Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 Navajo Oral History projects are nearly finished

We had another class meeting on Friday, June 25, and viewed all the projects. A few of them are done, and a few more need just a little work on the audio track or some tweaking to the edits and transitions.

These students are working hard to create projects focused on the lives and accomplishments of their feature Navajo elders. I know they take their work seriously and being picky and obsessive about getting the stories right. They want the elders to be proud of the work.
I'm proud of all the students.

I've asked them to make their final edits and get the finished versions to me in the next week so I can start the process of mastering the burn discs, then ordering the professionally duplicated versions. Each student will get copies of the DVDs so they can share their hard work with their families and friends. And we'll be placing copies at both the Diné College and Winona State University Libraries. In addition, the pieces will be archived at the Navajo Nation Museum and the Navajo Nation Library.

As soon as we are sure the pieces are complete and in ready-to-publish form, we'll be posting the media-friendly versions on I plan to post links to the finished pieces right here on this blog.

We'll also be planning receptions to premiere the works both in Winona and in Tsaile, Arizona, home of the Diné College main campus. Those receptions will probably happen in September, or perhaps early October.

Thanks for reading and staying interested in this important project.

-- Tom Grier

Friday, June 11, 2010

2nd Drafts - Class Peer Evaluation

Today (Friday, June 11, 2010), was the second class meeting for members of the 2010 Navajo Oral History program. Following our two weeks of work in the field in May, the students have been working on editing their photos and videos and putting them together into documentary projects.

The student teams are creating a Living History feature about a Navajo elder that they interviewed several times. The Living History piece will sum up the highlights of the lives of the elders in about 10-15 minutes.

Each group will also create a shorter-- 3-5 minute-- media piece about their elder. The media pieces are designed to focus on one main highlight or story about the elder, and to be very tightly edited to maintain viewer interest while watching in an on-line video streaming environment.

For today's class meeting, three of the four groups had projects to show in a second draft format. In a process known as peer evaluation, everyone in the class watches each draft project and makes notes. Then everyone shares their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.

In general, each project goes through 2-3-4 drafts before it is finalized. This requires a lot of time and commitment from the students, but in the end results in a much better piece that can stand the test of time.

For class, we once again connected two classrooms-- one at Winona State University in Minnesota and one at Diné College in Arizona-- via Interactive Television, so we could simultaneously watch the projects and then comment to each other.

The drafts of the projects are really looking good. I'm so impressed with the quality of the video and photography, and the narration and thematic transitions that help tell the story to viewers.

This is the part where the adrenaline starts pumping as the students go through hours and hours of gathered video, text and photos and finds a way to weave it all together into a narrative storyline that accurately and respectfully reveals the life of a Navajo elder. It's a communication art, that takes skill with the equipment and software and a sense of passion and compassion for the story.

This is also where the students learn so much about the process of documentary journalism. These finished pieces will really stand out in their portfolios and should be a big help when they apply for jobs or for admission to graduate school.

I know many people reading this blog would love to see some of the work now, but I'll ask you to be patient. We want to be sure the pieces are complete and professional before we release them. When they are complete, each student will receive copies of all the projects, and we'll post the shorter media pieces on the WSU Mass Communication department's web site:

If you'd like, you can go to right now and search for last year's Navajo Oral History projects and watch those, to get an idea of the quality of the student-created documentaries.

We have another class schedule for next Friday (June 18) to take a look at more of the drafts.

Thanks again for reading and following our class progress.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First Drafts Look Good

The 2010 Navajo Oral History Project class members met on Friday, June 4, to look at first drafts of the projects and participate in peer evaluation.

On Friday morning, students gathered in a classroom at Winona State University in Winona, Minn., and in another classroom at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. The two classrooms were connected via Interactive Television (ITV) so the students could see and talk to each other, and view drafts of their documentary projects.

The four student teams are creating documentary features focused on four Navajo elders. Each team was nearly done with the short (3-5 minute) Media Feature project. They each will then complete a slightly longer (9-15 minute) Living History Feature.

The Living History Features will tell a bit more about each elder's life and family and a few things that are most important to each elder. The Media Features are designed to be more focused on one topic or issue.

The students have found it's quite a challenge to work on projects when team members are dispersed across the country. They have found ways to make it work, meeting and working together in person when it was possible, and using electronic ways of meeting when needed.

The first drafts of the projects look great. The personality of each elder is evident and the students are taking great care to present information about their elders accurately while maintaining interest of the viewers.
The class will meet each Friday for the next several weeks to continue to get peer input on their projects.

Once the documentaries are complete, premiere receptions will be planned at both Diné College and Winona State University-- probably in September-- to debut the projects and celebrate the work of the student teams.

The faculty members of this class, Dr. Miranda Haskie of Diné College, and me-- Dr. Tom Grier of Winona State University-- are very pleased with the student's dedication and hard work.

Thanks for reading and following the progress of this year's Navajo Oral History Project.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Return Day 3 - June 1, 2010

I made it back home to Winona today (Tuesday, June 1, 2010).

I woke up this morning in Wahoo, Neb., and checked the Weather outlook. It wasn't good. There were storms moving into Nebraska and Iowa from the west. They were moving fast, and had the potential to become serious.

I jumped into the van and got going quickly to try to stay ahead of the storms.

Throughout the day, I kept listening to local radio to get updates. At one point, there was a tornado warning in western Iowa, about 12 miles north of where I was -- exactly where I was headed. I could see the really dark clouds, and the wind was really pushing the big rental van I was driving. But I did not see a wall cloud, or any rotation like they were saying on the radio.

I stopped in a small town for a little while, worried that if I kept going I might catch up with the worst part of the storm. Then I heard there was another strong storm cell moving in from Nebraska, only 40-50 miles to my southwest. This one also had been spawning tornadoes.

I kind of felt like a storm chaser in reverse -- I was trying to avoid the storms, or outrun them.

I guess I somehow zipped right between the two storms, because I only had a little rain and wind for a few miles here and there during my 11 hours of driving.

In Blair, Nebraska, I drove past a combination KFC and Taco Bell.

I took a photo to share here for the students from both this year's trip, and last year's.

Seeing this building caused me to start singing in my head the song that the 2009 students introduced me to, when they saw a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in Window Rock, Arizona. This song then got stuck in all of our heads during our two weeks on the Navajo Nation this summer. Since KFC and Pizza Hut have the same number of syllables, it works.

So, now, here it is stuck in our heads again ... with a slight variation.

Now that I'm home, I have piles of equipment and luggage to wade through and I need to prepare for our wrap-up class this Friday morning. After that, it won't be long until we can see the finished documentaries of the 2010 Navajo Oral History project.

-- Tom Grier