ds106 as an open and online experiment

Well, I am wrapping up the second iteration of the Digital Storytelling course (ds106) I’ve been teaching this semester, and I have to say it has been a lot of fun. i think I have honed my approach to the course a bit more tightly this semester, and while this run through was still pretty loose, I think I’m ready for the Spring courses. Plural because I’ll be teaching two come January. One which will be offered on UMW’s campus Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-7:15 in an actual classroom–a physical space. The other is an entirely online course. I’m pretty excited about that, and as much as I talk all sorts of smack about edtech and online learning, this will be my first foray teaching an entirely online course. I’m a bit nervous, but at the same time I am lucky to be part of a network that has been doing some pretty awesome experimentation with bringing the social, networked experience into the totally online course.

Alec Couros has been blazing a path with this for years, and his recent EC&1 831 course is a model I will be shamelessly aping in terms of featuring work and allowing for an open platform for one and all. And then there’s the fearless Canadian triumvirate Dave Cormier, George Siemens and Stephen Downes that are now working on their third iteration of a totally open and online course—not to mention massive! But lest you think all the innovation in edtech is coming from Canada, David Wiley had some fun with this back in the day (so not all just 99.9% of the innovation—damn Canadians! ). And even closer to home, Gardner Campbell has been experimenting with a model for his New Media developmental seminar that he frames brilliantly here—it’s an exciting time for imagining new ways of using social media to rethink online education, and there are no shortage of great examples. I point to a few here, but I am sure I’m missing many, many more.

So what I want to do with ds106 is by no means new, and I have the examples to steal from and hopefully build on. That said, I’m still a bit nervous because I’m totally unorganized, and I don’t really see myself as a leader of such a class. I don’t necessarily want people to sign-up and then be like, “Hey. what’s next?”—though I know there will be some of that. I’d rather people get into the idea of creating and sharing narratives using digital media as a way to interrogate this space, while all the while producing something on a regular (or irregular) basis. I’m not thinking of this so much as a course as I am a series of prompts, possibilities, and people sharing their process within a specific period of time.

I think the “break through” I had—if you can call it that at all—happened when I used Alan Levine’s idea (isn’t everything an Alan Levine idea?) to build the Daily Shoot assignments/prompts as an entire week of my class this term. It was an amazing week of learning and sharing in that it all had so little to do with me, but everything with having a guy like Alan in my network recommending stuff to me on a daily basis. I loosely organized the assignment by saying:

You have to take a different picture everyday for the next 8 days, and you will find the prompts here. Be sure to post the photos on Flickr, use these tags, and then blog it. Also, you need to comment on each others work you philistines!

Or something to that effect, the whole thing simply piggybacked on the dailyshoot assignments that other people created—none of which was mine, but at the same time it was the favorite week of the semester for so many students—and was generative in helping them decide on their digital story project for the semester. Even if I wanted to pretend I had something to do with it, I can’t, and what’s more I didn’t. I went ahead and took the daily photos just like them, and I shared my process just like them. And it worked beautifully!

Being part of the creative act and the ongoing distributed commentary between and amongst the class on each others photos for that week changed the way I approached the course for the rest of the semester, and in many ways continues to inform my idea for the totally online and open version of this course. The Daily Shoot is the model I want to use for the online course for each and every assignment—I think it is brilliant, and there is no question that it uses the best elements at the heart of the generative, distributed and collaborative web, in other words the social web. This class will try and marry the social to the creative in an entirely online environment, and Daily Shoot is the model. But here is my plea, who wants to help run/develop this? I can offer no money, and to be clear I am being paid by UMW to teach this course as an online course. What I am looking for is people who want to set aside a protracted period of time to create, explore, and comment on the work of others, and hopefully help me design from this course shell something that looks like this for each of the assignments:

I am fortunate enough to have Martha Burtis teaching her own section of ds106 this semester, and she has already given me a ton of ideas. More than that, she is building a site that will aggregate examples of digital stories based on a given assignment using tags, etc. It will become a resource for featuring the examples students are finding of any given examples/theme we might be talking about. Now what we need is a way to provide a space like Daily Shoot so that we can see the work of all participants for a particular assignment on a given day. I want it to be visual like DailyShoot, and I know a bunch of people have offered their expertise with this, so I am now calling those offers in. Who wants to form a working group and see how we might do this in about one month?

Finally, I know what it is like to get excited about an open course and not actually do it. I did that for all three open course I signed up for. That said, I followed along at my own pace and did my own thinking and blogging as a direct, or at times indirect, response to those courses. So I am not looking for anything in the way of commitment, just the willingness to create things you might be interested in.

I’m obviously not done thinking this through, and I need all the help I can get, but this is a good beginning, and given I have but a brief “About” page and 6 or 7 assignments up on the new ds106 home (not to mention I themed MediaWiki for the TwentyTen theme) I believe it is a good start. It can be done, and it can be done in a way that is creative, part of our daily work flow, and, most of all, a way to bring together a community of folks to encourage the act of producing stories in all kinds of forms. I hope you can help.

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40 Responses to ds106 as an open and online experiment

  1. Alan Levine says:

    I’m in. I am hoping this will be the first open course I stick with, as for previous ones I have been a regular OCDO (Open Course Drop Out). I’d like to promote this to the NMC folks too, especially those text loving people you admire.

    You can count on me to try and pitch in, not just cause I love ya, but I believe in what you are doing. I think with the remore participants, you may need to make extra extra redundantly repeatedly clear that they will have to be super independent to do this. I would set an extra requirement on the open students is the part of providing peer feedback to others, since you cannot watch everyone’s creations (though you may try).

    And damn, that integration with MediaWiki is smooth! I gave up a while ago on MW because it was usually so butt ugly.

    And we will all be tweeting “Nobody tells stories like #ds106 participants, NOBODY”

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  3. I’ll help if I can, unreconstructed text-lover that I am.

    Great reflections, sir Bava.

  4. Reverend says:

    I think that is an excellent point about being clear. And for my next element of preparation, i am going to prepare the enrolled students for this online course at UMW just what they are getting into. it should help me reinforce that idea, and also allow them to decide if this is really what they want or not.

    I also like the idea of peer feedback as a requirement, and that will flow nicely from the previous ds106, where we discussed ideas about commenting, and where your week of blogging vacation to comment comes up again and again. Also the reinforcement that commenting is blogging, and it is expected.

    Another thing is perhaps a make shift tech forum for those who are getting their groove on with webhosting and domain stuff. part of this class is thinking about that idea, and actually helping them do it. I am wondering whether a tech forum associated with the site might be useful, or if it is becoming centralized, application clutter hell. i am wondering, but in ds106 in person, the actual working through CPanel, databases, add on domains, subdomains, etc. Takes some time in person, maybe worse (or better) online–we’ll see.

    The other thing is using the wiki for tech tutorials. i have a ton for these, and would love to start create some kind of organized space where people can consult them, help flesh them out, and simply build useful documentation and resources as a class that anyone can find in use as it relates to setting up your own site and mapping a domain. Once again though, that information is already online and wonder how much it needs be repeated here.

    Another idea I had was looking at the Digital Storytelling wikipedia article and editing that as a kind of introduction to the idea a sa class. Not so much take it over as read a bit about it, discuss it, and then come together to frame it more clearly and add some of our ideas to Wikipedia. May be a nice text based intro to bring Bryan Alexander along 🙂

    I am ready to see your gothic mashup? And whether you have time or not for this course, you have always been the caretaker of ds106, Mr Alexander. I should know, I have always been here 😉 That said it could be fun, or you could develop an acute case of cabin fever.

  5. cljennings says:

    Wow. Look what happened in my reader while I was busy doing other stuff.

    With all the storytelling jedi master’s in here, who could resist? While I would love to join in the ‘making’ part of the course prep Jim, I don’t think I have quite the technical chops to shepherd. But I sure do want to be counted in the flock to see where you guys are going/will end up. So, I’ll be in, following along…I’ll be an end-user/padawan learner!

    May the storytelling force be with you!

  6. Reverend says:


    Your comment reminds me of this mashup:

    Or maybe Grant Potter’s rotoscoping post:

    I love the whole conceit of becoming a Jedi storyteller—I want to be Darth Vader.

  7. I’m happy to help in anyway I can. Sounds exciting.

  8. cljennings says:

    Gotta love Mandy Patinkin with a light saber!
    Hmmm…, or Darth Bava-sidious – kinda has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

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  10. Tom says:

    I am in. I need a different kind of chaos in my life.

    I also pitched the course out to all the ITRTs in Henrico. We’ll see if any bite.

    I also want to book you to appear in the two UR courses I’m doing next semester. Skype or whatever will work. I need someone to make me seem middle of the road.

  11. Jay says:

    Hey I would like to join if you want an Aussie in the mix

  12. Jim says:

    Let’s book it, and I want in person. It seems so much better than all this online crap. And it gives us a chance to make a movie. Also, glad you are in, and I already hear from one ITRT, so I think it is gonna fly high—or maybe crash beautifully 🙂

    I am gonna have to check with the US State Department given the recent hubbub surrounding Australia and WikiLeaks 🙂 We are glad to have you, and really no pressure in terms of the class, more than anything I want this to be fun, and the only reason I even attempt to venture this as an open course is because heretofore it has been just that. I hope to break that tradition with this version, and as always, I am open to any and all advice.

  13. Play with us, Rev. For ever, and ever, and ever!

  14. Steven Egan says:

    Been a while, but dude this looks like fun. I shall attempt to add my game design skills to this mash-up. Perhaps I’ll even manage to stick through the course, which I too have yet to do to date.

    BTW, gotta love the image Stephen Downes put with this item in OLDaily: http://www.downes.ca/files/images/2553713379_23bc726c8c.jpg

  15. Steven Egan says:

    … I totally forgot about the Mozilla Open Education Course, which I did finish, and Jim contributed to with some others. Oops.

  16. Reverend says:

    That’s right, we were a part of the Mozilla Open Course, I forgot about that. What’s more, so was Joss Winn. I forgot about this as well. Good call. And it would be fun to see you in this one, but I have this nagging feeling I owe you something, have I failed you recently? 🙂

    Your wife will love ds106, isn’t she a ” confirmed ghost story and horror film addict.” 🙂 One of my all time favorite lines from the Shining.

  17. Steven Egan says:

    Nope. I’d asked if you’d be willing to write a recommendation letter for me, you said yes, and I didn’t get far enough in the fellowship application to need it, so I never asked you to actually write it. That’s probably it.

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  20. If you got room for one more Canadian I’m in.

    I’ve suffered from the same kind of OCDO syndrome Alan mentioned but there’s something compelling about learning storytelling from/with a bunch of storytellers. I’ve already added the ds106 persistent search fram to my TweetDeck.

  21. Reverend says:

    Always room, and I hope you are right about the storytelling from the storytellers.And I think Dave Cormier nails part of what makes this seem compelling to me—namely I started my blog as a daddy blogger to tell stories about my son at the time. Blogging is always already storytellign to me, and maybe that is why this seems somewhat of a layup. Whether or not that proves true, I’m starting to feel a bit of pressure, so I’m expecting all the awesome Canadians will relieve me of some of that nervousness a bit. You all rock, and as I have been saying more and more recently, I ain’t worried about the Chinese empire, I am worried about the Canadian edtech empire!

    Come on on in 🙂

  22. E Helfant says:

    Count a group of us in to learn with you and explore storytelling and how to do it and teach it- I figure if we do it locally as a group we’ll hopefully not drop out and will build some internal expertise on this-
    We do so much video but the stories we are telling need help-
    just let us know when we start:)

  23. Tom Fullerton says:

    Wow. Amazing opportunity.
    I’m in if the quantity of Canucks has not been exceeded !?

    Happy to give you a hand putting this together or giving feedback, whatever would be helpful.

    I’ve been following the work of the gents you mentioned above closely with the desire to create a blended program offering for our department.

    One of the cohorts I’m working with will be exploring media literacy, so I’d like to invite those interested in as participants.

    Will DM contact info.,

  24. Reverend says:

    @E Helfant,

    The model of working groups at distributed locations is exactly what Gardner Campbell worked through for his New Media Seminar project. It seemed like a really powerful mode, and having a working group on the ground will certainly push you more towards finishing. I’ll be watching that closely, because I think the idea of small cluster groups like this sharing and bantering in there own way provides a great organizational class to a class like this more generally. If you registered, and I believe you did, the emails (and there will only be 1 or 2) will be coming with a basic overview/orientation of what’s next and what to expect.

    Wonderful, I got your DM, and I will respond shortly.Love the fact that this can play into what you are already doing at in your department, and never enough Canucks. I will cash in on your genorosity shortly 🙂

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  26. Jay says:

    Hopefully the US State Department doesn’t tar all Aussies with WikiLeaks. will look forward to your decision. cheers

  27. Jim says:


    You’ve been cleared 🙂

  28. Jay says:

    That is cool

  29. Alec Couros says:

    Add one more Canadian, and maybe we can get my 60 undergrad teacher candidates involved somehow next semester? I have them from Jan. to April. I’ve got a ton of flexibility, so maybe there’s something we can dream up.

    • Reverend says:

      Awesome to see you along for the ride, and ever since your election mock video about “Who is Alec Couros?” I figured this course might be something you would even teach. So seeing you run here would be fun, and if you have 60 undergrad teacher candidates, it might be fun to let them loose on a few assignments that may be pertinent. or even practice submitting assignments to see what works and what doesn’t. A teaching laboratory of sorts.

      Looking forward to it, and I’d love to talk more specifically about the 60 undergrad teacher candidates if you’d like—just let me know.

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  32. Donna says:

    I’m in to take the course and promise to participate! How do I register???

    • Reverend says:


      head right over to http://ds106.us and register there as well as drop off the feed of your blog and the tag you will be using for the course (#ds106 is the recommended tag :)) Looking forward to this, and in many ways I blame you for me actually going through with this, so I expect that you will be on board.

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