It’s been longer than it should have been since my Networked Narratives class at Kean University wrapped up, but as I did ask my students for a final final reflection, I turn the assignment about on me.

For anyone not following along (I’d round that up to everyone); this is the second year I taught the class. Last year, I co-taught with Mia Zamora, who was on site with the class in New Jersey. I beamed in remotely from home then in Arizona and pulled the puppet strings behind the web sites that lurk behind a rather vague front site at http://arganee.world/

We presented on the first year’s version at the October 2017 DML Conference (presentation link) and we co-write a few columns on the class at DML Central (1, 2, 3).

course poster made by my TAs in November 2017

The big change, the huge one for 2018, was that since Mia was on a Fulbright Fellowship in Norway, they somehow still allowed me to teach remotely to a class of 11 students at Kean. Two of my masters students who took the 2017 class, Marissa and Hailey, were my on site TAs, and they were hugely a big help, not only on setting up the hangout in the room (despite 3 classes where the Projector Just Did Not Work) but being so helpful with the other students. I started with plans for a weekly set of planning notes but after a few busy weeks that devolved into emails and text messages with the lesson plans, and links they would need to have ready to open.

Two more grad students from last year, Kelli and Katherine were back for another round, with Justin new as a fifth grad student. I had 6 undergraduates who signed up, likely not knowing what the heck they were in for.

The mix of students was a positive.

This set up worked, but I must say I struggled to read the room via Google Hangout and tiring; most of the time I could barely make out the back of the room, often students sat off camera, and often it was hard to hear back what they were saying. I don’t think I would teach this way again.

I decided early on that there would be as little of me talking at them from the front as possible. I aimed for a class structure (we met once a week for 2 hours 45 minutes scheduled time) more or less:

  • Opening hellos and fiddling with projectors
  • The “Opener” — usually a short video or something interactive on screen I could show and then open for a discussion.
  • A series of in class activities in including hands on “Makes” (more on that below), live twitter chats, and/or some of our studio visits when we could schedule them in class

Out of class work would be doing more media assignments, readings, Daily Digital Alchemies, and weekly reflective blog posts.

Like last year, all students posted their work and thoughts in a blog of their own choosing; see the list of Kean 2018 bloggers and their flow of posts.

The Course Spine

I have grown to love the concept I learned from Mia of having an over all shape or major parts of the course outlined as a “spine” but filling in details as we went, rather than committing everything to a detailed syllabus.

Mia and I aimed for a loose overlap of my course at Kean and a larger, lecture class she was charged with teaching at the University of Bergen. This helped define the shape of the spine of my course, as her class called for covering the genres of digital art, electronic games, and electronic literature.

I decided to create an over arching theme for my course I called “This Digital Life” aimed at using those three genres to weave though it – this was my diagram made in a document to represent the layers of the class:

net narr layers

And I elaborated more in the opening of the Spine:

The overarching theme of this course is “This Digital Life” — an examination of the role digital and networked technologies play in our lives, and a question of what say we have in the shaping of it. We’d say is no separate “digital world”; the impact of networked digital technologies on our day to day activities is no longer a thing for scientists and geeks. Yet, do we fully understand of what we give up when we use “free” services? Do we have control over our digital representations? How do we untangle, make sense of world given the torrent of information coming at us? Can we really expect others have similar experiences as our own? What is this digital life we have?

To explore this theme, we will enter it through the genres of digital art, gaming, and electronic literature, all as represented in digital, networked spaces. We will also learn and put into practice digital alchemy skills of media creation to express our “digitalness”. More than creating stories of interest or for entertainment (e.g. “for the lolz”), we will be using media to examine our own digital lives.

There ended up not tremendous overlap between the two classes, we had some co-participating in student visits, and more in twitter. Even if it’s not concrete, the value of having a larger number of people swirling about an open course makes it seem like it’s part of something bigger than the class itself.

Or so I tell myself.

I would do a Spine again.

The Weekly Giant Blog Posts

The details unfolded each week, and maybe the reason I did not blog much about the class all along was that each announcement was a mega blog post itself. But here are the weeklies:

Since there was a lot in these posts, to make it more clear for my students (or so I hoped) I also each week published and linked to a checklist for what they needed to do that week.

Would I post mega assignment posts chock full of media, links, and whimsey? Always.

Grade Contract

I again issued a grading contract to my students, one for undergrads (google doc viewable) and an expanded one for grad students (google doc viewable).

My student submit their response via a Gravity Forms page on the class site, and they get an email confirmation of what they chose.

screen shot of this year’s grade contract for #netnarr

This year, I asked them for a mid-term and final self assessment; what works well is I can trigger the email notifications to them before asking them to respond, so they get a reminder.

I would do this again.

Studio Visits

I give Virtually Connecting some credit for inspiring the conversational approach of our student visits an opportunity to meet practitioners ideally “in the place they do their media work”. I ended up tailing off on these in the second half of the semester, but was pleased with the opportunities I could make happen merely by asking people in my network.

Travel and second half projects seemed to gobble up the time we could have done more studio visits with people in E-Literature. Mia did have a real life studio visit with Howard Rheingold that she used in her class.

I’d do these again; the scheduling was rarely optional. I find it preferrable to have them be an in class activity.

Daily Digital Alchemies (aka DDAs)

These are my daily published small media challenges modeled after the DS106 Daily Create and of course using the same WordPress Theme.

I required my students to do 2 per week. Frankly I saw a lot of their activity come the night before their work was do, but c’est la student. From the leaderboard I reset this year, we had 99 DDAs published and participating by 84 different people, so it was broader than just my class.

Not surprisingly, the top participants are our open folks, but I can also see some of Mia’s students there, and my students coming in with 25 DDAs.

I found in DS106 that the dailies approach being a chore towards 75% of the way through, so I relaxed the requirement later in the semester.

Would I do dailies again? You bet your sweet bippy.

A Make Bank

I added this year a Make Bank for media assignments, using the DS106 Assignment Bank WordPress Theme and borrowing the name from the CLMOOC version.

The “types” of makes matched up to the overall course theme as well as the three genres:

The Digital Alchemy Make Bank

This worked well to write the assignments here and link to them from the class announcements, and also use it’s ability to create links to all works a participant submits as a response. I ended up creating 15 makes, and fell down by not having any for e-literature (I admit I lapsed here, the twitter bot one should have been a make).

I would do a bank again, it just gets better over repeated use. And it becomes (ideally) a resource for others to leverage:

Alchemy Openers (videos)

If SNL can do stone cold ones, #netnarr can have Alchemy Openers:

Mia and did more in the beginning of the course of some lightweight, fun videos that could open classes. I ended up pairing together little bits we would film (me in Arizona, she in Norway) and a bit of conversation we would do in Google Hangout.

Mainly it’s a good opportunity to touch base each week; but you can see we got overwhelmed with Other Things, and the time difference got challenging, plus our travel schedules picked up second half.

I think the best was the last one, when we actually were together in the UK, but acted as if we were doing these on green screens.

I have been wanting to write about these videos- they are totally outside the realm of course content, they are not even required for students, but there is something about doing them in low budget, quick style, that I find energizes me as a teacher. This goes back to the You Show ones I did with Brian Lamb in 2014.

I love doing silly videos, and its a good way to think about a theme to tie together the week and the class as a whole.

The Referencium

I made up the word and borrowed the concept I am sure from someone else. The idea of the Referencium was to ask students to add two links to readings, videos, web sites to an open Google Doc that would represent a class created reference guide for our major topics. My grad students were then charged to work in pairs to edit and finalize them.

I then copied them over and published as a final resource in the Arganee Journal (yep that’s a TRU Writer SPLOT in the wild) — see the published final ones at http://journal.arganee.world/issues/issue-2-contents/

I fell down on pushing the last one in Electronic Literature. I am mixed on the value of this; it seemed to work as an idea, but I sense my students saw it as more chore. Oh well.

But it is in the vein of producing something beyond a disposable assignment.

Twitter Chats

Our class ran three twitter chats for various topics; I charged my grad students with leading one, developing te questions, and scheduling the tweets (one of my TAs suggested TweetChat which really worked well for us).

I found the 30 minutes format, meaning 3 questions at the 1, 10, 20 marks and a closer worked best, and it was good to see how much everyone in class was active. When Storify pooped on all of us, I was glad it was early enough I could switch to Twitter Moments for archiving.

I find value in twitter chats, but I like spacing their frequency out.

Show Your Work, Tracking Links

Not all tracking is bad, especially when you do it for your own good. My design of the work I asked my students do that is there are links they can do to not only show me their work, but also as a starting point to describe it to me (or whomever reads their blogs).

I really want more people in general to Love the Link. So many people write, especially in blogs, in a linkless way. That’s sad.

I want them to see and appreciate their own growth. In week 2 as an intro to twitter, I had them do a run of Luca hammer’s Twitter Analysis tool on themselves and then again in Week 15.

I ask them to consider the shape of our NetNarr twitter community with the Twitter Tags Explorer which, like many active ones, is a giant ball of cat hair

I cannot analyze more than saying… hairball.

But I did add a new feature into the NetNarr listing of bloggers

There is a direct link to see each student’s activity and timeline played back within there. For example, when Vanessa looks at her link

One student’s #netnarr twitter activity

There’s a lot one can reflect on in looking at that. Well, I do. There’s a lot that shows their activity:

  • Show Your Weekly Blog posts: You should have 14 weekly blog posts you can link to (or a category/tag link if you are organizing them). You can also find all blog posts syndicated to this site, by looking at the listing for your blog at http://netnarr.arganee.world/notebooks/kean-2018/ The second link for (see all syndicated posts by....) is one you can use also in your post to show your total blogging activity.
  • Show Your Daily Digital Alchemies: We have done 2 per week for 7 weeks (one week was a bye). Are they represented? If you have been doing them, they should be listed on the Leaderboard, where you should notice each has a link that shows your responses, For example, all the ones done by @helterskelliter are at the web address http://daily.arganee.world/hashtags/helterskelliter (she has a lot because she did these last year too). Find your link, and share it in the post. If some are missing, it might because of missing hashtag or not including the @netnarr address in your tweets. Don’t worry about that.
  • Show Where You Are in the #NetNarr Twitter Space Also included on the listing for all blogs at http://netnarr.arganee.world/notebooks/kean-2018/ is another special link — for (in TAGS Explorer) – this will open the visualization for all of the twitter activity in #netnarr but opened to the node for your activity (example)

    Use a link and a screenshot to show in your post where you are within this network. Check out the Replay Tweets button to watch your #netnarr activity over time.

  • How did Your Twitter Use Evolve? Remember back in Week 2 when you used the Twitter Analysis tool to analyze your account? Run it again and write about the difference between the two snapshots.
  • Show Your Makes Surprise, there is also a leaderboard for responses to the Make Bank and this site to provides a link to show all of your work (example).

I’m all for these ways to help students show and talk about their work.

Help My Hypothesis, I Fell Down and I Can’t Annotate Up

I had grand plans, desires to have my students do web annotation with hypothes.is, I had one or two things assigned in the beginning, yet it felt uphill and chore-like.

I was really throwing too many tools and sites at them, and so I let this one go.

Still. I am fixed that someone creative could do something beyond just commenting/conversing on articles as annotation; I think, as a layer on the web, someone could create a bit of narrative, a choose your own adventure game, or a place where inventive characters converse across the web.

Why can’t Statler and Waldorf annotate?

Oh well, I keep plugging.

Selected Assignment Highlights

Like my announcements, this post is way too long. Now as I wind back through everything, I sure put a lot in the stew. A few things I really was proud of (and not for my own sake, but the way the students took them on).

  • Where is the New Media Art Now? Students researched 1990s-early 2000s new media art and what is available of them now. Their work added to a public project (well it is one I srated, sue me).
  • Beyond the Memes for Memes sake. I had a few makes for Memes, like creating ones that are self referential and doing ones tied to an episode of a Black Mirror show we discussed.
  • Participating in the The Selfie/Unselfie Project. This project was co-lead byb Mia Zamora, so it was a chance, again, to go beyond the typical selfie they know well, to how they would portray themselves… without themselves in the photo. Again, it was doing medua, but also adding to a public digital art work. Non-disposable.
  • Audio Project with Digital Game in Egypt. Well, this was ambitious, and for all it aimed for, successful. The idea was for my students, in their game unit, to give feedback to the games that Maha Bali‘s students were designing in her class at the American University Cairo. At the same time, I wanted my students to learn some audio production skills (most of them likely still hate me for this, why do so few people love audio?). So the idea was for my students to select one if the the AUC projects, give them feedback on their blog, then post some audio questions in a padlet we set up

    The idea is that the AUC students would reply to each question, and it would be on ym students to edit it all together into a single audio interview, as if they were having the conversation in one place, together. Well the timing was hard, there was a Spring break, the padlet was hard to figure out. I ended up telling my students, if they had no response, to create an audio show where they imagined what the responses would be. Even with all this, I really like the idea. Only one pair was able to have all the parts for what I was hoping to hear:

  • Digital Redlining: The Newark Game Board – if you thought the previous assignment was outlandish, stand back. I’ve already written a long post about the way I tried to introduce my students to digital redlining. From their final posts, this was a most memorable topic for all my students.
  • The Netnarr Botversation: Making Twitter Bots Given all the talk of bots in our digital lives this year, I was dead set on having my students create their own. We did this last year, when students invented characters nd used the bots to bring them to life. I had a different twist this year:

    Our activity that starts in class and extends the rest of the week will be to create an ongoing conversation including twitter bots you will create that will tweet out of your own account. Your bot will mention others in netnarr, and you will also augment with your own human authored tweets and replies.

    The intent of this activity is to explore the influence we can have in social media by both human and automated means, plus what can happen when we are communicating online, but perhaps not sure if we are responding to a person or a software agent.

    Each Kean students will receive from @cogdog a direct message containing a position on an issue of Digital Life we have already discussed in class. Your mission is to engage as many as others in a conversation and see how you can influence them.

    I was hoping to get them mixed up in real and bot conversation, but there was not quite as much back and forth as I would have liked. (insert shrug). The students all struggled but achieved getting their bots going, which was a huge step “I never expected I would be CODING in this class!” said one.

  • E-Literature Concept Papers I had hopes for my students to produce a piece of Electronic Literature as a final project, but when it got closer, two weeks was hardly enough time. So I had them do some research about the genre, and just develop a written concept of the idea. A paper prototype. As a different way to make their work public and part of something outside their blog, I had them submit them to the Arganee Journal, so they works are now published at http://journal.arganee.world/issues/issue-3-contents/

Those Open Participants

I love our open participants, and give them almost no attention. We have a small, a very small group of folks that chime on on twitter, do DDAs, put blog posts into the mix.

A huge nod goes to Kevin @doxtrax, who not only does every Daily Digital Alchemy, but is so generous with his commenting.

And an equal bug thanks to Wendy Taleo, all the way from Alice Springs Australia, who shows up for Studio visits, DDAs, and is a huge contributor to the course. Check out her summary blog post:

That is the evidence. Yet, I’m sure I’ll get that question ‘What did you learn?’. From the prompts given in the Final Final post, I’ll try to put down on paper, the impacts of this course.

What interested me was the intersections of a closed and open course. As well as the aspects of global learning from Norway, USA, Egypt and places in between. I was intrigued by the clear differences in the Uni classes and how this was approached by the two professors running them. This year there was Alan’s version and Mia’s version, loosely covering the same topics over the semester. I was challenged by our open project “The Alchemist Lab” and how to implement this from idea to completion. I was super under-challenged by the lack of focus or attention of the open participants. I felt that the open aspect of the course was more about the professors that were not co-located and hence the need to be open about some of the aspects of teaching.

What I gained from examining the theme of “This Digital Life” were a whole lot more digital artifacts. Also an understanding of different digital genres, examining networks and what they mean to me.An understanding of how a digital life can be misunderstood by those that don’t have that and the pleasure of someone’s first tweet!

The skills I would like to carry forward from this course is to be responsible to the reader. While most of the blogging is for my own benefit, I’m more aware that life is too short for digital spam. We can make a difference by being intentional in our creations. My advise for other people pondering #NetNarr is get involved in a small way or a big way. It’s not mysterious when you are creating the mystery!

But that is only part of the open picture. Along with Kevin, Sarah Honeychurh, Todd Conaway, and more folks, the open participants designed, deployed, and networked their own digital media art project, the NetNarr Alchemy Lab, an experience in MediaJumping

The NetNarr Alchemy Lab is a creative attempt to weave together collaborative media-making as part of the intersections of open participants of the Networked Narratives course. The aim was to bring the “network” to the surface, along with an invitation to tell stories (the “narrative”). The participants are MediaJumping, or using different media to tell stories inspired by objects in the lab. The lab itself is an experiment in using 360 degree immersive design. We hope you dive in, follow a few paths, and enjoy the creativity.

When you find the END point, which is conveniently attached to the ceiling of the lab itself (hint: look for the red “e'”), join us in some remixing of media.

I’m not even doing this justice, just jump in and explore the interactive 3D lab.

Kevin has a fantastic series of reflective blog posts on this project, again that was conceived completely by the open participants, with no ask or involvement of myself or Mia.

Today, I am reflecting on what might happen next with the Alchemy Lab after writing about the experience of making a vision become a reality (even if the reality didn’t quite reach the vision.) We had nearly 20 people, making nearly 50 digital media pieces in the Lab.

A side note: the building of the Lab is part of an open project within Networked Narratives, a course being taught in the US by Alan Levine and in Norway by Mia Zamora. This is the second iteration of NetNarr, and I am part of the “open wild” of Networked Narratives — which means I don’t have to do any homework I don’t wanna do, and I can ignore Mia and Alan whenever I want. It’s great!

It’s beyond great. Tell me of one super hyped MOOC where something like this happens.

The Not End

I’m sure I have left much out of this post, namely the students. I am so appreciative that Kean was courageous enough (or just did not know) to let me run the class in this mode, and to my students for taking so much on. The best parts of the class were the time spent in activity, and they would all naturally turn to each other, and ask for help with whatever crazy task I gave them.

This is digital alchemy, and I love it.


Featured Image: My own meme made from a screenshot of a google hangout view of my class, the meme image in the corner I forget who it is or where its from over my camera image, slapped together in Photoshop. Attribution is out the window, but like everything in this Bloghouse, call it a Creative Commons CC BY-WHAT license and call it a day. Often, licenses bore the poop out of me.

If this kind of stuff has any value, please support me monthly on Patreon or a one time PayPal kibble toss
Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *