writing, research, technology fall 2009

Course Description

In this course we will continue to challenge the idea of contemporary modes of composition first discussed in Technologies and the Future of Writing. Specifically, we are going to be extending traditional conceptions of composition by applying it to the medium of video. Kevin Kelly (2008) recently described the emerging video movement as a cultural shift “from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality.” As a means of engaging visuality our primary assignment will be to create an oral history video composition that will ask us to think critically about how writing, research, and technology are in evolving in digital age. We are going to learn oral history research methodologies, construct interview questions informed by documentaries and Studs Turkel interviews, interview community members, and create short, idea-driven videos that mash together interview footage with still images, primary documents, sound, and other video footage. We will also jump headlong into remix culture by creating our own videos by remixing and building on the creativity of others. It will be a fun, exciting, and demanding course that is going to challenge us all—including Dr. Wolff—in new ways.

The primary video technology we will be using in the course is a Flip Video camera, which we are fortunate enough to have as a result of a Rowan University-provided Innovations in Teaching with Technology grant Dr. Wolff was awarded in June 2008. The goal of the grant is to

introduce students to contemporary theories in and practical applications of visual rhetoric, oral history, and educational outreach. The goal of the assignment is to provide Writing Arts majors with an opportunity to further develop the critical thinking, reading, and writing skills that are necessary for a contemporary “literacy [that] today is in the midst of a techtonic shift” (Yancey, 2004). That literacy is visual and textual; it consists of being able to understand the complex, evasive relationships among texts and images—and how those relationships impact and are impacted by contemporary cultures.

Many of the still and video images we will be looking and you will come in contact with as a part of your research at will be disturbing and often intensely personal—because of their subject matter and because of the way certain technologies have been used in print and online media to exploit, reveal, categorize, and define. Yet, those very same technologies—especially in our internet-mediated environment—allow individuals access to information previously locked away. As a result, it will be especially important for us to realize that different people respond to images in different ways, to respect the various reactions, and try to understand why they happen. We will spend quite a bit of time in class talking about the acts of listening, empathizing, and giving people space to explore personal ideas in an environment that welcomes such intense reflection. And, perhaps coolly, we will also talk about how to effectively present such images when composing our video essays. In short, the course is also about trust: trust in each other as students, in your subjects, in you as researchers, and in contemporary culture as a whole.

Although the course is about video composition there will be a substantial reading component. Our texts will be from various sources, including books, web sites, still images, video, and audio—and through the process of research and creation, we will create our own texts to be read, watched, analyzed, and enjoyed. We will have three units this semester in which we will compose 5 videos of various lengths.

Unit I. The One (3 – 5 minute video)
This unit will introduce us to basic short interview techniques, how to use the Flip Video Camera, and video editing software. It will also very nicely lead us in to Units II and III. Students will enter into their community (family, friends, strangers on the street, and so on) and ask them a question in which they have to consider one thing: the one thing they want to do with their day, the one thing they wish they could change about their life, the one thing the wish for the world, and so on. The result will be an idea-driven video that presents a snapshot of the community you interview, and through that video a commentary about contemporary culture.

Unit II. Memes and Remixes (two 3 – 5 minutes videos, one can be collaborative)
In six words, Lawrence Lessig encapsulates the differences between the older and younger generations: “We watched TV; they make TV.” Contemporary culture is participatory; people create their own entertainment and distribute it online for others to enjoy, critique, or ignore. Much of this entertainment takes older media and represents it in a new way that often adds a new layer of social commentary. This is called remixing. Along with remixes, Internet memes—“a catchphrase or concept that spreads rapidly from person to person via the Internet”—have become important parts of contemporary culture. In this unit, we will create our own remixes that remix prior media and, simultaneously, make some kind of comment about society. A one-page single-spaced interpretive essay will accompany each video.

Unit III. Video Oral History Project on an Important Contemporary Social Topic (8 – 10 minute video)
With Flip Video Cameras in hand (or on tripod) we are going to compose video oral histories. Our videos will not be about people, though we will learn about them through their interviews. Rather, the videos will explore a particular issue as understood by the people you interview. The distinction is subtle, but important. When conceiving of your issue, think in broad strokes at first but then narrow down to local specifics. We discuss this in great detail in class. Our subjects can be family members, colleagues, community members, strangers, and/or experts in a field relating to your issue. Due to the time constraints of the semester (and past experience), it will be better if you have a relationship of some sort with your interview subjects prior to beginning the project. This ten-week assignment will challenge our critical thinking, reading, writing, and composing skills. It will test our patience and bring us thrills. It will ask us to think visually and aurally. We will explore in depth questions writers of written texts often take for granted (or never have to think about), especially those relating to time, transition effects, sound, silence, blanks, color, among many others. The result will be a video of individuals whose voices on important social issues might never have been recorded, preserved, and broadcast to a world eager to watch, listen, learn about what others think and do.

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