ds106: Stories In Our Digital Age

Three students in Jeff McClurken’s #infoage course, Ashley Lightburn, Joe Calpin, and Caitlyn Murphy, put together a ten minute documentary about ds106. I am obviously excited by the idea that students think this course is interesting enough to make a documentary about, and what they have put together has some amazing moments. But given this is a history class and the record of ds106 is being reflected in this documentary, I want to add my feedback to the work. You can see the post with both the documentary and the bibliography/notes on Ashley Lightburn’s blog here.

First, Ashley writes that Alan Dean started ds106 and I took over the additional sections of the class, which is not actually the case. The class was dreamed up by Jennifer Pollock-Wahl, and I believe she taught it once as a Summer class in 2009—and possibly again as a class in Fall 2009. After that it was taught by both Alan Dean and myself in the 2009/2010 academic year. I first taught the class in the Spring 2010, and I believe that was either Alan Dean’s first or second time teaching the class.

Also, Alan Dean gets a lot of screentime in regards to what ds106 might mean, but in effect Alan Dean never taught ds106, he taught CPSC 106. His coursework was all handled in BlackBoard and none of it is apparent for anyone else to see, what’s more he did not teach an open course—which is very much at the heart of ds106. So including him in this documentary without making any of this clear makes it seem as if he was part of the evolution of ds106 which is actually not the case at all.

What’s more, before the Spring 2011 semester Martha Burtis and I approached Alan to let him know how we would be teaching ds106 that semester as a means to both let him know our plan as well as to invite him to play along, to which he respectfully declined. In essence, whether or not Alan Dean believes our approach “focuses too much on the technology” misses the larger point that his voice would have been best played as one that didn’t necessarily agree with the whole open course, transmedia exploration approach of storytelling in ds106—which is not to be confused with CPSC 106. Given this I think a narration or some kind of clarification of where Alan Dean fits in the narrative of ds106 is necessary.

What’s more, the very life blood of the course, the open, online part where anyone can play along was only alluded to in this documentary. I understand the limits of time, but I can think of about 2 minutes that could have been edited out to talk about what is probably the most essential element of ds106.

Finally, what exactly is the story of this documentary? What does it say about ds106? It seems like a lot of interesting vignettes, and it certainly works well as a 10 minute trailer but the problem with ds106 is that it is open, online and complex. And research and attention to so many details would need to be paid to it to do it justice. Why not talk to me or Martha or anyone else involved from the beginning to get a clear sense of the class so that some of the obvious points of confusion could have been cleared up easily? Seems to be a little research and question asking up front would have made this a far better representation of the open, online experience that is ds106.

Apart from this, I really did love it 🙂

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5 Responses to ds106: Stories In Our Digital Age

  1. I don’t know who the dude was right after Martha at the beginning, but he once again makes the annoying reference to the idea that “it’s not about the technology”. He says that you begin with the story and then choose the technology. Yet many of us know that playing with the technology first, helps us find stories and new story forms. The animated gif as an example. Part of what the technology enables is that stories aren’t always linear. The whole beginning, end, middle concept as the core of stories is easier to question using technology.

  2. Reverend says:


    That was ALan Dean, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Discounting technology in this context often creates a dichotomy that doesn’t really exist when stories become about the media you are interrogating. That’s why i thought this was a COmputer Science class, and that’s why I wanted to experiment with the idea of story in relationships to the social media tools we are all using to tell stories currently.

  3. Tom says:

    That is a strange result or maybe I just interpreted the questions in my own way because I didn’t talk about any of that stuff. Clearly, I also need to work on my camera presence. I did have a tie though. Ties make you important.

  4. Brother Groom, This video is fantastic – seriously!

    The dichotomy of “story over tool” is something I often think about, especially when I consider who my story is for. Without a compelling and captivating story, it could be argued that one is wasting their audience’s time. Yet, without an informed understanding of the tools used to produce a compelling and captivating story, one’s narrative might come off as flat, dry and uninspiring.

    There is something magical (and credible) about stories from a digital storyteller that can effectively appropriate technology. I’m making it an unofficial rule that you can not say “It’s not about the technology” until you’ve mastered that magic. And, it seems that situating this type of course in the Comp Sci department, you and your colleagues are helping to create entrepreneurial magicians (#OccupyTransphobia).

    Tom, Next time wear a lime green ascot.

  5. Talking heads! Why would students choose that twenty or thirty year old model? It’s not for lack of more interesting options….
    For me, DS 106 is a MOOC I am taking for professional development. Maybe the face-to-face students need to be confronted more directly with the diversity of people in this comet’s wake? I know I’ve been commenting on the blogs of Japanese students that have really opened my mind to generational and cultural diversity. That is soooo DS 106,too.

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