My Visual Research Methods course has ended, and as ever, my grad students in a range of programs at CGU have done inspiring and inventive work to wrap up this class which pushes traditional Humanities grad students to roll up their sleeves, work with their hands, imagine new audiences and formats, and think about academic labor and standards using new rubrics.

This year, our assigned readings—in Nick Mirzoeff’s Visual Culture Reader, the Debates in the Digital Humanities Reader, and two books about the ongoing and ever-widening Center for Digital Storytelling’s project—linked as they were to an ever more frightening and quickly shifting job market for graduate students, seemed to have helped push this batch of students to do some remarkably innovative digital scholarship, for their final work, thinking about the role of digital storytelling as both a subject and method for scholarly output.

I hope you’ll take a peek at these compelling projects:

  • A “nod to Lambert, but in a very deliberate style that was anti-Lambert (no voice-over, no clean or clearly announced thesis) … also an attempt to have this video be a moment of reflection, a meditation of sorts on friendship,” AIDS, place, and memory (from a PhD student in religion)
  • a digital story, made collaboratively with the maker’s high school students to create an “affective space” much like that previously “carved out through the epistle allowing women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels” (from a PhD student in English, also a High School English teacher)
  • A video focused upon building “community  around and for people dealing with mental illness, who are working to cope with their symptoms in the midst of the exceptional stress of grad school life. My hope is to create a digital story telling circle that will do just that.” (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • An argument for the storytelling power of Instagram (so against the Lambert idea that the Internet produces fragments) (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #ANA on YouTube and Instragram as digital stories (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #Carol Corps in light of Digital Storytelling (by a Master’s Student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of social media and digital storytelling through three voices of a vegan and animal lover (by a Masters student in Cultural Studies)
  • A work on and as digital storytelling about an artist and a friendship (by a PhD student in English)
  • A digital story that draws the story of YouTube drawing stories (by a PhD student in History)
  • An analysis of how the academy is embracing digital storytelling as research method (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A digital story using “a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.” (by a Master’s student in Applied Women’s Studies)

I’ve been teaching a Graduate research methods course for several years now at CGU, Visual Research Methods. But this Spring, I have encountered some surprising findings, ones that are echoed in my undergraduate student’s work as well, where I also assign digital coursework that asks students:

  • to account, reflexively, for the changing affordances of doing their school-work online
  • for staying thoughtful about the Internet itself as part of their topical attention
  • while also creatively expressing their findings in a multi-modal environment and vernacular
  • and then, also of course, clearly expressing findings from their own original research

Now, that’s a mouthful, right? And on first pass, I certainly wouldn’t want to be a student with that as my final assignment rubric! I think all my students (this semester in Visual Research Methods, and also, at Pitzer, in Feminist Dialogues in Technology and Feminist and Queer Documentary) start the semester with fear, agitation, bemusement, uncertainty, and maybe even annoyance about the weird assignments. Understood! And yet …

Somehow, this semester, all my students didn’t just do it and do it well; they got it. And, I said to several of them after the fact, I can’t imagine that’s because they are smarter than students who have taken these classes in previous years and semesters … So what gives?

Two, interrelated things, I think:

  • the tools have actually caught up with the radical teaching aims of multimodal scholar/teachers who wish to push our students to think, write, research and engage critically within and about the digital and the world
  • our students’ literacy with these tools, and also within digital spaces, has already been primed

This is to say, that for the first time, this year, I’d tell my students to leave the classroom and make some little digital something (instead of say, “breaking out” into a discussion group then presenting); and they would and they could. This is something I have also been asking audiences to do for the past two years, and their competency has increased markedly in this short time as well. That’s because in 2013 people are making things all the time, and these things are already smart, self-aware, self-reflexive, multimodal, and interactive.

This semester, my students used the analytical frameworks from class, the histories of movements and ideas, and analyzed both new and old objects for new and old audiences. They debated the politics of Digital Storytelling with some of the movement’s founders. They re-wrote Wikipedia pages. They made mash-ups of feminist theory and memes. They found and analyzed multivoiced and third-person stories (on Twitter and Tumblr) and talked to animals. Some of my students engaged for a semester with another group of undergrads at Bowling Green State University, and with students from grad courses at USC who made amazing digital learning resources for us to use.

Others made mobiles or diagrams for a yet-to-be invented feminist UML, some refined and critiqued possibilities for the feminist body and bra!

They worked on and about podcasts, and stories about Study Abroad and Queer Chicanos. They found new forms for telling the stories of Youth Violence and Violence Against Women. One performed a close textual analysis of Facebook commentary while others made keyword videos on feminism and technology.

Given all their amazing work (and I do hope you’ll hit some of these links; you won’t regret it!), what am I (t)here for, then? If literacy has been gained, and critical practice is already happening online, what is the role of the critical digital pedagogue? Well, most likely neither more nor less than what the role of the professor has always been. Remember when we taught writing? Sure, students arrived with literacy and tools, and the professors’ function was no mere thing: to add history, theory, a framework, a community, evaluation, and caring, careful, critical dialogue.

I am blown away by my students’ skills, and hereby simply provide this shining frame at yet another semester’s end. Well done all!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending some of THATCamp Feminisms West. I had to leave just before the much-deserved beer-part to pick up my son, and knew I was in good company when this sacrifice made sense as such, nothing more needing to be said. But in my afternoon there, I was privy to conversations and processes that remind me of why we need to meet and work as feminists about and in digital culture. I will indicate a few of those reasons here, and I’m also going to to do quickly and on my blog.

Now, why this quick “work” on a Saturday morning. First, I have to give an interview to a college student this morning, in an hour, about (my) queer family: another important digital feminist act. Secondly, I want to blog about this while it is still happening (day two is starting now), because it may allow a few people who might want to know about it to follow the twitter-feed, and thereby attend. Third, I acknowledge and mark the value of my colleagues’ work when I blog it, and I feel this is a particular kind of feminist mentoring that senior women in academia can and do provide online. There’s been some great posts about academic blogging in the past few days (brought to my attention my Adeline Koh on Facebook). All by women, iterating what we get here. I wrote a similar post last year.

In our unpanel, DH400, we had the rare opportunity to talk about DH beyond 101. I was particularly interested to meet the women behind #TransformDH who I’ve been following for awhile. Our conversation focused upon our various, precarious, disruptive, transformative, outsider/insider relationships to the academy: as grad students, as archivists, as activists. To me it is was less the DH, or even the digital, that made this conversation matter, but the feminist: because we shared values, the will and capacity to be critical as well as intellectual while being supportive and trying to distribute authority and voice around the room all the while working, quick. Mia Ridge asked us “What would a feminist Digging into Data project look like?” And Jacque Wernimont said: “It would probably be related to little ‘dh’ and the owning of ephemerality.” Yep.

In the other panel I attended, on feminist digital pedagogy, I brought people up to speed on the DOCC 2013. And then we talked productively and honestly about teaching. With undergrads, librarians, grad students, jr and snr profs in the room, (or as@miriamkp tweeted: A really nice mix of students, faculty, librarians, nonprofit professionals (with diverse interests) here at #tcfw) we were able to be vulnerable, uncertain, and also wicked smart. Anne Cong-Huyen and Viola Lasmana discussed power sharing, doing things in public, acquiring skills, risk-taking, modelling ownership of our content and controlling our online identities (for their students and themselves), as well as the perennial contradictions of anonymity, discipline, and grading in classes with hands-on, experimental components. One hour, so much said and done: together, in a room, and on twitter, and now here, doing all the things that these technologies afford to us as communities, and as individuals.

I write quickly on my blog on a Saturday morning because this kind of work makes me feel like an academic in a conversation with politicized others. I make this to mark that.