A digital story about storytelling in the class room

This process has been fascinating…fascinating in its incredible ability to make me a wholesale believer in the Joe Lambert digital storytelling research methodology. Not once had I ever doubted its power. As I have said in class, his process—without the visual component—is something I engage in on a daily basis in my classroom, and it is such an unbelievably fulfilling experience; but, completing this project for my purpose in the visual medium with my students’ collaborative help makes me feel like I can fly. Maybe this is too heated; I am just coming off the high of completion. I don’t think so though.

There are many things that are inspiring this rush of emotion. Part of it is the joy and satisfaction I have of knowing that my work is vocational; it changes lives, my students and my own…I am lucky! But to add another penny to my already very full bucket is the fact that my work bleeds so beautifully into my intellectual interests, my research.

My larger intellectual project is on the 18thC epistolary novel crafted by men and women alike. The genre attracts me for many of the same reasons digital story telling is so powerfully provocative. The epistolary novel gave space to fictional and real women writers of letters carving out an autonomous space in a restrictive world, a space made possible through rhetoric for the purpose of subverting the very structures that forced their hands to write in this genre to begin with.

The affective space carved out through the epistle allowed women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels.

At the end of the metaphorical day, my piece is not a true Joe Lambert digital story, as it brings my students into the voiceovers. I suppose it is a little more ethnographic as a result, but not. Whatever my Frankensteinian piece’s position on our shattered map from last week’s class—it feels right!



December 10, 2013 · 7:16 am

It’s all in the Implication; making arguments through implication

This project requires students to imply an argument through any genre they like. They could write a song, a poem, film a movie, create a comic strip.

This project was inspired by Pico Iyer’s piece “Its all in the Implication” (February 13, 2006)


ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a spirit called Implication. He didn’t get picked very often when the other kids were choosing teams, and he tended to live in the shadows. But he always had a sense of pride, deep down, because he knew that people would call on him in their most important moments: in bed beside someone they loved, or while on their knees whispering to what — or who — they believed in. Life wasn’t black or white, he knew; Implication was a friend of all the colors.

As he grew up, Implication found himself running with a not very fast crowd — Irony, Irreverence, Adoration, Poetry. They all got together, though they came from different worlds, in unlit places away from the main streets. Passersby would hear a snatch of music, and then there’d be a silence. It was like a different universe from the marching bands that liked to parade down the avenues; a universe that said that what we couldn’t see, or say, had as much a part in life as what we could.

And then one day Implication heard he was on a blacklist. The word came from Rumor, and it said there was no room for either of them in the new dispensation. Question marks were now banned; Cacophony, Simplicity and Outright Confrontation had taken over. Implication had always been the warrior’s enemy and the lover’s friend.

But now Implication didn’t know where he could go, what he should do. For as long as he could remember, he’d had a job to perform, a role. People looked to him when they were joking, when they were flirting, when they wanted to spare someone’s feelings, when they wanted to hurt someone’s feelings. They followed the principles he carried with him: that power is measured by what you keep at home, that silence makes a deeper impact than shouting. Implication had been made an honorary citizen of the Land of Trust.

But now there’d been a coup d’etat, and stony-faced policemen, all marching in step, were carrying placards scarred with exclamation points. Implication opened the newspaper and saw that the front page was taken up with a single screaming headline; he turned on the TV and heard men in suits shouting at one another as if to convince themselves of their own authority.

“Sorry, Chum,” said the man at the radio station. “We’re taking a commercial break right now.” Everywhere he went, it was the same. “We don’t have time.” In the past, he’d always been able to call upon his colleague, the telephone. People loved to leave things hanging on the telephone, to hint and giggle and let sentences trail. But now the telephone, too, had a screen, and people were transmitting furious messages to one another consisting of squashed words and images and acronyms. “We’ve got to get there yesterday,” Data roared. “No time to linger.”

Implication realized he was an outcast now. When he knocked on the door of his favorite magazine, he was told his services were no longer required. When he went into a suburb, he saw people watching the small screen and taking their cues from it.

Then he went into the post office and saw a listing of the “10 Most Wanted.” Subtlety was on it, and Ambiguity, Diplomacy and Mischief. His own picture was next to the sentence that read, “These are the ones we need to lock up forever.”

Implication thought about friends he’d known. His great companion Henry James could hardly order dinner or declare his love, he was so attached to Implication. That woman in Bath had used him as a manservant to deliver her round-about love letters. In Japan, they’d almost made a cult of him, saying so little that the poems he worked on were almost blank pages. Yet none of these people was a threat to anyone who could see clearly. They all had something to say because — this was the point — they all had something not to say.

Implication saw the casualties by the side of the road as he walked out of town: Caresses, Limericks, Whispers and Threats. It was almost as if humans were becoming just machines made from computers, 0s and 1s. Or kids again: “You’re with us or against us.”

In the past, he’d been employed by the Department of Education; Implication was how people began to learn understanding. But now a sentence was running by, no time for him, and seconds later the sentence had crashed into another, and they were both lying lifeless on the road. Implication cried out, but no one heard him. So many people were shouting, no one could hear anyone else. This was a time of war, and there are no grays, they said, in war.

At the heart of this assignment is the idea that arguments, and sometimes the best kind of arguments, are subtly developed over time through the effective use of evidence…sensory details, dialogue, visuals, audio…Implied arguments offer the audience more respect as they anticipate a viewership eager to engage in a shared imaginary space created by whatever medium conveys the message.

For this project I allow students to go through my purse. I provide all sorts of fun possibilities. A kind and brave student offers up their purse or wallet and students go through that purse. Everything that is found is considered evidence. After students have mined the evidence they must create a thesis that interconnects the two people–myself and the other student. However, that thesis cannot show up explicitly in their piece; rather, the thesis must be implied through their use of evidence.

It’s all in the Implication, or It’s all in the Bag!

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December 3, 2013 · 5:34 am

Rhetorical Terms Project by AP Language and Composition Students

I found these project particularly powerful as they took into consideration audience, purpose, and they created wonderfully self-reflxive and playfully performative personas. These students did a great job.

I think I am going to teach a unit next semester on Documentary and a unit on Digital Storytelling. Of course, they will have to be abridged because of time constraints, but the facility with which my students put the rhetorical terms project together suggests that they would have a lot of fun with these other visual media formats; and as I have been discovering, these formats are steeped in rhetoric.

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December 3, 2013 · 4:23 am

What is the meaning? Are digital stories the answer?

I am including a video with Jo Lambert speaking about the structure and purpose of the Story video. During this video he essentially provides a digital story mini lesson. He explicates the purpose, shows an exemplar, and then unpacks the process in action through the exemplar.

My second video is pulled from you tube after searching up the word grandma. It has two young ladies blogging about grandma. However, it seems like an in-process experimental piece about making a blog especially in terms of the technology as they press buttons on the screen and discover new options at the same time they are sending an implied message of frustration with their grandmother.

At the end of the second excerpt I am left with the question of what was the intended message. Do the young ladies mean what they are saying about their grandmother, or is the content make believe for their structural self-reflexive engagement with creation? Where and what is the meaning? Am I a bad audience member?

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November 19, 2013 · 7:20 pm

David MacDougall’s Method of Intervention

Pushes Against observational documentary styles

American Family

David MacDougall’s theoretic of visual engagement pushes against “the magical fallacy of the camera” and its “omniscient observation” (123) towards a filmmakers self-aware positionality where a “filmmaker acknowledges his entry upon the world of his subjects and yet asks them to imprint directly upon the film their own culture” (125). Moving along the grain of Rouch’s theoretic, MacDougall works to invert the anthropological structure of “exhaustive analysis” and focuses on the part “which may stand more accurately for the whole” (126). Working within this structure MacDougall’s intervention provides a more genuine experience for the subject as the documentary is participatory and not peripherally observational: “Ethnographic filmmakers can begin by abandoning their preconceptions about what is good cinema. It is enough to conjecture that a film need not be an aesthetic or scientific performance: it can become the arena of inquiry” (128).

Moves towards participatory and reflexive Harembee

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That Which Yokes Man; Human Finitude in Marlon T. Riggs’ “Black Is…Black Ain’t”

Marlon T. Riggs’ “Black Is…Black Ain’t” opens with a black figure—it is unclear weather a man or a woman and no facial features are distinguishable—tottering through green branches. This unnamed, un-sexed, un-faced figure makes its way towards the camera, crunching crisp leaves underfoot, stinging the air as the space between the figure and the camera diminishes. This opening ends with Riggs’ face coming into focus, but only briefly, for the film cuts to Riggs again (we have seen his face, albeit quickly so we can identify him as the same man in the woods), but this time fully clad and in a position of authority—a concerned authority—asking young people “has anyone talked to you at all about what you are doing? You just got dragged here (some of teenagers quizzically and critically assent while Riggs laughs)? Let me tell you a little bit about what we are doing. This is a documentary for television and its called ‘Black Is…Black Ain’t.’” This shot lasts no more then fifteen seconds before the camera’s object of inquiry changes yet again to the cold and septic hospital floor with a fade-in of production materials, cameras and the black-and-white clip board that signals filming and scene-takes with numbers in red flashing and changing as time progresses.

Riggs’ voice in the background, nondiegeticly introduced as an overlaid, and authoritative track to the world of the film (however, even his authoritative voiceover is ambiguously positioned as the scenes prior established Riggs as a subject, as well as documentary authority) riffs off of the red numbers, thinking through the temporality of finally starting production (red letters in the background heightening the time constricted element of production), his white blood cell count and his weight, while white numbers embodying his thoughts flash on the screen. Even with the certainty that numbers are supposed to bring to “a production finally started” and the monitoring of his health, Riggs speaks of disorientation, an uncertainty as to what is happening to him: “what is happening to my body?” Riggs does not leave this question hanging as it is central to his method and intervention; it is immediately answered: “AIDS forces you to…because of the likelihood that you could die at this moment…AIDS forces you to deal with that; to look around you and say ‘hey I am wasting my time if I am not devoting every moment to thinking about how to communicate to Black people so that we start to look at each other, we start to see each other.’” Nondiegetic voices, in unison but with different tonalities, rhythmically chant the title “Black Is…Black Aint” in the background against a black backdrop, which white letters swiftly mark: “During the making of this film, [Riggs] died of AIDS. This film was completed in tribute to his vision and humanity.”


The documentary’s powerful opening takes no more then a minute and twenty seconds, but in that minute and twenty seconds, Riggs establishes his methods of intervention and through these methods, Riggs asserts the function/purpose of his documentary, a purpose that also clearly indicates his audience. Riggs wants Black people to see each other, to engage with one another as authentically and compassionately as possible; Riggs implies life, existence, is time sensitive, and man is bound by the finitudes of our own human and bodily vulnerabilities and frailties, making man diffusely and infinitely different yet impenetrably bound by the finitude of time as death.

Riggs’ methods of intervention organically bleed into one and other; they are porous. While the different documentary modes Riggs invokes are distinct in terms of style and theoretic, they feed into and through one and another creating a lyrically raw, yet coherent theoretical argument about identity’s performance, and positionality as constricted by finitudes such as time, pain, and death. Riggs’ initial movements through the foliage, naked and initially unidentifiable, performatively engages with an abstract idea; Riggs performs another, the larger Black publics’ lost self in a complex world of identity and community; he also reenacts and, therefore, reengages historical, social, cultural memories and myths of the Black man in all of their possible valiances.

The final moments in the foliage that brings Riggs’ face into focus complicates Riggs’ method adding reflexive, participatory, autobiographical, and poetic elements to the theoretic structure. Riggs’ naked and simple state—what an audience could infer as performatively primitive, in its anthropological, and ethnographic implications—followed quickly by the shot of him as an empowered documentary director complicates what Broderick Fox articulates as the “inherent gap or power imbalance between subject and practitioner” (101). Riggs becomes both the subject of a performed observational moment and the reflexive, self aware documentary maker who places himself on screen speaking with and educating his subjects as to the documentary they are about to be a part of. This scene could have easily been cut, and these subjects could have been interviewed or filmed by an invisible documentary producer; rather, Riggs establishes himself not as a “disembodied narrator and invisible producer” (Fox, 232), but instead the performed powerless subject at the beginning, and later as the subject in the process of making a documentary. Importantly, the other subjects Riggs engages during this early reflexive moment are Black youth, a potentially marginalized, disempowered citizenry who are vulnerable to power structures and the parasitic popular news media gaze.

Not only does Riggs expose his positionality within the construction of this video but he also “emphasizes the relationship between producer and subject; Riggs “is seen and heard, his identity is established. The subject is invited into dialogue with the producer and has some agency in shaping the course of the project; thus if the power imbalance is not eliminated, this mode at least calls attention to it and the subjective positioning of the maker” (Fox 233). Further shrinking the space between subject and producer, Riggs, in this very short one minute and twenty second opening, turns to the autobiographical mode by once again establishing himself squarely as the subject. This time Riggs is not the performed unnamed and vulnerable to erasure anthropological ethnographic primitive, nor is he the participatory and reflexive producer, but rather, Riggs is the vulnerable scared patient with AIDS who is also a director reminded constantly of the finite nature of time; his work is constrained by the looming realties of illness and death.

An important thematic yokes these seemingly episodic moments, and this yoking occurs most effectively through Riggs’s theoretically poetic structure, as his documentary “emphasizes texture, rhythm, evocation, and formal experimentation over conceits of objectivity and realism” (Fox 233). “Black Is…Black Ain’t’s” opening posits the inconsistent, fractured, obfuscated and self-dissimulating nature of black identity in the Untied States’ cultural historical context. Riggs evokes Black folks’ multiple identities through the constructed symbolic entrance of Riggs as the larger Black community’s search for identity, his own attempt at making that identity in a documentary, and his embodied and lived experience as a gay man with AIDS searching to open up a space for his identity, refiguring and giving texture to the attempted erasure of homosexuality within the Black heterosexual male centered community. Ultimately, Riggs argues not for a unified Black identity, but rather the need to embrace and surrender to the counterintuitive multiplicity of man’s finitudes.


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November 14, 2013 · 2:56 pm

A documentary of great import for the high school economy

This is only a trailer for the documentary but it gives a good idea as to the content and style. This documentary touches on a deeply important issue in the high school world. As I work to creat an inclusive safe classroom economy I am always searching for documentaries that can be thoughtful taught and incorporated into larger units and essential questions. I have not taught this one yet but I am searching for a way to frame it, and introduce it into my curriculum.

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October 10, 2013 · 2:02 am