This little video is my response to the Creative Task for Chapter 4 (“Inspirational Week”)
The proposition for the task was this:
Take a camera, be it you mobile phone, a webcam… Introduce yourself to the other StoryMOOCers, telling us who you are where you are from and most importantly: which works inspired your interest in storytelling most up to know. Pick out 1-3 works of art, literature, film, TV, game, a website or else and tell us what’s so special about it that you think it might help inspire somebody else anywhere on this planet.
The Eastside Culture Crawl is East Vancouver’s own open studio tour. I don’t go every year, but have gone for many years. It feels good to wander through studio space, smelling paint, sawdust, and sometimes coffee, tea, and cookies.
Wandering through a painting studio always gives me a sense of wonder, like I’m exploring a mysterious territory. It’s so refreshing to not know what you’ll see next.
Back in the 80s, as an art student, I studied some drawing and a lot of computer graphics, which was just starting to evolve into a useful medium through relatively inexpensive home computer systems. With the exception of a little ink or graphite, my hands stayed relatively clean while I drew using a mouse.
So occasionally, my curiosity would lead me to the painting studios at my art college, where I could experience colour as it was embedded in thick pigment. I could see the physicality of its application, smell the oil and acrylics, and see the splatters and splashes of physical action. Computer graphics had – and have – none of that physicality or real-space depth and reality.
This Massive Open Online Course provides a foundation in the principles of the formats and methods of fictional storytelling.
The reasons this online course attracted me are:
The topic interests me: I’m beginning to write again, and I want to learn more…
The method of access interests me: I work in eLearning, and using a new Learning Management System is fun and educational in itself.
It’s largely self-paced, and absolutely free.
The course is organized into Chapters, each containing a number of Units of instruction. The format of each Unit is the same: each unit contains one brief video presentation (usually 10-12 minutes in length) where the host introduces the Unit topic, and provides examples, animation, or brief explanations from famous works of fiction or professional writers or storytellers.
Adjacent to each video is a tiny, one or two question quiz (often multiple-choice) which you must answer correctly to “pass” the Unit.
Below the video and quiz are links to optional further readings, references to articles or books, or other supporting videos. It doesn’t get much easier than that. I think this course is a bit too easy so far, but it is also very well-designed, nice to look at, and easy to use. The videos are extremely professionally-made and fun to watch. So far, the course has been a very enjoyable experience.
Apparently, this course has over 65,000 enrollees from all over the world, and (with the exception of a technical problem in Unit 2 of Chapter 1) seems to be well-liked by its users.
My only concern is the “apparent” level of interactions online in the course’s discussion forums. I say “apparent” because in my opinion, the discussion forums in the iVersity MOOC platform don’t really seem to adequately show the amount of interaction between students, and I don’t get an obvious sense that the Instructors are online and available.
This may be unfair of me, as I admit that I haven’t spent much time in the forums for this course, but in my memory of taking a different MOOC hosted in Coursera (“eLearning and Digital Cultures”), the Instructors seemed to have a more obvious presence online in the course’s discussion boards, and in monthly Google Hangout sessions.
This blog post and the embedded video, form my Digital Artifact , my personal response, to the MOOC “eLearning and Digital Cultures”. In this post, I’ll try to respond to the propositions it has put before me, and to the methods and patterns I’ve observed in it and in myself.
About the Video…
I didn’t set out to emulate “The Machine is Us” or any of those first-person, typing-on-your-screen responses to modern tech, but in retrospect, my video kind of looks like one of them.
But, the way it looks came about purely practically:
I wanted to use my voice. Maybe this was because the vastness of the MOOC classroom made me feel like it was difficult to be heard.
The MOOC is a heavily visual experience (all those videos, and scrolling of screens to read things), so my response had to be full of images and motion.
I knew it would be made up of some kind of collage of images, but I didn’t know I’d be sampling my own web surfing so directly. This was like a riff on the act of doing web-based research.
I wanted the video piece to look and feel a bit obscure, rough or hand-rolled, not perfectly trim and clean. Plus, time would be an issue, so I had to figure ways to do things live, and to move things around on the screen in real-time. Time was my enemy. I’d probably need to work fast.
I had a rough script, but was ready to improvise if need be.
How the video was produced:
The video came into being through a combination of digital and online resources, and coincidental, guerrilla production methods.
I’d originally thought about doing a Prezi or a slideshow as the format for my final piece, but after thinking about it for a while, I decided that those formats would either be too restrictive, or too over-used. I would definitely record something off my computer screen though – maybe using Jing…
My next concept was to create many little graphical clips – little cutouts – in Photoshop, and move them around on Photoshop’s artboard, like little 2D puppets on a digital “stage”. (Maybe the “Bendito Machine” video had influenced me subconsciously?)
As the deadline approached, the prospect of capturing and clipping dozens of graphics – maybe even one hundred – seemed hugely impractical. I needed a more immediate, more rapid way to get my idea across. I decided to try to stay with the “stage” idea, but move bigger and fewer pieces of art around.
I built a simple Photoshop project that used a soft-edged rectangle, like a soft viewport or blurry camera iris. I decided that the first few moments of my story could represent a frame of my expectations – the fuzzy edges might stand as a visual metaphor for the uncertain boundaries of my expectations, or the blurry boundaries that I perceived to be the student parameters of the MOOC itself.
Beyond that, I had a number of concepts that I’d thumbed into my smartphone during a coffee break. I knew the story would trace a line through the content that I’d experienced thus far, and through my reactions to being a MOOCer, in general.
I set up a small 640 x 480 rectangular area on my screen to record, and I abandoned Jing in favour of its “big brother” app, Camtasia Studio.
This became as much of a temporal collage as it was a spatial collage.
As soon as I got to record the first web page in the video (in this case the front of edcmooc), I decided to abandon the Photoshop artboard “stage” altogether, and just grab whatever I could online to tell the narrative I had sketched out in Notepad. I would just capture whatever I could in my browser (making elements bigger so they better filled the screen and the user’s field of view), and use whatever images I could find on the fly from the web.
I began recording, and would pause from shot to shot, to change what content would appear in the little 640 x 480 capture area. This allowed me to create the whole sequence in chunks of one minute or so, or sometimes as brief as a few seconds. This gave me the freedom to work rapidly and change things on the fly, spending 10 or 15 minutes between “takes” to select and compose what would go in the next little sequence, or consult my little script (which you see me doing in the video), and practice or re-do my audio narration.
The music track was from a creative commons source, and any coincidences of images and sounds (like when an image appears right in time with a strong drum cue or something) is purely and wonderfully coincidental.
So, there was some predetermined design, and there was some random chance, and some on-the-spot improv, which felt very liberating. There was a logistical framework in some of the preparation, and most especially there was a definite mental framework in all the concepts which had been interconnecting in my mind over the past few weeks.
But it was truly recorded as a sequence of brief little live performances. Recording and editing the initial 12 minute “draft” version of the video probably took me five or six hours. The next day, I emailed and tweeted the YouTube URL around to get some feedback, and then spent another hour later that night tightening up the editing, adding graphics, and refining the music volume.
Then, I spent another few hours working on this blog post, in order to try to explain (and rationalize) it all…
What my Digital Artifact probably says about my experience…
…is that after the first few weeks, I think I responded more to the process of MOOCing, of being a student in a MOOC, than I did to the actual propositions put to me by the course facilitators and the course content. I always have been a bit more interested in process rather than product. I think that working in relative isolation, with only a vague feeling of online “connectedness” to instructors or colleagues, tended to make me turn inward more and more. Instead of reaching outward to collaborate with my online classmates or facilitators, I turned inward and did a more personal analysis of the internal learning and thought processes which had been triggered – some of which from twenty five years earlier! I think that’s what my artifact communicates: my reactions to the process in which I was immersed.
I enjoyed creating something that moved and contained more than one mode of apprehension (i.e. voice + video + music). I think that I ended up responding to those same qualities in the MOOC content…
The little animated chunks of video, which delivered little windows into someone else’s world.
The relentless reading and scrolling and clicking to get from idea to idea (an animated experience in itself).
What does my experience reflect? Is it useful to the MOOC itself?
A friend and fellow classmate in this MOOC told me that being in it felt a bit like being in art college all over again. I must totally agree with that statement: that is very much how it felt for me as well. And for me, that’s a good thing.
But, is it useful information to the facilitators of this MOOC or to the developers of the versions of it that will come after it? Just what kind of teaching and learning have we been undertaking here in MOOCland, and what are those Masters students in the U. of Edinburgh getting from studying this massive online learning experiment? And what does Coursera get out of it?
What is a MOOC, after all?
Is it just Edutainment, as some people fear?
Is it a new excuse for more web surfing and social media?
Is it actually some yet-to-be-validated form of social learning?
Those questions will take me much longer to answer.
Also, yes, I’m tooting my own horn on this post: one of my illustrations was actually used in this Prezi. It had been my entry into the MOOC’s “make an interesting image for Week 2” competition. I never won enough “likes” or whatever on Flikr to win the prize, but seeing my illustration used as a slide in this Prezi is prize enough for me.
In the videos I’ve seen so far in Week 3, the idea of humanity is brought to the foreground primarily by the absurd or hyper-extended context in which each story is framed.
As a metaphor for what I mean, imagine you place a small area of light grey colour on top of a large black background. On black, the light grey will look much lighter than it actually is. In fact, people might interpreted it to be white.
That’s what these videos appear to be doing: creating a non-human, artificial or alien (spoiler alert!) tone or context, which brings out our internal concept of humanity in sharp relief. Unfortunately, they also bring out my cynicism in even sharper relief.
This somewhat shallow Toyota ad riffs on the idea of what today’s viewer would consider “CG” – a 3D representation that approaches the level of an interactive 3D video game, such as “L.A. Noire”. The message is insultingly simplistic: “Toyota is the real deal” [*snore*]
What I find more interesting is the fact that most younger viewers will totally be able to agree as to the “unrealistic” 3D graphics in this commercial. They’ve grown up in the era of HD and awesome frame rates.
I was born in 1966, and I suspect that my generation will be less likely to find as much fault with the quality of the “unrealistic” renderings. Maybe my generation would pass on the real deal Toyota, and drive our chunky, pixely KIAs or Yugos around in 3D land and still have a great time. I guess Toyota is pandering to the 25 year-old driver in this case, and I’m somewhat irrelevant.
This British Telecom ad makes the point about human contact by showing a family that interacts exclusively via text and social media. They don’t even seem to know how disconnected they truly are from each other, until BT points it out of course. Poor buggers.
This ad is basically “reach out and touch someone” all over again. (Does anyone remember that ad campaign from the 1970s?) Poor consumers. At least this commercial has a message promoting some kind of “more human” connection to it. The idea is that real-time voice comunication – the good ol’ phone system – is more human than texting or social media. I tend to agree with this sentiment, although ironically, I’d be using my social media as much as anyone, for the sheer convenience.
Most of the telecom commercials I’ve seen portray families that seem to need infinite minutes, massive data plans and constant texting. It always shows family members enjoying their digital lives, away from each other in separate rooms, not conversing or connecting or even acknowledging each other.
World Builder is a bittersweet fantasy. My initial response during the first few minutes was “Self satisfied 3D modeler plays God creating his perfect little 3D world = adolescent male power fantasy = So what?”
But as the story unfolded to it’s final conclusion, it revealed a sweet moral of self-sacrifice, a dream-wish of happiness and freedom given from someone who has freedom to someone who hasn’t any.
The idea here is that technology can be a tool to humanize and liberate, and in this video, liberation and freedom are placed in the service of love and compassion, instead of in the selfish pursuit of pleasure or power.
I admit to not always being the most successful critical thinker – I tend to want to believe the things I read, especially if they sound optimistic.
Having said that (and having read other articles that tout elearning and MOOCs as the next big thing to open up and democratize higher education), I admit that some of Mr. Shirky‘s opinions in this piece did cause me suspicion. I am wary of the for-profit world, and fairly cynical about why for-profit companies would offer any service for free. I believe that there’s a for-pay business model underneath a fairly thin veneer of “open access” and “free content”. Nothing is ever truly for free.
Themes explored this week included technological utopianism and dystopianism, and the idea of technological determinism.
I watched these videos:
Video: “Day Made of Glass 2” (Corning)
The “Glass as lifestyle” approach is somewhat corporate wishful thinking, IMHO, and relies too much on groovy futuristic sci-fi touch interfaces to make the glass medium look exciting. Tinting windows? Sure. Use my bedroom window to help me decide what to pull out of my closet that is only a few feet away? Fat chance.
A massive sheet of glass in the middle of a demonstration forest would never be that clean and perfect.
I’m sure it would also be dangerous for the wildlife (dead birds having crashed into it all the time = scary discoveries for young girls).
In the classroom, students are just well-behaved passive recipients of the Teacher’s initial presentation, with nobody raising their hand to ask a question or ask to go to the bathroom. In classrooms today that use interactive whiteboards, students are often encouraged to come to the front and move images around as part of the lesson. Why do presentation and participation (at the beautiful touch-table) need to be presented as a group activity? In the Corning classroom, students are depicted and treated mainly as one group/collective. Is this a (subconscious) corporate wish for collective harmony? It’s okay for the kids to pick their clothes or to colour Dad’s dashboard full of hearts – that’s harmless kid stuff – but beyond that, personal expression or individuality seem muted in Corningland.
The glass-based solar array on the school roof was a nice image, but they could have done more to humanize their mission, and embrace corporate social responsibility. Like, why not show a kick-ass interactive graffiti wall donated by Corning to some local Community Centre?
Also, why are the young girls private school students? Is that a value judgement about an educational utopia? Does that mean that Corning’s utopian vision would only be available to the upper class and rich medical specialists like the Dad? That would leave something of a dystopian “plexiglass” reality for the lower classes, I guess… 😉 Definite technological determinism there, not to mention class-ism.
Video: “Productivity Future Vision” (Microsoft)
In Microsoft’s vision, paper seems to have disappeared, replaced by flexible touch-sensitive surfaces. Hard for me to accept that. Paper will still remain cheaper than plastic, for at least the next 10 years and more ecologically friendly, forever. I noticed that keyboards are still around in Microsoft’s future vision, at least in the office when one is preparing the annual report (or whatever that dude was doing).
Apparently, nobody at home or work is concerned about any repetitive stress issues from having to do all those large arm motions to swoosh images around on all those massive interactiuve surfaces. How many overweight CEOs are going to throw their back out trying to clear all the virtual files off their ginormous desk-walls?
This idea that all surfaces will be interactive and high-res is completely fantastic – a utopian vision and obvious excuse to demo Microsoft’s Surface technology. It is technologically skewed towards the vendor-manufacturer’s wet dream of an ideal consumer family.
Last year, I read an astute saying that said “If you didn’t pay to use a service, then you are the product being sold”. I feel like that kind of “buyer beware” maxim could be applied to ease-of-use in information technologies too. Here’s what I mean…
If a technology tool or platform is popular, we could say that, in part, because it’s easier to use than the competition, the usability aspect of its design was likely a core business strategy. Hardware designers might talk of “build quality” and ergonomics – it’s all about usability.
Today, usability is deeply integrated into product design and marketing. For example, let’s take the rise of tablet computing platforms – most popularly, the Apple iPad. Many users who are new, or technologically-intimidated, or very young or old, will likely have an easier time using a touch-tablet like the iPad than they would using a desktop computer. Compared to the user experience of manipulating a mouse and keyboard on a desk to manipulate objects on a screen, touching your finger to a screen on a tablet (primarily one that has an OS that is designed for touch use) is much easier for a new or unfamiliar user. You don’t have to “get used” to using a mouse (i.e. training yourself that a wrist movement of a few inches from left to right across your desk will translate into a one-foot left-to-right motion of a pointer on the screen in front of your face). This basic aspect of the windows-mouse-icon-pointer interface is actually a barrier to use: a new user must practice a little bit before they can easily manipulate graphical objects using a mouse.
In this regard, smartphone and tablet-based computing have been absolute game-changer technologies for many people. Apple and many other manufacturers knew this, and were waiting for touch-screen technology to become sophisticated and inexpensive enough to bring to the mass market.
These devices are used to access many free and for-pay information and media services. People don’t really think about the way it is – they just want to be able to use these devices – these new gadgets – to get at the news, music, movies, or games that they want. Corporations seem to have taken a cue from the original “information on the Internet should be free” ethos that evolved through the 70s, 80s and 90s, and subverted it by making books, apps and games available on tablets for only a few dollars, or even for free. Buying an iPad game that will give you dozens of hours of fun will cost you about the same as a pack of bubble gum. That’s one barrier gone. After you download it, you can use it right away – installation is usually fast and minimal. That’s another barrier gone.
From a business perspective, making a platform easier to use (usability), and making the purchase process easier to complete (one-click fulfillment) and easier to justify (cheap or free) will easily result in more purchases. Amazon’s “One-click” purchase button was the first place I saw this kind of supermarket checkout “impulse purchase” tactic at work. I had disposable income, and Jeff Bezos and Amazon made it extremely easy for me to dispose of it on a whim. I could “impulse buy” a thirty dollar hardcover book with even less effort than it would take to grab a candy bar at the checkout aisle at Safeway. Tablets with apps and books that can be bought for under a dollar, while you’re laying in bed at night, are about as convenient and impulsive as it gets.
It means that the end-user consumer must exercise some discretion and will power to avoid nickel and diming themselves down to a negative balance in their bank account. A high degree of usability in the device itself makes for a pleasing and satisfying user experience, and ubiquitous cheap online products in a “one-click marketplace make it deceptively easy to please the vendors.
So, if it’s too easy to use, be careful. You might use it too often.
Today, I enjoyed a visit and stimulating discussion with one of my earliest art school teachers, John Wertschek, currently an Associate Professor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.
I suppose that many of John’s former Foundation students would probably agree that he has, in one way or another, challenged them to imagine the previously unimaginable. Certainly this was the case for me in John’s “3D” course, back in 1985 at what was then called the Emily Carr College of Art + Design.
I remember “The Rock Game”, an “exercise” (for lack of a better word) situated in a low-lit room on a table that was surrounded by mostly high-school-aged young people. On the table was a collection of rocks of varying sizes, which each participant would take turns moving or re-orienting. That was the whole thing. The Rock Game could be called a “no rules” game, but it required reaction, space, material and personal decisions, so although “rule-less” it might have been, it was not without structure or outcomes. Very zen, or whatever. 🙂
As an eager 19 year old who wanted to experience many new things, my take-away from that simple little game was “pay attention, feel, respond, and act for yourself”.
John liked to use words – their meanings, origins, sounds and similarities – to illustrate and challenge patterns of thought. Sometimes the challenge was a visualization and/or a creative thought experiment, such as “build a device with which to weigh a dragon”.
I also took away one deceptively simple piece of practical advice from John: “The two most important books you’ll ever use in your life are the Yellow Pages and the Dictionary.” Something in that advice told me that the door was open for me to go through, the resources and information out there if I looked for them, and that I should give myself permission to act when I needed to. (What the hell was I waiting around for anyway?)
So today, my dictionary and my business directories are Wikipedia and Google, and if I still have rocks to move around, they’re metaphysical or more often than not, composed of pixels. But the personal process contains a similar proposition: make a move, and do it with intention and integrity.
Today, John told me that back when I was doing my Foundation year, about 50-60% of the students were fresh out of high school, and that now, the number is more like 85%.
For a young generation of digital natives, acclimatized to immediate, packaged information and real-time access to a thousand opinions and personas, it makes me think that the kind of face-first, open-ended explorations which can cause you to question, reflect and think for yourself are now more important than ever.