approaching the finish line: project update

Finally, I have found the time to write a long overdue update on my work, or as I like to put it, “what I’ve been up to for the past six months” (this also reads well as “why you may not have heard from me in half a year”).

In my post “media making: my MA project” I described the goals of my project, a little bit about the method, and some of my anxieties about the upcoming work both in terms of my own abilities and knowledge and in working with participants. My participants’ privacy continues to be very important to me, but their willingness to share in the project means I can give a little more detail about them, which I feel is important to why this work is valuable. Rather than describe this here, since my work is largely based on using images to tell a story, I think it’s fitting that my friend and fellow MA candidate Loren Aytona designed a fantastic infographic-style poster that describes my work and goals:

LOREN SSHRC FINAL IMAGE Media Making

I need not have worried about the project’s potential: my participants were more than willing and incredibly enthusiastic. I was able to work alongside them and see their confidence grow as they approached the challenges of taking on projects they had never done before. It’s hard to imagine myself back in the proposal stage, wondering whether the project I had designed would be worthwhile, because I am now so touched by my experiences with these young women, and so thrilled with their work and engagement with me and my work.

In September I had my first meeting with the participants, and some of my nerves came out, but overall it was exciting and the gears started turning. By October we were in full throttle and I was working one-on-one with students on their digital stories, projects that use photos, video, music, and narration in combination to tell personal stories with action-oriented messages and lessons. Through November and December I continued to work one-on-one with students, and a total of 11 young women finished their digital stories with me, and while we worked I interviewed them about their work, what they were learning, and what sort of impacts or insights they saw coming out of this work. Their reflections were insightful, thought-provoking, and profound; the discussions ranged from their inspirations for the messages in their work, overcoming obstacles, gaining new skills, and connecting to their community and peers.

One of the greatest achievements of the work was seeing the young women take their new skills and confidence further. They came up with new projects to pursue, like a collaborative video project that involved the students and staff in their school and generated a discussion about community and support. One student took on a director’s role and when we put the video together from her footage, she was thrilled with the way she could see her plan move from her storyboard to the finished product. Here, the young women took on an initiative and were inspired by seeing their individual work and the power of images and storytelling.

photo

My participants really blew me away with their openness and
willingness to participate and share with me,
and very sweetly surprised me with a (massive) Christmas card in December. 

The students were proud of their work and it felt pretty great to see them share their work with each other, offering support and enthusiastic responses to everyone’s unique vision materialized. Feeling confident in their successes, in January the group organized a Media Festival where they invited community members and supporters to the school to view their projects, which prompted a really interesting discussion and gave them the spotlight to each share and talk about their work.

After finishing the project with the Media Festival and a final debrief about it all, January meant taking all the work, research, observations, interviews, and reflections from September to January and describing this process of learning in my final paper. This was probably equally as daunting, exciting, and challenging a task as the initial hands-on workshop. Gathering up all the different pieces of writing I’d produced since June from my proposal, a course paper, research notes, and my reflections after each meeting, I set to writing my first draft.

It was also time to make the website which was the final product coming out of my work, a space to house and celebrate the work completed by the class I worked with. The site describes and displays all the different assignments featured and created as part of the workshop, from digital stories to crafting to videos to alternative advertisements. The website stands as a simple piece yet the content is what counts: I shared the site with the students and they were thrilled to see their work in one place, and to able to see each others’ stories. A particular highlight was when they listened to audio interview clips I included on the website, were the young women provided some profound insights into the process and content of  their work; in hearing these, the students declared it really gave them a sense of understanding each other and feeling proud in each others’ successes.

Although so far my project website is a private blog which only the students and staff involved have access to, the school has truly been supportive of the project and is currently looking into how the website can be used throughout the school and perhaps beyond. The potential for sustaining an online community is there, which is an initial, broader goal of mine in this project.

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The multiple-week process of writing involved reflecting on what I have learned both about participatory work, my own anticipations versus the results, and integrating the key sources and ideas from a range of fields that all intersect in this project. I gathered the various writing I had done so far, from my proposal, course papers, interview transcripts, and reflections and found I had an ever-expanding catalogue of ideas. Being realistic about the scope of the paper was probably the trickiest part – I had so many things I wanted to cover that overwhelmed the scope of what I really could discuss. A careful process of selection brought be back to the ground and I finally pulled off the first draft, which is currently in my supervisor’s hands. Now I play the waiting game until my first set of revisions which will, barring any major faults, hopefully set me off into the next stages of revision and receiving more feedback from other supervisors.

With the major (read: all-consuming) work completed or at least very close, it’s hard to believe that by April I will be defending my work and completing my MA degree at York and Ryerson Universities. While I hope a PhD is in my future, for the more immediate “now”, what’s next is a mystery, which I am (a little nervously) looking forward to. My experience working with these young women and designing and implementing this project has been incredibly rewarding and I feel confident in its impacts for my participants as well as myself. The openness and enthusiasm of my participants really can’t be understated, and I am looking forward to keeping in contact with them and seeing where the project might extend into the future.