Advice from my students on nurturing work


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by Hypercoregz

Recently the Communications Technology program has been growing quite a bit, so much so that I’ve been able to offer and teach our portfolio course, CT 399, for upper level majors every fall and spring semester. The course is a single credit two hour lab which is really great as I tend to know all the students quiet well at this point in their academic careers. The students prepare for the two capstone components – a thesis project and the internship – as well as (re)craft an online portfolio.

We discuss quiet a bit (here, here, and here) how much the online portfolio can overlap with one’s digital presence and how varied the approaches can be to maintain them. This semester a student suggested he wished many of these ideas might have been discussed in the freshman course CT 101 Digital Storytelling, which is heavily inspired by UMW’s DS106 course. Everyone in that class gets a domain name, web hosting account, and installs an instance of WordPress. They post work and reflect on it, hook social media with plugins, and begin working on their “Personal Cyberinfrastructure.”

But in the intervening semesters and courses taken between CT 101 and CT 399, many students let their domains and web hosting accounts lapse, often without even archiving their work. It’s definitely a program gap on our part, not supporting the infrastructure for and with the students as well as regularly communicating the values behind maintaining their work.. We’re going to work harder on that by partnering with Reclaim Hosting to sort out a ways to do this more easily on a technological perspective.

In the meantime, my CT 399 students came up with a bunch of advice they’d like to pass on to the CT 101 students as they are setting out on their academic careers. Here it goes:

  1. Maintain your domain, your site, and your web hosting account. If you get an email regarding deadlines to renew, don’t wait until the last minute to respond. If you’re hosting account is with Reclaim Hosting, and you’re still a CT major at York you probably can get a free renewal. Talk to your Professors! Otherwise it’s only $25 a year, so splurge on your future!
  2. Keep adding work to your site. Add work and posts from other classes. If another CT course uses a WP site, ask your professor if you can feed posts from your personal blog. If that’s not possible double post to the course site and your site. Don’t necessarily worry about how finished the work is right now – add it and write about where your process is right now. You can always go back and rework it.
  3. What you make outside of class is as important as what you make for class. And often the work you personally choose to do is even more important. Add this work to your site. See number 2 regarding whether you feel it is ‘finished.’ This work is you steering your own path and can really be a guide to where your interests truly lie.
  4. Take responsibility for your work, develop sustainable working habits. This is probably the most important one to consider and we actually fleshed out ideas to support this more extensively below. Bottom line is to find ways to hold yourself accountable for making and reflecting on your work. Don’t feel like you have to do this alone. Join the CT club which meets every Tues/Thurs 12-2PM. Come in for Meme Fridays on a Friday afternoon. Make with others, whether on a collaborative project or simply side-by-side. Don’t feel like it has to happen in one day. Just keep at it.


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by mugwumpian

This final prompt from the CT 399 portfolio students to the just starting CT 101 students was expanded upon under the oxymoronic idea of “constructive procrastination.” Many of the students describe big project ideas and the desire to complete them. And they often get down on themselves for endlessly postponing the work and not getting it done. But in discussing what foundations are needed to make big projects, research and small creative acts – which might be mistaken as delaying and avoiding ‘important work’ – turn out to be the very things students should be doing. We even came up with a hierarchical taxonomy of forms of constructive procrastination. It starts with simple organization of interests and taste, to reworking/remixing, and this finally leads to the planning for larger projects.

  1. Considering content that already excites you. Instead of just consuming content, think about how it’s constructed technically or how story/characters/themes are crafted. Form an opinion about how choices are made. This is you identifying your tastes.
  2. Organizing/archiving interesting content, opinions, tutorials, etc. There are many activities that can fall under this idea. Use bookmarks local and/or social (Delicious, Diigo) and organize content that inspires you by tags. Re-organize existing archives of interest such as a music library, by themes, eras, artists, etc. These activities are the seeds for research skills.
  3. Light habits of making. While watching that movie for the tenth time on your computer, cut out pieces and make some animated GIFs – reaction GIFs, perfect loops, add captions, make lots! Creative/reflective writing of any form for any purpose – diaries, poems, critiques, opinions, a reddit post title – anything you write counts. Doodling, sketching of course! Shooting photos from your phone/SLR with intention beyond simply documenting a moment – selfie/friends/family (though those can actually count too). Crafting a playlist of music for a particular person and/or purpose. All of these activities help develop hard skills and showcase your taste.
  4. Constructed Experiments. Shoot your first green screen, figure out how to remove it, and add a background. Figure out the time lapse function on your DSLR or use a specific time lapse app on a phone and shoot a number of them. Edit an image with a new piece of software or develop you existing techniques. Re-work existing personal pieces/projects with a new tools and techniques or simply a different sensibility. Tear down a tool or technology with the intention of upgrading and/or improving it. Rework a piece of writing for a new purpose. Write a blog post about your process for a particular project. Create a tutorial via screen capture, or video of your process. All of these experiments and activities are directed and lead to a better understanding of how to build on existing methods to produce work.

These four sets of activities, ones that students may not have easily considered as part of their working process really do support the foundations for larger planned projects. All can help form good habits of making, that you can lean on at various levels when you are struggling. It’s all practice and that’s where the great work comes from, a sustained pursuit which you can’t let go.

About the Author

Profile photo of Michael Branson Smith Michael Smith is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Communications Technology program at York College. Prof. Smith hosts a personal digital archive project blog on Commons titled It Cannot Be Trivial.