OK, so I’ve been on paternity leave enjoying some quiet time with my ever growing family, and as a result the bava as well as my general annoying presence online has been limited as a result. But, despite that, I’ve been developing (while at the same time teaching) a course titled Digital Storytelling for the Computer Science department here at UMW, and we are now in our second week. I’m pretty excited about this course because I’m actually shaping it as an experiment that focuses upon cultivating one’s online presence, or digital identity if you will, as a mode and means of storytelling.
So, rather than focusing specifically on the art of storytelling with digital media from the outset, I’ve started off with a slightly different approach that each student should start of with a space of their own to manage and consider the implications of becoming the owner of their own story. Of take some responsibility and possession of the work they will do for the next 15 weeks, and to this end each student has signed-up for their own web hosting service and domain as a means to create their own storytelling/experimental platform. A domain of their own, or to quote Gardner Campbell’s essay on the topic, “A Personal Cyber Infrastructure.” No that can not be all for a digital storytelling class, but from the outset it actually frames their work in getting familiar with a digital environment like a LAMP server and various open source applications as a means to understand through experimentation and tinkering how the process of publishing as well as the to manage their online lives for themselves is very much within their control.
I really don’t know if this is the right approach, and I’m actually basing this experiment as much on our work at UMW’s DTLT as on my own development with open source applications and web hosting back in 2004/2005—thanks to Zach Davis and his very innovative Hosting Co-Operative—in which I got a LAMP account with CPanel for 3 bucks a month and was able to experiment with basic code, open source apps as well as get my head around DNS settings, FTPing files, server management, and everything else that comes with managing one’s own little piece of the web. There is no question in my mind that Zach’s work with Hosting Cooperative (as well as his introducing me to WordPress as well as tutoring me on what XML, PHP, and Apache actually meant) got me my job at UMW, and I’m wondering if learning some of this stuff with a simultaneously technical, practical, and conceptual approach might help everyone in the class get a sense of the power and possibility that lays at the heart of a domain of one’s own. So not only is it an experiment, but it’s one that extrapolates its value from my own experience which may make it doubly flawed and problematic, nonetheless I think it may have some value in the end. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to read posts like this that suggests learning a bit of code and how the web works both generally and specifically may not only be useful, but increasingly essential to a sense of cultural and personal literacy as we move forward (via Joss Winn).
I have much more to say about the idea behind the class, but this will come out over time given that my process throughout the class will be a focus on narrating what we are doing, how and why I’m approaching certain topics in certain ways, as well as sharing the resources we create as both individuals and a class. In many ways my own digital story got started around the process of figuring how to actually manage my online hosting space, as well as hacking and experimenting with open source applications like WordPress. My narrative is very much one of becoming in relationship to a series of applications and processes I had to learn in relation to and with others, and I really hope this class follow a similar pattern for everyone involved. And that is not to say the process has to be one of technical detail and explanation, but rather a way for everyone to capture their thinking and reflection as they approach a series of topics, issues, and challenges—all of which has the added benefit of a pre-fabricated community of classmates to provide feedback, support, and share their own successes and failures—not to mention the world wide web which looms larger in this class than probably any of us really understand just yet. That’s what my education online has looked like, and I wonder if we can capture some small part of the power of such a process over the next 15 weeks. I’m not sure, but one can dream.