Columbia DSL
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Columbia DSL

Story I/O will be held 9/23/17 from 10am to 6pm at the Columbia University School of the Arts’ new Lenfest Center for the Arts designed by Renzo Piano

Story I/O a day of exploring new forms & functions of storytelling

For over a decade I’ve been organizing and curating conferences, workshops, international artist residences and labs. In 2007, I started a roving event for creators entitled DIY Days which later evolved into Learn Do Share, a global network of over 70 producers in 30 countries. In both instances the goal was to gather a diversity of participants in an effort to mix thinking and doing — to move beyond talk and attempt to drive action. Some of the efforts have reached millions of people around the world while others have driven local impact.

DIY Days helped to spark Caine’s Arcade by filmmaker Nirvan Mullick

DIY Days & Learn Do Share birthed the BUKE a youth driven program in LA by impact designer Magalis Martinez-Videaux.

This fall we’ll have a chance to expand upon previous experiments with the launch of a new event from the Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab entitled Story I/O. In an effort to share process we’re pulling back the curtain on the design of the event.

Creating Spaces for Collaboration and Learning

One of the most important things I’ve learned about creating collaborative events is to provide frequent opportunities for the community to engage in a low risk environment. To that end, the Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab has been staging monthly meetups since 2015 at Lincoln Center. The meetups are a wonderful creative sandbox, covering a wide range of topics. We explore methods, exercises and harness the events as a way to create a horizontal learning environment. Each meetup mixes theory and practice. We start with a fireside chat and then move into a workshop that touches into a current Columbia DSL prototype.

Columbia DSL August 14th, 2017 meetup — Speculative Fiction: world building for imagined futures

Over time I’ve found the following to be beneficial when creating spaces for collaboration and learning

  • Clear purpose — make sure that you are transparent and state your mission and goals. Your purpose can often be your collective challenge. For instance, with Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things, a Columbia DSL prototype that has over 2,600 collaborators in 60 countries, the purpose was to explore emergent technology through a storytelling lens.
  • Mutual Value — what do people attending gain? Information and inspiration isn’t enough. You need to consider how they can network, be challenged and most importantly how they can walk away and channel the inspiration they experienced into action.
  • Leaving space — often experiences are over designed so concerned that a participant/user won’t know what to do, become frustrated or even bored. However we don’t truly learn unless were challenged. Leaving space for creativity and reflection is critical.
  • Empowering a diversity of voices — while many events (conferences, workshops, labs) are working hard to empower diversity, the reality is that most have a long way to go. Often it is an individual or a panel of speakers in a one way conversation to the audience. This reliance on the “expert” is a mistake as the collective knowledge of those in the “audience” has untapped value. Diversity accelerates innovation, breaks the echo chamber and is exciting.
  • Those formerly known as the audience — people who come to collaborative events are neither your audience or attendees. The best events are the ones that encourage your participants to become collaborators. Once they’re there, don’t fear them. Instead let them challenge you in productive ways.
  • Documentation — most events fade after the day. Documentation is a wonderful way to sustain and spark collaboration. Consider how you can break from passive documentation (video, audio, text) and enable an ongoing conversation that encourages the sharing of applied learning and opportunities that have evolved from the event.
  • Don’t lose sight of the purpose — often you’ll find yourself so concerned with the logistical aspects of designing, curating and producing a good event that you’ll lose sight of the purpose of said event. Make sure you find a balance that enables you to participate in the day as if you had just walked in off the street.
  • Shared narrative — bringing a diverse group of people together in a space to play is only the first step in creating the genuine connection that collaborative events are capable of creating. The second step is to provide participants with a narrative frame they can relate to, something that simultaneously feels familiar and sparks their imaginations.

Story I/O — Story as an innovation tool

On Saturday, September 23rd from 10am to 6pm the Digital Storytelling Lab (DSL) will present Story I/O a day focused on building transformative learning simulations using story, play, design and code, both as inputs and outputs (I/O). This free event (apply here) is a mashup of a design sprint, hackathon and game design jam. Ninety participants from diverse backgrounds will gather together to tackle two pressing challenges. Professional backgrounds of collaborators will include: storytellers, social workers, performers, makers, clinicians, hackers, academics, activist, game designers, community organizers and interaction designers.

CHALLENGE #1 — Build Simulations for Empathic Care

with Patient Revolution, the Narrative Medicine Program at Columbia University & the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab

The future is uncertain and when it arrives, it can be strange and disorienting. Perhaps nowhere is this tension felt more fully than in regards to our health. Is this symptom important? Will I get sick like my dad? How will this treatment affect me? What will “better” feel like? These kinds of questions and concerns reflect the desire to understand where our health is headed, and to be able to recognize what it looks like when we get there.

Health care typically responds to questions like above with discussions of risk, and recommendations to reduce that risk. But what if we could offer more? What if, in addition to stories of the past, we could give people access to stories of the future. We invite you to join us in a workshop to consider how simulation might allow people to explore their possible futures in health as well as reduce that sense of strangeness by providing glimpses into what a future state might look and feel like.

An action and advocacy organization for careful and kind patient care.

CHALLENGE #2 — Build a De-Escalation Room to help youth de-escalate violence online & offline

with Columbia University School of Social Work’s SAFE Lab, IMPACT Repertory Theatre, the Columbia University Data Science Institute & the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab

What if we built an environment that modeled negative conversations and behaviors found on social media platforms and in the real world? Inside of this environment, situations quickly escalate. But this time, we would be able to do something about it.

Imagine a space where a diversity of participants work together through story, play, design and collaboration to de-escalate situations that stem from misunderstanding and polarization. To create this “De-Escalation Room” we’ll harness emerging technologies, collaborative methodologies and field research to design and build an innovative empathic simulation that is a learning environment that can scale.

Dr. Desmond U. Patton Founder and Director of the School of Social Work’s SAFE Lab

Designing With & For

This is not about us coming up with solutions and then imposing them on others. Instead this is an opportunity for youth to be involved throughout the design, construction and running of the De-Escalation Room, and for patients and clinicians to work together to imagine the future of empathic care.

Both challenges represent an opportunity to develop creative frameworks that encourage collaborative problem solving while also integrating emergent technology such as the Internet of Things, AI (deep learning, natural language processing), AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality).

Space is limited for Story I/O

Apply Today

A peek at the current design of the day

To sustain the spirit of openness and transparency that permeates everything we do at DSL, leading up to the Story I/O event on September 23rd we’ll be pulling back the curtain to share how we’re approaching the event, and how we plan to spark and sustain action beyond the day.

Current Running Order (subject to change)

  • Welcome & Goals
  • 5x why (participants pair up with a stranger)
  • Fire Side Chats (two different perspectives one subject)
  • World Cafe (collaborative discussion to surface the collective intelligence of a group)
  • Check Out (bring it back to an individual perspective)
  • Lunching in the future (teams head to lunch and return with ideas for the future)
  • Short Performance from Impact (improv based on lunch ideas — teasing out models for prototyping)
  • Prototyping Cafe (open ideation and testing — make ideas tangible)
  • Perform Solutions (the group iterates through performance)
  • Check Out (mapping next steps, opportunities and milestones)
  • Closing Remarks

Volunteers Wanted

We’re looking for volunteers. If you’re interested please drop us a line at hello [at] digitalstorytellinglab [dot] com

  • documentation
  • registration
  • setup and breakdown

About Columbia DSL

The Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab (aka Columbia DSL) designs stories for the 21st Century. We build on a diverse range of creative and research practices originating in fields from the arts, humanities and technology. But we never lose sight of the power of a good story. Technology, as a creative partner, has always shaped the ways in which stories are found and told. In the 21st Century, for example, the mass democratization of creative tools — code, data and algorithms — have changed the relationship between creator and audience. The Columbia DSL, therefore, is a place of speculation, of creativity, and of collaboration between students and faculty from across the University. New stories are told here in new and unexpected ways.

Join Columbia faculty and industry innovators as we explore the current and future landscape of digital storytelling.

For more information on upcoming Columbia DSL programs, prototypes and labs make sure to sign up for our newsletter. Plus if you’re interested in connecting with other storytellers, game designers, hackers, makers, educators and fans of emerging technology we’ve started a Columbia DSL community. Finally if you like to partner with us we’re always up for a good collaboration!

 by the author.



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lance weiler

lance weiler

Storyteller working with Code - Founding member & Director of the Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab - curates @creativemachines