Course Profile: English 4569-Digital Messaging and Storytelling

March 7, 2018
Buckeye Leaf Red with Buckeyes

The Digital Media laboratories in Denney Hall are usually kept fairly chilly. Large ventilators perch on window tops where they pump out the excess heat created by computer components, then stream cool air back into the room. Thus, the third-floor rooms are typically colder than, say, the fifth-floor offices, which are consumed by a near-permanent swelter.

I go down to 312 Denney Hall from my cubicle in the fourth-floor English office which, in the winter, usually has hot, muggy air alternately stagnating or bustling through depending on that particular day’s formula of cracked window angles. Today, I am grateful for the chilliness of the Digital Media classroom, but the students streaming through the door after me are less appreciative. “It’s so hot in here today,” says one, but today’s abnormal heat doesn’t seem to deter them. Every student makes their way either to one of the sleek Mac desktops that line the walls of the room, or to a center table where they set up their laptops in a circle. Everybody clumps with what I will soon learn are their project groups. They confer softly with each other: “Has Professor X emailed us back yet?” “Has anybody gotten in touch with student Y?”

The atmosphere in English 4569: Digital Messaging and Storytelling is professional and uncluttered. It has to be. These students gather here twice a week for a little over an hour, then they’re out of there. Their biweekly stay is brief; thus their habitation must be nomadic. Even professor Scott DeWitt brings supplies to the room on a rolling cart. On DeWitt’s cart sit several gizmos and gadgets: cameras, microphones and more. Students have access to all of the materials they need to produce their projects from the Digital Media Project, located in 324 Denney Hall. Any student enrolled in an English class has access to these materials.

Throughout the semester, DeWitt helps students learn how to use cameras to best shoot the interview. For example, there should be one facing the subject, who will be framed according to the rule of thirds; the lighting must be illuminating but cannot wash out the subject; every video must be stylistically consistent, for they are part of a video campaign.

Today, though, there is a visitor other than myself: Sarah Neville, professor of English and Theatre and Creative Director of Lord Denney’s Players, arrives carrying a rolled-up piece of fabric over her shoulder. It looks like a thatch yoga mat or an oversized Alexandrian scroll. She slings it over a wheeled whiteboard and unspools it. “This is a prop,” she says. “Well, actually, it’s a rug.”

“Please do not let your lack of technology intimidate you,” reads the course description for English 4569. The course description also says that the class is largely focused on “the P word: Production.” Producing what, exactly, you might ask? The answer is promotional interviews for the annual Shakespeare production by Lord Denney’s Players. Last year, professor DeWitt’s students focused on The Tempest; this year, the play is Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor. Throughout the course of English 4569, a technologically-inexperienced student could go from never having filmed a piece of footage in their life to producing professional, portfolio-worthy videos.

“[Professor DeWitt] does a great job of balancing students with a broad range of backgrounds in digital media production. Some of us have never touched a Mac before, and others have prior interest and experience in film production. I feel like each of us are still learning, though, rather than anyone falling behind or being bored.” —Jamie Rainey, English 4569 student

Creating videos involves preparation, instruction and a lot of picking apart of other videos. And, of course, students need to know all about the subject of their interviews: in this case, Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor. That is why Professor Neville is here—prop in hand—to tell Dewitt’s students about the play so they can better formulate interview questions for actors and faculty experts. I won’t spoil anything by explaining what she said. Wait for the interviews these students curate, and they’ll tell you all you need to know.

By Avery Samuels