Monthly Archives: September 2013

Our very own Sundance!

This is less of a real post and more of a link-dump for convenience’s sake — we’re showing our video narratives in ENGL 3844 and needed a convenient way to DJ.

The Youtube playlist:

The Vimeo playlist:

And remember to vote for your favorites, which you can do here:

Hope you brought popcorn. Let’s do this thing!

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Making it work (or, Thoughts on The Collegiate Way Of Living)

I am a huge fan of the TV show Project Runway. My family’s watched it together for over a decade, and while it’s often as fluffy as any other reality series on air, it’s got a number of elements I really respect: designers who go above and beyond in their creative use of material and design, uniquely artistic challenges, and Tim Gunn — a mentor figure who constantly provides thoughtful feedback for the contestants, encouraging them to push their creativity even further and edit their designs into something that will actually work on the runway.

I watched a new episode of the show last night, so maybe it’s no surprise that the idea of tailoring has been on my mind. One-size-fits-all looks are rarely flattering for anyone, whether they’re supermodels or communities, and I think it’s worth extending this metaphor a little to take a look at The Collegiate Way of Living.

Yale’s residential college model is pretty fantastic, but it did not spring, fully-formed, out of nowhere. It evolved naturally, growing from the shared desires of the community and changing when something wasn’t working or when new opportunities appeared on the scene, and it is fully a reflection of the students and faculty who shaped it.

I think this is an important thing to keep in mind here in the HRC. It’s difficult to imagine that a residential college model developed at Yale would be possible to duplicate here at Virginia Tech. There are, after all, a number of significant differences between the student body at these two schools — not in the caliber of the student or our academic interests, necessarily, but in our backgrounds and collegiate culture. And that is not only okay but completely to be expected! All colleges and the communities they maintain are different, and that’s something that should be recognized and celebrated.

The problem comes when we try to follow Yale’s model to the letter and expect it to work exactly the same way in a different community. It’s a fantastic starting point, but we need to make sure that we’re flexible in our adoption of this model and give ourselves space to edit as necessary. A residential model perfectly tailored to one specific university isn’t going to fit another like a glove by default, in the same way a jacket tailored to perfectly flatter one person’s figure might pull across the shoulders or hang too loosely on their friend. The trick, as any good designer knows, is to use the basic form and then work on perfecting the fit for the individual who plans to wear their garment. The same goes for the structure of a community — if something’s uncomfortable or difficult to move around in, changing it is best for everyone involved.

The HRC has grown a lot in the three years I’ve been here, and will only continue to evolve in the future — almost certainly in some unexpected directions. I would encourage community members to draw inspiration from, but not cling to, Yale’s residential college model for its own sake, and instead remain open to putting a new twist on this classic piece. I believe that if we strike a balance between the residential model we’re using as a pattern and our own new ideas, we really have a chance to make this thing work.


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Video Narrative Roundup

Well, that video narrative was…something, let me tell you. This was my very first video project, and I definitely got in over my head with the whole “let’s hand-draw and also write the music for this assignment!” thing. I could have made this a heck of a lot easier if I’d used stock images and Creative Commons music, but I wanted to experiment a little, and while this was way more time-consuming than it needed, I am pretty proud of the end result. I learned to use three new online programs for this assignment, and a couple of new life skills — namely, how to storyboard effectively, how to write a soundtrack that matches the action in a story appropriately, and how to get comfortable with the sound of my own recorded voice.

I think the most interesting part of this assignment was the part that wasn’t actually required — I got so frustrated trying to find music that fit my story that I gave up and just wrote some myself. I knew there were online programs that would let you build pre-recorded loops and turn them into songs, and I found one called MusicShake that worked out fairly well. The track for my video is nothing particularly great on its own, but I think I did a fairly good job of matching the music to the scene transitions and getting the tone right. It was certainly a neat experiment!

Anyway, the final video is here:

MusicShake is here. Play around on there if you like, but if you want to download tracks, including your own, you’ll need a subscription. I impulse-bought a month-long one for five bucks and will be writing and downloading a bunch more music to make good use of it, but I do wish it was free!

And Pixlr is here for all your off-brand Photoshop needs. Most folks use it like Instagram, but it is pretty decent for heavier photo editing, and for actual sketches and coloring if you’ve got a tablet on hand but no spare cash for the Adobe suite.

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Feedback (literal and metaphorical)

For a rough, rough cut, my video project went over surprisingly well. The secret, I think, was decent audio: I used the recording booth at the Innovation Space and was pleasantly surprised at how my voice sounded when I played my narrative back. Most folks seem weirded out by how their voice sounds in recordings, but I suggest that the phenomenon may have to do with microphone quality. The audio I got actually sounded like me this time around — at a lower pitch and less resonant than it usually sounds bouncing around in my own skull, but definitely me. This was the first time I’d used a sound booth, and was glad I’d practiced my script several times before recording — I had no idea how to set up the equipment at first, but luckily it was pretty easy to adjust and the end result was definitely worthwhile.

Getting solid feedback from my classmates was a pleasant surprise as well. Workshop sessions are always a bit awkward, but the forms really helped everyone focus their critiques, and I came away reassured that I was headed in the right direction. I was also excited to see previews of everyone else’s narratives. I’ve always loved behind-the-scenes specials, and it was particularly interesting to see the different approaches that folks had taken when assembling their stories. The finished pieces are sure to be lovely, but there’s something about seeing all these projects in their awkward, half-assembled glory that makes me strangely happy. There’s something particularly honest about the mess, and as much as I’m looking forward to our Sundance-style film festival next Wednesday, I’m glad we got to see one another’s works in progress first.

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Multimodal Roundup

Thought I’d start a new post series in which I link to Neat Stuff Tangentially Relevant To Class Discussions. This week’s series deals with multimodality, or in terribly oversimplified terms, mixed media, so here are some links that might pique your interest if you’re into that kind of thing.

+ Our discussion of the essay written on ballet shoes reminded me of this pretty remarkable piece of performance art, in which a ballet dancer with knives attached to the tips of her pointe shoes dances atop a grand piano. Challenging, uncomfortable, and awe-inspiring.

+ Seaquence, a very cool blend of music, art, and a little bit of science. Make your own song in an unconventional way by building instrumentation modeled off sea creatures, which then swim around and play back your tune. It’s oddly calming and definitely a pleasant way to waste some time.

+ Finally, a video that talks about the desire for communication between members of an audience and how it impacts online fan communities. If you’re involved with fandom or curious about multimedia, interactive elements of storytelling, you’ll really want to watch The Audience Has An Audience.


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Video Narrative Progress, or “holy jeez, what have I gotten myself into”

The story I picked for my video narrative posed a unique challenge for this assignment: I don’t actually have any pictures to accompany it, so I’m drawing them myself with a tablet and a somewhat dubious but free Photoshop-like program online. This is my very first video assignment, and I figured it would be fun to animate my story with sketches rather than rely on stock images to illustrate it. Fun, right?

Turns out this may have been an, er, ambitious undertaking. I might need to tinker with my storyboarding a little to prevent my hand from falling off my wrist after all these sketches. Things are starting to shape up, but man, I don’t know how actual animators do this!

I’m also puzzling over how I’ll be able to work on this project during class on Monday, as my laptop’s abysmal battery life means it’s really more of a desktop computer. I’ve got a neat drawing app called Paper on my iPad that could be handy for roughing in the illustrations, and I may wind up using that as an intermediate device, but we’ll see. If I can use class time to commandeer a recording booth, that would be fabulous — I’m pretty happy with my script, and I’ll be able to work out the number of drawings I need a little better if I have a recording to construct them around.

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Mixed media

“That we live in a fragmented world is not news. That textuality has pluralized is, likewise, not news. What we make of these observations pedagogically is news — and still, as they say, under construction.” — Jody Shipka, Towards a Composition Made Whole

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at the contents of their sketchbook. Some folks carry neat hardcover journals around with them and fill them with precise drawings in graphite and ink, working front to back and making sure nothing bleeds through onto the next page. That’s never been me, I’m afraid — the cork-bound book I’m currently overloading is filled not only with detailed, carefully-referenced pieces, but with frantic scrawls in highlighter and sharpie, post-it note doodles taped onto the pages, class notes, weather diagrams, a stray fortune cookie slip or two, and an occasional stained ring from a misplaced coffee mug. The art is colored indiscriminately with everything from expensive Prismacolor pencils to Crayola crayon to cattle markers — the thick neon oil paint used to draw stock numbers on the sides of, yes, cows. It’s impossible for me to choose a favorite medium, so more often or not I go for as many as possible at the same time. It’s more than a little chaotic, but it keeps things interesting, I think.

I’ve always been intrigued by remixes, mashups, crossovers that refuse to slot neatly into one genre and instead bleed in several directions at once — my default setting, it seems, is actively multimodal. While the aesthetic certainly works for me, this kind of thing often makes folks uncomfortable, as evidenced in Shipka’s anecdote about a research essay transcribed onto ballet shoes and the peculiar reaction the slippers elicited. The shoes were an innovative project, but the students weren’t entirely sure how to approach them, or even if they were a valid response to an assignment. Interesting reaction — the same, amusingly enough, as the one I’ve gotten from a couple of folks when describing the setup of this Writing and Digital Media course.

Instead of traditional essays, Dr. Warnick’s told us, we’ll spend this semester creating multimedia narratives, learning to build stories in various web apps, and blogging for a grade. This is unfamiliar territory for many of us in this class, and I for one don’t know how I’ll approach many of these assignments quite yet. But I am excited to try these new forms of pluralized text — the chance to tinker with and deconstruct academic responses sounds pretty neat to me. In a world growing increasingly fragmented, the pursuit of multimodal storytelling might just be the best way to jump between those shards and start putting it back together again.

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Aaaand we’re back!

After a semester abroad and a summer of science adventures on the coast of Virginia, it’s time for this blog to get its systems back online. Between the HRCS blog posts and Dr. Warnick’s assignments from ENGL 3844, there’s gonna be a fair amount going on here in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

For now I’ll use this post to jot down a couple of ideas for my digital narrative, a video project in which we get to tell a story about ourselves. I’m currently fluctuating between:

1. The snake in the Christmas tree
2. Zooropa in Berlin
3. The Great Poison Ivy Debacle of Summer 2013

I love telling all these stories, but for now I am leaning towards the first: it’s funny, fairly concise, and I could do some fun things with the visuals. The Berlin thing is way more esoteric and I think it might work better in another medium, perhaps something without narration read aloud, like Twine or some multimedia web thing with the narrative in text rather than audio. The Poison Ivy Debacle is hilarious and actually a really important experience I had this summer (it helped me get over a lifelong fear, which was pretty awesome), but it involves some low-grade but slightly gory medical stuff, talk of anxiety, and questionable decisions regarding urban exploration, and so is perhaps not the best choice for public consumption for a class project. But we’ll see!

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