digital stories, it is important not to exclude the “natively digital” media that can be incorporated into digital storytelling projects– the two that spring immediately to mind are simulation and databases.

Both of these technologies present us with some of the most dramatic possibilities of digital storytelling: they do not necessarily follow– and indeed can be used to actively undermine– the traditional notions of narrativity we have from old media. Storytelling is no longer necessarily limited to a single beginning, middle, and end. Instead, creators have the ability to chart various paths that audiences can take, indeed– audiences are no longer limited to “passive” intake, but can actively guide their own user experience, taking the driver’s seat or even helping to build and extend the story itself.

Of course, audiences have never been particularly passive, and have always re-purposed, remixed, and reinterpreted the media they consume. The difference now is that we can construct stories that encourage or even force audiences to do just that. It can be built into the medium itself, now, rather than just being built into how humans consume stories.

Category: W3: What is Digital Storytelling?  Comments off