Writing Course Bridges Social and Political Divides in the Digital Space

07.03.17

Today’s storytellers are using technology to engage a global audience. This spring, Kean University English professor Mia Zamora, Ph.D., and instructional technologist Alan Levine developed and taught Networked Narratives, a new course dedicated to forging meaningful connections across digital and physical landscapes.

Students enrolled in the Networked Narratives course created unique online personas, penning blog posts, essays and experimental fiction throughout the spring semester. The course’s #netnarr hashtag generated over 7,000 tweets and fostered a meaningful dialogue around how digital technology is reshaping storytelling as a collaborative endeavor. 

“Networked Narratives has been an innovative pedagogical experiment in teaching digital literacies, digital writing and electronic narrative in the age of amplification and post-truth politics,” said Zamora. “Alan and I have designed this course as an open “collaboratory” in digital storytelling, world building and co-learning.”

Networked Narratives was an open online course and attracted participants from diverse backgrounds and locales. Concerned by societal trends, including a seeming “inability to bridge different perspectives,” Zamora and Levine devised digital field trips as a way to bridge the divide. 

Classroom exercises helped course participants to acknowledge the commonalities within their disparate communities.  Some concerns, like parking, proved universal. Through a series of Skype visits to Cairo, Mexico, Vermont and Australia, Zamora and Levine brought the world to their students and inspired them to create Arganee, an online fictional realm all their own.

One theme that ran throughout the course was the notion of alchemy.  Zamora, who as director of the Kean University writing project sponsors “maker-labs” and an annual Hour of Code, is fascinated with the idea of “tinkering” and transforming something mundane into something precious.

“We embraced the notion of being “digital alchemists” in the open web, as we thoughtfully mixed together “elements” of media and storytelling,” said Zamora. “We have experienced profound learning in this special community.”

During the month of February, the Networked Narratives class made weekly virtual visits to narrative experts including: Leonardo Flores, Mark Marino, Rob Wittig, Flourish Klink, Elizabeth Minkel, Howard and Mamie Rheingold. Zamora and Levine encourage experimentation and while some students lamented the lack of structure most embraced the freedom afforded and the opportunities for meaningful creative exploration.

“A natural flow and an open space of learning and creativity is encouraged. So it’s almost like you’re a part of the process with them,” said Kean student Stephanie Jones. 

Zamora and Levine will present their research at the Digital Media and Learning Conference at UC Irvine this October. Zamora, who was recently named a Fulbright scholar, will spend the next year as a visiting scholar at the University of Bergen Norway. Her current scholarship in the field of Electronic Literature focuses on participatory culture, generativity and the convergence of networks and narrative.