Education Blog

"What's It Like on Your Path?"

By Karolina Manko, Communications Manager 07.22.15

Day three of the Summer Teachers Institute was a whirlwind of innovative approaches to storytelling. The morning began with Keynote Speaker, Lance Weiler who is the Director of Experiential Learning and Applied Creativity at Columbia University and also the founder and current Director of the university's Digital Storytelling Lab. Just as his job title(s) suggest(s), Lance is an original. His work is a little challenging to describe because most of it is meant to be experienced. This morning, that's exactly what we did. 

In small groups of five, the teachers mapped out and detailed multiple crime scenes and then collaboratively worked to imagine- and solve- the mysteries surrounding them. The experience is called "Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things" and it is a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling that is currently in development across the world. Our paper prototype version also have a MOOC, digital experiences, and global participation. The concept is, in Lance's words, an homage to "those formerly known as the audience." With the rapidly growing market of technology and data collection, storytelling is experiencing a significant shift: one in which the lines between audience and storyteller blur. 

The notion that story is an experience to be shared may seem obvious, but it's actually pretty nuanced and radical. The work that Lance and his colleagues and graduate students are doing is extremely important in a pedagogical context. Students in classrooms all throughout the country are often asked to process information without being offered an opportunity to contribute anything in return. Most textbooks jump from fact to fact; but the truth is that between facts there exists a space for improvisation, critical thought, and collaboration. Today's Sherlock Holmes workshop was proof that storytelling offers students the space, tools, and agency needed in order to develop some of life's most fundamental skills. 

The afternoon continued with a screening of Stray Dog, an intimate documentary portrait of Ron Hall. Ron is a Vietnam War veteran from Missouri. At 65, he's a leather-clad motorcyclist, husband to a Mexican immigrant, step-father to two recently emigrated 19 year-old boys, dedicated dog-dad, and a man who, although plagued by war-trauma and regret, seeks connection and healing.

After the screening, director of Stray Dog, Debra Granik joined us via Skype for a conversation. "Film is an opportunity to say to someone else: what's it like on your path?" Debra explained. It gives people access points into realities that they know only through stereotypes on late night comedy or singular conventions. Debra's empathic, curious and humanistic mode of storytelling gave our teachers a profound moment to reflect on the importance- the imperative- to see one another as complex individuals, not races, classes, genders, or other narrow definitions. We eagerly await more films from this smart and provocative voice.