Digital Storytelling and a Brave New World

May 2, 2009

This post is primarily for my students in Digital Storytelling, but I’m writing with a larger audience in mind. Some of these students rightly pointed out that we haven’t been leveraging the blog much lately, and for that I take full responsibility. I could blame Liberty Tree Week@Berry, but there is always time to blog. Blogito, ergo sum. So here goes . . .

The purpose of this post is to show a sort of highlight reel of the course. Distilling from your final exams, there are several to present. As one student wrote, “I have learned more from this class, even without any tests, than from any other class this semester, and possibly since coming to Berry.” This is gratifying, because the “no test” policy is part of a larger strategy to create a learning (and doing) community somewhat divorced from the academic game (and violence) of grading and scorekeeping. Thanks to you all, this strategy worked, and to everyone’s benefit.

With that in mind, I’m happy to announce that the grades students see on VikingWeb will be exactly those you presented on the final exams. Congratulations to you all.

To the highlights:

  • One student wrote that she learned ‘rapid adaptability.’ Great term (and an even better lesson to learn). She also learned to overcome pessimism toward the future of journalism by ‘discovering the art and privilege of truth seeking.’ Awesome. Truth seeking and reporting areĀ  high honors indeed.
  • Another wrote that she had learned ‘to be prepared for anything, for everything.’ Technology is a fickle friend — it breaks down and often behaves in unpredictable ways, so be prepared. She also said she learned that ‘layering is a good way to provide a wealth of information,’ and a great way to leverage online. Excellent.
  • Just do it! Another with no interest in journalism prior to the course said she was grateful for exposure to ‘a new side of the communication major.’ Those with interest in journalism professionally reported a great experience ‘doing’ it rather than merely researching or discussing it.
  • Nearly everyone celebrated our Friday morning discussions, and I would join in that lovefest. I really looked forward to our time together going ‘big picture.’ One student wrote, ‘I feel as if the class was like a therapy session, in that discussing problems with the media industry and the world helped us find possible solutions to the problems as well as encouragement to motivate a change.’
  • Perhaps my favorite reflection was from someone who reported learning a great deal about herself. She said she learned she ‘can hold my own, that I can go out there and get the story.’ This is of course music to my ears. Berry students often undersestimate how vastly better prepared they are than many if not most of their counterparts nationally. Cross-trained, converged, adaptable and knowledgeable with so many tools and software, you guys are really muscular — ‘ripped’ in this metaphor.
  • This student just mentioned also said she discovered that ‘there are a variety of ways to tell a story . . . that news doesn’t have to be linear,’ but that it can be multidimensional, multi-directional. ‘I learned I would have to get my hands into a variety of media and learn how to tell a story from a number of perspectives.’ She wrote that if she had stuck to her ‘I’m just a writer’ attitude, the learning could not have taken place. This student really got it!

Among the excellent suggestions for future iterations of the course:

  • One-on-one mid-term conferences to discuss how a student is progressing and identifying specific things to work on. This is gold. I simply never thought of doing this, and it is so obvious.
  • More leveraging of the blog, which several of you really liked. This continues the conversation from Friday mornings, allows the quieter ones to chime in, and provides us with a record of our discussions. I just dropped the ball on this one, as I said up top.
  • More on managing the online content. We focused on developing the content but simply didn’t get to managing it very much. This is a valid criticism, and my response is simply the time issue. We spend about 37 hours together over the course of the semester. Things go wrong, and unanticipated changes must be made. We just flat out ran out of time on put-together. But we are in really good shape. Check the ARC URL in about two weeks, and you should see all of your content and a fairly complete, robust site that you each can use in portfolios and as an example of your work to show potential employers.
  • Finally, at least two students reported that more direction would have helped. Yet, other students said the autonomy forced them to get it done, to be resourceful. I loved the fact that you all overcame, that you each learned what you needed to learn to produce quality stories, which you clearly did. The proof is always in the pudding.

Based on the products of your work and the comments in your reflections, excerpted here, the course was a phenomenal success. And we served a good cause with urgent need in the process. How cool is that?