By Joe Essid, Writing Center director

For some time I have asked my students to produce short creative works.  For many years, that meant a short story at some point during the term. This year, in my first-year seminar “Cyberspace: History, Future, Culture," the medium became the message. I hope that Marshall McLuhan did not roll in his grave as I embraced that dictum to have my class do digital stories, which were linked to a theme in the class, as final projects.

A digital story combines still or moving images with a voiceover and perhaps a soundtrack. One of my favorites came from Carly Shortess; she explored a future in which theorist Ray Kurzweil’s notion of “Transhumanism,” or the merging of human intellect with cybernetics, was taken to its logical, and tragic, extreme.

Watch Carly's video:

Carly’s story was certainly one of the more sophisticated pieces produced, as it used voice-morphing. My goals focused, however, less on great production values and more on engagement with ideas from the class. Several students accomplished this masterfully.

Here, John Krisch’s video, “Possibilities of an MMO,” reacts to Edward Castronova’s idea of an “exodus” to living most of one’s life online, as well as providing a more nuanced look at what gamers do than in Julian Dibbell’s book “Play Money,” a text we read for class.

Watch John's video:

The process that John, Carly, and 14 other first-year students completed involved many steps that reinforced earlier outcomes from the course: planning a topic and submitting an idea for approval, preparing a draft of the narrative, hunting for sources in the form of images licensed for the Creative Commons, or taking photos of one’s own. Early in the process, Dr. Ken Warren of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology held a workshop to show the class and me the process, as well as examples of work of merit by Richmond students.

After I had approved the students’ narratives, each of them met with the class writing consultant, Korine Powers, who is also an employee in the CTLT. And to be a good student myself, I prepared my own digital story, a post-apocalyptic tale of the failure of the Internet in a global crisis, then the rebirth of an older way of ordering a civilization, all from the perspective of a college student.

Never before had the cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” seemed more valid. In three-minute short videos, my students and I were able to capture intriguing narratives.

All of the digital stories, including my “The Last Text” can be seen here.

We held a screening at the MRC and had “people’s choice” awards during the scheduled time for the final exam. The students had done a traditional research project just after midterm, and I really enjoyed moving that task forward from its typical spot at the end of the term.

By placing creative work at the end, students could make a final statement about an idea that intrigued them, and they got a break from the typical pattern of the academic term on campus.