Visual Storytelling. Social good.

Posts from the ‘Teaching’ category

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I’m currently teaching visual storytelling through the creation of Cinemagraphs  — photographs with a whisp of narrative. Cinemagraphs are compelling images which feature a cinematic twist through the isolated animation of multiple frames. These animated images capture a moment in time or a living portrait of a person or place.


Cinemagraphs are the animated GIF’s sophisticated cousin. My  Visual Rhetorics students had seen them all over the Internet, but had no idea how to make one themselves. To create one, students first learned to approach and compose a video shoot to convey mood and meaning. Students also learned about the basics of composition and lighting. After trimming their videos, students imported their clips to Photoshop where each video frame became a separate layer, which they then manipulated, adjusted, colored, and animated.

Although it took some effort, students loved making them.


Students in the course followed free online tutorials from Phlearn: Part 1 (video capture) and Part 2 (Photoshop editing). Spoographics and Lifehacker also have decent Cinemagraph tutorials. I’d like my students to create their own tutorial in the weeks to come.
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Since my arrival at Saint Joe’s I’ve been knee-deep in classroom design. Thanks to the unified forces of the Communication Studies Department, IT, Media Services, facilities, and administration at Saint Joseph’s University, I am happy to report that we transformed Merion 174 into an innovative collaborative technology classroom.

Merion 174

This classroom is an ideal space for teaching and learning in our department. Our curriculum, centered on digital production, emphasizes hands-on, experiential learning. All students in our Communication Studies department combine theory and practice as they “learn by doing.” Projects focus on the creation of media-convergent texts that combine multiple modalities including sound, image, and user interaction.

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The room features wall-mounted HDTVs, breakaway tables and chairs, sound domes, XBox video game consoles, Tidebreak’s collaborative learning software, and a technology cart with notebook and tablet computers for student use.

Cones of Silence

The custom-made Brown Innovations Sound Domes installed in the classroom have directional speakers which localize sound. They focus the sound for small groups directly under the speaker dome, which keeps the overall classroom noise to a manageable level.


Remote Control

The classroom features Tidebreak’s collaborative software ClassSpot. Students are able to share screens and files with each other. They can remotely take control of any screen in the room, which speaks to the student-centered pedagogy we value in our department.

_MG_5493 copyFlexible focus areas

With moveable white boards, couches, and comfortable chairs, the room can easily be re-arranged to suit a variety of needs, including small group work, usability testing, and gaming. We invite everyone to visit Merion 174 to see the new space.


IMG_5514 copyIMG_5566 copyMerion174Layout

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PUGLIA – Italy
40.8167° N, 16.5500° E

Update:: Thanks to all who participated in our spring workshops.

Original post:: My passion is to learn about cultures and customs different from my own. Like other inveterate travelers, I want to understand different approaches to life, to knowledge, to meaning making. This is about expanding our views of the world and our place in it. With each journey – we understand a little more about the ethnosphere — what anthropologist Wade Davis calls “the sum total of all the thoughts, beliefs, myths, and institutions brought into being by the human imagination.” So, our mission on this trip was to learn how food, people, and place are all connected. We wanted to celebrate the living food cultures of Puglia and the traditions and festivities that surround them. 

Picnic in Puglia

The boot heel of Italy is known for its hospitality, its ancient olive groves, its white washed villages and its deep blue Adriatic seas. The region of Puglia has a food and wine culture that remains relatively unchanged through the centuries. It’s for these reasons that my colleague Tenaya Darlington (aka Madame Fromage) and I are organizing food and storytelling workshops there this Spring. We welcome you to join us. Although we will learn to employ digital tools to chronicle the stories we encounter – we are perfectly happy if you want to use this time to unplug and leave the tech at home. 


We invite you to:

  • Stay on a working farm in Puglia

  • Make mozzarella and Pecorino

  • Apprentice a shepherd

  • Bake bread from wild yeast

  • Learn about regional wines

  • Shop the local markets

  • Taste olive oils in the field

  • Rediscover three-hour meals

This week in Italy is for everyone who loves food, culture, and travel to authentic places. We hope you join us in Puglia for an amazing week. Visit Live Cultures to reserve your spot at the table.

Seaside Table, Puglia

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DATA VISUALIZATION – the representation of information through images – is a powerful technique for conveying information to audiences. In my Visual Rhetorics course we’re currently exploring ways to creatively visualize data, while rendering information more useful, engaging, and accessible to audiences. We are also working on our visual literacy and invention skills. This means that we aren’t using data visualization software, such as Tableau, Many Eyes, or Gapminder. While these services are great, right now I am trying to get students in touch with a more humanistic approach to storytelling through data.

In the edited collection, Designing Texts: Teaching Visualization (2013), Charles Kostelnick warns that technology can sometimes impede “the student’s inclination to think creatively and flexibly about design solutions” (p. 266). I couldn’t agree more, which is why we are developing our visual literacy skills by producing some low-tech projects in class, including hand-drawn fonts, maps and homemade infographics.

Rahul Bhargava, a researcher at MIT Civic Media Lab explains on his blog, “Certainly the journalists and new explainers need to understand how to best use the tools at hand, but in addition we can help the “audience” build visual literacy by helping them create their own visual presentations of their information.”Bhargava leads Data Therapy workshops, in which he employs creative activities for building visual literacy, such as 3D data sculptures.

One classic technique to exploring a new domain is to re-use more familiar materials in novel ways. For instance, in my Data Therapy workshops I show up with a bin of craft materials and give people 5 minutes to create a physical “data sculpture” that depicts a tiny set of data I share.

With his generous assistance (and a lot of pipe-cleaners) I was able to lead my own 3D data sculpture activity at St. Joe’s. (Thank you Rahul!) Below are student’s creative data presentations of the Sommerville Happiness Survey.

Charles Kostelnick. “Teaching Students to Design Rhetorically: A Low-Tech Process Approach.” Designing Texts: Teaching Visual Communication. Eds. Eva R. Brumberger and Kathryn M. Northcut. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing, 2013. 265-8.
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Borrowing from traditional magazine writing, here are 12 genres of stories to create diverse and engaging posts. Follow the links to see a great example (IMHO) from each genre.

  1. Exposé – An investigative piece that presents facts that may shock the audience. Writer incorporates surprising facts, statistics, anecdotes, or quotes to tell a true story. What Katie Didn’t Know. 
  2. Historical – A piece that tells a story of a person, place, or thing in the past. Writer usually tells readers something substantial they didn’t already know in an exciting fashion. The Core of Discovery
  3. How To – Guidelines for tangible or intangible actions. Writer often orders actions sequentially in a step-by-step fashion. For Many Reasons: Blood and Chocolate Pudding
  4. Informative – Logical information of a specific subject – for information’s sake. Writer employs expository writing, anecdotes, facts, or figures to inform readers about a subject. Writers should cover the basics – who, what, when, where, and why. Can Social Media Save Lives?
  5. Interview – Often in Q & A format, but not always. Content may have breadth or depth. The writer may also edit the questions and narrate the interviewee’s answers. Rashida
  6. Inspirational – A feel good story. The focus of the piece is the inspirational point that the writer wants to make. Charity: Water – What We Learned in India
  7. Personal Experience/Reminiscence – A human interest piece that features a compelling story many people would want to read. In the Kitchen with Grandma
  8. Personal/Professional Opinion – A personal or professional point of view on a subject of consequence to many people. Gigaom: My 10 Years of Blogging
  9. Photo Story – A graphic approach to storytelling. A lead photo hooks the reader and sets the tone for the visual story. Writer may supply additional text or captions.  Katie’s All American Post
  10. Profile – A prose sketch focusing on one or more aspects of someone’s personality or life. Writer may interview others who can offer insights (children, spouse, neighbors); writer uses the interview as a time and place of reference. The Butcher Chef. 
  11. Review – Sharing insights of a book, film, gadget, or program. Writer describes the experience in a positive or negative light. Crux
  12. Roundup – A collection of pieces of information tied together by one theme. Writers may organize the piece around numbers or lists. 10 Uncommon Superfoods
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