Medium is the Mooc

by Michael


Image by tantek on Flickr

The Mooc continues. This is an eight week course, each week entailing a series of short videos from the course tutor, imparting information and, perhaps, inspiring further exploration. The first week was basic concepts in storytelling – the structural components you’d expect any storytelling course to cover. I thought this was ok, as we had seven more weeks to delve further into these concepts and unearth some new ones, perhaps. Instead, week two was a look at how TV series get made, and week three the same for web dramas. Now, this is fine, and these media do impose some limitations on the stories they can tell, and there’s no harm in identifying those. However, the focus seems to be more on the way stories are presented rather than the effect (if any) on their internal story mechanics.

The key phrase with a Mooc – as with any educational device (including a university degree) – is: You get out of it what you’re prepared to put in. By which I mean it is always important to know why you are doing the course, what your goal is – this will help you recognise what is important to you (as opposed to what is important to your tutors and peers). Another interpretation of the phrase, of course, is that you have to be proactive in your learning. For me, these two interpretations exist in a rather antagonistic relationship – I am all too quick to dismiss elements of the course as irrelevant to my purposes, whereas if I were a bit more motivated to use them as jumping off points, perhaps I would land somewhere relevant and interesting.

Anyway, the former interpretation is winning at the moment, particularly with respect to the ‘creative tasks of the week’. The first, which I did here, was fine if rather bland (relate your most memorable story); the second struck me as facile – something I’d expect a GCSE student to be asked to do (describe your favourite TV series character according to a pro forma list of characteristics) – so I skipped it. The third week’s task was to make up your own character according to the pro forma. Clearly we are heading (slowly) towards a climactic week 8 when this character starts in its own transmedia story. For me, though, this is too remote and slow. I am a writer, of course, and would rather be set the task of writing a story each week. Typing this, of course, I realise that there is nothing to stop me doing that….

This week was inspiration week – out of an eight-week course, one week (~12.5% of the course) has been set aside for tutors and course contributors to share the books and other media that have had most influence on their storytelling practice. The task is for students on the course to do likewise, although we are limited to 1-3 texts each. Again, I feel I will demur. Except to say that my favourite authors are Calvino, Borges, Queneau, Prevert and Nabokov. Pale Fire by Nabokov is the most perfect book I have encountered – the physicality of the book itself (whatever edition you have) is part of the reading of the book, as is the generic-appearing furniture of the text (I began to doubt the veracity of every piece of it from the introduction to the page numbers to the blurb on the back as I read the main content). I would strive to achieve this incorporation of the medium in the text of any story I would write – except that isn’t true as I also want to glibly accept the format of the ‘play’, ‘book’ or ‘short story’ in order to write some stories too.

I just have to knuckle down and write them.