Composing Digital Media
December 14, 2017
Articulation of experience in class
When I first signed up for Composing Digital Media, I did so because I needed it for my certificates (PPW and Digital Media) and because I was genuinely interested in how the media I consume on a daily basis is created. That being said, I definitely expected this class to have more of a focus on social media than it actually did. But this did not stop me from staying in the course and learning new things like GIMP, GarageBand/Audacity, WordPress, TextWrangler, HTML, and CSS. When I really think about it, actually, all of these websites or programs work together to build the multiple sites or apps I open on my computer, phone, or even television. In this way I owe a lot to our course because now I have a fairly sizeable idea of what goes into some aspects of digital media that I usually take for granted. Yet one thing I do wish we could have covered in one way or another is that crucial topic of social media; social media is constantly evolving, and is a huge part of society today in every shape and form. Just think how cool it would be learn the “behind the scenes” of composing a Tweet, an Instagram, a Snapchat, a Facebook post, or whatever other platforms are out there. But this is relative, as I can see a digital media composition going either direction, and I completely understand why ours focused more on general visual, audio, and design digital media.
The advice and ideas that were most helpful to my thinking about composition definitely came from in-class discussion amongst my peers. A lot of the times (as I am sure you are very aware of by now) I felt pretty frustrated because I had difficulty figuring out how to start or go about various things throughout the course. I am most definitely not a quitter, so I made it my mission to teach myself each different program or language we were assigned—but knowing I had my classmates to lean on for support/advice (like when Gabi helped explain CSS to me) was very helpful and made me feel relieved. Going off of this, I do wish at some points we took a break from lecture or group time to discuss as a class the specific components of some projects. I came into this introductory course knowing very little about anything on the syllabus/designated lesson plans, so I would have appreciated a little more review or explanation. Yet this is also why I found the extended time I spent in your office hours so helpful. Sometimes it is important to seek individual attention for specific things, especially when a class like ours has some students who know a great deal on certain material while other students are very new to it. I also liked the discussion of classmates work through the workshops because it gave me a chance to see how other people were progressing through the course.
I would say that the strengths of my work for this course really revolved around the hours I spent looking up tutorials and teaching myself how to do certain composition techniques. Although this course was challenging for me in some ways, I really took it upon myself to actually learn what I was doing. For example, when it came to designing my own website for the project proposal, I used both the tutorial you provided as well as other YouTube videos I found to make sure I produced a product that I was proud of and that met all requirements as well as some aspirational goals if possible. I think a more specific strength would be my audio project. I really got into this project and had a lot of fun combining my own voice with themed sounds/music to match my 1930’s musical film theme. Although I talk a lot about feeling some frustrations with a few parts of our composing digital media course, I think this frustration actually helped me improve a lot. It made me motivated to succeed, even if I did not in any way put out the best product. For me, producing an aesthetically pleasing final result that met baseline criteria was exciting, and hitting even one aspirational criterion was a big bonus. I think it is fair to say I definitely could have aimed to reach a little higher, but for a composition course where I came in knowing very little, I am very proud of how much effort I put into my projects and the results I was able to create. Although they did not necessarily resemble the more advanced students, I think composing courses are all about what you as an individual put into them and what you take away.
Looking back on the goals I set for myself at the beginning and middle of the semester, I have been most challenged by the sheer newness of everything. Usually, I enter a class knowing exactly what I will have to do and how to do it (aka writing essays or taking tests) but that is also the beauty of our composing digital media course. I need to remind myself that sometimes it is okay for me to challenge myself, to open myself up to new learning experiences, to put extra effort into assignments. My goals were to successfully complete each assignment on time and with real effort—so I would say I accomplished these goals. Yet now I think I would change them to focus more on content rather than just completion. The thing that surprised me most during this course was how invested everyone was in our class discussion and assignments. This energy really helped me work through each unit and gave me great motivation. I think in terms of a revision in the course structure or assignments, I would suggest slowing down and maybe focusing on two individual assignments (so everyone can get a handle on everything and submit more thorough, successful projects) and then one final group project. The group project is a great addition because it makes student’s bond/use their skills to compose unique digital media platforms. My plans for continuing to develop my digital media skills are to keep pushing myself and using each unit to continue a more detailed understanding of digital media. I also plan to work with or in digital media after college, and I think this course gave me a great foundation that I will use and continue to develop in the future.
Introduction to the specific projects in my portfolio
- Visual (GIMP)
As the first project of the course, the “guiding attention with visuals” assignment definitely made me nervous. I did not know what GIMP was or how to use it in the slightest, but I guess you can say this is where my motivation to succeed in composing digital media began. Yes, I did not know how to use GIMP. But I am very capable of watching tutorials and seeking outside help, so that is how I began my visual journey. I got inspiration from the study abroad postcard you sent around, so I decided to make it my goal to “guide attention” to the idea of traveling the world and exploring different cultures through food. My personal aspirations for this project were to learn how to use GIMP on a beginner level and confidently edit or modify images in an appealing, attention-grabbing way. I spent many hours working my way through GIMP’s various parts/editing options and submitted a few drafts to GitHub until I created a final draft that features a sky background, an airplane, the outlines of Spain and Italy that I found on Google Images after using the tool “labeled for reuse with modification” in order to ensure the pictures are of fair use, my own personal pictures of patatas bravas (Spain) and pizza (Italy), and some text layers. I used the aspirational criteria to saturate and darken the sky so it would not pop out so much, include “University of Pittsburgh Study Abroad Spring 2018” to target a specific audience, and change around my text so it would be more interesting to students deciding whether study abroad is right for them. The visual unit was also when I discovered the various computer issues, but I can confidently say I worked around them to turn in finished products for each unit. Like I said at the end of my unit reflection, “Though I may never be an expert at photo editing, I now have the ability to put what I am slowly learning into practice and creating a successful project at my own standards.”
- Audio (GarageBand)
The audio unit was definitely more entertaining and enjoyable for me personally. I was comfortable in our classroom setting, I felt more confident in my composing skills, and I was ready to continue learning the different aspects of digital media. After going through the hundreds of Word documents on my computer, searching for some inspiration for the audio project, I found a prompt written by myself senior year of high school. This short, casual piece was composed in reaction to various musical films from the 1930’s that I watched in my Film Appreciation class. I began recording this piece on Audacity (the suggested recording platform) but realized I would probably find more success in using GarageBand because I am more familiar with this application. I began by simply recording myself speaking the text—this took a few tries because I wanted to make sure the way I spoke matched the effects I would later insert. Overall, my audio is between one and five minutes long, uses at least three audio tracks (with one of them spoken by me), and it makes significant revisions to a source element more than volume adjustment. My track features seven distinct sounds or songs that play behind my vocal recording, all of which relate to the topic I am discussing at the time of their appearance. I definitely learned a great deal about GarageBand and composing audio digital media, including track editing, fade outs, volume control, specific genres like a podcast, and more.
In terms of aspirational criteria, I believe I applied three effects on audio tracks that were new to me, enacted conventions of the musical genre, and used fairly smooth transitions from topic to topic. My goal was to simply create an audio that sounded pleasant and that combined both musical and verbal elements… and that kind of in a way sounded like a podcast. I feel like in its current state, my audio could pass for a short podcast targeted towards people who really appreciate musicals or film production. However, if I were to make changes to my audio project, I would make it sound more like podcast or an episode within a series. At the beginning, I would say something like “welcome back” and hold a little conversation to engage audiences. At the end, I would add, "thanks for listening to the 1930's response” and then give special shout outs to the artists from SoundCloud whose renditions I used thanks to CC-BY licenses. The four factors of fair use are the purpose and character of your use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use upon the potential market. In this podcast, I am not aiming to make money, I use only short snippets of each SoundCloud segment, I talk about the jazz age, and the nature of the original work is from a movie and I'm using just sound.
- Web Design (Text Wrangler)
The web design unit seemed extremely intimidating at first—after all, learning any new language, let alone HTML and CSS, is extremely difficult. I said in the beginning of the web design unit, “I think I can confidently say that this class has challenged me in ways that no other class has before. And this HTML/CSS/web design unit project is no exception.” But again, I was ready to learn two completely new computer-programming languages, use them to design my own visually appealing website, and pitch out a final project idea to the rest of the class. I made it my mission to follow along with the given tutorials, find other tutorials on YouTube that share more advanced steps, and work to create a web page I could confidently display to my colleagues. So in reflecting on the process of creating the website, I would say my initial goal was to make sure it was detailed and readable while also containing some elements that make it stand out from other examples. Most of my HTML knowledge came from the “Interneting is Hard” tutorial you provided for us to complete outside of class. I walked through the steps to create a basic, simple web page that made me feel more confident in my web designing skills. My motivation behind these HTML elements was simplicity but also adding in fun, aspirational elements like the links to Pitt social media sites. For the CSS Layer, I took to the Web Design in 4 Minutes tutorial by Jeremy Thomas in order to style my already written HTML content using CSS rules. I know I am significantly better at HTML than CSS, but I think overall my web page was both visually appealing and successful in terms of its content. Overall, my project meets the criteria and exceeds it with the addition of links and my attempt at some advanced CSS tricks. I learned a lot about web design through trial and error, something I think will probably help me in the future as an aspiring publicist/social media strategist.
- Collaborative Project (WordPress)
I am not the biggest fan of group projects, but I truly enjoyed working with my Pittsburgh Food Guide group to create a WordPress site. All six of us worked individually to research and find outsourced information on restaurants/food options in seven distinct neighborhoods in the Greater Pittsburgh area— Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Strip District, Lawrenceville, and Downtown. We took this information, mostly sourced from Yelp or the restaurant’s individual websites, and compiled them into a Google Slides document. Then we came together to format it into a WordPress website. This WordPress site was developed using a themed template/layout, because none of us are completely fluent in computer programming language like HTML and CSS. We also each took pictures of three restaurants from our assigned neighborhoods and included them on our website (these pictures were captured by us so copyright infringement is not a thing). Overall, this project works to provide Pittsburgh student locals with a one-stop-shop for mostly affordable food options nearby. We stepped outside our comfort zones by administering, composing the content for, and managing a WordPress page. We formatted the site to have a horizontal navigation menu, a cohesive design scheme, an “about me” page, a standout logo that attracts in readers, and 70 different restaurants (10 from each neighborhood). We worked to maintain a specific genre targeted to a specific demographic (college students) throughout the WordPress website. Additionally, we focused on the design elements we learned about the beginning of our composing digital media class to make our website visually appealing and cohesive. Our roles and responsibilities definitely could have been more defined, but I think the way we separated into different neighborhoods allowed for greater focus and have us each something to work on. If we had more time, I would love have continued work on the site and made it into something Pittsburgh college students actually use when determining which restaurant to go to for any given occasion or in any given neighborhood.
Our website uses the design elements we worked on in class all along (alignment, contrast, emphasis, etc.), has a single portal for delivery, and cohesively brings together the work of multiple people because of our consistent style, tense, color palette, etc. In terms of aspirational criteria, we definitely worked to develop new skills and an understanding of digital media and, if published to the public, would attract a following outside of our class. Although group projects can be hard—especially when the group contains six people—I really appreciated the efforts all group members put in to getting this project completed for presentation (especially Jappmann, the brains behind this idea). I do think an Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media account would have brought our project to the next level as well. But overall, this website was a great learning experience, especially in terms of knowing how to reach a target audience using different components of digital media.
IN CONCLUSION… as you can see, I did not edit any submissions for the individual projects. Also, the GitHub repositories are not as developed as I am sure other students' because of my very elderly computer. Although each one obviously needs work to meet additional aspirational criteria (and just because they can be generally improved as mentioned in some of the project introductions) I truly believe the work I put into each unit reflects how passionate I am about digital media and how hard I worked to make sure I could submit a product I was proud of. I learned a great deal from GIMP, GarageBand, TextWrangler, HTML/CSS, and all the other things I practiced during this semester, which I think shows my efforts for this composition course. Not everyone in our class is on the same level (some like me were beginners, some were far more advanced), which is what makes composition classes difficult sometimes. But I think we all successfully helped each other to learn even more and had a great time doing so. I hope you understand my final prose portfolio, and can appreciate my final project files for all they are worth. I really ended up enjoying this course, and thank you for being so patient with me.
All the best,