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Unit #1: Digital Literacy Narrative

(Worth 10% of your grade; due on September 19)


Whether you realize it or not, your status as an upper-level university student (studying English, no less) sets you apart as one of the most literate people in the world. This assignment challenges to you to answer a simple question: How did you get that way? More specifically, this assignment asks you to tell a story—a narrative—about some aspect of your development as a literate individual. For this project, we will define the term literacy quite broadly, to include multimedia literacy, computer literacy, and information literacy in addition to the traditional categories of reading, writing, and speaking. Your narrative should recount a specific experience (or series of experiences) from your life to show how you became the reader, the writer, the speaker, the technologist, etc., that you are today.

Rather that writing a traditional essay, you will develop your narrative as a multimodal presentation that combines your spoken voice with timed still images. Practically speaking, that means you will create a video recording of yourself reading your narrative over a slideshow of images. In class, we will use PowerPoint to accomplish this task, but you may choose to use other tools to create your narrative. Whatever approach you take to composing your narrative, the finished product should be a short video (2-3 minutes) that you can submit to the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.

Strategies for Crafting a Successful Narrative

The following strategies provide broad guidance, but they aren’t a series of algorithmic steps like you’d use to bake a cake. If you have a Betty Crocker cake mix and you follow the steps on the box, you are all but guaranteed success in baking that cake. By contrast, the arts of writing and revision are recursive and generative. You often have to go back to go forward. Writing and revising also help you invent content—writing is not just the act of transcribing completed thoughts. So be open to scrapping what is not working and developing or redeveloping your ideas as you go. With those warnings in mind, here are a few strategies for crafting a successful literacy narrative:

Step 1: Consider several possible events and angles. Rather than latching onto the first idea that pops into your mind, take some time to generate a long list of possible essay topics. Think about important milestones in your literate life (learning to read, using a computer for the first time, joining your first online community), then write down as many details as you can about each of those events. Who were the people involved? Where did the events take place? What physical objects did you use? You may find that some events evoke stronger memories and feelings than others, and you may even discover that the process of writing down details helps you remember things you thought you had forgotten.

Step 2: Select a specific event and focus on it. Once you have generated a list of possible experiences, you should choose one event (or a series of connected events) that you feel will make the most compelling story. Remember, your finished video should be no longer than three minutes, so your essay shouldn’t meander aimlessly through your life story. The best narratives are highly specific, full of details that paint a vivid picture for the reader, so before you begin to draft the essay, sketch out the fine points of your event. Next, try to articulate what point you want to make with your essay. What is the moral of the story or the take-away lesson for the reader? Finally, determine the sequence of sections in your narrative. Do you want to start by establishing who you are and why that matters, or do you want to dive right in to the story?

Step 3: Draft your narrative. If you have completed Steps 1 and 2, you should have plenty of material to draw upon as you begin writing your essay. Use whatever method is most comfortable for you, whether it is drafting on the computer, writing in a notebook, or recording yourself talking out loud. By nature, first drafts are incredibly messy, and that’s OK. You will have time in class to get feedback from your classmates about what you have written and to time yourself reading it out loud.

Step 4: Illustrate your narrative. Because your finished narrative will be presented as a video, it should be visually interesting to your audience. The images you choose to illustrate your story should be somehow connected to the words you are speaking, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to present literal depictions of every object or character in your story. Rather, the collection of images you choose should complement the text and create a cohesive visual experience for your viewers. We will spend time in class discussing how to find images that are appropriately licensed for use in projects like these, but you are also welcome to include images that you have created yourself.

Step 5: Revise and rehearse your narrative. As you read through your draft with the images in place, you will discover that you are pleasantly surprised by some parts of your essay and deeply unhappy with other parts. At this point, it will help to get some advice from your classmates, so we will spend a day in class workshopping each other’s narratives. After this workshop, you should make final revisions to your text and rehearse it multiple times before you record the finished narrative.

Step 5: Record and submit your narrative. When you are ready to record your narrative, go the InnovationSpace in Torgerson Hall and use one of the audio bays to ensure excellent sound quality for your video. Save your video using one of the following filetypes: .mov, .mp4, .mpeg, .avi. When your video is finished, create a folder in your Dropbox titled “Full Name Literacy Narrative” (e.g., my folder would be called “Quinn Warnick Literacy Narrative”), place your video and the written script for your narrative in the folder, and share the folder with email hidden; JavaScript is required. Your project should be submitted before you come to class on September 19.

Evaluation Criteria

Your narrative will be evaluated using the following criteria:

  • Content: Does the narrative use specific details to tell a compelling story? Does the story serve a larger purpose? In other words, does the author make connections between the event(s) described and his or her development as a literate individual?
  • Organization: Does the arrangement of the narrative reflect careful thought and planning? Do the images in the video complement the spoken text?
  • Style: Does the narrative use a consistent tone and point of view? Does the narrative employ stylistic choices that are appropriate for the genre and audience?
  • Technical Proficiency: Does the video play without problems? Is the audio crisp, clear, and free of background noise? Are the images appropriately scaled to avoid pixelization and distortion?
  • Citations: Does the video cite the original sources for each of its images, giving credit where credit is due?
  • Grammatical Conventions and Mechanics: Does the written script adhere to the conventions of standard written English?
Where am I?
This is the class website for English 3984: Writing and Digital Media, taught by Quinn Warnick at Virginia Tech in fall 2012.
Worthwhile Reading
The links below are the most recent additions to my collection of bookmarks that are relevant to this course. You can find a complete list of ENGL 3984 bookmarks on Pinboard.

  • Buffy vs Edward Remix Unfairly Removed by Lionsgate
    A long, carefully documented saga about fair use. Great case study.
  • The Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy
    Nice guide from Lifehacker: "First, we'll walk through the basic privacy settings that determine what you share, then look at a few lesser-known settings you'll want to tweak, and finish with a few third-party tools that will help keep your Facebook information private."
  • The enduring mystery of Roberto Clemente's bat
    Great writing by Kevin Guilfoile, but also a beautiful example of multimedia storytelling.
  • tapestry: a new way to write
    John Borthwick explains what tapestry is and collects some examples of great tap essays: "When we started developing tapestry it struck us that there weren’t many native reading experiences on the iPhone or iPad. Our goal is to build such a tool. A space to slow things down and let you create or experience, short, tappable stories in a simple, clean, distraction free reading environment."
  • All You Need Is (Facebook) Love: ‘Compliments’ Accounts Go Viral at Colleges and Universities
    Time magazine reports on an encouraging trend: college students setting up Facebook pages to collect compliments for/from their fellow students.
  • Demand a Plan
    Online effort to improve gun control, started in response to the Newtown school shooting.
  • Causes.com
    "Causes is a free online platform that provides easy-to-use tools for driving change. We help passionate people share ideas, find supporters, raise money, and make an impact."
  • What Ancient Greek Rhetoric Might Teach Us About New Civics
    Ethan Zuckerman: "If we want to prepare people to be effective citizens, we need to think about teaching this new civics as well as older forms of civic participation. Citizens need to do more than watch or read about the issues and then vote. They need to know how to report, to advocate, to coordinate, to propose and test solutions."
  • SPOT Survey - Fall 2012
    Students: If you haven't completed the SPOT evaluation for this course, please do so during class on Wednesday. I take this feedback very seriously, and I use it to revise my classes each semester, so please be specific about the aspects of the course (and my teaching) that you found successful and unsuccessful.
  • Popcorn Maker
    New web-based app from Mozilla: "Popcorn Maker makes it easy to enhance, remix and share web video. Use your web browser to combine video and audio with content from the rest of the web — from text, links and maps to pictures and live feeds."
  • The People's Bailout
    David Rees explains how the Rolling Jubilee works: "OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)"
  • Understanding Digital Civics
    Ethan Zuckerman: "I’m beginning to think that certain types of civic participation are simply organic to the internet. Once we have the ability to create and share our own information, we create and spread media to promote the causes we care about and raise money to support the causes we value."
  • Google Docs Stories Builder
    Fun little tool to create text-based stories in which various characters interact within a Google Doc. (Sound confusing? Yeah, you kind of have to see it in action.)
  • Twitter Is A Truth Machine
    John Herrman: "Twitter is a fact-processing machine on a grand scale, propagating then destroying rumors at a neck-snapping pace. To dwell on the obnoxiousness of the noise is to miss the result: That we end up with more facts, sooner, with less ambiguity."
  • The Fallacy of Digital Natives
    Amen to this: "Sure, there may be a larger percentage of Millennials that tap into technology first compared to their elders, but oversimplifying the division of generations to suggest one prefers an all-technology learning style whilst the others use it when necessary is preposterous. Learning and technology has nothing to do with generational divides."
  • Click and Drag
    An amazing, endless xkcd comic.
  • Nice piece in Transom explaining Cowbird
    Annie Correal: "Our goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons."
  • Being Online Has Become So Common That Some People No Longer Identify It As Being Online
    Techdirt, quoting a study by Forrester Research: "Our analysis revealed that 'being online' is becoming a fluid concept. Consumers no longer consider some of the online activities they perform to be activities related to 'using the Internet.' In fact, given the various types of connected devices that US consumers own, many people are connected and logged on (automatically) at all times. The Internet has become such a normal part of their lives that consumers don’t register that they are using the Internet when they’re on Facebook, for example. It’s only when they are actively doing a specific task, like search, that they consider this to be time that they’re spending online."
  • Reddit's balance of power: community values are tested as a troll is unmasked
    Links to all of The Verge's coverage of the Violentacrez debacle.