My Creative Frenzy: Why Alternative Projects Are the Best

This year, I was given the opportunity in one of my classes to pursue and “alternative project” in lieu of writing a paper.

I am such a big fan of the alternative project. It gets me in the biggest creative frenzy.

I had participated in the University of Ottawa’s Community Service Learning program a few times, so I knew what it was like to do something a little different for a class project.  I knew I liked it, too. With CSL, professors can offer students the opportunity to do course-related volunteer field work instead of writing a paper. In first year, I made teaching aids. In second year, I delivered an Aboriginal history presentation for some grade four classes.   And in both cases, I learned a whole lot more from those experiences than from “here today, gone tomorrow” essays.

This year, I took a Colonial American History course that allowed students to design an alternative media/internet project. My mind went more than a little crazy. I’m a History student, yes, but I’m also pursuing a Communications major. I pretty much lived in the Communications Technology room in high school.  I’m a new media diehard.  I used to make short films and write folk songs in lieu of writing papers in high school.  And, obviously, I blog.  Interactive/Media history? I had to get on that. THIS IS EXCITING.

It didn’t take long for me to decide what I wanted to do.  American musical history is fascinating to me. Really, the profound relationship between sound and society is fascinating to me, which I guess explains why I’m so excited to be interning for Smithsonian Folkways this winter.  It’s also why I decided to create an online resource exploring Colonial American music for my alternative project.

Check it out: http://soundsofthecolonies.wordpress.com/

A few notes from the experience:

  • This ended up feeling almost like an interactive, online version of liner notes…you know, like the booklets inside CDs?  How cool would it be if CDs came with programs like this to explore what was behind the music, kinda like a DVD menu? I assume this is already a thing that happens, but is should happen more–when it comes to music with strong historical/cultural significance, technology could be really valuable in bringing the learning to the next level.
  • The best way to make an interactive map? Skip the “interactive map” websites, and upload a jpeg to Thinglink.  You can add links, notes, and markers to images. Made for a really cool music map of New England on my end. (Teaching tool alert, educator friends!)
  • The constant battle: The more information you have, the harder it is to cut it into bite-sized pieces–especially when that information is circumstantial and you’re like “But…but..but…complexity…and…”. I have this issue with essays, too, but for some reason breaking it down for the internet required even more messing around with conflicting ideas to get to the core of what was going on. Filler was just less of an option.
  • Music matters. A lot. Probably more than I even suspected before starting this project. It’s such a big indicator of so many cultural and human elements.
  • I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN. It’s weird to do so much research, feel so flooded with questions, and then need to step up with some kind of concise thesis.  Bringing everything behind your questions together in order to project some sort of objective answer is tough. I have information, yes. But I can’t wait to gain more insight.
  • I’m excited for the future of history, ethnomusicology, and education in the new media environment.  Interactive maps and YouTube videos and downloadable liner notes and iTunes U?  So much fun to play with.

I don’t know how many other people chose to do an alternative project. Maybe the number wasn’t that big. But just the fact that we were given the opportunity to take our research to a different place was awesome (not to mention, it kept me from falling asleep on the job). It was awesome in high school when my Native Studies teacher let me write songs instead of make powerpoints. It was awesome when my grade 12 World History teacher made our seminar assignment so vague that I was able to do mine on an interview with my grandfather. Community Service Learning was, and is, awesome. And, of course, this alternative project was the coolest opportunity.  I even got to bounce this project off of the wonderful people and resources at Smithsonian Folkways.  How cool is that?

Very cool.

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