Saturday, September 25, 2010

Narrative Identity as a Learning Tool

The trigger for this post comes from a recent conversation at the Nottingham Trent University School of Narrative Arts, where students in the Undergraduate programmes on Multimedia Programme use a blog to maintain a learning journal and many find this useful to construct a narrative identity (and look up narrative identities of their colleagues and seniors) and build their learning endeavours around it.

I found such use blogging as a learning tool innovative, though it indeed seemed obvious after I learnt about it. Consider the programme structure and one gets to understand how it helps further. The programme in question leads to a B Sc(Hons) in Multimedia Programming. It starts with a generalist first year, but a specialism starts to develop in Year 2. The students have a choice to pick up one from three available streams - Moving Images, Interactive Media or Animation - and work on it for next couple of years. While it sounds straightforward, the biggest challenge for the students is to pick a specialism. Different specialisms need different skills and mindsets (I am told the moving image students tend to be more collaborative and the animators far more individualistic); besides, the choice is somewhat determined by what the student thinks would make a good career, though the information available to them tend to be incomplete and their judgements somewhat imperfect most of the time. So, what seems a cut and dry segmentation on paper (or on this blog) represent a terrifying choice for a first year student: s/he can sure do with some help.

The blogging can help in two ways. First, and obviously, the blogs of other students can help the student making the choice look up the experiences, and work done, of other students who have already made the choice. This makes the job of making a choice less terrifying: At the simple psychological level, one knows that s/he is not the first person making such a choice, while at a more rational level, s/he looks at the work done and may find a certain kind of work inspiring. Also, as it may invariably happen, the student in question may choose a mentor or a protagonist and that will make the act of making the choice so much more meaningful.

But this can work in a different way as well. The students own narrative identity will also create a 'pull' on himself/herself. The act of imagining oneself as a interactive media designer is, arguably, a stronger influence than meeting world's most successful web designers. The act of continuous blogging and reinforcing the imagination can make the choice of specialism quite simple and straightforward.

I must flag here why choosing this specialism is such a critical task: This is literally choosing a career. So, this is of importance to the learner himself/herself and great care must be taken in making the choice.

I can indeed think of several problems with using blogs, but none that outweigh the huge advantages: Its very public nature may prevent the students to be entirely honest and hence, the quality of other people's blogs as learning material may be questionable. But, the comparison should not be with learning materials but with conversations, and a very social learning environment that such blogging helps to create.

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