Posted by: Ellie Kutz | June 14, 2012

Keynote: Media Literacy and Digital Storytelling

One way to help students become engaged with critical media literacy is to help them become producers as well as consumers of new media.  In her conference keynote, ““Media and Digital Literacy via Asian American Studies Pedagogies of Wholeness,” Shirley Tang (American Studies/Asian-American Studies) offered an overview of the pedagogical underpinnings of her teaching and introduced the work of several of her students. (See the full video of the opening remarks and keynote at Conference Proceedings.)

Shirley Tang’s concerns, as a professor of Asian American Studies, are the ways in which the dominant narrative about Asian Americans as a model minority in the US distorts the reality of many, and she wants to provide an opportunity for students to present their own counter stories.  She cites as one of her early influences, the work of film maker Ann Hui who presented the stories of Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, and from whom she learned that “visual storytelling has power to put a human face on issues that otherwise aren’t visible on a larger stage. “

Students in the Media Literacy course begin their work by researching their personal, family, and community history and sharing their discoveries and their reflections on those discoveries.  Their research, reflection, and interaction culminates in the production of their own digital stories—stories that connect personal history with larger issues. Shirley describes this work in terms of a “pedagogy of wholeness,” one that allows students to connect what is personal and unique to them to larger social and political concerns, to get at stories long hidden away, to reach each others’ common humanity, and to become more engaged educationally, civically, and politically.

Three students/former students shared the very powerful work they produced in this course.

Frances Kai Ying Chow, a finalist in the 2011 WGBH/ Short Waves video contest, created Depression, Suicide—a moving presentation of drawings and words—the hurtful words she heard as a child and her own words as she tries to speak past her “stifled voice” and express the conflicts of her Chinese and American identities.

Pratna Kem won the 2011 WGBH contest with his video, Wear I Fit.


He filmed himself trying on and abandoning various items of clothing, feeling that his “feet cannot fit” all of the obligations and expectations he feels.  He peels off layers of clothing as he tries to peel back layers of conformity and come to an understanding and acceptance of his own identity as a Cambodian American. (Both of these videos can be seen on the Short Waves  site.)


And Henry Ho, won the 2012 Boston Asian American Film Festival (BAAFF) Short Waves Award for his digital story, My 2009 Experience, in which he recounts his efforts to cope with a series of family difficulties including his father’s death from cancer, using family photos plus video of himself making sushi as he tries on his father’s role as sushi chef and uses the visual metaphor of the six piece California roll to represent the pieces of his family.

Given the quality of these productions, it was surprising to learn that, for most students in the course, this was their first experience in using technology in these ways.  Their process involved participating in a variety of meaning-making activities to develop their narratives, working with peer mentors and artists-in-residence to develop and deepen story, refining their stories through dialogue with each other, and exploring possibilities and exercising their creative freedom in composing across visual and aural as well as textual modes.

As Shirley’s students spoke about their experiences in the program, they spoke of their own creative processes and also their commitment to taking what they’d learned to others.  Chu Huang worked with Charlestown High students on a video, “My Voice, Their Stories,” that was an honored selection in the White House Champions of Change video contest, and Pratna Kem wants to use what he learned from his own creative process and adapt such work to his own future high school teaching.

With additional contributions from student dancers and a technical support advisor, the keynote presentation offered an engaging and stimulating opening to the conference’s exploration of innovative teaching practices and the use of new technologies.

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