Summer Seminar | Writing for New Media: Digital Communication Syllabus

Context

Summer Seminar is a one-week program that SCAD offers to prospective students. It is designed to highlight the broad range of creative majors that are available and to give prospective students a taste of life at SCAD. I was selected to teach a workshop in Writing and New Media.

  • Audience: High School Students / Potential SCAD Students
  • Timeline: 3 Weeks
  • Deliverable: Week-Long Workshop / 2.5 Hours of Instruction Each Day
  • Tools: Microsoft Word, Research
  • My Role: Course Designer/Instructor

Goals

  • make the week fun and engaging: highlight the creative side of writing
  • spark connections: helps students see how storytelling connects to every SCAD major
  • be informative: give context and perspective on new media writing
  • foster curiosity: provide a forum for students to come away with a greater sense of curiosity and possibility

Approach

To make the course as close to a true SCAD class as possible, I researched existing SCAD syllabi for writing and new media courses to get a sense of the topics they covered. And to make the lessons visually engaging, I curated a collection of high quality new media and interactive writing pieces from the National Film Board of Canada, The New York Times, and elsewhere.

The pieces I chose grounded the course lessons and provided a jumping-off point for discussion. Instead of listing hard-and-fast topics that needed to be covered each day, I grouped the lessons around related topics that we could study more extensively based on the students’ interests. In this way, the course was really driven by the students, as I wanted to give them freedom from the constraints of a typical high school course so they could explore what could be done with storytelling in a digital environment.


Workshop Syllabus

Workshop Description

From the everyday to the unusual, this workshop examines all aspects of new media and the related writing processes. Students explore the history of new media and gain experience writing about new media and writing with new media tools and technologies.

Expanded Workshop Description

The brief description above covers the general aims of this workshop, but new media is a whole ocean of study in and of itself, so it’s worth defining the parameters of what you will be doing a bit more explicitly. There are two key aspects to this course: writing and new media, and specifically the relationship between the two. The history of new media is, in some ways, the history of writing and visual communication. In this workshop, we’ll take a broad view of what constitutes reading and writing in order to come to a better understanding of what new media is and how it can be used. (Spoiler alert: It’s not just about text).

You will learn how various historical technologies have shaped the way we approach reading and writing today. It’s impossible to understand new media without looking at the past, so this will be part whirlwind history survey and part practical application of new media writing techniques.

While we will cover a number of writing techniques, I’m not going to emphasize the nuts and bolts of writing. We’re not going to be diagramming sentences or discussing various verb conjugations. Writing is a skill that you hone through practice over time. However, you will be challenged to think about how new media presents unique opportunities for creating engaging narratives. When it comes to working with new media, there are no set rules. There are such things as conventions, but those are very different than hard and fast rules. This is a place where you can use your imagination and come up with some zany ideas for how to tell stories. Think of this workshop as a sort of scientist’s lab where you can concoct crazy compound possibly stumble across something wild and cool. 

Workshop Expectations

I expect you to ask lots of questions. New media is a big topic. So is writing. However, no question is too small or too frivolous.

Be respectful of your peers, their work, and their ideas.

Take risks. I am very serious about this workshop being a place where you can be experimental and creative with your ideas. I’m not here to tell you exactly how writing for new media ought to be done. I want you to “flip the script” and show me something new. To do this, you need to pick a narrative project that matters to you. It could be about one of your hobbies, a unique experience you had, or just a topic that you’re interested in. The point is that you need to care about what you’re making. The project you begin in this workshop should be something that you want to keep working on long after this week is over.

If you find a word or concept in the readings that you don’t understand, look it up or ask me about it. Don’t skim over words that you don’t know. Download a free dictionary app (the Merriam-Webster one is the one I use) or do a web search. We will be talking through all of the readings in class, so it’s to both your and your peers’ advantage for you to read so you have something to contribute. New media affects pretty much every aspect of contemporary life, and this workshop is your opportunity to discuss those effects candidly.

Workshop Schedule  

The following schedule outlines the main topics that will be covered each day. You should be able to complete all of the readings in about 15 minutes each day. I will provide hard-copy printouts and links to PDFs of all readings from books. All project work will be done in-class.

Day 1: What is Media?

Media/Mediation — A brief history of visual and textual communication — Whose message, whose discourse? — Agency — Narrative as an underlying mediator/structure — Meaning-making

Project

  • Mindmapping
  • Preliminary Narrative Outline

Day 2: When did media become “new”? 

Reading media: form and formation— New media as convergence (from the cinematic to the digital) — Media conventions — Historical progression of communicative conventions — What role do conventions play? — Working within / breaking conventions (genre styles, visual styles, structural styles, etc.)

Reading Due

  • Marshall McLuhan, excerpts from The Medium in the Massage
  • Ellen Lupton, “Period Styles” from Design Writing Research

Project

  • Exploring Alternate Outlines Structures (Linear vs. Nonlinear)
  • Initial Narrative Drafting

Day 3: Applications of New Media for Storytelling 

What is storytelling? — Multimedia storytelling — Print media as AR/VR — New media and journalism — Cross-platform communication — What comes first the story or the medium? — Expanded storytelling (when print crosses the digital threshold)

Reading

Project

  • Platform Exploration: Applying a Narrative to Different Contexts
  • Merging Visual and Textual Content

Day 4: New Media Experiences 

Reception vs. participation — Storyshowing — New media as a narrative environment — Convergence of data and storytelling — Automation and discourse — Social Media — Developing narrative experiences

Readings

Project

  • Storyboarding the Narrative
  • Developing a Story Pitch

Day 5: Recap and Review 

What’s next? (for media and for further personal study) — Application of media literacy and narrative into various fields (e.g., writing, animation, motion media, graphic design, UI/UX, film, etc.)—general discussion of the topics from the week—process presentation — Providing constructive criticism

Project

  • Narrative Pitch
  • Group Feedback

Result

I had a very small group of students, so flexibility in the topics ended up being critical. In addition, I learned that the students’ schedule did not provide time for the students to read, so I had to pivot and refocus the readings as pieces for class discussion. For the project, students created mind maps and outlines to generate story ideas that they wanted to expand into the digital environment. For the final deliverables, students used giant sticky notes (2’x3’), regular sticky notes, and Sharpie markers to create paper prototypes of digital stories. On the last day of the workshop, students presented their work and discussed the types of media (text, audio, video, etc.) that they would like to include in a fully fleshed out piece.

Reflection

Keeping the emphasis on discussion and exploration helped create a fun and collaborative environment. Integrating paper prototyping methods into the project enabled the students to think conceptually instead of technically, and it made potential issues with hardware and technology non-existent. In the end, students were able to walk away with a new set of tools for developing story concepts

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