Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at email@example.com or visit her website: Acts of Composition.
As a digital storyteller myself, I am always looking for stories and connections in my world and for signs and meaning within my larger context. It is easy with my phone camera always available as I move through life and curate images and compose stories. Likewise, I hope to train students to see and create stories in their lives through observing personal, communal, and cultural perspectives, experiences, and influences through interacting with and interpreting their worlds. I encourage my students to engage in the regular practices of digital storytellers such as curation, selection, composition, and visual representation.
For this multimodal assignment, I ask students to create a simple digital story or slideshow in which they focus on a visual series of related things, experiences, or ideas. In addition to the digital skills required, students come to find their own meanings and understand larger rhetorical concepts of categorization, selection, arrangement, revision, and reflection. Categorization helps us understand the ways things fit together, universal abstractions, and the nature of things and ideas. This concept is rooted in classical rhetoric where both Plato and Aristotle refer to the connection between naming and categorization and explore the ways language facilitates this differentiation. Modern psychological and rhetorical interpretations support these vital cognitive processes in which “ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated, classified, and understood.”
Categorization focuses on how knowledge is organized. Objects in the same category are likely to share certain attributes, and category membership allows inferences to be drawn. The term category refers to a set of things (objects, ideas, events) that are grouped together. The term concept often refers to the mental representation of such knowledge. (Psychology Research and Reference, Iresearchnet.com)
This assignment draws on these concepts and asks students to find their own meanings in the overlapping and categorization of things. Through identifying similarities and differences, students stretch their cognitive muscles and move from the specific to the universal to abstract meaning and shared ideas.
Steps to the Assignment
- Brainstorm: I encourage students to first identify a potential series that occurs in their lives – one that they will be able to collect multiple images over a period of time. I have them start this assignment by brainstorming and observing their lives for a day or so to look for patterns, connections, repetition, or emerging ideas. I ask them to create a list of possibilities and then select one on which to focus for their series.
- Capture and Curate for Series: Next, students capture images and create a series. The number of images can vary as long as they collect more than they will use for their story (curation and selection). They need to capture related artifacts or concepts in different settings – studying them from different angles and perspectives. The series can be a collection of things or represent a series of ideas.
- Practice Composing Techniques: Make sure students practice strong composing techniques as they capture their images. This helps them realize that there are composing practices related to visual rhetoric and that these choices communicate different layers of meaning. Check out my Grab and Go Galleries post for resources and ways to integrate composing techniques into your classes.
- Review and Select: Once students have collected and curated images, they should review the collection and select the strongest ones to include in their story. This is the time to recognize observations, inferences, patterns, and connections as they consider and select their artifacts.
- Revise and Edit Images: After selection, students should edit their images through cropping, light, color, etc. to create quality images to communicate their meanings. I encourage them to use available digital tools and consider size, position, background, and context as they make these rhetorical choices.
- Arrange Images: Next, arrange the images and insert them into a 1-2 minute digital story (video or self-advancing slideshow). I allow them to use any video editing software they like. Most of them have access on their computers and there are many free, online options as well. If time, students can get feedback from their peer towards revision.
- Add Sound and Text: Students add title and credit slides, transitional text (if needed), and copyright free music. This is a good opportunity to discuss ethical digital use of images and citation practices. I usually share some open source, copyright-free music sites such as Bensound or Purple Planet for their use and selection. The music is another rhetorical consideration as students compose their stories and shape their particular meanings.
- Reflection: Metacognition is always meaningful. Students reflect, in writing on what they learned through the series. They can comment on their processes and the ways they read across the collection and discuss connections between things to abstract, larger universal concepts or ideas.
- Share with Classmates: Students can share their stories in small groups, with the full class or in an online, digital format (my students place them on their blog with a reflective context statement).
Reflection on the Activity
Digital storytelling can help us understand our world as we recognize patterns and connections in our lives. We can collect images for stories in our everyday lives, but trips and adventures also provide great opportunities for this kind of visual storytelling. It is in this spirit that I collected images and shaped my own version of this Digital, Visual Series Assignment on a recent trip to the desert (Palm Springs, CA) to visit family and explore the area. I started out by casting a wide net and worked to capture a sense of place as we went on with our activities. Palm Springs’s visual design style and cultural artifacts reflect a Mid-century Modern style that creates a feeling of “old Hollywood.” I decided to focus in on this style and created my series to capture and explore iconic roadside signs that fit into these categories. I personally liked the idea of signs for my series for their obvious semantic connection and visual appeal along with their metaphorical implications. I have included my digital story, Looking for Signs, below as an example of this assignment.
I used to wait for a sign, she said, before I did anything. Then one night I had a dream & an angel in black tights came to me & said, you can start any time now, & then I asked is this a sign? & the angel started laughing & I woke up. Now, I think the whole world is filled with signs, but if there's no laughter, I know they're not for me. – Brian Andreas, Storypeople