cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Andrew Curtis

This is the last week of my first semester teaching ds106; Jim Groom has reminded my plenty about what a marathon push this is for both student and teacher. Their blogs have fallen quiet as (I hope) they are going full metal on their final projects. Before doing any philosophical ear waxing on tyhe experience, two meta-ish things have bobbed up repeatedly as a means of looking at the work we are all doing.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the assignments or the branded #life spirit of it all.

One of the pleasant (or least negative) aspects of this course is that we really do not spend much fi any time teaching software. You would think we’d have to cover a lot of grounds with students doing photography, visual design, audio recording and editing, video work, remixing… But we have been able to avoid worry about whether students can learn software, and putting that on them to figure out. Not in the sense of abdicating this role, but handing it over.

So we never dictate what software to use- they either use what they have, or find the free tools, or find ones we have never heard of, or download the trial versions.

What this means, for something like when we started audio, was maybe a 15 minute overview of importing files, moving them on the timeline, paying attention to wave forms, cutting and pasting of audio like text, using tracks, and exporting. It is the skill of audio production, not the menu items of Audacity we are teaching.

This is where I’d prefer to be- that we focus on the conceptual level. We ought to not be teaching software. Well, I prefer not to.

But what I wanted to write about here was two broad areas I observed that happen in ds106 across the kind of work the students do.

Looking at the World Differently Through a Lens
In the activities we did in class “rapid prototyping” and especially the Daily Creates, I have seen (and heard from) students who describe that they go about their activities looking and listening in new ways. This happens first in photography, where they start to look for details they might have not noticed before, or think about thew way scenes they scene might be “cropped” for a coherent meaning. It is the first act of “noticing”, but not the last.

Would someone every see a stack of CD discs as art or even interesting? It all depends on how you look, and appreciate the light

Iluminate the discs

or just a world reflected in a puddle?

Heaven Is a Place on Earth

When you go into Audio, they learn the magic of foley art, of how subtle sound effects make audio “feel” real, how music, soft background music, sets themes. The learn how a single scream has wound its way through scores of films. I’d like to think student listen differently, or at least notice the impact of sounds around them. Closing doors. Footsteps in an empty hallway. Water flowing into a sink. Crickets.

We extend this idea of “noticing” as well in video, when we introduce the ideas of “reading” a movie, of noting the use of light, camera angle, the placement of character. Dominant and subservient positioning.

Now I don’t have any analytics on this, but it is a theme that I can see across the course, and one I will continue to pay attention to. We can be better creators, communicators, by getting batter and seeing the world through media and being more conscious of sensory inout we might not have noted prior.

The Power of Layers
As we have progressed through the trail of media, I have been pondering the importance of having students appreciate the use of layers in media- of how meaning is changed, ort effects are created simply by understanding where a set of media is situated in a stack. There is the dimension of time in one dimension and what is visible in the other.

In moving from the simple web based photo editors to tools like PhotoShop or GIMP, students learn how layers not only make their work more organized, but also open a world of creativity in visual form, just be having this sense of media stratigraphy, plus the impact of layer effects.

Layers also come into play in audio editing, as students learn to make soundscapes, voice, effects, music, that when done well, when levels are adjusted that sound has a dimension perhaps not appreciated before.

We did not do much multi track editing for video, but in using even MovieMaker or iMovie, students master it by understanding how layering in the editor allows the mix of image, sound, but also effects, and titles, and again, working in a dimension o time.

Again, I sit here typing these words with nothing more than gut feeling, not data, etc. But to me, we are getting to those key conceptual ideals by having students amp up their world noticing and getting a solid comprehension of how media can be stacked in time and place.

So maybe this cannot me measured, charted, badges, etc, but these meta skills are the realm I’d prefer to be running in.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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