Each of three students interviewed for this project exhibits different approaches to and personal experiences with the digital storytelling project. I chose to highlight these three particular interviews and projects, because of the similarities and differences in their described processes and their final video products. In working to create a meaningful digital story about the local farming community, each of these students moved towards what Stuart Selber (2004) defined as rhetorical literacy, or one that requires students become “reflective producers of technology” (p. 182). Although students were working to craft a rhetorically effective digital story to reach a digital audience, they were also required to take into consideration the environments in which that process occurred.
Like every other student in the course, Mac was new to digital storytelling when he entered the class and was introduced to the project. However, in his written reflection (completed at the end of the project), Mac expressed an enthusiastic interest in digital storytelling and a desire to keep improving his skills “I enjoyed the process of designing, composing, and publishing the film and definitely want to do more work with this type of media.” As he elaborates in both his written reflection and the accompanying interview almost a year after the project was published, Mac enjoyed this project despite the difficulties he overcame to complete the story. Much of that enjoyment and desire to push through the frustrations he communicated came from the personal connection he made with Mr. Metzger.
In his video, Mac chose to tell Mark’s story and the story of his farm in scenes, with the intention of communicating the importance of what he called, “a legacy” of farming passed down from generation to generation in the Metzger family. In his written reflection, Mac discussed how he decided to focus on this theme and edit the media available to share a story about family farming with his audience. Although he noted that the process of video composing and creating a meaningful digital story was hard, Mac’s awareness of his audience and rhetorical purpose helped him to focus and direct his story.
Further, in his interview, Mac explains how being native to the Findlay area affected how he viewed and approached the digital storytelling project, and how in the process of completing it, his idea of the work and emotional connection to the story matured: “As I progressed through the development of the film, my expectations began to shift. I wanted the film to do Mark and his family’s legacy justice.” In this statement, Mac displays an awareness of the nature of reciprocity in work and community; he senses that his project is more than a classroom assignment to be completed for a grade, and that it has the potential to positively affect both Mr. Metzger and the wider community.
In her written reflection and interview, Alexis described her experience with the digital storytelling project as similar to Mac’s in that it was, “overwhelming and difficult at first,” but in the end she was proud of the story she produced. Alexis also said she connected to Mr. Metzger in meaningful ways, and from that connection, she drew the confidence to return to his farm after our initial visit to shoot video herself with a professional video camera. Unlike Mac, Alexis focused on the process of telling Mr. Metzger’s story as opposed to speaking about the finished product in our interviews. As she explains, both the concept and process of creating her video story were new to Alexis. Coming into our class she had no experience shooting or editing video. Also important to note is Alexis’s acknowledgement that she was also unfamiliar with rural culture, because she grew up in a suburb.
Alexis chose to her edit her video into a series of stories. She began with a definition of century farmers and included a montage of images and footage of the Metzger farm before sharing two more soundbites, one of Mark speaking about meaningful household items and another in which he explains his decision to get rid of his cows. In her written reflection, Alexis spoke to the process of picking and choosing interview clips to feature in her story and how to transition from one story to the next. She also notes that she received assistance in editing from me and her peers, noting the importance of collaboration for those new to digital storytelling.
Further, in our interview Alexis explained how her interests in audio-visual composing and rural culture continued to progress beyond the semester she worked on this project. In a video production course, she chose to complete a broadcast news-style story about a local farm tour, because as she explained, she felt comfortable entering into the community:
Because there is something about farmers, for some reason, they are just so down to earth and very easy to talk to and so eager to talk to me. You almost think they would be like, no I don’t want a camera in here, but they are just so eager to interview with me and tell me all about their farm and their history and so I just knew that I’d love it. And they always have such good stories to tell.
Because of her initial experience with the local farming community and the Metzger’s farm, Alexis was eager to leave campus again to work on another story involving the farming community. She also continued to build her skillset in regards to conceptualizing, shooting, editing and writing for video, a literacy she recognized will be vital to her as she continues to pursue a career as a journalist. Work on the digital storytelling project at the Metzger farm also affected Alexis, because, like Mac, she sensed that it would be meaningful to the wider community, as she expressed in her written reflection.
Micah’s approach to the project felt more personal than most others in the class. In his interview and written reflection, Micah credited his emotional attachment to the project to his upbringing on a hobby farm in Illinois: “I got to be around that type of community and see how important that was to the community and its growth, and that was kind of my inspiration for the Metzger project.” His acute knowledge and ability to tap into his own memories of growing up in a rural, farming community provided Micah with inspiration for the digital storytelling project. The strong connection he felt with Mr. Metzger also assisted him in persisting during what he describes as the “very grueling and at times boring process of analyzing film” for a three-minute video story.
Similar to Mac, Micah identified a theme for his project, but one that he felt was personally inspired by his own memories: nostalgia. Micah’s edited video displays this concept throughout as he focused first on the welcoming influences of Mark, and then transitions to the emotional hardship Mark faced in his decision to quit dairy farming, an emotion Micah said he related to: “I truly understood how much he meant every word he said about how hard the transition was.” In one of his final clips, Micah includes a video effect akin to old film intended to evoke a sense of nostalgia in his audience before ending on a sign from the farm featuring the year of its inception in 1832. These two edits work to showcase an intent focus on the past and memory, two themes Micah focused on in his intent to engage audiences and provoke a sense of nostalgia.
Micah displayed a more focused awareness of the video composing process and the ways he could use audio-visual media to engage universal emotional themes, like memory. Micah admitted the process was hard, but also described it as deeply satisfying, especially because he was able to share his final film with Mr. Metzger, an event that filled him with immense pride. He explained: “to have Mr. Metzger thank me for putting that together afterward was just amazing.” Just as Alexis and Mac acknowledged an interest in working to continue to build their skills in audio-visual composing, so did Micah as he found the process to be difficult but meaningful.