grudgingly inspired by Visual Explorer™

One of our crack facilitators for digital storytelling has a great visual selection exercise in which participants match up pre-selected images from a packet to a story he came up with. Using the selections from one of the participants, he quickly re-arranges the images in iMovie and displays it to participants. While I didn’t use this in the most recent workshop I facilitated, I do think that it has a lot of value, and that we could probably do more to support the visual literacy instruction that we do.

A while back ago, I wrote about what I thought at the time were the core elements of storytelling. (My tune on that has changed a bit or has become more succinct: I believe what we call stories need to reflect their author in explicit ways as they address some crisis–dramatic question–in the story. Maybe it doesn’t need to have the “I”, but the “I” should be strongly implied. Another time for this discussion though.)

We’ve gotten pretty good at helping people through their stories though, and I want to focus in more on visual literacy because I feel it’s often the more elusive and neglected aspect of digital storytelling despite the fact that it provides a wealth of instructional opportunities when it comes to teaching people how to search more effectively or consider intellectual property issues. Good visual selection and design also makes the difference when it comes to making something that looks polished versus amateurish.

For some reason, these things are often elusive with both faculty/staff and students (more so with the latter).

I was recently made aware of a leadership development tool called Visual Explorer™ that makes use of a set of images “for supporting collaborative, creative conversations in a wide variety of situations…[they] invite connections–they provide metaphors and help carry ideas and insights” (pg. 6). The language in their Facilitator’s Guide goes on to describe its flexibility and utility for addressing challenges and helping “groups understand the context and the perspectives that surround the decisions they make” (pg. 8).

Actually, I didn’t know all this. I just liked the idea of having a set of visual cards. But if you have facilitated a digital storytelling workshop, you may be smacking your forehead just as I did when I read that. We strive to eliminate privilege, build empathy, and take more of an appreciative inquiry approach to helping people develop their stories in our workshops.

By starting conversations in metaphor as they do here, I think we can do a better job of setting the tone and making people comfortable:

“Using images to mediate the dialogue allows people to speak about such things more circumspectly, in terms of metaphors, symbols, and likenesses, rather than as statements of fact. Putting the image in the middle of the dialogue allows what was previously undiscussable to be projected onto the image (rather than onto oneself or others) and held at arm’s length” (pg. 23).

While I tend to bilk at proprietary processes that you have to pay for (I searched for Creative Commons images on Flickr and printed out my own deck on card stock), I find their facilitation materials very compelling and only somewhat vague. They describe their tool as being helpful in:

  • seeking patterns in complex issues and making connections
  • surfacing a variety of perspectives
  • provoking new questions
  • eliciting stories and creating metaphors
  • tapping into personal experiences and passions
  • articulating what has been unspoken or “undiscussable”
  • constructively relating with others through dialogue (pg. 9)

From these bullet points alone, I can see how it might touch on teaching research skills, developing visual stories, and building relationships. I almost want to carry cards with me because of the following short anecdote:

…our colleagues Al Selvin and Aldo de Moor used it when they met for the first time in a year at a railway station. Using the images to spur their responses, each asked the other, “How has life been for you?” (pg. 14).

I must sound like a fan boy at this point, but like I said, I tend to dislike how patented everything feels (adding that TM annotation is more derision than anything else). It’s reminiscent of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder program, which also tends to be protective of its materials (although I like them better for some reason). Culture change, I understand, takes money. Obviously, the digital storytelling program I’m a part of requires resources and a core understanding of workshop practices to be effective. We wouldn’t want clones to take advantage of our work and investment.

And it actually turns out that the authors refer to a “postcard exercise” as the initial prototype for Visual Explorer™. This particular tool doesn’t seem to have a discernible origin although they do cite an early source going as far back as 1993, and my problem with that is…

Sorry, none of that is important, I guess. And regardless of my feelings regarding its propriety, they have inspired me. I look forward to exploring their research further and looking into more explicit visual literacy literature to develop exercises that we can use in facilitating better visual search and selection.