The selfie, and other sketchy, lo-fi tasks
In the this week’s NY Times Sunday Review, Jenna Wortham has an interesting piece called “My Selfie, Myself.” In general I appreciate the generosity with which Wortham views the genre.
In my 105 class this semester, I’m experimenting with having the students do some mapping. We’ve been collaboratively building a Google Map of campus that is meant to include captures in various media. As far as I can tell no selfies where included in these captures and this is most likely a result of my framing the captures as “data collection” or “gathering evidence.” As we tend to assume that “data” and “evidence” are purely objective phenonema, I guess the seemingly narcissistic and subjective selfie didn’t make the cut. And admittedly, I’m probably more interested in “strange,” off-kilter, maybe even throw-away views of campus that happen when you send people out with handheld cameras.
In the introductory phases of the project I did have students compose “personal geographies” based on the kind of subjective mapping that occurs in Becky Cooper’s Mapping Manhattan. The selfie might make for an interesting way of capturing a personal geography.
Mostly, thinking about selfies has got me thinking about the value of “sketchy” little assignments in a composition class. While the selfie might be considered “sketchy” in that it offers a moment of possible overexposure and maybe has no place in a classroom, it can also be “sketchy” in a much more valued sense like a sketch in a notebook.
Typically in writing classes the freewrite and the brainstorm might be the primary “sketch” tasks; however, there’s no reason to limit such tasks to the page or the notebook. In helping my students to prepare to do a project with video, for example, I’ve followed Adrian Miles’s lead and had them make short “sketch films:”
The goal of these films is just to get the students using whatever tools they have available to make something in the medium that we’ll be working with in more depth at a later date. In short, like the free write, the sketch film is a low-stakes mode of composing. And while these video sketches seem most immediately useful for students who are or will at some point be making a multimedia project, I think they could also provide much to the writing class more generally in terms of invention and exploring questions of how one captures or frames ideas.