Dear Rising Freshmen,
As you make your way to Carolina for CTOPs and course registration, I would like to invite you to consider English 366—Literature and the Other Arts as a course to take in the fall. What is English 366, and why should you take it? I would like to think of English 366 as “English Laboratory Class.” Like labs taken for science classes, this course takes ideas you learn in English literature lectures (such as analyzing works critically, expressing your ideas creatively, etc.) and apply them to experiments that create material products. Unlike traditional English classes, the products you come up with aren’t term papers, they are multimedia products: a HTML playlist, collage, podcast and videos.
Just like in labs, this process is exploratory and takes the form of “experiments.” With these experiments, you will come up with an objective for your final product, come up with a procedure to form your product, and tinker with your experiment to formulate your final product. When your final product does not come out perfectly, you will be asked to examine your steps to see what went wrong and what went right.
Also like in labs, this process is collaborative and involves working with “lab partners.” Throughout each experiment, these partners will serve as sources for inspiration to further your project or actual helpers that give you advice for your product. Smaller activities with partners also exist like in laboratories. These are meant to make you think about the underlying principles needed to create each product. These activities may be technical and for the purpose of developing skills you need to create your product—such as a voicemail that is similar to a Podcast—or theoretical in nature and for the purpose of helping you contextualize your product—such as a collaborative Google Document that makes you think about why you are creating your products.
Regardless of whether or not you have considered English as a major, this course can be beneficial to you for professional development and personal enrichment. English 366 not only reinforces key skills you expect to learn in other English classes but challenges you to think and create in ways that are more directly applicable to everyday life and the workforce. Last of all, English 366 approaches literary studies in a lab-based, hands-on way that is attractive to students who many not like or excel in the traditional "book and lecture" format that produces a term paper.
Go ahead, start experimenting!
Experiment #1: Playlist
The playlist, our first assignment, is the most similar to the traditional English class essay. Though we still use text to elaborate our ideas, HTML and music is incorporated into the project to make the project interdisciplinary. The objective of this assignment was to analyze a character and explain the character’s personality with songs. I used Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls for my playlist.
- HTML Reference Website (such as http://www.lissaexplains.com)
- Gilmore Girls YouTube video
- 8 pictures from Gilmore Girls that represent your messages
- 8 songs in MP3 format that represent your messages
- Accounts with file or website hosting websites (I used http://www.zshare.net and http://www.geocities.com)
- Select a character and 8 songs that represent this character.
- Select a YouTube video that introduces show and character.
- Upload songs and pictures to file or website hosting websites.
- Write out HTML code with 9 tables—1 for introduction, 8 for the songs.
- Insert pictures and songs into tables with HTML codes.
- Type out song explanations (why song is appropriate for character) into each table.
- Make revisions to HTML to make playlist more visually appealing.
- Make sure linked parts (i.e. pictures and clips) of the playlist works in final version.
I choose Rory Gilmore as my character for the following reasons: 1) I love Gilmore Girls very much and have followed the show through all its seasons. 2) Going back to Season 1 episodes, the viewer can really see a dramatic change in Rory as far as her personality, her presence, and her attitude. 3) The show has a great soundtrack with unique music that drives the show and its plot. These reasons are good ones for selecting a character as it makes selecting songs easier. Knowing a show well and being able to see a progression in the characters makes for deeper song analyses. Having a soundtrack to reference gives you suggestions for your own songs.
As this show has a very particular fan base (usually young women), I used a YouTube video to introduce my audience to the show. I choose a short video of the “town spokesman” and his personal vendetta against troubadours that have moved into the town. I found this clip works well with the theme of this playlist—music and the message it can convey—and to show the unique wit and small-tone charm of the show.
The first version of the playlist was inefficient in its use of space. To make more space, I sectioned out the individual parts (i.e. song parts—such as lyrics or a video clip—and song explanation) of each song table, creating a more organized and less cluttered looking second version. In sectioning out each individual part, I had a lot more room for each part, which meant I had to lengthen my song explanations and think of how I would like to introduce each song. In order to lengthen song explanations, I had to get over my “writer’s block” about how to analyze and talk about music. I did this by looking at my classmates’ playlists for inspiration on ways music can express personality and ideas. To introduce each song, I added pictures from the show that I believe emphasized the point of each song and a music player that played each song. I deleted the music videos as I felt the pictures were effective enough, and the videos were often distracting.
Finally, as I checked the playlist a final time, I realized the music players had all been disabled. Checking the site I had uploaded the songs to, I realized that they did not allow hotlinking (i.e. linking directly to the site and using their bandwidth). As I still wanted my audience to be able to hear each song, I changed the music players to links to each song.
Experiment #2: Podcast
Not completely unlike the written essay, podcasts can be conceptualized as spoken essays that use sound clips as quotations or evidence. The objective of this assignment was to create an appealing podcast that promotes a thesis in a way that is sounds good to the listener. My thesis for this assignment is: the prevalence of hip-hop slang terms in society and how they become popularly used.
- Audacity program
- MP3 encoder
- MP3 of Cash Money Millionaire’s “Millionaire’s Dream”
- MP3 of TI’s “Swagger Like Us”
- Mitt Romney sound clip
- Download Audacity and MP3 encoder.
- Search for song clips and MP3s that will work for your podcast.
- Write a transcript of your podcast.
- Record spoken part of your podcast in Audacity.
- Import sound clips and MP3s into Audacity.
- Shorten sound clips and MP3s as needed.
- Move sound clips and MP3s into appropriate parts of spoken recording.
- Export finished product as an encoded MP3.
The idea of my podcast was to create a discussion on hip-hop words and how they work to become popularly used in society. To facilitate this discussion, I focused on one particularly prevalent hip-hop term: bling-bling. To create this podcast, I wrote and recorded my transcript, imported a sound clip and two MP3s I found online, and arranged the sound clips (i.e. the Mitt Romney sound clip and two hip-hop songs) around my voice recording. My doing it this way, my voice recording became the dominant clip throughout the podcast. Unfortunately, my discussion was not lively enough to be appealing to listeners, although it did transmit my thesis across affectively.
If I were to redo this podcast, I would definitely add more sound clips to it. Listening to other podcasts, I realized just how silent parts of the podcast were, especially when I discussed literary components of “bling-bling” and “swagger.” Adding more sound clips to my podcast would have made the podcast “come alive” by adding more sound and interest to it. Unfortunately, finding sound clips online can be difficult and time consuming, especially for my project which doesn’t have a particular artist or song to direct me.
In addition, I would put more focus on the idea of hip-hop slang in society and less on the technical literary aspect of hip-hop words (which can be a little dry for an entertaining podcast). I would spend more time elaborating on why I placed the Mitt Romney clip into my podcast (to show that all types of people use and know about slang terms) and try to find more examples akin to this idea.
Experiment #3: Collage
Most unlike the traditional English essay, the collage seeks to invoke the ideas associated with the essay in a new medium: a picture collage. Using traditional essay ideas, such as presenting ideas creatively, finding “evidence” or sources, and coming up with a coherent and logical thesis, the thesis of my collage is: “One can rewrite history by rewriting photographs.” To prove this, I “rewrote” a character unknown to history by giving him a personality.
- Base picture I used the following: Tank Man
- Accessory pictures. I used the following: Mao with Pigtails, Protesters with Flags, Crowd Picture #1, Crowd Picture #2, Marchers
- Choose a “base picture” that you will use as a background to your collage.
- Choose “accessory pictures” that complement your “base picture” and the idea you want to express.
- Open up all pictures into Photoshop.
- Manipulate “accessory pictures” to fit into your collage. Think about size and how your edges need to look.
- Drag “accessory pictures” onto “base picture” to make layers. Think about space and the final look you want as you move your layers around.
- Manipulate layers using brushes, eraser, etc. to create the look you want.
- Save picture as Photoshop file to preserve layers (in case you need to revise).
- Save picture into jpeg format for uploading.
For my collage, I choose Jeff Widener’s historical and famous photograph, “Tank Man.” I chose this picture as the character, Tank Man, is one that people know very little about and often speculate about. Manipulating the picture, I hoped to “rewrite history” by giving the tank man a personality and identity. I felt the identity most appropriate for the tank man is one that strongly represents rebellion or protest and the common man or the people vs. the government.
To begin, I looked for photographs that would represent the idea of rebellion and “change from below.” The photographs I felt represented these ideas best were those with large crowds and protests. I selected several of these. In addition to these, I also chose a picture of Mao with pigtails to express the specific idea protested by the Tank Man—Maoism is a joke. Opening these photographs in Photoshop, I extracted the pictures I needed from their backgrounds (using the extract tool) and resized each picture to make them fit into the “base picture” of Tank Man (Jeff Widener’s original photograph). After manipulating these “accessory pictures,” I dragged them onto the “base picture” to create layers. I then moved these layers and re-manipulated and resized these pictures to make them fit better in the collage.
Having finished the technical aspects of resizing and merging, I thought more about the specific objective: rewriting history by giving the Tank Man a personality. I did this by doing two things: 1) I made sure pictures of protest and crowds surround the tank man from all sides. 2) I made sure to make Mao’s picture prominent. I did this by making it large and making the viewers eyes go towards it. This was easy as it is interesting in itself and it stands apart from the other pictures which are small and have few distinguishable details. Finally, I erased the tanks to further display the idea of people over government.
After uploading this picture and getting a comment from my professor, I was advised to think more about artistic techniques and organization. Is there a better way to organize my collage visually to create a more cohesive picture? I decided that my picture was definitely more a collage of pictures than a distinct collage. To create cohesiveness, I decided on a spot that I wanted to focus on that was easy to create focus on. The middle of the picture seemed like an obvious focus. Having erased the tanks and liking the emptiness of the middle, I decided to further emphasize the middle by encircling it. To do this, I found an additional picture of crowds and merged it onto my collage. Putting it behind other layers, I erased a circle from the middle of the collage by using the elliptical tool to select parts I wanted to erase and erasing just those parts. This created the final collage which states the Tank Man’s role of being the representative of the people and his goal of eliminating Maoist oppression and bringing down the current government with protest. I saved this picture and uploaded it as a revision.
Experiment #4: Video
Much like in a written essay, the objective of the video assignment is to create a work that expresses a thesis clearly and effectively. For this project, my thesis is: Diversity and multiculturalism is important, but the goal should always be to create a better society. To get this message across, I chose to create a PSA on diversity with film clips that match the message in an undesirable way.
- Windows Movie Maker
- Clips from Fast and the Furious (2001)
- MP3 of U2’s “One”
- Import movie clips into Windows Movie Maker.
- Move clips you need into the storyboard.
- Insert “Title” scenes and type your messages.
- Shorten music to synchronize it with your clips.
- Save project into movie file to convert it into a usable movie extension for viewers.
The movie, Fast and the Furious, works very well in creating a sarcastic PSA. Though it is a very multicultural film—one that exemplifies diversity and different races working together—it is devoid of any positive messages or values for our society. Paired with the titles, the scenes are very effective for sending out the message of this project. U2’s “One” was also a good selection as the soft-rock music and emotional lyrics contrasts from the high-energy scenes in an ironic, often funny, way. However, I had a lot of problem matching parts of the music with the scenes. After adding the movie clips, I found that I still had several unused minutes of the song left and had to shorten the song. In dragging the song to a shorter length in Windows Movie Maker, the clips overlapped in a jumble of audio. To minimize the harshness of the jumble, I had the first clip fade out and the second fade in. I also raised the volume of the second clip to neutralize a little bit of the jumble. If I were to redo this video, I would shorten the song first—spending lots of time making the transition between the two sound clips smooth. I would then match the clips to the song. This is a smarter route as it is easier to split movie clips in Windows Movie maker than audio clips. There are also fewer options for manipulating audio clips than movie clips.
In lab, your hypothesis is not always right. Oftentimes, your experiments are just a series of trial and error to correct mistakes. These are concepts that are very applicable to this class. Though in many cases the finished product (i.e. the podcast) did not come out as well as I had envisioned, the products we created in class were still useful to me, despite my disappointment. Thinking about the steps to formulate the final product and trying new computer programs will be useful in the future when I need to create similar projects. Thinking about the ideas behind the projects specifically and necessary changes we need to make to English studies more broadly, has been intellectually stimulating and important to me as an English major. After taking this class, I am starting to believe it is necessary to add more diverse product formation to create more ways to express ideas and theses. I believe that English major should be able to create more than well-written papers and this class has acted as a first step to accomplishing this goal.
Unlike many other English classes I have been through, this class has also been highly collaborative. Instead of doing individual readings and writing term papers, this class involved many in-class group activities that have facilitated group learning. I believe that moving away from individual reading and studying to group work and group study may be beneficial to English studies, although it may deviate away from traditional teaching methods of English studies. Looking at the other people’s products on the blog and talking about the ideas behind English studies in class was useful in helping me come up with my own ideas and collecting my own thoughts about the subject. Working with individuals from other majors (for example, journalism) on in class assignments has helped spread ideas and skills.