Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Leaping into the deep end...

There is something exhilarting about giving your students the trust and belief to try something completely new. Especially when they're so excited they have to be hunted out of the classroom after every lesson.

At the same time it's incredibly terrifying....there's so many things to be fearful of:

  • What will I look like to my colleagues if this fails?

  • What will the back up be if this doesn't work?

  • How will I explain this to my superiors?

  • How will I support the students if they fail?

I look at that list of fears and concerns and not a single one of them justifies putting this project on hold.

So...what is the project that's consuming me excitement at the moment?

Student managed cyberdramas.

Now the first question is going to be (as it always is eventually) - "What on earth in cyberdrama?"

Cyberdrama is the sharing of stories about people through various internet spaces. It's a lot more like a jigsaw than a 'traditional' drama performance, there's multiple sources of information to help the audience piece together the narrative. The fragmented nature of it lets the producers take advantage of all sorts of tools online - YouTube, Ning, MySpace/Facebook, Wikipedia/blogs/forums. It also lets the audience take on a different role from usual. In traditional drama the audience is quite passive - in cyberdrama the audience is lot more participatory - they rate videos, they share their theories through forums and wikis, they interact with the characters through MySpace.

I first got introduced to the concept of cyberdrama two years ago when I attended a conference workshop run by Sue Davis. For me, as an avid online gamer something about this concept just "clicked" and I knew straight away it was something I wanted to explore the potential of in my classroom. And over the past couple of years I've experimented to two class based cyberdramas.

The first one was run and managed by me within my small class of rural students - called "Searching for Mary". The students developed roles which were somehow connected to a missing character, Mary, and tried to piece together what had happened to her. It was largely a text based cyberdrama (not ideal) and led into the students developing a non-realistic piece exploring the concept of identity as it was revealed that all the characters had different aspects of their personality that they shared with different people.

The second one has been "The Secret Society of Shapeshifters", run and managed by Sue Davis. This one was far more ambitious with three schools participating, developing characters around the pre-text "The Seal Wife" and explore the story of the selkie kept from the sea by her human husband. They were to share their explorations through in-character (ic) video logs, wikis, blogs and forums. The project wasn't as successful as I hhad hoped it would be, there's many reasons behind that and the reflection I've gone through in order to come to terms with it has been very helpful to me as a teacher.

Anyway...because my students' participation in the Society wasn't as engaging for them as I'd hoped I took it to them and asked them for their thoughts. I didn't get it - they were really enjoying the concept of cyberdrama (many are now avid watchers of LonelyGirl15 and have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Resistance), but they were just switching off when it came to the Society. Turns out the things they've been itching to do is try and create their own cyberdramas.

So, I took that information away with me and thought about it - why not? Could it work? How can I work it to make it managable? Was a good week of thinking it over and testing theories before I went back to them and laid it all out...

"Guys, this has NEVER been done this way before that I know of. I don't even know how to write your assessment based on this, but I don't want you to do a heap of work that doesn't count for something. How can we make it work?"

I don't think the class has looked back since...

So, in three weeks time we're launching our very own cyberdramas - their designed to be short, a six week season only. And to be honest the ideas behind them are really sweet - I can't wait to see how it all comes together. There will be:

  • The Room - a psycological thrillar where the audience is asked to help solve the mystery of a kidnapped man locked in a dark room.
  • Liars Anonymous - were everyone knows everyone's a liar, but in that case, what's the truth amongst the lies? Can the audience figure it out?
  • Just Wait - Watch as an anonymous vlogger sets out to destroy an old friend, but can the audience figure out who she is before it's to late?
  • Secret Suffering - a tragic story of two sisters recently orphaned and their struggle to come to terms with the loss of their parents and the sacrifices that will need to be made to stay together.
  • NewGirl - a school yard's abuzz when a new girl starts at the school, shaking up friendships and the staus quo.
  • State of Mind - actually...I need more details about this one :(

Unfortunately we haven't been allowed to make them available to the general public. Our department has a very strict line when it comes to using the open web. So, for now we're limited to the department's online learning platform. Which is pretty good in a lot of ways, but it is going to limit us in a lot of ways too. And trust me, that's led to me sending out some very detailed emails about it...

So, tomorrow the class and I are bomb diving into the deep end of this project - setting up their Cyberdrama spaces and developing their first week's digital offers...let the fun begin!


Oh god...this is eitehr going to be awesome or devasting...

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