Digital storytelling in the Digital Scholarship Lab

March 19, 2013

Using new technologies in digital scholarship involves constant negotiation.  Scholars must select technologies that are fit for their purposes.  But their understanding of purpose hinges upon grasping the affordances of the technologies they might use.  In other words, scholars cannot know what their purposes might be until they understand the affordances of the technologies they might use.  I have been negotiating this constructive tension while teaching a digital storytelling course this semester in the new Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab at the Rockefeller Library.  

Geared towards public humanities students, the digital storytelling course investigates diverse digital storytelling methodologies.  Throughout the semester, students produce a portfolio of digital stories.  The portfolio includes a "snapshot story", popularized on www.cowbird.com, which combines text and image.  They use video editing software to produce personal stories, an approach informed by the Center for Digital Storytelling.  Students explore locative media and place-based storytelling through digital mapping software.  They use online interactive fiction engines to construct interactive stories and slide presentation software to write non-linear, multimedia ones.  With each story, I ask students to investigate what digital stories are worth telling, to whom, how and why, how they want to position themselves as storytellers and their audiences, and what technologies are fit for their purposes.  

In teaching this course at the Digital Scholarship Lab, I wanted to approach the Lab... well... as a lab.  The Lab features a large-scale visualization video wall comprised of twelve 55-inch high-resolution LED screens.  The a 7 x 16 foot display has a combined resolution of over 24 megapixels, thus offering high quality viewing and analytical space not publicly available elsewhere on campus.  The Lab has a high-definition audio system, video conferencing capabilities, specialized lighting, and several individual touch-screen monitors that can be used independently or linked to the video wall for collaborative display and interaction.  Using the Lab as a lab has meant trying to figure out how to use it as a production space more than a cinematic one.  I have been exploring the Lab's ability to mirror multiple laptops on the display wall.  This feature allows students to see each other's work as their work is in progress during in-class activities.  I'm looking forward to this capability in an upcoming class where groups will compete with one another to find the Lost Pig in a text adventure game.   A key offer of the Lab that I have not figured out pedagogically is the capacity to view high resolution images at a large scale.  Because the wall uses monitors, not a projection system, viewers can approach high resolution images and view them up close without casting a shadow.  It has not been clear how this capability is useful for our class.  But students are curating their digital stories for public exhibition in the Lab on Monday, May 13th.  When curating this exhibit, I anticipate that students' understanding of their digital stories and how their stories might be told will expand because of the unfamiliar affordances of the Lab itself, including the capabilities of the display wall.   

Students in the Digital Storytelling course, in action in the Digital Scholarship Lab.Students in the Digital Storytelling course, in action in the Digital Scholarship Lab.Come to our exhibit on May 13th to see what we have discovered!
11 am to 6 pm
This digital exhibition will feature graduate students' snapshot stories, videos, creative cartography, and interactive fiction.

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Guest blogger Tyler Denmead, Post-doctoral Research Associate in Public Humanities

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