Thursday, 11 July 2013

Aim Higher school project, and other news

In the spring of 2013 I worked with around 20 Year 11 pupils from a local school, as part of the Aim Higher initiative. I wanted to see if young ‘uninitiated’ writers would be able to use Genarrator to build pleasing new-media stories. We've done similar work before, see the Portland project, but this was the first time I've used Genarrator with school pupils.

The whole project could be run by the school teacher, without the need for specialist technical backup. The goal was to introduce the school students to the concept of interactive storytelling, get them to use a range of media to make their story, use multi-media within their story, and build and publish a story that could be read and interacted with online. If Genarrator is doing its job, this should be easily achieved, assuming the young writers have some ideas!

The Year 11 students were firstly briefed, at their school. My approach is to talk very simply about the idea that a story is a kind of journey; but a journey, as we all know, doesn’t always unfold along a straight path. So they are asked to come up with a short story idea, and to think of all the possible digressions, diversions, choices, obstacles, alternatives that the protagonists may encounter. The pupils easily relate to this conceptualising of interactivity because, of course, it is a game-like proposition.

Following the briefing, the pupils write storylines and create their assets: images drawn or photographed, or Googled (copyright free of course!),  maybe video, sound effects, animated gifs. Much can be created in something as accessible as a mobile phone: photos, sounds, videos can all be uploaded from such familiar ‘kit’. Genarrator can handle all kinds of files, and it's easy to upload everything into the file manager, and then the pages can be designed, and hyper-links created to make the story 'come alive'. 

The final part of this small project was to bring the pupils into Bournemouth University’s Media School for an afternoon, put them in front of our iMacs and let them build their stories in Genarrator. Of course, the results are variable, but the pupils enjoyed their project, and they finished their work back at their school, using Genarrator comfortably. The finished pieces show that, very quickly and easily, multi-media, interactive stories can be made by young, non-technical writers. 

For me, this is part of my overall aim to develop interest and understanding, and expand the audience for interactive writing. The more writers who grow to love this wonderful narrative environment, the better for the art and for audiences in the future. I await the first best selling hyper-novel to come out of a major publisher, and I urge anyone who has a story to tell, to have a go at using Genarrator!

In other news, I've just been approached by a lecturer from Cardiff Metropolitan University, who wants to use Genarrator in his undergraduate teaching, on a Digital Publishing course. Fantastic! Genarrator is beginning to prove its worth outside of my own work, and we are also seeing new stories being published from the wider world of who-knows-where: i.e. the public are finding and using Genarrator.