Archive for the ‘AlexanderStory’ Category


The new audience for stories

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

The best storytelling on the web won’t come from the author.

That’s the lesson for me coming out of Bryan Alexander’s fascinating book and post on the subject of digital storytelling.

When a book is published, it grows little angel wings and flies out into the world. It might have 4999 little brothers and sisters flying with it; it might, if it’s Harry Potter, have millions, or it might, if a vanity project, have just 4, one for each member of the author’s family.  When the book comes off the press, we know that the audience is out there, and how the book will reach them through bookshops and Amazon and Oxfam, but we don’t know who those readers are.  Most importantly, we don’t in a million years expect to ever hear from them.

That’s a big example of publishing to a delayed anonymous reader, but in my opinion we all do that every day.  If you’re short on time,  do you open first your mail, or your email?  I go for the email – I can get through a few of them in the time it takes to open a letter. It’s not just about the (truncated) content and easy click, though, there’s also an expectation in an email that my friend will get a reply quicker than they might if they write.  So I feel that I need to meet that expectation by replying promptly.

Whether tweeting the trenches,  live tweeting Samuel Pepys’ diary or microblogging the sinking of the Titanic, the instant medium of Twitter assumes an importance that seems to relate to life now.  The audience is approached immediately, within seconds of publication, and that immediacy evokes a similarly unhindered response. It’s not like sitting down to write a considered letter to your favourite author, it’s as fast as a quick retweet.

I work in PR, so social media for me has been largely about broadcasting successes, listening to the response, responding to concerns.

But what happens when you stop broadcasting and listening and start instead to light a fire, tend that fire, and go with the flow?  You get more.  You learn more. And your story grows.

So in light of this, I’m interested to go back to Kurt Vonnegut’s storytelling arcs.   It seems to me less easy to trace the flow of the story when you’re prepared to let the other participants in your story take control a little. When, for example, you can even let go of Dracula (blogged by Bryan over several years) and run a blog a bit like a book club.  Even where there is a single storyteller, digital storytelling allows us to present multiple narrators – as in Project 1968 - so that a single curve doesn’t really fit the brief any more.

Perhaps I’ll find, over the coming weeks, that all stories really are all the same.  Or perhaps this hypothesis, that the digital story is a bit different, will hold true.  Either way, this is all new to me, and I’m learning that my English degree was just one side of the coin….

Youth and Elders

Monday, June 4th, 2012


I watched this video that I found through “Dr. Nemo’s” website. I liked the flow the video had. By flow I mean I liked how the music in the background paired with the narrator’s monotone voice. Normally monotone can be a negative statement to make about a narrator, but in this case it is not, it fit.

Most people can relate to the generational differences that are felt between youth and their grandparents or great-grandparents. We (the youth) just smile and nod as we try and decipher their ramblings and the repetition of their conversations and actions. Then one as we age, we realize we do the same things. We create a tradition from this. The narrator creates a tradition of having bread and butter on Thursdays.

This story is just that, a story. A family story that is shared orally/visually. It is like a modern day version of oral storytelling, because it is recorded oral storytelling. Just like “Dr. Nemo” discussed in his book, this story is like this man’s journal. It is something personal to him that he is sharing with, well…the world.

If I were to describe the shape of this story I would say that it is like most typical accounts of youth-elder interactions. The youth do not understand the ramblings of the elders, the elders die, the youth age, the youth understand the elders now.

A story of bread and butter….

Monday, June 4th, 2012

The Family Food Story was an amazing digital story, and one that hit close to home for me. It really displayed Bryan Alexander’s take that digital storytelling is so multifauceted and can grasp the emotion of the person viewing it so much stronger than words. The video is a collection of family pictures, old snippets, moving frames, and audio narrative. All of those things took me on a journey through history, and really made me feel for what he was attempting to share about his grandfather.

The story seemed to go into a cycle… ending with Brad saying “just look at us”, exactly how his grandfather and great aunts used to say. He in a sense becomes the ‘grandfather’ to be of his family.


Following the plot of his Grandfather Josef’s life I plotted the ‘shape’ of the story in the manner seen in the Vonnegut video about how stories are structured relative to good and ill fortune as the story progresses…

It was very interesting how personal the story was, I have a tendency to blog my emotions or expereinces in a more vague manner. Usually expressing mself indirectly through quotes, photos, etc… but this was so DIRECT and personal. Very interesting, and dare I say, brave manner.

Molecules, Beans and Web2.0 Storytelling (AKA Week 2)

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

(Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that I’m not directly addressing the assignment. However, the beauty of being an “open” student is that I don’t have to worry about demonstrating my direction following skills.)

Vonnegut describes stories as we understand stories:  2 dimensional – 2 axes and 1 plane;  points plotted. The story moves forward. This is a book.

Alexander’s Web 2.0 storytelling suggests 4 dimensionality (3d plus shattering the 4th wall)–2 axes and 4 planes. The story has a center and connecting items of significance that take on new significance based on the relation/connection with each other. (Think molecule and valences.  Think nucleus, protons, electrons, interconnected and balanced by a complex tension.  Although perhaps more accurate in terms of how our minds STORE information, the molecule model is less able to make meaning for us. (Perhaps the very purpose of story.)  IRL we make meaning of events that –though occurring on a linear temporal plane–are stored in a 2-axes- 4-plane space and which are then re- linearized and often wholly reconfigured in order to make sense of those events.  This is hard work.  (In some cases, the work of a lifetime.)  Traditional stories, to some extent, do the work for us. Engaging with a Web 2.0 story that is fully embracing the possibilities of the medium/media might demand a level of cognitive commitment that most people don’t have time for.  Think about it:

Opening scene where “reader” encounters character A and character B sifting through the wreckage of character A’s home. Any home in its wrecked state looks mostly like trash: slabs of broken drywall, clothing tangled around pipes and chair legs. Photographs and other standard plot driving items are interspersed along with less obvious items like a can of French cut green beans that looks like it’s “fresh” from the grocery store shelf.

Every bean (character, quality, object) suggests a possible path for the story, many of which may/will/must connect with others in manifold ways.

We’re programmed as readers to read from page one to the end.  Our breaks are clearly marked off via periods, paragraphs, and chapters.  There is comfort in this. (To experience reading without this comfort, try Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch.)

Perhaps Web 2.0 storytelling will change our programming and allow us to let go of the compulsion (with our fiction and our lives) to possess, consume and understand everything, which at its best is an exercise in futility, at its worst is a sure path to madness, and at its average is a trip to the pharmacy for some mediocre though useful drugs.

Recap of Daily Creates:

TDC141 Connection

TDC146 Destruction

TDC147 Rocks/Water/Clouds

The Collaborative Web and Storytelling

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

I had a chance to meet Bryan Alexander at the NITLE Symposium this past April – he’s a dynamic thinker and collaborator, for sure. Up to that point, he’d been mentioned in conversations about storytelling, open access, and technology in liberal education. In conversations last semester, Alexander was mentioned as part of our digital humanities definition discussions and early conversations about digital storytelling as a learning tool.

Reading the excerpt from his book provided a window into how collaborative and social web tools can be used to illustrate stories, composition, thinking, and learning (not to mention the geekie brand of fun we all seem to enjoy). No sense in rehashing what was written in the excerpt or on the rest of Bryan’s website. You should explore that on your own. However, some key points, that I gleaned from the reading and reviewing.

The chapter defined and explained uses for various collaborative web tools like blogs, wikis, Twitter, etc. Alexander took the time to give examples of use that clearly show how people can engage high levels of learning. Something we all would like to see happening in our classes. But how?

Take a look at a lot of the learning happening in classrooms around the country. It is a lean back, consume, regurgitate experience. We are fed the information from a variety of sources, left to process it on our own, and output something similar to what was put in (i.e.: lecture and reading to PowerPoint presentation). No doubt there is learning taking place but we’re often left wanting for more both as a learner and as a teacher/faculty member.

CC BY-NC-SA: We are CS via Flickr

Enter storytelling; more like re-enter. For centuries humans have shared stories, passed down knowledge, and created new knowledge through stories. We identify with a story and it helps us process complex events, ideas, and concepts.

Alexander suggested that we take this concept and apply it to the collaborative web or Web 2.0 (if you prefer) and challenge our own learning by processing ideas and concepts through a storyline instead of rote memorization and regurgitation.

Alexander provides an example of using a blog (a time-stamped journal on the Internet) as vehicle to re-tell the story of Dracula. Which is a series of letters that are sent and read over a period of time.

Taking Dracula as the example of using a collaborative tool to tell a story, readers can now engage the ideas and story over time as readers, but also comment, share ideas and commentary, or take the topic to a higher level and create a side story that links (freely and openly) to the main blog. Now you’ve got learners doing more than sitting back with a good book; you’ve got them leaning in with a good experience.

The collaborative web provides easy, inexpensive, and interesting ways to engage learning. How about we take science course, a elementary chemistry course, and layer in some storytelling, as an example? No doubt chemistry students need to learn equations and symbols but rather than it be a lean back absorption let’s lean our students forward and get them telling a story about the equations and reactions. Check out Periodic Videos website and see what I mean. Could we have students taking apart an equation from the work, telling a story about the chemicals, reactions, applications, or examples to help them process the information at a higher level of Bloom’s taxonomy? What then could be done if they had a higher level of understanding? Could we then back up and re-approach the equation task?

Why limit ourselves to formal (or informal) education environments? Let’s take a look at how people learn in the workplace. Could we use tools like blogs, videos, wikis, and audio to create stories for new employee orientations or new processes/products/services? A while back I wrote up a literature review about just this subject applied to Millennials – could we use the collaborative web to impact workplace training? Why not extend that further to storytelling via the collaborative web for the benefit and learning of post-graduation learners? Here’s an unedited draft.

Constructivist Learning and Millennial Generation Worker Performance Using Blogs Wikis and Podcasts in Work…

All we’re really talking about is a centuries old technique re-imagined with Web 2.0/collaborative tools. If you prefer a more academic description – socially constructivist learning via collaborative Internet technologies.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t link you directly to Bryan Alexander’s book – The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media so you can buy it and find your storytelling.

Curiosity killing cats and all, what other storytelling books do you find useful?