on January 16, 2012
Wes Fryer is pretty much the go-to guy when it comes to digital storytelling and how to use it in educational settings. From his very famous blog "Moving at the Speed of Creativity" to his numerous appearances across the country at various conferences and workshops, as well as the monster online presence he maintains, it all add up to making him almost the de facto digital storytelling guy in the US. He has been doing digital media for so long, that he probably does video editing in his sleep. This incredible knowledge base works for him but also against him in "Playing with Digital Media: Simple Ideas for Powerful Sharing," his primer on digital media he recently self-published on his Speed of Learning LLC publishing house.
Fryer pretty much presents the reader with an electronic cornucopia of all things that have to do with digital media in this book, starting off with the first chapter telling the readers WHY they need to start using (or of using expanding the use of) digital media in the classroom. He makes a convincing argument that we need to change our ways and move into the digital future with our students, not tomorrow, but today.
The reasons that Fryer uses for using digital media are not new news to anyone that has been paying attention to 21st Century learning (electronic portfolios that can follow a kid from place to place and time to time, the ubiquitous nature of electronics in our students lives, that digital media probably fosters creativity in many students and that the current academic standards are missing), so the first chapter is a throw away for anyone that is already in the know. However, if you need arguments for a reluctant administrator, then this chapter provided you loads of ammo to take to any meeting when discussing how and why curriculum should be written.
Each chapter is chock full of examples with tons of links to them. (Really, this book should not even be released as a paper edition, it should only be in ebook form simply because of the sheer number of hyperlinked texts that are in it.)
After Fryer presents the WHYs of digital media for classroom use, he then explores, chapter by chapter for the reader the WHATS of digital media: Text, Audio, Copyright, Images, Video and then ends up with some suggested uses in Show and Tell. The final third of the book is taken up by appendices.
After explaining the WHY of Digital media, Fryer jumps into Digital Text. Blogs and Wikis, and the differences between them are laid out with multiple examples. (Thankfully, throughout the book, Fryer shows a variety of grade levels and subject areas. There is nothing more irritating for a high school teacher than to see tons of elementary school examples, and then be asked to "follow their example.") He does a nice job explaining how each is different and how it can be used in different situations, although I thought he gave blogs as tools beyond the classroom use (e.g. as a professional development tool) kind of a short shrift even thought that is where he makes his bread and butter. It is apparent that Fryer, at least when he wrote this book, is totally smitten with Posterous as a blogging/wiki tool. He spends quite a bit of time explaining Posterous. (Too much in my opinion, because these tools change like the weather in West Texas), so something that is "hot" today may not even be on the Web 2.0 map tomorrow.)
Audio is the next target, and, as expected, he has lots of classroom examples of using audio only. He also explains why an audio-only situation might be preferable to a video or text only situation (easier than video in general). Audio is a natural jumping into space whenever one thinks of using multimedia in the classroom, and I thought he could have spent a little more time playing in this sandbox, especially knowing his expertise with podcasting. I liked the discussion of the use of electronic portfolios in this chapter, something that could have been touched on in each section.
Copyright issues are discussed in chapter 4, and Fryer goes where most librarians fail to tread: use of public domain, "homegrown," creative commons, and fair use. It still amazes me that so few librarians or others that are supposed to know about copyright laws in schools have little or no knowledge of creative commons and how to attribute using web resources. He uses Chapter Four's discussion on copyright to lead into Chapter Five's talk on images.
Chapter five has plenty of information on how to incorporate images into class activities. Fryer has a nice editorial comment built into the chapter about how the use of images is not simply putting pictures into a Powerpoint. Fryer shows his strength in this chapter by leading the reader to various uses of images, shows where to get them, and even talks a little about using an iPhone to take pictures, something most students probably do not have access to. Again, Fryer steps onto the Posterous bandwagon, showing a major preference for that currently useful site. The chapter is a bit bipolar in that he ends it by discussion mind mapping software, which is tangentially related to the topic (mind maps can become images yes..)
The next chapter, and one I think is the strongest in the book, deals with using video, and Fryer again shows his deep knowledge of the topic with some pretty advanced discussion of how to properly use video. No edit video, edit video, screencasting, and then Fryer's expertise: Digital Storytelling. Fryer is one of the architects of digital storytelling for K12 schools around the US, and with his Oklahoma Voices projects expanding to other states, he knows what he is talking about when it comes to incorporating video in the classroom.
The last chapter talks about ways to exhibit all that digital media that you or your students have created. The idea of student digital portfolios is not new, but Fryer does give a reasons to actually create one in the pages of the book. He steps into areas that most teachers fear to tread here, discussion how Facebook can be used, but other than that the chapter makes sense for anyone that has created content and needs to put it online.
The last third of the book is taken up by six appendices. The sheer volume and page space of these makes me wonder of one or two could not have been made into chapters,especially the final appendix "Thoughts on the Attention Economy," which feels like a blog entry or entries reworked into a section for the book.
There is a curse that Fryer has on the topic of this book that is found in many works by people that are experts in a particular field: He knows pretty much everything about the topic and he wants to share everything he knows. While admirable in theory, it poses a logistical problem, because there simply is too much information for the casual reader or the neophyte to absorb. Each chapter could easily be a book unto itself the way Fryer presents the information, because what he wants to do here is share not only the book's information, but also all the writing from his popular (for a reason) blog, as well as all of the links in the book, videos on Youtube, Posterous sites, examples from around the world, etc. What happens here is that the novice is quickly overwhelmed. (Again, I do not see how a paper text version of this book could even begin to explore the depths of hyperlinks that Fryer presents here. If one is not reading the ebook version, then the reader is getting less than 50% of the experience.)
I have written before about the paralysis of choice. That feeling of being so overwhelmed by information or choices that the new user cannot find a starting point. I feel that this is the case with this book. I am going to assume that the audience that Fryer is addressing are those educators that are NOT using digital media in their classrooms or their professional development. By presenting so much information, Fryer may be doing the exact opposite of what he is trying to accomplish: He may be scaring people away. I tried to read this book like someone coming in with little or no knowledge base of digital media. I quickly became overwhelmed.
If I would have been writing this (and I know that I didn't so I really can't say anything) I would have taken some topic, or assignment, or professional development, and then built the exact same lesson around the various methods he presented in his book. I would have presented it as a blog, a wiki, an audio recording, a video. That way, the reader would have had a touchstone to follow throughout the book He could have shown the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology and the reader would have been able to stay grounded with a common theme through out the book. As it is the only real common themes he keeps coming back to is that there is a law of diminishing returns based on the number of clicks and the idea that kids are natural creative composers. Nothing ground shaking here.
Would I recommend the book? Yes. But it is a qualified yes: First of all, forget the paper version of the book.
The only version that should be used is the ebook version. It should be used as a basis for a professional development where there is a facilitated group of educators that are willing to try what is in the book, led by someone that knows many of these techniques. This should be used as a professional development tool, or better yet, an outline for an in-depth exploration of the topic.
Fryer gives us the roadmap. The entire roadmap. The reader is left with the decision on what roads to drive on.