r12: Digital Essay


Sorry for the late post… I’ve had nothing but headaches with technology on this.

So my project began with a feeling of nostalgia—with the end of the year coming up so quickly, I was constantly reminiscing about my time here at Duke.  Similarly, my diving career had just come to an end.  Having consumed 10 years of my life, it’s been tough to let go of it all.  And so I figured, what better way to spend time lingering in the past than to make a video, with narration and pictures and a few video clips, to recap it all?

That being said, my project starts with a some words on the screen, telling a little about my story.  I then talk about my entry into college, discussing some of my worries, fears, etc., before I really even bring up my time at Duke.  I wanted to set the stage for my turnaround (and I had a pretty big one), so I emphasized the partying and disappointment (in my diving) that I felt in the beginning of my video.  I wanted to show a progression, so when I talked about my surgery, I made sure to note that it was at this point that I decided to make a commitment to turn things around.  Not surprisingly, a little bit of work ethic produced better grades and better results in the pool, and I spend the middle of my video talking about those strides that I made.  At the end of the video, I look back on all the people I met and experiences that I’ve had that have changed my life completely.  I end with a narrative that kind of brings the story full circle, and I decided to have a little fun with it in the end, just to show that I’m not a completely different person (I still like to have fun!), I just have a different perspective and a different set of priorities now.  I then have a couple of my best dives from over the past two years inserted at the end, just as sort of a fun thing to finish it with.

In the end, I loved doing the project, but I’m just frustrated with how time consuming the technology aspect was.  I was prepared to spend hours recording, editing, etc., but I wasn’t ready to spend equally as long (if not longer!) trying to download programs to compress or convert files, letting those programs run, using different platforms for different parts of the essay, etc., etc., etc.  It’s definitely been quite the experience!


Class, Tues, 4/24

Digital Essays, Spring 2012

Presentations: Affordances and Constraints


Slides: Prezi

Slides: Other

Blog Formats


Digital Arcade


r12: Poetry off the Page

In a digital world, many people wonder if books will be replaced by pixilated text. While a digitized form may not be the best manner to present a full-length book, shorter pieces of work may benefit from the combination of text, audio, and video. Digital poetry, Internet poetry, or “poetry off the page” is a new realm of creative writing we must explore in this technological era. My essay took the form of an iMovie, which wove together examples of digital poetry, emphasizing how the internet could transform something from just text to something more.

The original idea for my essay was sparked by a youtube video of Otep preforming “Baby’s Breath.” In the comments section, there were varying opinions concerning whether or not the video was poetry. I initially wanted to make the argument that more things are poetry than we realize, and that poetry isn’t necessarily constructed in ABAB rhyme. Music, writing, video: all of these things can be poetry in their own way; however, the question of “what is poetry” seemed too expansive to cover in a single essay. For that reason, I narrowed my focus to “what is digital poetry.”

Working with iMovie proved to be a struggle. Often times the program would crash (in fact, it gave me great difficultly this morning when I tried to export my video), freeze, or simply be unresponsive. In addition, I had never worked with iMovie before, only having the class tutorial to guide my work. Regardless, I managed to compile a series of poetic examples into an eleven-minute movie, letting the words, audio, and video speak for itself. On my second draft, it seemed that more text and explanation was required, and I tweaked my movie, replacing examples, finding new audio, and, most importantly, adding text. The result is uploaded on youtube.

Obviously, working with iMovie gave me several advantages to working with a text. The inherent nature of digital poetry would not be conducive to a standard essay form: I could describe the interactive nature of some of the poems, but you would not be able to see me interacting with them. You would not be able to hear poets speaking or watch performances of poems. Therefore, the major affordance of working with a digital form of writing was to go beyond merely describing my examples–to actually show the readers a digital poem.



My digital essay “Who’s Afraid of the Pen” is an exploration into adolescents’ habits, beliefs and predispositions about writing through a close analysis of three students’ responses to interview questions. It occurred to me as an interesting topic as we first brainstormed the blogs, and I quickly found that it was a topic about which I wanted to write more than a measly 400 words. Several of my posts neared one thousand before I had hardly scratched the surface of the topic for that week.

It seemed intuitive then, to continue that work, and to transform it in a way that would carry some of the interpretive work I had done in the blog, but to rework it such that it was in a format that was meant to be assessed (accessed?) in a few number of sittings, and that wasn’t supposed to have the overt temporal that a blog has , at least to me.

this is the kind of calculated idiocy I used to manipulate the tone of my essay

Relatedly, I really enjoyed trying to mesh different forms of media together. It would have been exceedingly tedious of me to have to transcribe dozens of minutes of student interview. With this format, I didn’t have to. I could let the students speak for themselves and to each other, while I sat back and drew connections, made commentary. Although I feel that I did some serious intellectual work here, writing in such a context made me feel more free to play with the tone of my own writing, such that I think I manage to come off as a a voice with authority (somewhat) that can poke fun at itself as well as the pseudoscience of trying to make claims about students every where, or even all across Durham, by studying three students in the same school. I felt very few constraints in the wordpress medium. It was intuitive enough for me to use technically, and the added affordances felt like opportunities, not hurdles to be leapt or obstacles overcome.

r12: This is It!

In Our Own Words: Black Pathways at Duke is a brief foray into the experiences of Black students at Duke University. I was prompted to write this essay in response to the controversial study released earlier this year titled What Happens After Enrollment: An Analysis of the Time Paths of Racial Difference in GPA and Major Choice. When I first came across this study I was appalled by the presumptions it made. This project gave me the freedom to offer my own thoughts about the study and speak more broadly about Black community at Duke. Through interview clips and my own writing voice, I present a deeper look into the Black community and ultimately reject the assumptions made by the article.

I first became interested in this project because I was trying to integrate my own experiences and simultaneously raise awareness about an issue. I had no idea what could incorporate both until Professor Harris started talking about the study. It seemed to be the perfect topic!

When I started with this project, the scope felt way too large. I was really excited and I thought I could create a feature length Imovie chronicling Black Duke students. I wanted to talk to professors and students about the study and perhaps even attempt to refute it. I realized quickly those efforts would be futile. I hadn’t the time, experience, or resources to accomplish that goal. Instead I had to focus on just relaying the experiences of a few students integrated with my own writings. That proved to be much more feasible. As for interviewing professors, that proved much harder in reality than theory. First off,  all the professors I talked to were too busy or blew me off. Apparently the end of year is busy enough without another student vying for your attention. In the end the incorporation of only students was just what I needed. By interviewing students I truly got to delve into their experiences and opinions and I think my presentation is better for it. Second, having professors probably would have widened the scope of my paper – something I certainly didn’t need.

As I continued with the project I experimented with various mediums. At first I wanted to use I-movie but the amount of text in my presentation was more conducive to a powerpoint-like format. Powerpoints seem to be both antiquated and boring so I opted for sliderocket. This format had a lot of fun features but still prioritized the message I was trying to convey. It was a perfect match!

Once I found the format, all that was left was putting together the argument. Since it was a subject I was passionate about, it wasn’t too difficult. I really enjoyed expressing my own opinion and going back through the clips for interview material. Ultimately, my journey could not have been complete with out the very useful advice of my teammates! They were an indelible resource that really helped this presentation come together.

I thoroughly enjoyed completing this project. I hope that my viewers will appreciate it and learn something in the process!

Journalism in the Digital Age – An Infographic

I’ve got my project on my personal blog, here, but I can post it below as well.

For my digital essay, I began with the idea that I might like to do something on journalism in the digital age, which is quite meta if you think about it. I started with the topic and began to gather data from there. In an attempt to match my project, I decided the medium would be an iBook. However, rather late in the process, I decided to change the medium to infographic for a couple of reason. 1. I thought the medium was more appropriate to the topic, and as it turns out, I think it worked quite well. 2. I’m also making an iBook for my capstone, and I’m quite okay not using anymore iBooks Author right now. 3. I really love graphics and design, and particularly enjoyed making ties for my little person.

So upon the decision to change my medium, I began to reformulate the data that I had collected. I needed more numbers now. Conveniently, I had found an article only the day before on NPR reviewing the State of the Media Report for 2012. It had all the numbers I needed, and so I decided to make it my main resource for data.

Then I started crunching numbers and began to think about the best way to present each little fact, particularly when there were lots of written sentences to be included, ones which I could not put in number form. Hence I created the little butler figure, who wears a bowtie, because he’s helpful. He tells you things you wouldn’t know otherwise.

I’m not sure what else to say. This was harder and much more time-consuming than I had imagined, but now it’s done, and I’m really happy with the result.


Also, a thank you and a citation to ThinkDesign Blog for the creation of the vectors that I used. Here they are http://thinkdesignblog.com/.

R12: Urban Ministries—A Home for the Hopeful

So, few will contest the fact that community service is one of the most satisfying things you can do with your time. That is not saying it is the best, or most important, or selfless. In fact, I have gained so much from my time working with the Durham Urban Ministries that I would argue that I have been bettered as a person more than I have been able to better the lives of others. And as cliché as this sounds, it was for that reason and that reason alone that I chose to do my digital essay about the organization that had so subtly yet so surely touched my life. I was originally going to construct an essay bout the different voices found on college campus and how each are wonderfully unique yet amazingly unanimous or relatable at the same time. However, that seemed rather self-serving so I opted for an option with which I would be able to serve something larger than myself. I made a video to outline the services the Urban Ministries offers in a way that captures the beauty of the mission and the positive externalities of its work—I wanted to make any call to action intrinsic in the video rather than an explicit demand or plea for help.

From the offset, I had no idea what I was doing. I am so glad that the assignment was broken down into various parts that were each dispersed in due dates across the second half of the semester because it forced me to start working on the project so I knew the hurdles relatively early rather than last minute. I am loathe to admit it, but if we had one hard due date, I am sure I would have fallen to the classic college tendency to procrastinate—a toxic combination of overwhelming amounts of outside work and irrational levels of self-confidence in being able to complete an extensive project in a short period of time. But, this way, I came to realize that scheduling interviews was not only inconvenient but time consuming and that finding a way to piece together my information in a gripping way was a serious challenge without making it seem like a Sarah Mclachlan-esuqe. The topic was quite sensitive—it would be crass to approach homelessness from a facetious perspective but I feared doing that in my desire to move as far from melodramatic and saccharine sentiment as possible. I started with an outline that bordered on paternalistic because though I understood that those who volunteer at the shelter are in no way superior to those they serve, simply more privileged, my videos and quotes came across in a way that expressed the sentiment that people have the responsibility to help those less fortunate than them. This may seem innocuous but that was neither my intention nor the mission of the Urban Ministries—they aim to help the community help themselves and those who have the chance to volunteer find themselves as positively affected as those they are assisting.

So, with the helpful input of classmates, I was able to reformat my outline in a way that was more feasible and effective. However, as with any good plan, it fell apart the minute I tried to implement it. It was hard acquiring the resources I needed to put the video together as in I needed to have certain individuals sign release statements to allow me to video tape them and I also had to schedule interview on interview with the people in charge of the organization because it was hard to find time when our schedules overlapped given the school day and the normal work day coinciding. Eventually, I managed to create an arsenal of videos and photos and facts to compile.

Then came the embarrassingly difficult part; I could not for the life of me figure out how to make a movie. I spent hours on the first draft only to produce a sub-par, barely coherent film that was neither interesting to watch nor a well-produced movie. I had  spent hours figuring out how to add images and videos, trimming down the film I had and rearranging a million times in different variations to make it seem cohesive. Finally, for my first draft, I had an order that was vaguely comprehensible and the bare foundation of a good film, but it was nowhere near what it should have been. For one, there was no music! So, the first thing I did in redoing it was to add music. I perused my entire, extensive itunes library to find instrumental music to put in the background of the movie that achieved the goal of making it emotionally appealing but did not shamelessly take advantage of human emotion like the animal cruelty commercials Then, I knew I had to incorporate my favorite song, Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root, in the video somehow and there seemed no better spot than to add it in during the series of images chronicling the experience in the soup kitchen and in the photos of children at the birthday party. I did not want a cliché song like Bill Withers’ Lean On Me because I did not want to make volunteer work seem like charity. Instead, the song Send Me On My Way made the images seem fun for everyone depicting a pleasant, positive experience.

After that, it took another few hours cleaning the video up with better transitions, fading in and out, adjusting volume of individual videos and making my text seem less like an amorphous blob and more hard hitting. In the end, I am left with a video that is by no means “good” in its own right but I am quite proud of it because it has come a long way from the original mess it was. It took a lot of time but I learned a lot about iMovie and myself—who knew I had the patience to navigate the maze of technology that is my computer to create this!

r12: No Laughing Matter

At the beginning of the year, I was split between a blog for a sports team and a blog about comedians. For my digital essay, I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate comedy into the subject. Luckily, I got into a heated argument with one of my friends over how shows like the Colbert Report and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart offer much more to viewers than just entertainment. Lo and behold, the topic of my essay was born.

My essay essentially focuses on highlighting how the Stephen Colbert has influenced American politics, mostly through his show. Some main topics I discussed included his impact on political legislation and awareness (through his super PAC), his show’s unbiased approach towards ridiculing politicians, and his influence on young voters. In summary, Stephen Colbert should be the fifth face we carve into Mt. Rushmore. I kid, I kid. But in all seriousness, Colbert has done some things for American politics that simply wouldn’t be possible for any other person.

In terms of the conception of the essay, I had a good idea of a number of issues regarding politics that I wanted to write about. Mainly, it was a matter of finding the right videos and creating a structure to all the skits and gimmicks. After I compiled a list of videos and their corresponding topics, I was able to write about how Colbert was affecting American politics in each of those videos.

Using a website as a medium was great for my digital essay. Since a majority of my essay involved referencing the Colbert Report, having high-quality videos was great. In addition, there were a lot of great articles that I was able to hyperlink so that readers with more time could read. Also, making a website allowed me to give the readers flexibility in terms of which topics they read about. Since order didn’t matter, someone could read about Colbert’s effect on young voters if they didn’t care about super PACs.

I did have issues finding and loading videos to my digital essay. Many of the clips that I had in my mind had already been taken down because they were so old. One major problem was the fact that most of my clips were derived from Comedy Central, which was giving me huge problems when I tried to use WordPress (I ultimately switched to Tumblr for these reasons). I spent a lot of time going through code to make sure videos embedded properly. Also, this type of video did not allow me to edit out parts of the video that were less important, meaning that some of my videos were quite lengthy. I tried to reconcile this problem with time benchmarks.

At the end of the day, I hope readers laugh at some of the clips, but also see a different side of Stephen Colbert. He is first and foremost a comedian, but that doesn’t mean he can’t whip out a few words of wisdom from time to time.

r12: The Boss

When we were first handed the assignment sheet about creating our own digital essay, I was at a loss for what to do. For starters, I wasn’t entirety sure what a digital essay even entailed. Then there was the issue of what I cared enough about to devote such a significant amount of time to. When I forced myself to sit down and concentrate on something I cared passionately about, however, the answer was simple: The Boss.

As my digital essay will explain, The Boss’ music is rooted deeply in my family’s history. Every time my dad picked me up from a friend’s house in high school, I made him turn on the intro to Backstreets for the car ride home. I vividly remember sitting in Chili’s with him when Thunder Road came on and he asked me if I knew what song was playing. I didn’t know much about Springsteen then, but it became an instinct for me to value the meaning and the passion behind his lyrics.

As chance would have it, I was planning on attending the Springsteen concert in Washington DC in the first week of April.  Though I could come up with endless things to say about Bruce in my own words, I thought it would be a unique experience to interview other fans and gain their perspective on Bruce while evoking the intensity they felt for this rock-and-roll wonder. I wanted to create a movie that would capture the multitude of ways that Springsteen’s music has influenced and changed other peoples’ lives.

I started this project with the interviews I documented at this concert at the Verizon Center in Washington DC. Before the concert began, I asked both fans and family members four basic questions:

  1. What was your favorite Bruce Concert?
  2. What is your favorite Bruce song?
  3. Has Bruce changed your life?
  4. What makes Bruce different from other artists?

Although I have never conducted an interview about any other musician, I find it hard to believe it would have compared with this one. People love to talk about this guy. While the fans answered the questions I prompted them with, they couldn’t wait to go off on a Springsteen tangent with anecdotes of their own. These fans gave me exactly what I was looking for.

I combined these interviews with various clips of the concert I filmed myself. I also included famous quotes about the Boss and a Jon Stewart speech from the Kennedy Center Awards in 2009.

I initially struggled with how to combine the interviews to create a cohesive story. I eventually added a voice recording at the beginning of the movie explaining the content of my project. I also included two voice recordings of my college essay (which I also wrote on Bruce Springsteen).

One affordance that really set this project aside form what I would have been able to do with print was the use of music. I think music supplies peoples’ speech with a whole new level of power, especially Springsteen’s music. I initially had the interviews playing by themselves, but later decided to add music in the background. The difference this made was huge. It brought life to the words of these fans and created a sense of utter devotion and dedication to the Boss.

I had a lot of fun creating this project and I hope you all enjoy it!

r12: Hidden Hunger

My project and I definitely developed a love-hate relationship throughout this process. It went through a lot of revisions in concept. When we were first asked to think about our digital essays, I thought right away of these Did You Know? videos I viewed in a marketing class. My topic was actually inspired by the presentation of those videos and the content of my blog. I wanted to take a different angle on food by examining the differences between World Hunger and US Hunger through the presentation of straight facts.

However, I realized the difficulties of comparing the two subjects as it treaded a dangerous line–the proof that one issues was more sever than the other. This led me to focus more on examining US Hunger. When I came across this animated chart, I thought I would apply it to an expository on the subject. In Draft 1 of this essay, I thought I would preset the issue of US Hunger through a series of Myths and Truths. However, when I finally came down to putting the video together, I thought the most appropriate tone and presentation of this topic was through an examination with a sole purpose of raising awareness. The final product feels more like a documentary that looks into what US hunger is and how people can get involved to stop it. It ended having a much more serious tone than intended.

Overall, I think the video does a better job than an essay I could have written via print for a couple of reasons. Through this medium, I could have pictures that came and went with the message so it would only emphasize my content when I wanted it to be emphasized but not something eyes could be drawn to as the audience moved forward in the essay. In addition, I could do a couple animations that I think are easier to follow with the content (ie. I explain that 49 million people is equivalent to the population in Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia added together by visually showing that–I mean even just listing it here doesn’t do justice; I do a math problem that moves with the content that people can’t follow in their mind easily; and a show a moving infographic that points how poverty affects almost all the states in the US).

After figuring out exactly what I wanted to do, the technical difficulties to making a video made this project extremely time consuming. I had to do a lot of timing and positioning that was rather tedious but necessary to make the material look like a video. In terms of content, I also faced the difficulty of how far into the issue I wanted to present. I had done a lot of research on the issue, but 1. I found out I simply didn’t have the time and patience to necessarily turn everything I researched and could easily put into a written essay something I could turn into in terms of animation. 2. I realized that videos get long really fast  and it’s really hard to stuff in all the information you want in as well. I found it hard to make a coherent story that wasn’t too long or too dull.