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Student Created Content

Haiti Poster

Student design for a poster for Haitian Relief

How do we judge students’ digitally-created content? Are we teaching Photoshop or photography, Final Cut or filmmaking? We always say that it’s the application that’s important, not the technology, but don’t we reflexively dismiss work that has an important message but comes carried in a sloppy format?

One of the arguments for using old technology is that it focuses on the work by restricting the technique. A haiku teaches you about syllabification, figuration and adding to 17. Driving a stick makes you listen to the motor and judge the relationship between hills and RPMs. Powerpoint can teach the rudiments of digital storytelling, motion typography, animation and imagery without a lot of expensive add-ons.

How do you separate content and technique? Some tech teachers focus on a subset of technical elements until students master the tech, and then they add a content assignment for that tech. Others link content with tech, for example, “Edit a news photo so it means the opposite of its original message.” Others combine student teams of different talent levels to collaborate on a final piece.

My own interest in K-12 students’ work comes in what it reveals about their teachers’ work. I look at portfolios and contest submissions to chart how technologies are being taught and how students understand them all in context. If every kid submits a Flash animation for a storytelling contest, or nobody ever edits a photo, I worry that something is missing. I rarely de-construct a file or shave off points for bad technical implementation, but I do ding poor messaging or murky argument.

Given our recent discussions about multimedia dissertations, what’s the outlook for higher education content?

Posted in Motivation.

4 Responses

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  1. Christopher Stein says

    Jack, thanks for the great motivation, it’s already garnered some excellent responses. For a few reasons I’ll mention in class I held off on posting up examples this week. This post and the related discussion Erin, Chad and Caroline contributed will make a good starting point for the class discussion. I will have some specific examples of work from my and Joe’s students in class.

  2. Caroline Erb-Medina says

    Jack, so many good points! I really like this question about content and technique in students’ work. I’d say they should (ideally) be inextricably bound. Otherwise, students are being cheated out of a well scaffolded course experience. Like you, I would not mark a student down for technical errors as harshly as I would for their work lacking a message.

    Erin, it is true, we do need to ask if students will really care about their classes if they aren’t going to profit from what they produce in them. The cynical side of me starts to outweigh the optimistic side, and makes me think that the answer is no. I wholeheartedly believe that students do generally appreciate the opportunity to learn lots of new skills and ideas, but they also know that their time in college is going to be reduced to a line on their resume. If they can’t tick off a list of valuable skills and projects to show off to potential employers/grad school admissions committees, then they may as why they should care.

    I continue to think that professors need to pay very close attention to reminding their students about the necessity of seeing their coursework as part of their overall learning experience. Students should in turn see each project and lesson as part of their overall process of mastering certain skills. The English and Sociology (shout out to my field) classes can help them learn about society and message articulation so that they can use their Powerpoint skills to make a great poster.

    Chad, you’ve captured the essence of the record industry perfectly! What more is there left for me to say?

  3. Chad Cygan says

    Wow, Jack’s query, Erin’s buzzing and Caroline’s OK Go references all struck a common chord over my weekend.

    For Jack:
    The outlook for higher education content is promising as long as the institutions themselves evaluate students in the way Jack/Frank/You does/do. The nuts and bolts must be in place (at least sort of) to begin to successfully employ these technological skills. If the content, sources and writing are there then I do certainly believe multimedia dissertations will be welcomed. The fear from committees, however, is probably that the multimedia elements would serve as a substitution for the general ‘analog’ requirements of a traditional dissertation. Do you think some things should be substitutable? Or, do you think this is a fair assessment of media acceptance in dissertations?

    For Erin:
    I can’t figure out how to embed a link through the comments window so check this out:
    Its a little dusty, but a huge book filled with Walter Benjamin’s writings fell into my possession over the weekend, and this essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” hit me right in the teeth. Put in your mouth-guard Mr. Worker-Bee.

    For Caroline:
    Thanks for the linkage. I do believe OK Go is not the first group to do this, however they did fall to the same fate (losing tons of money) as their predecessors. As a working musician I am constantly worrying that ‘selling-out’, and in a way relinquishing ownership of your art, is kind of the way to succeed in the capitalist-music American society – as are most of my students. Here OK Go simply took on the approach of creating their own music as well as their own ‘advertising campaign’. Companies don’t like that. In this case I believe EMI reacted in that manner because the band claimed ownership of more than the ‘sound’ they created. Remember that EMI is the company who (A) initially turned down the Beatles, (B) dropped Radiohead only to re-sign them when they saw the $ they missed, (c) dropped Jimmy Eat World just before they went multi-platinum and (d) is a subsidiary of Walt Disney. They care about money. How much should our students care about money? Should it parallel their interests in specific skill-set development?

  4. Erin Garrow says

    Hi Jack,

    I think that you’ve articulated a concern that’s central for all of us and one that has been common to this week’s postings: that is, “Are we teaching Photoshop or photography?” Peter Stallybrass, in the article that Amanda posted, is eager to mechanize “thinking” into (his) technology of “working,” and Chad wonders whether searching for primary sources (rather than simply analyzing them) is part of what we’re teaching our undergraduates. As Laurel illustrates with Alexandra Juhasz’s video book, the technology used to “produce knowledge” (an ugly idea) is changing quickly, so whether we teach this technology (or, in Chad’s case, the techne of searching) to our students is a pressing issue. What complicates it even more is the issue of ownership that Caroline brought up: if students aren’t going to be able to own–and profit from!–what they produce (in class or in their future careers), do they have any incentive to produce it?

    With respect to what we’re teaching our students, my sense is that the “photography or photoshop?” question is a productive one to hold, unresolved, in our minds. I do think that each course is a semiotic domain (the likes of which James Gee describes in What Video Games Have To Teach Us…) and that the more we can answer this question for a particular course, the better defined (and more rewarding) the course will be for our students. On the flip side, asking that question anew at the beginning of each course may help us to remain more deliberate in our linking student interests and burgeoning publishing trends with our own knowledge and the core tenets of our disciplines.

    Coming from one of the least useful disciplines, I’d also like to make a brief case for inutility. Forming neural and emotional connections that are strictly “embodied”–that don’t help build bridges or otherwise serve society, but that live and die within the individual–is at the heart of value, and in turn, of meaning. There’s an important place for teaching Photoshop (no one wants to starve), and there’s an important place for teaching photography–hell, even for teaching darkroom techniques. My hope is that as technologies shape and reshape the marketplace, we won’t discount or background the growth that happens within and expresses itself as enthusiasm (rather than, in the case of my students, improved writing). I’m not an “A for Effort” kinda guy and don’t think that internal growth can or should be evaluated. I do think that an obsession with product, with the technologies used to produce it, and with its evaluation can replace the cultivation of the human with the production of worker bees.

    Reporting back to the hive, and eager to hear everyone else’s buzz,


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