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Case Study: The Narrative in New Media

WRIT 222. Professor Suzanne B. Spring, Colgate University

Please provide the course description as it appears in the catalog and the typical enrollment for the course.

This course immerses students in the study of narrative craft, grounding students initially in the print essay tradition, but soon departing into multi-media narrative forms, including the audio essay, the serial blog essay, and the video essay. A central premise for this course is that every narrative--every story--inquires into both experience and ideas, and that writers compose not just what they know but in order to know, articulating these experiences and ways of knowing to chosen audiences. Thus, this course asks students to mediate the "subjective" and "objective" positions of the writerly "I" and "eye" in an effort to invites readers to see anew and to read and experience stories through aural and visual media. As a workshop-based course, students are expected to circulate their writing-in-process to each other--and their completed texts to various public spheres. No previous expertise in audio or video composing is necessary. Prerequisites: none.

The cap for this course is 15; it was over enrolled at 17 in Spring 2009, with a long waitlist, when the course was taught for the first time.

What are the learning goals of the media assignment(s) in the course. If your course assignments contain both analysis and creative production components, describe the learning goals of each.

The overall learning goals are the same for all three new media assignments (the serial blog narrative, the audio narrative and the visual narrative). They include the following:

What are the relationships of the media assignment(s) to the other aspects of the course?

Since this course is a course in new media, the media assignments are central to the course and cannot be considered separately. Since the central work of the course is to apply, adapt, and re-theorize the textual narrative form as it transforms in dynamic relation to new media, all work in the course is designed to aid in this kind of inquiry.

Describe your assignment design/structure.

The assignment structure for this course is a scaffolded structure: the assignments are sequential and are designed to aid students in gaining narrative expertise and fluency. We begin with composing textual narrative forms in a blog (posting) format and student writers engage with various narrative forms (which they have been studying through published narrative texts) and various narrative approaches to narrative composing, from word to sentence to paragraph levels; blog posts occur once each week for twelve weeks. At about week three, we begin work on the audio narrative, further building on narrative craft, yet centrally considering how sound composition, particularly through the spoken, conversational voice (a central characteristic of textual narratives), shifts in the audio format. The audio narrative is based in interview work of a narrative subject and the "narrative I" is negotiated as a predominantly subjective or objective narrator. Student writers compose a narrative frame that weaves in audio clips from their interviews. The third assignment of the visual narrative draws deeply on the audio assignment, but shifts to consider visual composition, particularly the ways that visual forms contribute to the work of gathering and crafting documentary details, which make the narrative come to life. In the last two weeks of class, we return to the serial blog and engage in peer critique and crafting of a final serial blog piece, number #13.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of visual/aural literacy?

This course assignment design addresses aural and visual literacies in depth. Substantial time in-class is spent introducing aural/visual literacy concepts and theories, particularly the kinds of logics and interpretive structures that aural and visual modes demand; listening/viewing and analyzing narrative craft in audio/visual narratives; and discussing and peer critiquing student productions of audio and visual narrative clips.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of information literacy?

The assignment design does very little at this time with information literacy. Students are required to undertake research for each assignment, but most of the focus thus far has been on what might be considered ethnographic or journalistic research, seeking information from human sources through interviews. Some projects required research in more traditional text or archival ways and I guided students in this regard though most of them did the work on their own.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of technology skills?

The course is structured to introduce students to Audacity, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro during class time; two class sessions are committed for each of these tools for a total of six days in a computer lab.

What are the resources necessary for your assignment (content/materials, institutional support, equipment)?

Historical/theoretical introductions to the narrative tradition along with example narratives; computer lab equipped with the media tools of Audacity, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro; ITS expert and lab instructor Ray Nardelli; one student worker (hired by my department) with expertise in audio composing and editing; several student workers (hired by ITS/Ray Nardelli) with expertise in Final Cut Pro (they manned a media support desk Sun-Thurs 7-10 pm).

Describe how you evaluated the project outcomes? Did you evaluate process? Outcomes? Both?

I evaluate the three assignments according to rubrics designed specifically for each individual assignment. For each assignment, I introduce the rubric early and students are asked to answer a series of questions designed to evaluate their peers' ability in a first polished draft to fulfill the rubric criteria in a 1-2 page peer response letter. As well, students compose a rhetorical analysis that accompanies their final polished draft of the assignment; this analysis demands that they articulate how their piece fulfills the rubric's criteria and how the demands of their particular composition may even push past the limits of these criteria, introducing/re-theorizing the narrative as it takes form in relation to new media.

For each project, the final grade is largely product-oriented, though process is somewhat accounted for in terms of student writers' articulation of the process in their rhetorical analyses. Process is more fully accounted for in students' participation grade, which is based on several assignments: 1) peer critiques; 2.) in-class workshops; 3.) blog entries; and 4.) the composition notebook (in which they do in and out of class narrative and figure of speech assignments).

Estimate the time invested in the project by you, your students, and academic support staff.

The time commitment for this course is extensive. The reading load is kept relatively light since the work of composing these three pieces requires much in-class and out-of-class time. I would estimate, however, that if students devoted a minimum of six hours/week out-of-class composing time consistently over the course of the semester, they should have ample time to complete each project, with perhaps an additional three-six hours extra required per assignment. Students who struggle with technology or put off their assignments until the last minute and/or do not take advantage of the student workers' expertise will likely find that the out-of-class workload seems excessive.

How many times have you taught this course/assignment? What would you do differently next time?

Spring 2009 was the first time I taught this course in its current form (however, I had previously been slowly incorporating new media assignments in a "Personal Essay" course, WRIT 231, in Fall 2006 and Spring 2008). I would do many things differently. In the next iteration of this course, I will foreground more peer critique much earlier on in the serial blog assignment; I will bring in student examples in clips and full narrative pieces from this Spring 2009 course as a means for current students to study successful and not-yet-successful narrative craft; I will augment our considerations of narrative craft through other narrative traditions besides the textual narrative tradition, particularly through narrative film-making (especially documentary) as a means to think about how the forms students are creating are in dialogue with these other narrative traditions; I will lead students more fully through their research inquiries in information literacy; I will try to obtain computer facilities for one class meeting per week, which will aid us immensely in working in more hands-on ways in-class with the cultivation of narrative craft in new media.

What is your level of expertise with respect to media technologies and scholarship?

I am very new to media technologies and scholarship. Beginning in Fall 2006, as I was developing a new departmental course WRIT 340: Visual Rhetorics, I read broadly in the subfield of Visual Rhetorics (my own specialty in my field is in the history of rhetoric, specifically in antebellum women's letter writing in the U.S). I taught WRIT 340 in Spring 2007 and Spring 2008 and this grounded me in Visual Rhetorics and its relations with intersecting studies in semiotics, film and media studies, cultural studies, socio-linguistics and literacy studies. Through an Innovation in Technologies Grant, I attended the Digital Media and Composition Institute at the Ohio State University in Summer 2007, gaining elementary expertise in digital composing in different new media technologies and pedagogical approaches; I then began to implement the use of new media technologies slowly into nearly all of my courses. Subsequently, I became involved in our NITLE grant project, took part in the Digital Storytelling Workshop in Summer 2009 and designed this new departmental course WRIT 222. My level of technical expertise is still rather elementary, but I have gained independent working knowledge with new media tools such as Audacity, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.