Taking Inspiration

6 mins reading

Right now I’m sitting on a train heading into the city amidst an ongoing national bushfire crisis and a steady stream of no longer ironic predictions regarding Donald Trump starting World War III. I won’t deny there was a temptation to skip tonight’s Melbourne Media Makers networking event given the broader context of human (and non-human) affairs. But as my good friend and Holocaust survivor Phillip Maisel once said to me in a video we made together, the present day preference for war and destruction should always be surpassed where possible by creation. So perhaps today is as fitting a moment as any to meet some other locals passionate about making media.

Recent community responses – on a local, national, and global scale – to the decimation of much of Australia’s forests and wildlife have inspired countless people. So my weeks-old plan to make my first Digital Learning blog of 2020 around the theme of taking inspiration from others might be well-timed in this sense too. For this post, I want to reflect on three stories that I happened across in the later months of last year…

Inspiring Teachers

In early December, I teamed up with Emily Wade to deliver a session at the School of Education’s end-of-year meeting, which was held at Deakin University’s Geelong Waurn Ponds campus. Our presentation was called ‘There and Back Again: Harnessing Social Media for Research, Teaching, and Community Engagement’, and we used the opportunity to cover everything from how to deal with online trolls, to the need to push back against dystopian attitudes toward social media, to the changing nature of ‘authentic’ performances when making video.

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Emily Wade offers a few brief thoughts on cyberbullying…

Aware that a certain ambivalence toward digital technologies is common in any School or Faculty, it seemed a particularly compelling way to finish things off with an inspiring story from a recent graduate. The protagonist of this story, an enthusiastic educator of the future, had found herself being given conflicting advice about using social media throughout her degree – ranging from stern warnings to shun any public online presence, to strong encouragement to build an active professional-personal network and portfolio.

When Emma Enticott scored a terrific full-time position, she tweeted a short video to express her excitement and thank her professional learning network for the support and guidance she had received. As you can see from the stats below, Emma got an encouraging response. Imagine starting a new job – invariably an intimidating affair at the best of times – with this kind of wind at your sails…

Emma Enticott
Tweet by @Emma_On_Tap, captured with permission.

We talk a lot about the need for teachers to inspire their students, and rightly so. But it was nice to be able to use this story to provoke and inspire almost 100 colleagues passionate about teaching and learning to perhaps, at least in some ways, think about digital media differently. Emma was thrilled at having her ‘little tweet’ used in this way, just as I’m sure she was thrilled to receive so much engagement and encouragement from her peers across the sector – both before and after she shared this post.

You can find out more about and from Emma in this Digital Learning podcast.

I technically haven’t spoken with Emma since recording this, but as I told the audience at the end of the presentation, she’s doing well. I know this because Emma loves what she’s doing. I know because Emma continues to tweet. And I know because Emma inspired a lot of people in that meeting of Education lecturers, where the student suddenly became the teacher.

Inspiring Students

The second inspiration-themed story belongs to my co-presenter at the above-mentioned presentation, Emily Wade. In 2019, Emily broke new ground in becoming the first ever sessional staff member at Deakin to win the highly competitive Faculty of Arts and Education Award for Teaching Excellence. Unfortunately Emily couldn’t make it to the official awards ceremony, but it turned out to be a far more fitting celebration to make a TikTok with the students she inspires in and outside the classroom.

For most of the students in the room, this was undoubtedly the first TikTok they had ever participated in. They got to experience the process of improvising in an unscripted collaborative media production, witness a modest teacher (Emily) being thrown out of her comfort zone, and watch someone else (me) making it all up as I went along – i.e. learning by doing.

Most importantly, inspiration works both ways. On the one hand, Emily received this award for ‘teaching approaches that influence, motivate, and inspire students to learn ’, and separate from the impact of her teaching, I’m sure that seeing Emily rewarded for her efforts firsthand gave students in the room (and online) an extra boost. On the other hand, Emily is the first person to say that she’s constantly surprised and energised by what students do…

Giving inspiration is always intertwined with taking it. You can find out more about and from Emily on this podcast.

Inspiring Yourself

By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote…. The divine gift is ever the instant life, which receives and uses and creates, and can well bury the old in the omnipotency with which Nature decomposes all her harvest for recomposition.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 19th Century essay on ‘Quotation and Originality‘ makes clear, that which is new is always drawn irrevocably from that which has come before. This process remains identical in the digital world of the 21st Century, something that moments of media-making continue to remind me of. This was especially the case during one chance encounter I had when walking down Collins St in Melbourne, which explains the origins of this blog’s featured image.

Heading toward Southern Cross Station, I paused when I saw a woman using the side of a glass-walled building to take a beautiful reflection shot of the cityscape. Calling on every bit of non-creepiness I could muster, I politely introduced myself, explained what I did for a living, and asked if she would mind me taking a photograph of her taking her photograph. This friendly person not only agreed with good humour, but humbly claimed she wasn’t very good at taking pictures… I disagreed.

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This moment – this human moment – was only made possible with and through twin acts of media creation: spontaneous but strategic, similar but different, individual but collaborative. Before that moment, I had just participated in a difficult meeting. In that moment, I took inspiration from a stranger.

It can be inspiring to quote from people, when you do it in a genuine way. I remember repeatedly loaning a book of quotations called Writers on Writing out from the university library when I was a first year student and meticulously copying down each and every one that inspired me on a notepad. As I worked my way through it, I wrote down almost every one.

Writers on Writing.jpg

I distinctly remember the joy I found in doing this. The method has changed – now I ‘quote’ people by embedding their media or recording their thoughts in a podcast or taking a photograph of them doing the same – but I’m still taking inspiration from others, and being inspired myself in the process.

Resolve

So that’s enough positive stories from me. As a new year and a new decade opens before us, with profound difficulties already presenting themselves, we’re now confronted with the challenge of looking for the opportunities. Facing us are some crucial, but hardly new, questions: Where do we find inspiration? How do we inspire ourselves by building on the inspiration of others? And how do we use that to inspire others in return?

I don’t tend to make ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ – I make and break enough resolutions throughout the year to keep me busy. But resolving to set our sights on taking and giving inspiration is always a worthwhile venture…

Of course, that final story involving a stranger and her phone didn’t have to go the way it did. I could have simply waited for the woman to depart, ‘stolen’ her idea, and taken the picture as ‘my own’. But where would the fun – and the inspiration – be in that??

*          *          *

Okay, just one more story.

 

Reference

Emerson, RW 1981, ‘Quotation and Originality’, in The Complete Prose Works, Ward, Lock and Co., London.

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