Digital Storytelling as Instigating Hope

Instructions from Martha in the digital storytelling track today:

Start creating your own designed meaning.

I signed up for the digital storytelling track at DigPed hoping for the space to make some meaning of nearly two decades of digital storytelling work. This has included teaching students in media and communication at Muhlenberg College, Allentown teenagers in a youth media program called HYPE, campus colleagues, and community partners.  My wish for this week is to renew my curiosity about digital storytelling, to unsettle patterns of longstanding practices and explore as-yet-unimagined pedagogical possibilities.

And I know that there is no one better to open doors to new possibilities than Martha Burtis, whose DS106 course is an ocean of inspiration. 

Martha’s call to start creating your own designed meaning interlocks in my mind with the question Heather Pleasants posed to us in opening remarks to set us on our path today:

Why are you here?

In asking this question, Heather meant for us give thought to and honor the people who have made our presence here possible.  Like her grandmother.  Heather’s remarks called to my memory an Adrienne Rich poem first shared with me by my own grandmother, years ago, when I was an undergraduate.

In Those Years | Adrienne Rich

In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to

But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I

In asking us to consider why were are here, Heather specifically called on us to consider those in our past and present who contributed to the possibility of our being here at DPI–to name the we that gives meaning to I.  Rich’s poem, I discover, weaves into this reflection another inspiration, another resource for hope.  Maxine Greene’s 2008 essay, Education and the Arts: The Windows of Imagination opens with Rich’s poem.  Greene asks readers to consider how we might commit ourselves to teaching and learning in times of crisis like the one Rich speaks of in her poem.

Greene figures into other beginnings this week, including Sean Michael Morris’s opening remarks as we got started at DPI on Monday: “She writes again and again of the need to imagine things ‘as they might be otherwise.’ Not to stop at the point where we see things aren’t as we hope they will be, but to plunge forward with daring and to imagine them differently.”

Calling Greene into the space felt to me like an invitation to see, to think otherwise, during this week.  A call –and a space within which–to see beyond what is and into more just and human educational worlds as they might be.  That invitation is real. That possibility is immediate. The necessity is urgent. At many points over the last few days, I have been moved to attempt to practice imaginative work.  This was powerfully present in Naomi de la Tour’s workshop on imagination.  And in the hybrid session with Remi Kalir, it was a gift to bear witness to others, especially Heather Pleasants and Manuel Espinosa, crossing boundaries to imagine (in order to make) a more just social world.

Imagination matters because it instigates hope.  Not abstracted or depoliticized hope.  Situated hope. Hope that is rooted in a political project, a pedagogical project.  A project that offers an alternative to the oppressive present.  What Henry Giroux calls “educated hope.”

In reflections that opened the day today at DPI, Heather remarked: “We don’t seek hope in this space, we create it.”

These words stayed with me as I moved into the morning session with Martha and informed my interpretation of the work we were asked to do in today’s session.  “Start creating your own designed meaning” were the instructions.  With some of the tools Martha assembled for us, I had the space and opportunity to retell some of the narratives shared this morning in another form. Here they are, a tiny effort to call into the present a few instigators of hope. 



The last word here is Maxine’s: “To be enabled to activate the imagination is to discover not only possibility, but to find the gaps, the empty spaces that require filling as we move from the is to the might be, to the should be.”