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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Interview with Lynn Levin: Poet, Writer, Translator, Professor

Lynn Levin is well known for inspiring creativity in students and writers at all levels. Together with Valerie Fox, she has edited the widely adopted Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets.  In addition, she is known for her quirky, engaging writing that encourages new ways of perceiving and thinking.  Now Lynn has a new collection of poems, The Minor Virtues (2020), published by Ragged Sky Press.

Welcome to an informal chat with Lynn.

1. What is your name and your background?
My name is Lynn Levin, and I am a poet, writer, translator, and an adjunct associate professor of English at Drexel University. I teach composition, creative writing, and literature classes. Before I started teaching, I had a career in advertising.

Lynn Levin

2. How would you describe your writing practice?
I love to describe things in my poems. I think that refreshes and enhances life. I write to think through experience and capture quirky insights, many of them comic. I want to surprise and entertain my readers and myself. My view of the world is like a picture hung on a wall, then set awry by the settling of the house or a mild earthquake. I guess that’s the quirky part. And I want to be understood. Too much obscurity masks feeling and makes the reader’s job a chore.

3. Please share the name of your latest publication.
I am fortunate to have two recent publications. I just published my fifth poetry collection, The Minor Virtues (Ragged Sky Press, 2020), and I recently published, with my co-author Valerie Fox, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets, Second Edition (Texture Press, 2019).

4. What is The Minor Virtues about? What are some of the main focal points?
The title section of poems, The Minor Virtues section, begins with celebrations of small everyday practices—among them, fixing broken things and buying produce from the marked-down cart—which, when fancifully contemplated, branch into deeper appreciations of life. The other poems in the book look at life from both serious and comic angles. I include a range of poems in both free and formal verse. Thematically, I like to say that my writing is dark with a funny edge or funny with a dark edge.

5. What inspired you to write The Minor Virtues
I wanted to aim for happier and calmer poems, poems that conveyed a love of life even as some of the poems speak of missteps or losses. Overall, I set out with good cheer in mind.

6. Any closing thoughts?
While it is vital that writers speak out against injustice and wrongdoing, I made the conscious decision in this book to tread lightly around those topics and to focus on appreciations, affection, nostalgia, bemusement, and other milder sensibilities

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Interview with Spencer Striker, History Adventures. Innovators in Education Series

 History can come alive online, especially in a gaming platform that allows the learners to immerse themselves not only in the time, but in the struggle to stay alive. Welcome to an interview with Spencer Striker, who has developed History Adventures, a unique educational that takes learners to the most intense times and places of history.

1. What is your name and your background? 
My name’s Spencer Striker. I’m a Digital Media Design professor at Northwestern University in Qatar. My background is a mixture of digital media production, digital learning design, and entrepreneurship—with an armchair passion for history. I grew up moving around a lot—mostly in New England, but also Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago. I was fortunate that I got to travel a lot as a kid because my mom loved to travel. She took us to Australia, Hawaii, and all over Western Europe—and this evoked a wanderlust in me as well as a fascination for different cultures and lived human experience. I finished high school in Chicago, then did my undergrad in History and Radio-TV-Film Production at the University of Texas. After that I tried my hand at writing novels for a while, while living abroad in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Brazil. That was an amazing adventure—but ultimately, I wound up broke in New York City, with some unpublished novels under my arm, and realized, as many people do in their mid-twenties, it was time to play the Get Out of Jail Free card and head to grad school!

After having tried old-school novel writing for a few years, I really missed collaborative media production. Writing novels is a lonely gig! I missed working with cross-disciplinary teams and all the technical/creative challenges of production/design. It was 2005, and I decided that interactive media was the future. I was fortunate to get into the New Media Design and Production Master’s Program at Indiana University. That’s where I really discovered my passion for building digital media projects and working with talented collaborators. At IU, I started a video game media studio called GameZombie TV, and scaled it up. That’s when I first saw how digital production technologies were colliding with entrepreneurial opportunities in totally unforeseen ways—and as we’ve seen over the past 15 years or so, digital media has disrupted how we do just about everything.

2.  How and when did you become interested in online learning?
Eventually, GameZombie TV came to a crossroads. Here was this online media production studio covering the video game industry that we’d built from scratch using the tools and resources available to grad students at Indiana University. We’d won Webbys, covered all the major game conferences, and achieved official partnerships with YouTube and Dailymotion. So at that point, I could try to make the project a professional organization—and achieve “escape velocity” from the university… or I could double-down on the education component of GameZombie TV—whereby this online production studio run by students at Indiana University had become a powerful way for students to learn all the different aspects of modern, team-based digital media production. Since digital learning design was my true passion, I decided to take this other route.

I got the opportunity to co-found the Media Arts and Game Development Program at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, and meanwhile expand the GameZombie project to the new university, introducing it to a whole new cohort of undergrads interested in the intersection of the video game industry and online media production. Driven by my enthusiasm for the project, as well as its momentum, I got into the PhD Program in Digital Media (in the School of Education) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, whereby I began to formally study the field of digital media and learning with some of the top experts in the world, including Kurt Squire, Constance Steinhuehler, Dawnene Hassett, and others. And at the same time that I was studying this cutting-edge field of digital media and learning, I was able to apply theory to practice in my day job as Lecturer/Co-Founder of the MAGD Program at UW-W.

3.  what have been some of your experiences in online learning? 
So I had this wonderfully intense experience in Wisconsin studying Digital Media & Learning at the doctorate level at Madison—while simultaneously working full time as Co-Founder of the MAGD program at Whitewater. Doing all this in combination with continuing to run GameZombie TV: the theory/practice of digital learning really got seared into me. Once I completed my PhD in the Fall of 2012, I wanted to try my hand at industry. I went out to Silicon Valley in January of 2013, and soon after that became Founding Creative Director for a games and learning startup called Galxyz, whereby we used a sci-fi narrative game design system to teach kids the Next Generation Science Standards. We managed to raise about $4 million dollars and build a fantastic little studio in Mountain View, CA. The cross-disciplinary team we assembled of educators, creative writers, animators, and game engineers was truly top-notch. After heading up creative and product for the company for two years, I was enthusiastic to return to academia, as I thought that would be the ideal environment in which to build my idea for a new digital product initiative, History Adventures.

4.  What is History Adventures?  
History Adventures is a tablet-based digital learning product that seeks to inspire curiosity for history by using various creative techniques, including character narratives, animation, 3D, interactive infographics, choose your own adventure, sound design, and original music. The idea is to bring history to life by exploring lived human experience through the lens of five amazing men and women who lived through extraordinary, gripping, and dramatic flashpoints in time.

5.  Why did you develop History Adventures, and what is the overall goal?
I developed History Adventures as a way to defeat this unfortunate notion some students hold that “history is boring.” I think the only reason students think that is because typical formal history education emphasizes all the most boring bits—and all the inherent action, drama, and emotional stakes get buried beneath long lists of kings, queens, facts, and dates. History Adventures foregrounds the power of story through the development of character narratives, intended to pull the reader/user into the emotional stakes of these people’s drama-filled experiences. At the same time, I’m using all the tools and tricks I have from digital entertainment product design, to make the product experience come to life and feel magical and fun.

6.  Please describe two or three History Adventures.
In this newest version of the product, History Adventures, World of Characters, Revolutions & Industrialization, 1750-1900, students will encounter five amazing men and women who have to work out where they stand in this age of dramatic, sweeping change.  In late 18th Century America, one unnamed slave turned spy, Agent 355, decides to risk everything for the cause of revolution and the principle of freedom. On the other side of the world in Australia, Jiemba of the Eora Nation, decides to fight for his traditions against British invaders intent on colonizing his ancestral homeland and trampling on his beliefs.

Half a century later, a Chinese trader, Fei Hong fights a different battle. Hong decides to smuggle British opium from India to China and loses everything as he goes from smuggler, to trafficker and finally addict before being caught. In 1890s Africa, Khari decides to oppose European trade and fight back against the Belgian exploitation of his ancient tribal lands along the Congo River. The Belgian’s murderous regime mercilessly extracts rubber using local labour and Khari refuses to let his tribe suffer any more. Resistance is the only choice. 150 years after Agent 355, a social reformer called Thomas Brown decides to disguise himself as a janitor and expose the truth about the infamous Chicago meat packing district. He uncovers a world of filth, corruption and reckless disdain for human life that leads him to question what the future will bring.

7.  What are your plans for the future?
Having just published the definitive version of History Adventures, World of Characters, Revolutions & Industrialization, 1750-1900, we’ve already begun development on the next product in the digital book series, Empires & Interconnections, 1450-1750. This new product will include enhanced interactive features, 3D designs, motion fx, and animation—as well as six fascinating new characters. A conquistador trekking through the treacherous jungles and mountains of 16th Century Peru, doomed to a dismal end in his quest for glory and riches. A woman in the Medieval court of Tokugawa Japan, trading in secrets and intrigue when the politics couldn’t be more high-stakes or ruthless. A man from Angola sold by Portuguese slave traders to the Jamestown colonists in 1619. A zamindar (tax collector) in Mughal India during the British conquest of the South Asian continent. A young woman of Turkish and Byzantine ancestry living through the traumatic 1453 Siege of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire. And finally, a Spanish alchemist living at the nexus of superstition, science, literacy, and the powerful Catholic Church, experiencing the Inquisition even as the Scientific Revolution is just gaining hold. The big picture goal of History Adventures, World of Characters is to spark enthusiasm for learning about the past… and bring the pages of history to life!

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