I spent this past weekend with an intimidatingly credentialed group of educators (I believe I was the only one without a PhD in progress). Writing Center directors, Composition program directors, professors and teachers of all variety in the greater scope.
This incredible workshop was sponsored by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who played host to teacher, programmer, designer, and writer Anne Wysocki of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her talents and expertise helped us cultivate a series of conversations about Digital New Media Composition.
As an animator and former Apple designer, her strong background in understanding the experience of “text” created a unique opportunity to look at the craft of teaching writing from a new angle. I tagged our session on Twitter as #Wysocki.
I took so many notes, I haven’t hardly had the time to go back through them and process! Working Creatively With Digital New Media Texts was the workshop’s title, and it led us to explore many exciting places in composition, instruction, and design.
Defining “New Media” was first on the agenda. Anne talked with us about “periods of time where people are more alert to the immateriality of ‘text.’” Right away I was excited to dig into the philosophical nature of what it means to compose.
New media texts pay attention to their own materiality. They don’t give up the responsibility of their shape to another authority. The tools (like Prezi) that divorce the space a text exists in from what the text does are truly new mediums. New media composition should make you consider and value the process and space of your composition. If you’ve used it, you know that Prezi’s space is very different than what pen & paper afford you.
My favorite new buzz word from the weekend was “Remediation.” No, not that “remediation” but “Re-Mediation.” The putting of something into a new medium. Previously, I would have just called this a mashup or remix. This is one of the skills I want my students to showcase as a digital literacy. Their skills as readers, writers, and thinkers hinge on new tasks like this. They want to remix YouTube videos, do digital versions of scenes from books, and make fresh what they’ve experienced as flat.
By far, the most fun part of the weekend workshop was when we were turned loose with an hour to work within our new context for composition. We were just allowed to play, to tinker, and to proudly create very sloppy “re-mediations” of our ideas. It was wonderful to see a room full of writers, teachers, and professors working with a new tool (to most): Prezi. This is the kind of practice I want to encourage in my classroom, a sort of turning-loose of the curious explorer in each of us.
In a perfect world where I had more than an hour, I would have written a poem about my word (I chose to use one word as a peg and then find Flickr images to fit it) ennui and then used the composition space on Prezi to craft a multi-modal tour of global images tagged with the term from the creative commons. I would have coordinated more interrelated series of pictures so the poem could have be explored in stations in the digital space, rather than using dis-conjointed photos (which worked decently). I would have mixed and edited a score for the Prezi and been more intentional about my audio and visual palate of tone and color. I got to try a little bit of this with my black & white wheel of images using no text and the Deathcab for Cutie song. Maybe I would have put the song lyrics or chorus in parts on each image too. Here’s what I came up with during our time (this is after I tinkered with it all day too):
Anne’s workshop left me with this big question: What are the conventions for “reading” your text? Is it intuitive? Does your composition take into consideration how the “reading” will take place? Using new media involves setting up an atmosphere where writing and text has to be designed (not done). Composition is not a singular, static, & set act, but a dynamic, divergent, and dialogical device for exploration. Incubate your ideas and compose within the bounds of the medium, whether that is Flash, HTML, transparent text, or something like Prezi. Use the medium to build in opportunities for invention and innovation to crop up on their own outside of your design.
As far as educators are concerned, digital new media offer an environment whose scope permits exponentially more points of entry that immediately validate and encourage engagement with learning spontaneously. Prezi allows for such composition, making differentiation more possible and fluid than ever before.