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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