Instructor Reflection – A Golden Age (2.2)

by Amanda K. Booher

As reflected in my course description, the goals of my “Issues in Composition” course were to encourage students’ critical engagement in questioning the nature of composition in a digital, multimediated world. We approached this in part by considering questions of plagiarism, intellectual property, remixing, and authorship across media. Concurrently, I asked them to create across media. They began by reflecting on their (alphabetic) literacy development; we then moved to Burroughs-esque cut and paste projects (again focusing on alphabetic text, but outside of only linear logics) and audio compositions (focusing on aurality); finally, students composed a video that integrated visuals, audio, and time. These were essentially my only constraints: their projects needed images and sound, and these elements needed to “occur” across time.

This is, clearly, an incredibly broad assignment, though purposefully so. In part, this compensated for a practical constraint: students came to this class with a tremendous variety of digital skills (or lack thereof). As this was not a technology-specific class (i.e. these assignments are not standard in the course across the department), and as I am not an expert in matters of production technologies, I wanted to leave the students room to choose to what extent they would engage technology. They were not left to fend for themselves–I presented them many software options, gave basic instructions for use, and helped trouble-shoot along the way—but for some, simply importing photographs and music into Window Moviemaker was a revolutionary experience.

My other reason for assignment broadness was intellectual freedom. I wanted to empower students to explore whatever they were interested in exploring, in whatever way they felt was most appropriate to do so! Such idealism! But alas, this delightful gift of freedom completely frustrated, annoyed, and angered many of them at first (this was no surprise; I embrace student discomfort as part of my pedagogical philosophy). Some wanted me to tell them what to do, how to do it, for how long, in what ways, and with what color palettes. Through poking, prodding, class discussions, and conferences, many of them resolved this issue and accepted their fate of independence, producing fine and interesting final compositions.

Some, though, took these freedoms and ran with them—and ran harder and farther than I anticipated. This is the deeply grounded reason for a broad assignment: students never cease to amaze me. Ron Macdon, the author of this piece, is absolutely one of those amazing students. Ron was a pretty quiet student at first—one of those who, when you read her/his first paper, you’re delighted, and you immediately wanted to throttle him/her for not sharing such brilliance in class discussions. (Or maybe that’s just me.) He opened up more as the semester continued (in part, perhaps, because I started calling on him more). And his work continued to delight and amaze. In addition to keen intellectual insights, Ron’s work was always really creative, in style, delivery, and topic. This video project was no exception.

The video you see here is not his original idea; this is the secondary idea, revised and more limited than the first. His initial plan (as he may mention in his own reflection) was this:

For my video project, I plan to make a short mockumentary on the addictive nature of the Internet and technology. The mockumentary will document the transformation of a character over a period of time as he dives into the world of Minecraft, which, according to Wikipedia, is a “sandbox building video game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.” The mockumentary will aim to be a sort of dark comedy, and light psychological thriller. Various mentions of internet/technological references like foursquare, twitter, facebook, internet memes, slang, iPhones, etc. will also be incorporated throughout the video by other characters to show how much our lives revolve around the internet.

The purpose of this video is:

1) to satirize internet culture

2) observe our society’s conscious/unconscious addiction to the internet and technology

3) to portray the merging of the real and the digital “landscape.”

Ultimately, I hope this will cause the audience to even question their lives and wonder how much of it revolves around the internet.

Indeed, Ron lacks neither creativity nor ambition. While this idea was spectacular, after he began exploring the practicalities, we agreed that it was a bit much for one three-week project. (He has promised to return to this plan in the future, and I greatly look forward to that.)

“A Golden Age” is a slightly less ambitious project than plan A, but still far more than I anticipated. I think Ron developed an excellent concept of questioning first impressions, turning it into a well-edited, beautiful video. He captured and chose great moments with his interviewees, all of whom seem so human and genuine, stripped of artifice. I’m also impressed by his aesthetic sensibilities—the blurring/focusing of the camera, and the interspersing of cuts like the plane crossing the sky; the film feels very indie, but not in a contrived way. In his reflection for me, he identified some of flaws here in editing and audio; while improvements could be made, these problems were primarily due to the constraints of the assignment and of equipment. As a whole, I couldn’t have been more pleased with this. I’d like to say this had something to do with my assignment, but really, short of providing an opportunity and launching pad, that had little to do with Ron’s success. What this video does is testify to Ron’s enthusiasm, creativity, intelligence, and drive. “A Golden Age” will also serve future students as an exemplary example of what they might attempt, of what’s possible in undergraduate multimedia compositions.