Archive for December, 2012

Project and Storytelling options

It turns out I have a number of options for projects to base a potential digital story on.

Past project:
The safest option.  A project so far in the past that no one cares about the politics any more.  For safety can also select a project which was as much APS as possible to try and limit the potential for insulting anyone.

University of Bradford Course Data Project:
We currently working with University of Bradford on their Course Data Project, working with them to develop their XCRI-CAP feed, but also to develop a statement of requirements for a potential system and related processes for curriculum management.  As this is a current project it is somewhat sensitive, but there are aspects that would lend themselves extremely well to some types of digital storytelling, particularly for a set of scenarios we are writing to illustrate how the new processes and system will work from individuals’ viewpoints for a particular case.

Nominet tenders:
We have been fortunate enough to be invited to the second stage of tendering for the Nominet Digital Edge fund.  A part of this tendering process is to provide a short video pitch.  Obviously I wouldn’t be able to blog about this option much, but I will be looking into it.

That’s the project options, now for the storytelling options.

Dull, boring, and pretty normal these days as projects are often required to blog regularly.

Also becoming more popular and necessary for the Nominet tender.  Issues around having people who can act, willing to talk to camera and having some decent production values.

Quicker, easier, cheaper and less embarrassing than video for those people who don’t like to act, though often still needs a voice over.  Also has the issue of finding suitable still images that accurately express what you’re trying to say.

Pictures, dialogue and descriptions in panels like a comic book.  Still needs images, but mostly just looks cheesy.

Interactive stories
This is the option that seems most exciting.  Suggested by Wikivic on my previous post there’s a number of options including a “choose your own adventure style”, text-based adventure game and a simpler style “gamebook” which somewhat combines the two.  These are primarily prose so have the potential to get a bit dry, but the interactive nature should keep them interesting and engaging.

So the ones I have picked to work on are:

  • Video for the Nominet tender
  • Slideshow final report for Bradford CDP
  • Gamebook for Bradford curriculum management scenarios
  • And if I manage to get anywhere with those then something risque for a past project.

December 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

Digital Storytelling

I recently attended the Netskills Digital Storytelling workshop in London.  As someone who loves to write fiction (most of the time, my current writer’s block notwithstanding) and likes technology this one was a no-brainer for me.  Luckily Alan thought it might be useful too and paid for my train ticket.

Whether or not this is exactly how they state it in the course, digital storytelling is about engaging people with what they are doing, or what you want to tell them, with something more interesting than a report or death by PowerPoint.  We like stories, we grow up with them, we tell them to each other in our day to day conversation, it’s what we generally choose to read when we have the option (even a lot of the more popular non-fiction books are more popular because they read more like a story than like an academic paper).  The structure of a story pulls us in: we want to know what will happen next, rather than just trying to find a way to keep ourselves awake.

To be honest I had fairly low expectations when I signed up.  I expected it to be either very touchy feely and education-based, as in teaching through stories, or to be very well-meaning, but ultimately some things to think about when doing your standard reports.  Thankfully it was neither. I was really pleased that it actually went into how to tell a good story, a couple of classic narrative structures and put some emphasis on the fact that it takes some time and experience (or a lot of luck – I’m looking at you 50 Shades of Grey woman) to be able to tell a good story.  I was feeling pretty confident until we were told to try and apply it to something work-related.

Now projects should write themselves as stories if you simply apply writing theory.  A story starts when something breaks the status quo (or else why would you be talking about it?) which is kind of the point of a project.  A project is finite, it has ups and downs, twists and turns and can have some exciting endings (success! failure! enticing fade to black with a big question mark over it….), but it turns out that doesn’t mean it’s easy to turn it into a digital story.  For one thing digital stories tend to have lots of pictures and/or video and while charts and graphs can be engaging in some senses they don’t really say “story”. But this is only a minor hurdle compared to the other problem.

The other problem is politics.  Do you really want the people who have funded this project to know that you had some daring escapes from total failure?  That you found a particularly interesting, if convoluted, solution because one of your team members made one little mistake and that completely screwed something up?  Do you want your bosses to know that actually the solution they insisted on caused you headache after headache and you’re now popping antacids like tic tacs?  No.  Reports get sanitised, things get smoothed over and everything is Fine.  It is doubly Fine if you are consultant who wants to work with these people again.

“Fine”, from a storytelling point of view, is incredibly dull.  If everything is fine why do I care? In the words of writers everywhere, “You’ve got to make your characters suffer”.  When these characters are your employers, colleagues and clients airing their suffering to the world suddenly doesn’t sound like such a good idea.

So the options are:

  1. Tell the story of the project and potentially get in Trouble
  2. Try and tell the story of the report and fall asleep or have nothing to base a story on
  3. Write digital stories about something else
  4. Some mapcap, crazy fusion of 1 and 2 that may end up a big pile of something horrible.

….Number 4 sounds like fun.  And if nothing else, working on it should make a good story.

December 17, 2012 at 11:29 am 4 comments

Future Learners CETIS event

The Future Learners event on Tuesday run by JISC CETIS and University of Nottingham was fascinating.  It was great to have so many people in such similar spheres in the same room as was made particularly evident as each of the people as they came up to give their lightning talk noted how the scene had been set nicely for what they were about to say.

Not that the lightning talks were particularly similar: there was everything from board games, to conceptual issues around individuals vs the models they are asked to fit in, to specifics about current learner technology projects and thoughts about the potential for the future.  What mostly seemed to become the theme of the day (I think slightly unfortunately) was Open Badges.  Not that I’m not interested, I think they have a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting involved in some badge work soon, but after seeing the scope of what kind of things are going on it was a pity to have so much of the day reduced to just badges.  On the other hand I now have a whole stack of links to look up about all these interesting things.

Open Badges were a big part of the day and I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was thinking of them in terms of computer game achievements!  As a World of Warcraft player this kind of approach is definitely familiar (9820 achievement points and counting!) and from experience I definitely know it can make you do things you never would have considered doing before.  I particularly liked the way Doug linked it to hexagonal thinking rather than the purely linear bronze, silver, gold, but I can’t help but wonder if modelling thinking on 2D geometric shapes is a bit limiting.  I think that there were definitely people in the room having trouble breaking their ideas down into small enough chunks to make the badges work: proof that there is a real life application for gathering achievements! (I can dream…)

I have to say I hope there are more of these kind of interest group conferences.  Apparently they used to be relatively common – would be nice to see them take off again.

December 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment