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Storytelling and Interactive Environments

I think interactive environments have a huge impact on how storytelling works. First, it’s become well-accepted that stories can be nonlinear. In a digital environment is very easy to present stories in multiple ways – chronologically, thematically, in order of when each section was created, etc. Another major change is that these interactive environments have equalized the storytelling process. Because it’s so easy to create content, anyone can now participate and be heard. All it takes now is five minutes with a computer and internet access to publish stories and other content in a public forum.

However, I think the main feature of storytelling in an interactive environment that distinguishes it from all others is its collaborative nature. Many people are involved in the creation process, combining microcontent from many different users, turning it into social media. While one person or small group of people may create the original story or idea, through comments, online discussion, response videos, and blog entries, the stories take on new life and new meaning. I really like how Alexander and Levine said that instead of telling stories, we now present evidence of stories and let the players tell it to themselves.

I don’t think digital environments should change the content or quality of academic writing and argument. Content should still be of very high caliber, scholarly, and well thought out. Academic arguments should still be made and proven in a coherent, logical way, regardless of the environment in which the material is presented. But I think two major things change about academic writing in a digital environment: the way it’s created and presented. Academic content can also be created and published easily, without having to attract the attention of a publisher. Academic content can also be created collaboratively, something which could turn out to be either very successful or counterproductive. The way academic writing and argument are presented also changes, mainly in the style and technology available to present it. Blogs, videos, podcasts, online discussions, and comments on content created by others are all perfectly valid ways of sharing academic content.

Finally, while I think that these interactive environments are very useful, there are several things we must be careful about. I think it will prove to be very easy for the content to get out of the control of the creator. An author’s original work could be taken and twisted far beyond recognition because of the extreme collaboration involved in some of these situations. Also, how rapidly content can be altered in digital environments can be problematic for serious, scholarly presentation. Last, just because it’s very easy to participate and publish work now doesn’t mean that we should lower our standards and accept work of poor scholarship because it’s now presented in a public forum rather than being simply rejected by a publisher or editor as it would have twenty years ago.


The readings this week show how diverse an interactive environment can be.  The approach does not have to be necessarily linear, such as the projects on Vectors.  I looked at project about rug weaving that I did not find particularly effective, as it seemed to lose directness by having to weave a thread to get information.  It can be incredibly creative like the book project with the LOC.  This is traditional story telling format using a new environment to draw on an old project.  The Inauguration Day project showed the day with pictures, articles and a map.  This, as well as the rug project on Vectors, used a no-linear format of viewing.  Comparing the projects, it seems that non-linear approaches in a educational environment seem to work best with a simple story like the Inauguration Day as opposed to the social complexities of the rug weavers.

There are websites that do offer more organization like the 9/11 website.  Not only does this use more formal ways of website creating, with categories and links that are easy to find and follow, but it also invites the user to share their stories of an important day in American history.  It shares the properties of formal archival information while using new media and internet social networking to create a richer history for generations to come.

I think the digital environment can make academic writing and argument more interesting.  It can make writing more precise (academic books can sometimes be a bit redundant and contain unnecessary info).  All along we have been asking how digital storytelling will change academic arguments but perhaps we need to change digital storytelling to accommodate the academic argument.  Fusing the old with the new seems to be an innovative move that our creative and intellectual minds can benefit from.

Digital Storytelling 2.0

One of the foundations critical to the way Web 2.0 works is the concept of collaboration. Web 2.0 takes the “read” web (where information interacts with consumers in one direction – off the page and into their heads) and turns it into the “read/write” web (where information is both consumed and provided by users). This is what landed “You” as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006! But what has really sparked the Web 2.0 revolution is a third element: read/write/remix. Web 2.0 gives us the ability to pull information together from disparate sources, creating our own story from various elements. This is what makes digital storytelling work in an interactive environment. Storytelling 2.0 (Digital Storytelling utilizing Web 2.0 tools) combines an interactive environment with collaborative attitudes from the contributors – up to and including the readers!

This same ability to easily incorporate source material and to hyperlink references for uncomplicated referral changes academic writing. When the primary sources are one or two clicks away, the role of the author changes (or can change, with enough courage and foresight!). Now, instead of interpreting source material for the reader, academics can guide a reader in a direct examination of the primary sources. The role of the academic is changing from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” In a Web 2.0 world, academic writing should include enough information to aid a reader in referencing the primary sources and forming their own conclusions. There are many outstanding questions in academia that indicates that this shift in academic writing is far from being accepted!

Interactive Storytelling Environments

After reading this week’s articles, I came to the conclusion that storytelling in an interactive environment can mean there is not one main author who is taking the audience along for the ride. Rather, there is a blurry line between the role of author, and the role of audience. In fact, in some examples, the participants alternated between roles, feeding off of each other’s contributions. Does this make interactive storytelling better than traditional forms of storytelling? Not necessarily. Just different. I think there are pros and cons to both formats. In an interactive environment, I can jump around between different characters, topics of interest, media formats (text, video, audio), etc. However, as others have pointed out, the narrative may not be as developed, or I may find grammatical errors in the writing.

As for its impact on academic writing and argument, I think if we can be open-minded to storytelling in an interactive environment, we may find new and innovative ways of presenting scholarly ideas without reducing the quality of the content or limiting the scope of the discussions that stem from the introduction of the topic. I’m sure there are academic sites based on area of expertise where participants act as both presenter and critic, featuring forums for discussion and refinement of ideas. Since most scholars require to be published, this would be a great way to get feedback from peers at a global level.

Finally, I thought the article Before Every Child Is Left Behind really hit home with several of the discussions we’ve had in class recently. It addressed the need for innovative thinking, the lack of innovative education going on in the classroom, the difficulty of working epistemic games into a curriculum focused on standardized teaching and testing, and how devastating this will be to the future of our nation. I felt like I was reading a future chapter from a history book that describes how the U.S. fell from grace as a superpower. Unfortunately, I don’t think the government is in tune enough to recognize and address the issue in a timely fashion. Their mainstay opinion appears to be that art, music, games and technology is fluff, not fundamental education.  Instead, it will be up to the consumers and private industry to drive these changes. As Shaffer pointed out , this then links education to class, dividing the wealthy from the poor.

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Give me interactivity or give me Death!

In an earlier post I commented on Animoto and learning and quoted Michael Wesch, this week’s readings really brought to mind the importance of an educator that moves beyond knowledge and is “knowledgeable”. Part of the trick is  to know how to use these shiny new toys to facilitate learning. In the Vector’s reading,  the “aim is to  explore the immersive and experiential dimensions of emerging scholarly vernaculars across media platforms.” I think this is where Web 2.0, scholarship and learning intersect.  It is not enough that these tools and creative means to teach through digital storytelling exist, it is incumbent upon us to take the brave step to learn, and incorporate these tools into our experience.  It challenges the traditional means of learning and teaching but by incorporating these fascinating elements into all levels of learning and scholarship.  It is exciting to think creatively about teaching and learning and the Web offers seemingly limitless possibilities.

The divide between digital writing (e-publishing) and argument is a more complex topic of discussion.  In our Clio Wired I class, Dan Cohen spent considerable time covering the idea of traditional scholarships, tenure, and writing versus e-publishing. The archived articles can be found here. I’m not sure I have a definitive answer to this question.  But I do think that there certainly is a place for consideration of digital works in evaluating professional tenure for scholars.  I have found twitter to be an interesting means to engage argument in the Web 2.0 environment.  It is a great way to facilitate communication, learning and “discussion” , even if it is 140 characters or less.

Interactivity through twitter, gaming, and digital storytelling offers  a wide variety of teaching and learning and with the ever changing landscape, it is exciting to see what’s next on the horizon.

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Storytelling seems to become more fluid in a digital and interactive environment. As much as we might want to structure a story by beginning or end, an online story or website doesn’t necessarily have the same structure when it becomes interactive that you intended. For example, while website designers may expect the home page to be the first page a viewer sees, sometimes Google or an emailed link lands them on some random inner page without the “introductory” info your home page intentionally provides.

Arguably, the digital environment may improve or worsen academic writing and argument depending on its contributors. For example, many people complain that correct spelling, proper grammar, capitalization, or other writing conventions have disappeared in the digital age. On the other hand, the attention span of an online viewer seems much shorter and an argument might have to become much more concise in an online environment. Beyond the question of better or worse, digitally published academic material still seems to have less credibility to other academics than print publications, unless the topic is digital media.

Interactivity and Public History

Interactivity and storytelling are readily apparent in a variety of web 2.0 platforms, and I thought it was quite interesting to see how some of this week’s readings related to storytelling in an interactive environment.  The uses of storytelling in interactive environments was perhaps most obvious in the articles related to alternate reality gaming.  In these games participants are not only engaged in a story, they are active participants.  The elements of traditional narrative storytelling are certainly there, but the way these elements unfold is decidedly different.  Alternate reality gamers may have to solve puzzles involving the use of real world technology to unlock new chapters of the ARG.

The uses of this type of storytelling for public history could be very exciting.  Mount Vernon has an interesting kid’s game on its website that places the individual inside a virtual estate where you interact with individuals from the past as you search for various items that are important to George Washington.  While fun for children, this game is not nearly as interactive as ARGs, but perhaps it is a step in the right direction.  Historic sites could use ARGs as “national treasure” type detective stories  aimed at interacting and teaching individuals who may find these types of games more engaging than actual site visits.

These digital environments are also providing new ways in which academics can collaborate.  With web 2.0 platforms, collaboration can occur in real time, with real time feedback and critiques as well.  This question reminded me of that youtube video we watched in class showing the use of google docs to ask a girl on a date.  This same type of engaged discussion can translate to the world of academia in digital environments.

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Interactivity and Storytelling

When I first started reading “Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre”, I was a bit unnerved by the first couple of lines, “A story has a beginning, a middle, and a cleanly wrapped-up ending. Whether told around a campfire, read from a book, or played on a DVD, a story goes from point A to B and then C.”  I was shocked that this this was the way the article started because if there is anything that we have learned from this class, it is that there is no universal way to define a story, and that as our society evolves, the ways that stories can be told are becoming increasingly diverse and innovative.  Luckily the article continued on to tell us about how storytelling has changed.

The readings and stories explored for this week’s class show that interactivity can give the recipient greater agency in digesting the story.  For example, The Washington Post’s “TimeSpace: Inauguration” allows the visitor to jump from photos to text to videos about President Obama’s inauguration.  This format allows the viewer to interact with a timeline in the way that he or she desires; the participant is able to experience the event in a way that makes sense with his or her preferred style of learning.  Interactivity also gives the author/creator more room for creativity.  The Library of Congress’ The Exquisite Corpse project allowed multiple authors to breath life into a story.  Although this particular story takes a somewhat linear story line, it demonstrates to the reader that interactivity is allowing for new modes of creating stories.  Stories developed through the digital storytelling format are no longer relegated to this “A then B then C” format, but rather are allowed to explore outside of the traditional realm.

In regards to how interactivity can change academic arguments, I think the possibilities are huge and could give great returns on the academic front.  For example, historians often critique one another’s work based on the argument that her or she would have said.  How many history book reviews have we read that say something to the tune of, “I wish the author would have explored [insert topic not particularly relevant to this particular work],” or “I would have liked the author to focus more on [insert subject matter related to reviewer's area of interest].”  Perhaps increased interactivity in academic writing would help deflect some of this criticism by making modern academic arguments less of a linear statement and more of a well-researched but roundabout path of exploration.

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Interactive Storytelling

I hope everyone is enjoying the waning days of Spring Break 2010!

Storytelling seems to become much more ‘show and tell’ in an interactive environment, in addition to just telling the story; you are now able to show it as well. This has implications for academia that I think is just beginning to be understood and felt. The Washington Post article about the Inauguration is a perfect example; a map of this kind can be used to demonstrate a timeline of any event, place or person with an interactive component that allows the reader to experience the action. When reading the WaPo article, one relives the Inauguration, even if you weren’t there, allowing multiple perspectives and different stories that intersect (or not) within the greater story. This sort of interaction has profound implications for teaching, especially teaching history.

To my mind (not being a teacher) it seems that one of the most difficult aspects of teaching history is helping students to understand that events don’t occur in isolation, not only are there multiple causes for an event, but there are also simultaneous relevant events happening at the same time. To borrow an extremely broad example from the other class that I am taking, the History of the Book, we are talking about the printing press and the beginning of the Renaissance, a time in which a lot of things were going on at the same time, all influencing and affecting each other. Text, like a history textbook, utilizes a linear format to tell the story, but using a digital environment one can create a timeline, multiple points of interest, allowing the viewer to see some of the things that were occurring at the same time and how everything blended together.

Another great example is the alternate reality games. Does this remind anyone else of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular about 20+ years ago? The player gets to place themselves in different times and places and can choose their fate, and if that doesn’t work go back and try something else. In addition, the player gets to really experience whatever that alternate reality is, becoming a part of it. By allowing players to make decisions about what happens to them, the players can appreciate the consequences in a way that just doesn’t resonate as well if someone is reading about actions that have happened to other people.


Greetings – I hope that everyone is enjoying Spring Break (and working on their digital stories, perhaps?).

Storytelling in an interactive environment appears to be quite challenging.  Instead of telling one narrative, the author or creator should have multiple narratives, or at least one very open-ended narrative.  That multiplies the amount of creative effort that goes into the conceptual development of the narrative, and perhaps even the multiplication of content.  If the interactivity comes from collaborative form of interaction (like writing Exquisite Corpse or designing an ARG), the challenge comes from creating broad rules or a conceptual framework that can organize multiple storytellers with some overall coherence.

Likewise, interactive scholarship seems to emphasize an open-ended framework focused on a somewhat broad topic.  This may come at the expense of a thesis or main, bulleted points.  Instead, the user may feel strongly immersed in the topic and connect strongly with one or multiple examples.  (This was my experience viewing “Public Secrets,” about injustices in the California prison system, from a 2007 issue of Vectors).  Unlike interactive storytelling,  I don’t see how interactive scholarship could be truly collaborative.  I’m sure it’s possible but I’m not sure how precisely it would work.  I’m sure it’s possible, but I don’t know of any examples on the scale of Exquisite Corpse or an ARG.

That said, these readings convince me that we still don’t really know all of the ways that storytelling and academic writing can work in interactive environments.  Vectors looks like it is on the cutting edge of online scholarship.  On the other hand, the Washington Post’s interactive map of the Inauguration looks to me like a “let’s do it just because we can” sort of endeavor.  Evan Bregman’s thesis interview (a great digital story, by the way) demonstrates the sometimes-tiring search for true interactivity.  And, as Shaffer and Gee’s study and the Summit on Educational Games’ report demonstrate, research funding is difficult to procure.  Perhaps in the next few years we will see entirely new trends in interactive stories and scholarship emerge!

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