Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, now in its tenth year (I believe), through the support of the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations, like the National Writing Project. But tomorrow is a Saturday.
Today is when I will do some activities with my sixth graders. I had hoped to try to do a Zine project, but I dropped the ball on my planning and worries about time necessary to do a quality job. So, I am pushing the Zine idea out further into the year. (I connected with our city library, which runs a Zine project for teens, and they have some examples and resources I can borrow.)
So, I am going to do a version of what I have done other years, which is to have my sixth graders write about why they write (the theme of NDOW is Why I Write), and then share their ideas in the classroom. From there, students will volunteer to do an audio podcast (when I mentioned this the other day, they were excited about it), and then we’re going to use Make Beliefs Comix site, turning the writing piece into a comic.
I hope to have a Wall of Comics about Writing in my classroom by the end of the day and to have student voices released into the #whyiwrite world, too.
These are voices from last year:
And a few years ago, I asked my colleagues at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, why do you write? This is what we said.
What about you? What will you do? Why do you write?
At our recent Western Massachusetts Writing Project conference, the keynote speaker was educator Kelly Norris, whose new book — Too White — explores her identity and her story through the lens of race, bias, empathy and social justice.
Here, she reads some of her recently published book:
Interestingly, during the Q&A period, Kelly responded to a question about addressing difficult issues like these while working in a relatively insular school community, and Kelly mentioned how difficult a role that can be. Particularly, she noted, when she always seems like “that person in the room” who raises questions and challenges assumptions and bias.
Then, while watching the video archive of a Studio Visit for the Equity Unbound course, I heard the same phrase by some of the guests, noting that they often feel like “that person in the room” and put on the spot.
It was early in the summer when I saw a little notice at the local library about a reading book Zine they were putting together, and if anyone wanted, they could submit something. Of course, I figured: I’ll make a comic! So I did – I created one about locked-room mysteries, as I was reading Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs.
I sent it in and forgot about it.
Well, I got an email last week, saying the Zine was out, and that I had won a free movie pass to a local independent movie place, and a copy of the Zine was waiting for me. I went and perused the tiny stapled publication, and I absolutely love the variety of art and writing. They way they call it a Literary Magazine is also a nice gesture.
I even saw a neighbor’s 10-year-old daughter had a short story in there — a lovely piece about the sun and the moon — so I congratulated her for her writing, and she beamed.
I love the simplicity of Zines and the connection to the library as a public space.
An impromptu discussion with my young students this week on the topic of empathy found a connection my head with the Equity Unbound project. I am not sure quite yet how those pieces fit, but they do. Maybe it is because empathy for others allows one to make change for better equity for all. And empathy is an upcoming discussion theme and thread for Equity Unbound.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
The comic above captures some of the thoughts of my 11 year old students as we discussed what empathy is and why the world might be a better place if more people showed deeper empathy. (I’m looking at you, Trump).
I was thrown off a bit by this response by Ruth.
On the other hand, sadist and torturers are said to be quite empathetic. They can appreciate how much their victims suffer. https://t.co/Pa7zqugDJY
I might add that there can be no deep communication in writing without empathy. Most writing fails at this important point because we just can’t imagine our audience’s needs. We cannot empathize with their position as reader. #unboundeq
The last panel of the comic is interesting in light of Equity Unbound (which is an online dispersed course with university students and professors from around the world mixed with a bunch of open participants like me), and the topic of how some digital spaces may work to discourage empathy is something my students and I will explore more in a few weeks during our Digital Lives unit. But the fact that it was so prevalent in the discussion with young people is both alarming and perhaps a door open for exploration.
I’m making some assorted comics for Unbound Equity project. These are sort of hit or miss, to be honest. I’m hoping making comics will help me think about issues of equity and access in different ways, and add a little variety to the conversation stream.
The following comic is the best of the bunch from the last few days, I think. I was watching a Twitter Scavenger Hunt unfold in the #unboundeq hashtag (people were sharing mystery photos and others were guessing items), and I thought about someone misunderstanding the directions, and searching for Twitter itself. Particularly since so many people think Twitter has lost its original concept in this age of disinformation and hate.
And this following comic came from me wondering about how we interact with people in places like Twitter, where personality is often understood through words alone. While this can be powerful, from a writing standpoint, it can also lead to misinterpretation. The last line is a nod to my six-word-bio I have pinned on Twitter.
And then, there has been a conversation going on about using the alt-text feature of Twitter for photos — so that blind and/or disabled readers can still engage in the conversations (alt-text is read aloud by screen readers.) In Twitter, you have to turn the feature on. Which makes no sense to me at all. (In Mastodon, it is a default feature). This comic didn’t work as I wanted it to — the telescope was supposed to be a metaphor for narrow vision turned around into a wider understanding of the world. It came across as too preachy. The version I shared on Twitter was a video format, with audio voice (since one of my suggestions was to use audio for content). Ironically, by making the comic a video, I was unable to add alt-text to it.
Finally, this comic is a response by Chris to another comic (about identity). The thread moved into technology platforms disappearing, and what happens to our data and our digital identity when that happens.
I am doing some personal exploration for the Equity Unbound course/class/discussions, with the intent of making regular webcomics (I hope) to think through some of the prompts and points about, as the site says:
… questions of equity issues such as equity in web representation, digital colonialism, safety and security risks on the web, and how these differ across contexts.
Yesterday, I shared a comic and thoughts on how difficult it is to forge our own identities.
Today, I have a comic (above) thinking on how others views impacts how we see ourselves. The last frame/box is the most important of the comic. While it is easy to fall these days into the traps of negativity, I remain hopeful of the possibilities of networked digital spaces to expand not just notions of others, but also some semblance of kindness.
I hope you do, too.
I used kid characters in this comic for purposeful effect — to remember that this world we are in now contain the seeds of the world our children and our young students (I teach in an elementary school) are growing up in. We have an obligation to make it better than it is, for them as much for us.
I am dipping into Equity Unbound, a new online course/collaboration with Mia Zamora, Maha Bali and Catherine Cronin. They will be working with university students as well as opening things up to other spaces where folks, like you and me, can jump in. (The Twitter tag is here: #unboundeq) I am always interested in seeing how new offerings can be riffs off previous open learning networks, such as NetNarr, Rhizo, Digiwrimo, CLMOOC, and others.
One of the topics of the first week is to think about the nature of identity. I’ve done regular mulling on this topic of digital identities before and continue to be intrigued by the way we are perceived and the ways we project ourselves through networks and platforms. In my classroom with sixth graders (11 year olds), we have discussions about this in relation to creating avatars for online spaces and gaming platforms. What do your choices about your avatar say about you? About what you want others to think about you?
In some ways, we have the possibility to create new identities or to build off existing interests, to find groups with our interests (that long tail effect) and use identity to connect. In other ways, once we project ourselves into the world, we relinquish (sometimes, rather reluctantly) some authority over that identity since we lose the human interaction (facial expressions, hand movements, emotional reactions) that plays such a large role in the ways we understand another. This tension sits at the heart of the possibility and the problems of engaging in online discussions with others.
So, I am thinking I might do some webcomics for this Equity Unbound course as much as possible, as another way for me think about different issues. I created the comic above as I was pondering this question of how our digital interactions are often two sides of our identity — sometimes on purpose and sometimes, not.
I support comic artists Stuart McMillen via Patreon because I find his work to be so insightful. And since I learn from him, I want to help him with crowdsource funding, so he can keep doing what he is passionate about doing.
The quote above comes from the video down below, and I found it interesting, this observation of how he makes sense of the world.
Check out his “I Used to Be Racist” as one example of the kind of work he is doing. Or “Defending Dumbphones.” All of his pieces will make you think. He also shares insights from time to time about his art.
The short video down below for his Patreon site shows him talking about a typical day in his life, as a working comic creator making sense of the world through the visual medium. That behind-scenes stuff always fascinates me.
The second iteration of Networked Narratives has been over for at least a few weeks now, and I’ve had a version of this reflection sort of sitting here in my blog draft bin.
I’ve watched Alan Levine, one of the instructors, post his reflection yesterday from a teacher perspective (which was insightful to peruse). I’ve read through and enjoyed Wendy Taleo‘s reflection and presentation she gave about a project in Networked Narratives that we launched. I’ve skimmed through some of the final posts by the university students who took NetNarr for credit at their university.
What I continue to find intriguing is the open invitation by Alan and Mia Zamora for anyone to follow NetNarr and participate, and so I and some others (like Wendy and Sarah Honeychurch) have done so. We’ve come and gone, as we pleased. Added to conversations. Commented on blogs. Disappeared from time to time. Re-appeared suddenly. Engaged. Created. Made. Remixed.
Being out here in the Wild Open, as I often refer to it, has its advantages (we can engage where our curiosity is piqued and ignore the rest) and disadvantages (we aren’t always part of the larger conversation that comes from being in the class at the university, and seem to be invisible at times).
Here, in this NetNarr reflection, I want to share out a few projects that I took on that formed my framework of interaction, or at least, the hope for interaction. One of the three was more successful in this than the other two, but the other two were meaningful to me anyway.
First, when Mia and Alan announced this second round of Networked Narratives with the theme of Digital Life, I was interested. I had had fun with the first round of NetNarr a year ago, and figured, I’ll just see what they’re up to this time. I decided to bring a comic strip character out of hiding, and wanted to weave a story about Arganee –the fictional world of the first NetNarr — and digital alchemy, a theme of inquiry for NetNarr.
So, I wrote a story about Horse, the companion to The Internet Kid, and left the Kid at home. I remember being obsessed with telling this story in comics, and working very diligently on the storyline. I released the comic story, one comic at time, into the NetNarr hashtag, and then bundled the entire thing up into a graphic story adventure.
I really enjoyed this Horse with No Name comic project, but I got almost no response from the NetNarr students or participants (Wendy and I did a little exchange now and then), and I wonder if those students even knew that the Horse story was always part of NetNarr. Or if they just thought some weirdo was releasing comics into their midst.
Again, there was very little reaction to any of the poems, although I did them mostly for myself, and the challenge of writing small pieces on an angle from a prompt.
Third, there is the Digital Alchemy Lab project, an adventure that began with a desire to weave the concept of transmedia storytelling (which didn’t really take root the way I envisioned, mainly because I could not envision how it would take root), collaboration with other Wild Open participants (and university students), and the theme of “every object tells a story.”
Over the course of weeks, a group of us planned out how to invite collaborators to use media to tell stories of assigned objects, which were then woven into the Alchemy Lab — an immersive 360 degree art project using ThingLink. This project took the most time and coordination, and the result is something magical — a collaborative art piece that weaves story and media together in a fun way, showcasing how people can come together to create and make and learn. I wrote three long reflective pieces just about the Alchemy Lab endeavor.
This project continues, in a way, as we share out individual pieces each, with an invite into the lab. Yes, you are invited, too. Come on in. The narrative is networked.
Finally, I want to share a project that had on the surface seemingly nothing to do with Networked Narratives, and yet … it did, in my mind at least. It is a music collaboration project called A Whale’s Lantern, in which online music collaborators from all over the world work on writing and producing a song, which then becomes part of a larger “album” of music.
The reason I include this here in the NetNarr reflection is that I saw/see A Whale’s Lantern project as part of the larger aims of Networked Narratives — of finding ways to connect people from around the world with media creation (in this case, music) as connector points for collaboration, using the Internet as a way to publish and interact in a meaningful, authentic way. It didn’t matter that this took place off Mastodon as opposed to Twitter, or that I was the only one making the NetNarr connections (although Wendy may have seen that connection, too, as she dipped her toes into the music collaboration).
The point is that the very things that we all looked at in NetNarr around the positive elements of our Digital Lives — of following your passions and engaging in virtual strangers with similar passions to create something unique, together, with technology and media — played out beautifully here, overlapping at the same time I was engaged in NetNarr.
We weave the threads.
And, to make the connection even clearer, the lyrics I wrote for my collaboration with my partner, Luka, was inspired by Networked Narratives itself and the idea of digital alchemy. The song is called Alchemist Dream, and you can find the lyrics here. How’s that for synergy?
Thank you, Mia and Alan, for at least trying to find way to fuse classroom experiences at the university level with the open learning networks beyond the classroom walls. I still wish there were more ways to interact among the two groups — the Wild Open and the classroom — but realize the logistics would be difficult to navigate and the demands of running a university course are different from facilitating an open learning adventure.