Saturday, February 26th, 2005
The New Media Communication program as conceived at Tunxis Community College is a program that teaches people to understand the surface and the deeper structures of digital systems. It teaches people to visualize, evaluate, and manipulate the structures and components of media forms. To these ends, we recognize that the trees and the forest are both important. We take students who are focusing on a particular skill or competency area (trees)–these could be programming, drawing, and/or studies in history–and provide a foundation in media, communications, narrative, systems, and teamwork and provide an environment where students can collaborate on new media projects. New media coursework will provide time and space for the novice programmer to work with the novice artist on a common project or set of projects from conception, planning, and testing. How can a team of students given problems X, Y, and Z design a system or digital environment to produce a desired effect? In this way we work within the system to build skills, animate concepts, and offer students a means to put what they’re learning to work in a larger context.
In my mind this is the meat of the program here at Tunxis. At Tunxis, we require a new media kind of thinking in our everyday work, collaboration, compromise, planning, integration, and a continual tussle with the demands of systems, government regulations, and good teaching and service provision. Are we good at this? We try. Call it what you will, we struggle constantly with what makes for good teaching under the pressures of grants, heavy teaching and committee loads, truncated time schemes, technology competencies, hardware requirements, and the time to teach our areas of expertise.
It’s not an easy thing to teach writing or economics and at the same time keep up with what is offered as new or rewarding to academic fields and the continual pressures, good and bad, of education technology. It’s not that easy to incorporate new systems such as electronic portfolios or weblogs for a good-sized and active college. Dealing with such systems involves rethinking pedagogy, re-managing already busy schedules, and reorganizing the work of academic and administrative departments at a deep-structural level. Altering or adding to the tasks of an office manager or teacher means big change. The question for educational technology is not color, ease of use, or usability; the question is how does the system augment practice? How does it make the job more interesting, flexible, creative, and meaningful?
Eportfolio is meant to help organize information and time. As I work with the system and get to know it, I’m finding that it does neither very well. Yet as I work through the English Department’s action plans and work flows in Storyspace, putting together a “picture” of what we’re doing and need to do, I find that Eastgate’s tool (and I’m looking forward to the Windows version of Tinderbox for the very same purpose) with its ease, simplicity, and emergent power for “visualizing” how we work is a smashing example of new media principles at work. Flexible, unabtrusive, imaginative, clean, and it gets the job done (if I could get it to call up a Word doc, then it would be perfect). It makes thinking about what needs to be done smarter and more interesting. An entire strategic plan can be put together in Storyspace and you’d be able to figure out exactly what you need to do and find what you need to find. Next stop Tinderbox, when ready.
When you open up Flash or Storyspace, you’re met with an empty stage. Both environments wait for you to do something. Both programs want you to think big and rough them up a little. Eportfolio presents a series of fields for plug in, like an old style workbook, at once dull, and employs very little planning archicture, no agents, or search capability. It’s not really a development software package that ask for much work other than to plug in and respond in fields to questions that will become redundant very soon.
The contents of a portfolio of whatever kind are important. Indeed, a portfolio, a demonstration of one’s work, should, I’d say, provide for some amount of flexibility to the person using it, which gets me to thinking. An electronic portfolio system should behave like a development or management tool.
It would be a nice project, just to add to the others we already have planned, for new media students to develop a portfolio system for other students that is interesting to use and deep and powerful enough to grow with the user. Over the course of a year artists, programmers, writers, and budding teachers could put something together and in the process apply what they’re learning elsewhere in a different context. This is the key. Storyspace, Feeddemon and Premier act as brilliant case studies in tools oriented for human use.