Video Composing the Diss

I’ve been composing a video as part of my dissertation work over the past few weeks, in part as a final project for the Computers and Writing graduate course that I’m auditing with Dr. Melanie Yergeau, and in part because I’ve always wanted to make videos as part of my dissertation.  So this one is an experiment, to see if what I make really adds anything that I need to the written prose.  A few reflections here about what I’m learning along the way!

I see this video composition as part of my methodology for the dissertation – a new way to interact with and analyze my data.  The main way I’ve been interacting with my data as I’ve been writing up chapters has been by way of more traditional “qualitative analysis” – that is, I interviewed students and instructors, observed class lessons, and collected documents.  Then I transcribed the interviews and observations and went through and coded the written representations of the data, or, I put labels on everything!  Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.  But basically, I’ve been working a lot with the written text, and adding more written text (codes) to that written text to help me think it through.

So the video editing has brought me back (closer anyway) to the original data sources, which (obviously) aren’t just written text.  I’ve been looking at video footage from my classroom observations and from the interviews.  I’ve been listening to the voices of my participants again, and I’ve been seeing their faces, their bodies, their clothing, their hair.  I’ve been interacting a whole lot more with the digital products that the students in my study created, and weaving pieces of these products together with interview and classroom footage (this aspect of this kind of video composing project is SO COOL.  I can watch a student’s video, and then superimpose the student herself talking about the choices she made over the top, so you can watch/listen to both at once).

The video composing has also made me pull back from individual pieces of data a bit more.  In the write up when I’m working with written transcripts and quotations, I find myself writing about a certain quotation or classroom incident for a good chunk of time, for hours, for days.  But in the video composition, I see the whole picture in my mind’s eye more often, and I don’t fixate as much on smaller moments.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the video is so much faster: I can see and hear multiple pieces of data quickly in the video, whereas it takes much longer to read an account of the same moments and analyze them.  In the video, I also see and hear the learning happen in the students.  I see them in different outfits as time passes, and suddenly, they’re talking differently, too – they use a term like juxtaposition in a class discussion, or they talk about how thinking about their imagined audience helped them to make a compositional choice, and then I can see evidence of that in their product.  Their learning overall seems more apparent to me as I create, watch, and listen.

And then, well, there are the cool parts of making a video.  I get to use music, and organize sections of my composition according to the musical breaks or the melody.  I get to use text movements and choose fonts, to play with animated transitions and backgrounds.  I get to watch tutorials on youtube, and learn new software platforms, and learn to edit with a brightly colored keyboard made specifically for Final Cut Pro.  There are some lame aspects, too: I have to video edit on campus, and the booth I’ve been working in gets ridiculously hot.  I had to buy an expensive external hard drive that was compatible with both Mac and PC and spend about 3 days figuring out how to partition the drive on a campus machine (thanks to Melanie for helping me figure it out eventually!).  And video editing, well, it’s slow!  Hours upon hours upon hours to work on one small section.  I’m much faster (and probably more skilled) at writing paragraphs, I tell you.

In the end, I’m glad that I’m doing both for my dissertation, even if both video and written paragraphs don’t end up in the diss itself.  Composing in multiple ways is valuable to me as a researcher, and it is helping me to think about my data from various angles.  I wish I could post the video I’m making here, but you’ll just have to wait until the diss is out in full effect.  For now, it’s back to the editing booth.

Reflections on Cs 2013

Post-Vegas, my brain is a little fuzzy.  I’m now 3 hours off, and I didn’t sleep much last night because I took the red eye into Detroit.  Before I am swallowed whole by the coming week, which will involve continuing to draft my dissertation, driving to campus for class, and showing around the new class of recruits, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect over my favorite moments from this year’s Cs conference.

Awesome moment 1: making myself compose with objects in the half day workshop “Evocative Objects.”  We brought objects into the workshop, we traded with other participants, and we picked one object out of a bag.  Then we had an hour to “compose” with the objects in front of us.  I found myself sitting there with an organic paper stationary set, 2 notepads, chalk, and a cloth doll, rolling the paper and unrolling it, situating and re-situating the doll with the other objects before me.  I kept thinking to myself what’s my purpose?  What am I trying to say with this composition?  I tried new combinations and new juxtapositions; I cut up letters and started to spell.  Check out my composition here.  But the the coolest part of the workshop was having others “read” our compositions to us once they were finished.  Being able to see where my own piece was unclear or not as directive as I’d hoped was fascinating.  And I also was a little shocked at my own ability to analyze and pick out the messages in the work of others.  The entire experience left me with much to ponder about how composing with objects is different from and the same as composing with words.

Awesome moment 2:  Yancey’s talk on Wednesday at the end of the QRN: “Navigating the Currents of Research Activity on Transfer of Knowledge and Practice in Writing.”  It was the end of the day and I was exhausted, but Yancey’s concise summary of the transfer research in the field was so useful.  She pointed me to several recently published texts, and made me think deeply about concepts such as the role of metalanguage in our courses.

Awesome moment 3:  Kevin Roozen talked about transfer of writing knowledge across media in his Thursday morning session with Wardle and Nowacek.  He called it “remediation,” drawing from Bolter and Grusin.  I was just excited that someone else was actually going there.

Awesome moment 4:  Saying hi, ever so briefly, to my wonderful mentor Lisa Ede after her feminist rhetorical practices panel on Thursday.  She is so wonderful!

Awesome moment 5:  My favorite panel of the conference was “Compositional Expansion: De- and Re-Composing Materialities” with Jody Shipka, Erin Anderson, and Trisha Campbell.  Dr. Shipka showed her latest video, which was layered and complex in exciting ways.  She layered together found home-video footage and sound material, along with a ghostly image of herself on the side – reminding me that there she was, underneath it all, mixing and remixing the materials.  Some of the sound she used came from her classroom and some from interviews with others, and she layered multiple sound tracks at various points in the movie.  The video we watched isn’t up on her website yet, but she has posted many of her other projects there.  Erin Anderson then showed us her “Coerced Confessions” remix videos– she uses digital video editing to remix the words of actors into confessional statements.  The videos are jarring and bizarre, but suggest much about what can (or should) be done with digital voice as a compositional medium.  Finally, Trisha Campbell finished the panel by showing her “Composing Murder” project, where she maps and composes a network for the murders that take place in Pittsburgh each year.  She also collects evidence of the victims’ digital imprint, archiving Facebook pages and images.  I was emotionally moved by Campbell’s project and think it could have an important impact as a tool for the community, but it also challenges my notions of composing new media.  Is her archive a composed text?

Awesome moment 6: Presenting with Chris Dickman and Ben Gunsberg during the last session to a much larger audience than expected!  People hung in there for us, and we had a great showing.  I talked about my dissertation research, and Ben and Chris showed really interesting work relating to making video resources for students and having students compose screencasts.

And there were other awesome moments, too – hanging out with others in my program, seeing graduates and catching up on their lives, seeing the fountain show at the Bellagio, and realizing that writing teachers, well, we just rock!  But I already knew that before.

Thanks, Cs 2013 and everyone involved, for a great conference!

Composing with Playing Cards, Images, and Oxymoron

We’ve done 2 composing activities in my Computers and Writing class over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d post images of my compositions here.

The first composition is my image poem “Land of the Queens.”  I composed using postcards and playing cards that some of my classmates provided, using repetition and juxtaposition as compositional strategies.

Land of the Queens

Land of the Queens close up

Today, we composed with rhetorical terminologies that we picked from a list – mine was “oxymoron,” a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.  My composition is “Dark Light,” made from ripped construction paper and some crayons.

Oxymoron - "Dark Light"

Oxymoron – “Dark Light”

I’ve thought a bit about the element of play while composing both of these pieces.  For “Dark Light,” I ended up ripping the paper because someone else was using the scissors, but then I liked the ripped look and kept going.  For “Land of the Queens, ” I started using repetition because I saw 2 identical postcards and wondered what else I could find 2 of.  For both compositions, I ended up somewhere that I didn’t originally intend because of playing around with the available materials and making due with the resources I had.

Caption Fail?

This activity, from my Computers and Writing class this week and the guru-of-accessibility, professor Melanie Yergeau, was designed to see how accessible the caption feature on youtube really is for video material.  We recorded ourselves reading a paragraph of text (mine is me reading my blog response to the readings from the other day), and then we uploaded the audio to youtube, turned on the captions, and looked to see what would come out.  You can listen to and watch mine below, just click on the CC captioning icon when you press play to see the captions.

Overall, though, I’m surprised at how good of a job the youtube captioner does.  Ok, ok, so the captioner has no idea how to use a comma, and authors Bowie and Zdenek became “slowly and senate,” but who even knows how to say Zdenek’s name anyway?  And digi-rhetors became “digi-renters,” but I’m not even sure digi-rhetors is a word some of my colleagues would recognize if I said it to them face to face.  In class, Melanie mentioned that the youtube captioner does better with a man’s voice – maybe my voice is manly?!?  I am an alto, after all.

All in all, an interesting experiment in accessibility for digital video.  Maybe the youtube captioner technology is getting better, for which those of us who care (or should care) about accessibility can rejoice.

Words to Ponder re: Digital Delivery & Accessibility

Porter argues that we need a robust theoretical framework for digital delivery – a framework that will “help you write,” aid your productive action if you will.  His framework calls attention to bodies, distribution and circulation, access, interaction, and the economics of composing and delivering digital texts.  Bowie and Zdenek also call digi-rhetors to pay attention to the accessiblity of our 21-st century texts:  how can we take a “universe of users” into account as we design and research?  If and when we caption, what do we caption, and why?

These articles have important implications for my own (and my students’) rhetorical action as digital video composers, and I’m left with much to ponder.  I’ll represent the questions and ideas rolling around in my brain with some key words and phrases relevant to video composing:

remix; licensing; keywords and tagging; the posthuman?; to caption or not to caption; “soundtrack”; representing music in words; visual design; WHERE TO PUBLISH??…