Saturday, January 15, 2011

Drawl Space & Digital Media


Maybe because I grew up for thirty years in the drawl space of rural West Texas, I’ve never been an early adopter. I don’t think it’s just about going slow, but it’s also about giving time for the multiples to accumulate. The toxic effects of one-right-way might’ve built up a strong resistance to speeding down novel (new-fangled) techie-things. On the other hand, going slow can also mean being stuck in the mud of tradition or fundamentalism. Neither speed nor slow is the answer.

After writing enough to get tenured, I even went backwards into the oral tradition where I felt storytelling was rooted and belonged. While digital media production looked interesting, digital and story were pretty much mutually exclusive. That was until I tried it out, reluctant at first, and then falling pretty darn fast.  But somehow, maybe it was instinctual, I knew that I needed a multiple-track format. Doing digital media with photostory and moviemaker didn’t have a good feel to it.

Also when I read or heard the experts saying you have to start with the written script, even with a storyboard, my body grimaced. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I wanted the full deck to play: text, moving image, still image, voice, music/sound. Searching the web and reviews, I found a program where I could see and work across multiple tracks with the creative energies sparking across them.  This allowed me to escape the claustrophobic sense of preimposed words that seems to be the legacy of print composition.

Steven Johnson’s Where Do Good Ideas Come From articulates explanations why digital media composing might need the multiple-track modality. Implications for teachers at all grade levels could be significant. The traditional working space or environment can “block or limit new combinations—by punishing experimentation, by obscuring certain branches of possibility, by making the current state so satisfying that no one bothers to explore the edges.”  The concept of the “adjacent possible” calls for an innovative environment that assembles the “spare parts.” 
We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings . . . but in reality they’ve been cobbled together with spare parts that happened to be sitting in the garage.” pp. 28-29.
“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts.  The trick is to get more parts on the table.” p. 42

When I apply this to composing in digital media, I believe it means that certain platforms and instructional approaches risk limiting creativity, motivation, and quality.  Of course, we don’t want to overwhelm anyone for too long.  We do want work with platforms that allow dynamic engagement with the multiples.

After establishing the significance of the adjacent possible, Johnson moves ahead into another multiple which he terms “liquid network.” Innovations come not from the individual working alone but in the “swarm” that happens around the conference table.  I think of my frustration in a resource development retreat when I was summoned from my private composing so that we could report out to a working team.  Sharing my half-baked mumblings felt inadequate.  I also remember my realization that talking the process and the ensuing conversations provoked creativity and better composings. The liquid network, like the adjacent possible, challenges much of what I see in educational practice and particularly in individual assessment models and accountability pressures.

Steven Johnson has at least five more “patterns of innovation.” Stay tuned.