Archive for May, 2004

22nd May
written by Tom Banaszewski

Tom’s Top Ten

1. Not having to put the seat down.
2. Wearing the same clothes every other day and showering once a week really isn’t that offensive.
3. Small town life(especially Polverigi) beats the hustle and bustle of Rome anyday.
4. Autostrade – kilometers or miles per hour, it doesn’t matter, you still get to do over a 100 of them and it’s legal.
5. You really can’t get tired of eating great tasting pasta everyday.
6. Italian is a beautiful language to listen to even if you only have a working vocabulary of five words: “Ciao, Silvio, une cappacino, une paste chocolata, une pizza. Gratsi.”
7. – one way ticket to anyplace in Europe for under a $100, just don’t bring a lot of luggage
8. Knowing that I still have three months before I go back to school.
9. Grappa.
10.Wireless internet connections so you can work from the patio of a 600 year old villa.

20th May
written by Tom Banaszewski

This blog was created to record and share my reactions to going back to grad school in hopes of advancing my interactive design skills, specifically in the area of digital storytelling. If you’ve read any of the posts, you know that it’s been a challenging road. I stopped posting back in November feeling that it was best to just shut-up and get my work done. I had lost interest in blogging also when no one was commenting. As much as I think blogs are a great tool for academic researchers to chart the progression of their interests, I still wanted some outside interaction. And then of course there was the lack of time issue.

The second semester was not a great improvement, but it was entirely more successful in terms of what I produced. Being a very product-oriented person, I needed to feel like I was creating and completing what I started. Here’s an overview of the projects: (I think they’re all in Flash, so you’ll need the latest plug-in)

1. Interactive Timeline for the PBS POV documentary “Love and Diane”

This was a fantastic experience! We were asked to enhance the traditional linear narrative form of a documentary film and the timeline proved to the most versitile vehicle in an interactive environment. I borrowed it for another project. What made this such a rewarding experience was not that we completed something that actually worked and was used by a popular media outlet, but the way the project team worked together. I learned a lot from observing our project leader, Karyn. She never doubted that we could complete this project in the two month window we had. That’s such an essential part of working on a team. You have to trust and believe in everyone. We had a great set of collective skills. The entire first iteration had to be recoded from scratch because we chose to go with Flash’s new progressive download feature. The gain in video quality was worth it. The learning curve was steep for the ActionScript, but Engin was amazing in decyphering it all. This project studio may have sparked a team that’ll produce some more stunning interactive environments.

2. Mapping My Life is the second project for Michael Mateas’s Interactive Narrative class. I set out to create a map of my life with map pins that link to the places my family has lived, the places that’ve contributed to my education, etc. It’s got a lot of potential for demonstrating a new form of digital storytelling. Michael kept pushing me to go beyond the ‘multimedia scrapbook’ and I’m glad he did. Even though at first I felt that telling an autobiography via a timeline or in a geographical way was engaging enough. I’ll still need to work out the navigation issues of whether it’s better to have a timeline with icons or use the global roll-over idea. It’s hard to see what the real narrative is that I’m telling about myself. I kind of like that I’m leaving it open to the user to follow certain links and decide for themselves.

3. A Place at the Table is many things. Right now it’s an interactive narrative about the experience of urban students who attend school in mostly white suburban towns. I’ve worked on this idea for a few years after noticing that my students who were bussed from the city out to the ‘burbs had very little representation. I set out to see how technology could be leveraged to represent the story of integrated school experiences. This iteration presents the scenario where you can bring four people to a table for a virtual dialog on issues related to integrated schools. Depending on who you bring to the table, a different dialog will be heard from each person, eg. if persons A, E, D, G are at the table each person will speak to the Urban Myths theme. If persons B, E, F, G are at the table the Benefits of Diversity theme will be played for each person. I haven’t figured out the coding to actually make the multiple combinations work, but you get the idea. There are many plans to develop this environment into something that allows students, parents, teachers, community members to add their two cents in story form using multimedia tools. Also, there are plans to develop the environment so that students in other integrated schools can contribute to the database of stories.

4. A Place at the Table timeline is meant to be the precursor to the actual ‘table’ part of ‘A Place at the Table.’ I realized that I needed to set the context for the need to have a virual dialog on the issues surrounding integrated schools. I liked the impact of the Love and Diane interactive timeline so much that I borrowed the design and set to work stripping out the Love and Diane video clips and putting in interviews clips of peoples’ high school experiences regarding race. I had a great group of undergrads helping me collect interviews from a wide span of ages and backgrounds. Even though the interviews are not directly related to the Boston school integration challenges, the issues and themes are still relevant.

5. Teacher, Teacher was the object-oriented assignment for 6313. I thought we created a very engaging interactive environment that scripted the user to click on the various items on the teacher’s desk to effect the three students’ varying moods. I also learned that the old adage ‘three heads are better than one’ is really true. Not that I doubted it, but it’s hard to ask people to come on board to help develop an idea. It was fun to build off my first OO project.

6. is finally up and running smoothly – if you have the Flash 7 plug-in. I reworked the entire .fla so that each scene takes place in one frame of Flash. In non-Flash lingo, I simplified my project so that instead of having twenty pages to organize I only have one. The video clips are not great quality. I’ll need to rework those eventually. If you include video on the web, make it the best quality you can – and right now that’s using Flash progressive download. Very little wait time and superior quality. I have to include a credit to Maria for taking the digital photos of the chalkboard. It really makes the point I wanted to convey about my teaching background.

7. Digital Storytelling with high school students at Westlake High. This was my first time working extensively with high school students. It confirmed that I definitely want to teach a high school class soon. There really wasn’t a big difference from working with elementary age kids. Same kinds of issues of needing to model what you expected them to do and then keeping them on task.

We did two projects over the span of six months, both using PowerPoint. I’m not a huge fan of PP, but it was the software most widely available on the most computers. The first project was to have the kids effectively use images, audio and video clips in a multimedia presentation on Japanese American heritage as a culminating project after they had read the book “Picture Bride” and researched a topic related to Japanese American history. They all had used PP before, so teaching them how to add audio and video clips wasn’t hard. I wanted to demonstrate that a multimedia presentation was a kind of digital storytelling, that an effective presentation using images, text, audio and video was a powerful way to share what you learned about a topic.

The main lesson learned is that you always need more time than you think. Andre, the fantastic teacher I collaborated with, was very flexible and interested in learning new ways to use technology in the English classroom. The partnership worked well because I already had a teaching background so he didn’t need to worry too much about how I’d handle his class. We communicated regularly via email and during his planning time, but there are always things that come up that compete for the time you allot for adding something new to the curriculum. We were good about setting deadlines for the different stages of the project, but with multimedia you can’t always control time like you can with other types of lessons.

It’s hard to assess how successful I was at teaching multimedia storytelling to the class. Their projects for the most part were very rough. Only about one or two students really got what I trying to demonstrate. I don’t think it was a matter of my instruction. I’d like to think it was because the students were not used to ‘telling stories’ and that contributed more to the loose final presentations. All technology projects have a learning curve and that was evident in this process. Was it naive to think that each student would create a dynamic, well planned, effective multimedia presentation? Yes, they’re students not interactive designers. That’s what’s often lost in the process of attempting to use technology effectively in the classroom. We forget the wide range of technological literacy of students.

As a sidenote, it was interesting to notice that even when I created a resource page of links to sites that had images, audio and video clips for their presentations, they still wanted to use Ask Jeeves or other search tools to find media. I learned also that it’s still hard for students to take advantage of the audio and video clips available via on-line digital archives at the Library of Congress and other museum sites. Figuring out how to download the clips and then getting them in the a format that works in PP on a Mac and PC is very tricky. If students are really going to make good use of the web during school they can’t waste time with all of the technical challenges of getting the media they want to use.