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November 30, 2015

Failing While Folding; Or, Let’s Hope this Project Works!

November 30, 2015 | By | No Comments

In starting the “building” phase of my project, I am reminded of Pearce Durst’s recent blog essay on “Inventing the Digital Humanities through Freirian Praxis.” In it, Durst uses the metaphor of origami and the particulars of folding and unfolding to nuance the rhetorical practices of building and deconstructing in the humanities classroom. For Durst, this recursive practice is a bright spot in the advancement and ongoing invention of what is being called the digital humanities. I would add, however, that it also serves as an apt metaphor for failure. Despite following the 20+ steps to make the paper crane, I am often left asking, “Why doesn’t mine look like the picture?” Similarly, in our latest quick-build challenge, I asked myself a similar question, “Huh? How did we do that?” Using Durst’s metaphor of foldings this month, I will work to meditate on the particulars of theory, application, and reflection and consider failure as a pedagogical necessity for innovation.

Folding (Theory):3982075995_95cd453eff_z

Focusing on “everyday” cultural heritage, my fellowship project (#hearmyhome) is a participatory soundscapes project that interrogates how youth hear and listen to the soundscapes of home and culture. Ultimately working to better understand difference and community literacies through the architecture of shared sonic experiences, the project, as I pitched it to my peers and Ethan, works to build expansive personal learning networks (PLNs). #hearmyhome’s promise is to develop materials that hear, recognize, and sustain cultural rhetorics. It is a pedagogical endeavor. Taking heed of the frequencies and rhythms of culture as we architect, design, and teach towards more equitable landscapes for learning, #hearmyhome works to re-educate the senses and attune us towards cultural difference. Listening to others in the field and learning from projects that use sound (e.g., the Religious Soundmap Project) and/or foster a networked community of writers (e.g., the #WalkMyWorld Project), I feel theoretically confident. Now, all I have to do is build it.

Unfolding (Application):

In one of our last meetings, Ethan provided 1:1 consultations with fellows to walk through some of the potential ‘tools’ that may make our projects more successful. Theoretically, I felt pretty good, actually building and designing the project, however, was another story. I loved to “yak” about all things digital, but my prowess in “hacking” was still sub-par. In discussing the project with Ethan and my colleagues at CHI, I highlighted that I wanted to build a website inclusive of a larger open-networked soundscapes map. Creating a sonic knowledgebase and archive is a necessity. If #hearmyhome is an affinity space wherein participants share their sonic encounters of ‘home’ (through #tagged soundscapes on Vine, Instagram, and Twitter), then a map with pinned soundscapes was necessary. As I shared exemplars of other projects that I hoped would serve as mentor texts for #hearmyhome, Ethan began nodding his head. He laid out a plan for building and detailed how to start. Foolishly, I nodded back, saying “OK!” Later that night I toggled to GitHub, eager and ready to start. With a swipe, click, and tap of the mouse, I thought, “Wait? How do I do this again?”

Refolding (Reflection):

As I think about the work that lies ahead, my eyes start to bulge. I often think, “What would happen if this project failed?” Wanting to launch #hearmyhome’s website, soundscapes platform, and calendar of learning events in January/February, my December break looks quite busy. (Don’t worry, next month I’ll blog about the actual process.) I have a lot of work ahead of me. This all on top of finishing a dissertation! That said, if #hearmyhome falls flat on its face, if for some reason the learning events only stream to a small number of folks and the soundscapes pins are dropped only in the small environs of Lansing and East Lansing, the process will teach me something. If anything, the sheer reflection of “I need to figure this out!” is a teachable moment. Failure is praxis. It demands innovation. Now I must admit, my CHI colleagues are tech-wizards. Many fly through these build challenges and quietly ask some of us less adept at building, “Do you understand what we just did?” I know that if I need another set of hands to help me fold, build, and design, I have them. If #hearmyhome’s ultimate aim is to be an expansive network of collaborative writers, then its inception should also work towards this collaborative goal. And if it falls flat on its face, well, at least we failed, and learned something, together!

Image “Origami 100209F” by Flickr user vmiramontes.  Used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

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