Last semester in my Duke Augmenting Realities undergraduate literary digital humanities writing course, I tasked my students with a final course project wherein they were required to write 'transmedia essays' and to collectively combine these - along with a few jointly-authored pages - into a collaborative web journal.
Here you'll find the assignment and the rather incredible results.
One of the primary goals of this course is to interrogate how media technologies and our various layers of ‘reality’ converge to alter (or augment) our conceptions of the body and the brain, of time and space, of art and literature, of data and information, of memory and storage, of cities and networks, of medicine and prostheses, of the digital and (digital) culture. The methods of our interrogation are literary in their theoretical foundations but are practically and experimentally grounded in the framework of a digital-humanities based comparative media study.
Throughout the course we will investigate literary media – cyberpunk fiction, graphic novels, electronic literature, digital videogames – alongside various ‘real-life’ digital art pieces and AR data devices to question how these reflect and simultaneously influence our cybercultural hybridity. We will engage in hands-on practice – trying out videogames, testing textual analysis tools, interacting with physical digital devices – in conjunction with our readings, and we want to reproduce this sort of (e)mergent experimentation with our final project.
With this in mind, we will be using the affordances of the digital while also maintaining the rigor of our Writing-attribute requirements to flip the final project into a transliterary digital humanities collaborative web project. Following Katherine Hayles’s call for a modern sort of scholarship that reflects the media artifacts we study, you will be asked to produce a transmedia ‘essay’ wherein “graphics, animation, design, video, and sound acquire argumentative force and become part of the research’s quest for meaning" (Hayles, 2013, p4).
For your A_R final project, you will create a transmedia page on our Augmenting Realities Collaborative Web Journal website. Our A_R Web Journal will be an augmented version of the traditional academic journal and your page will be an augmented take on the traditional journal article.
Your page will include the following parts
1. Transmedia Research Essay on a topic related to the class concepts and texts. This will be the most ‘familiar’ element of the project as it will be the equivalent of an 8-12 page (double-spaced) scholarly article. You will ‘augment’ this traditional format by inserting media and links, and by integrating a (Re)Mediated Element. Make sure your project speaks to or seeks to answer, ask, or prove a certain argument relative to our A_R course.
2. (Re)Mediated Element*: Your essay will include a media element that should speak to or with one of the course topics and/or texts.
Your goals here are
a. to explore the affordances and features of various media and digital humanities tools in order to choose one – or two – that can help prove, illustrate, or expand the argument or idea you’d like to put forth in your final essay.
b. to create an element that critically engages a course text or topic and has ‘argumentative force’ or exploratory intent
c. to make the media element a seamless addition to your essay by finding a way to integrate it into the argument or arc of the text of your essay.
d. to address the ‘so-what?’ and ‘why this?’ questions: So, you mapped your novel, so what? What does the map mean or manifest? What can we prove or disprove with your results? How can we use the information you’ve uncovered or visualized or remediated? What is at stake with your project?
e. Include a note about your procedures and process.
f. Properly cite and credit all collaborators and tools.
You could map/remap a novel, curate an e-lit exhibit, analyze one or more of our texts using text analysis tools, design an app or an interactive videogame, augment a physical object (using Arduino, for example), create AR artwork or a multimedia mash-up. I’ve created a fuller list of examples for inspiration which you can download here: Project Examples for Media Element.
Note: Two of you may collaborate on a media element but, if so, you must still write separate essays.
Furthermore, you will be asked to collaborate in two distinct ways:
3. Collaborative Project Design: This will come in the form of active participation in the group design of the website.
4. Interactively Commenting: You will be asked to comment on your classmates’ pages in an effort to take advantage of the living, dynamic nature of the online writing medium to facilitate a sort of interactive conversation with yourselves and the ‘outside’ world.
Project Assessment Criteria
As with all ‘traditional’ writing assignments, ALL ESSAYS AND MEDIA ELEMENTS must be free of plagiarism and properly cited. They must demonstrate a sustained argument and a critical engagement with our course texts, topics, and contexts, our in-class and online discussions, and our media experimentation. They must be thoughtfully constructed with a coherent structure, a cohesive content delivery, a scholarly tone and they should strive to be grammatically sound and error-free.
We will collaboratively design precise project assessment criteria based on Shannon Mattern’s Criteria for Evaluating Multimodal Work. The third week of class, we will be performing partnered #dh project critiques using Mattern’s criteria. At this time, we will select those criteria we find more effective and pertinent to our course and these will become the criteria upon which your final project will be evaluated. These will be posted on our website for your reference and review.
Our first step: collaborating on evaluation assessment. All students will add comments and critique to our Evaluating Digital Humanities Projects: Collaborative Course Assessment page. Our second step will be to collate these into a finalized final project assessment.
Project Presentation: The Impossible One-Slide (re)Presentation
For your final project presentation, you will be asked to create one slide (yes, just a single slide) and to spend no more than three minutes (yes, just three) explaining in class to your peers how that one slide represents your entire final transmedia project.
*What is a (Re)Mediated Element?
Remediation: “The phenomenon of reproducing the conventions and/or content of one medium in another medium. Also the theory, advanced by Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin, that “new media” always reconfigure older media, and in particular that digital forms both borrow from and seek to suppress earlier forms. (Bolter and Grusin 1999).” From Janet Murray’s Inventing the Medium Glossary
Our (Re)Mediation couples this Remediation with Hayles’s preferred term Intermediation, which considers the “complex transactions between bodies and texts as well as between different forms of media” (Hayles, 2005, p7)
The students wrote rather complex and thoughtful essays that integrated a wide range of 'media elements' that they created to complement, challenge, or construct their critical arguments. They coded chat bots, programmed new digital humanities text analysis tools, created digital video games, mapped narrative structures and set EEG brain waves to music. They posted their transmedia essays in a web journal they titled Augmenting Realiteis: How We View and Shape Our World. Each student created a page here for his/her project. Additionally, they collaboratively authored several pages including the introduction and topical bibliography.
The one-slide assignment was perhaps one of our favorites. The slides and presentations were fun, provocative, exciting, clever, and incredibly smart. Indeed we actuallly decided that these one-slides should be featured on the web journal so you'll notice each as the avatar next to each student's bio.
TechnoUmwelt project slide:
BioArt project slide:
Kudos to my #augrealities students for being a wondrously bright and talented bunch!
Amanda Starling Gould