Seminar: Culture, Communication, and Digital Narratives

We have described various aspects of the Polytechnic Incubator's program such as its characteristics and values, learning environments, competency-based credentialing, and characteristics of our graduates in previous articles. Knowledge and skill will be acquired by learners in ways that accommodate their passions (intrinsic motivations) and learning style, placing a high value on learning in context. Exactly what will our students be learning? It's a question worth examining.

One of the things humans do (or least try to do) intuitively is communicate. Yet very often we fail to get our message to the receiver in the way it was intended. Assumptions made by both sender and receiver can render communication ineffective at best. Have you ever spent several minutes examining an email sent to you, only to realize the note conveys absolutely no message or meaning? Thought so. How about trying to decipher (or produce) new dialects of written communication such as text or Twitter speak? When was the last time you listened to a musical piece or soundscape without any other stimuli to distract you? Similarly, how about gazing at a photograph, painting, or sculpture without any other distraction? What about reading a novel, again undistracted? What was the communication like? Was it persuasive? Conveying or seeking information? Expressing emotion? What did you notice about how you were processing the sounds, images or symbols? When you communicate to others, in any form, what are you saying about who you are?

So how do we learn to communicate effectively? Let's try this: How did you learn to talk? You don't remember, but you listened, then tried to copy what you heard. You practiced, often in your crib until you could express yourself, your feelings of hunger, pain, anger, contentment, and joy. Interestingly, by the time you started school you were speaking in complete sentences, yet not knowing the definition of a complete sentence or the parts that make up one.

What's a Seminar?

Our first seminar is a learning experience intended to examine challenges and problems on the largest of scales, while learners develop knowledge and demonstrate skills pertaining to creativity, productive risk-taking, empathy, and critical thinking. Students examine and reflect upon the intersections between art, humanities, culture, and technology in a narrative-centric manner. The focus is on the importance of narrative strategies in discovery, learning, creating and communicating.

This fall, each of our students will embark on a journey that will immerse them in one or more of the top 10 challenges facing humanity while simultaneously focusing on one question. (We aren't revealing the actual question here; you will need to experience the seminar in person to discover what it is.) During the journey, students will acquire knowledge and skills related to forms and tools of communication, demonstrating their ability to communicate effectively in each of four dimensions including oral, written, visual (think images and animations) and auditory (think music and soundscapes). Students will integrate the dimensions to tell stories (digital narratives) that are persuasive, conveying or seeking information, and in many cases expressing emotion. Narrative (storytelling) strategies are seen as more than ways of communicating. They are a method of thinking and being creative. The communication aspect is the fruit of thinking in a narrative manner, not the beginning of it. Storytelling at heart is a semi-inductive method of joining mental patterns with empirical realities; it is a method of creating order and meaning out of undifferentiated facts, observations, ideas, or claims.

Most of the time during any given week will be consumed with project-based work, with mentors serving as "guides-on-the-side." Small group discussions will occur when needed for "just-in-time" learning. "Learning Module" content, will set the stage for the development (practice) of skills in group and individual settings to develop narratives.

If this experience sounds like a mixture of English, Communications, Art, Music, History, Digital Media, information literacy, and maybe even a dash of programming (Web or otherwise), extended with empathy, creativity and critical thinking, then this blog post may actually have communicated its intention.