50 Ways at UBC

Today I spent at UBC, first an informal meeting with some course designers where Brian Lamb and I did some blog talk, and my bit from Northern Voice Not Cat Diaries / Lets Rip WordPress Apart to Make a Web Site, and an informal romp through Second Life.

Then it was over to the Land and Food Systems building where Cyprien Lomas had invited me to a brown bag lunch for another iteration of 50 Web2.0 Ways to Tell a Story that had gone over nicely at Northern Voice. Since at NV I had forgotton to click my record button, I was hoping for a recording, but Duncan at UBC had recorders, video going etc. I told ’em that Northern Voice was the rehearsal for this session. And in a way, this was a bit smoother. I’ve usually done my presentations as one offs and repeating them is new to me, but I dont want to get to be one of those slick presenters who trots out the same show again and again.

But just for fun, as I was setting up the 30 Firefox tabs I open for the show, I also set up a live ustream broadcast, and actually remembered to click record. I did not get to watch the chat, but was getting feedback from Brian and Cyprien. And how cool, Tony Hirst showed up- we just connected via email. So here it is for all its glory:

I keep forgetting to include a part in the beginning when I talk about the CDB book by William Steig. It goes something like:

But I love serendipity and strange coincidence. The initials I chose are CDB, which at age 5 was my favorite book. Is anyone familiar with the book? (show screen) William Steig created this one frame multimedia stories (drawings/pictures and text, of sorts)

So let me talk very generally about what happens to us in school. We start in kindergarden, elementary school, and we are encouraged, have all these opportunities to be creative in art, drawing, painting, collages. It is pure multimedia, We are not judged wrong if we forget a comma, or end a sentence with a preposition.

We go to middle school and hormones wreck us- if we do write/create, it is dark, often mediocre, and not meant for public viewing.

In high school we learn all these structures of proper essay writing, doing outlines, putting crap on notecards. We learn how to mimic the style that gets good grades.

In college, we learn to speak like academic, fall into passive tense, write professionally. We get jobs and have to write reports and business correspondence that does not have a shred of personality into it.

Its my mission now to help people get back to 1st grade- to be free of constraints, to express themselves creatively, visually, and nor worry about the comma police. To freely and openly express!

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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.


  1. Alan, I didn’t think it was possible but my appreciation for your many gifts really deepened today. It was like you were the purveyor of an invisible potion that inspired, enlightened and amused everyone you gave it to…

    Thank you so much.

  2. Being a high school English teacher, I feel compelled to respond to the “mission…to help people get back to 1st grade.” It’s true kids experience painful Language Arts classrooms, where they are drilled and killed with grammar worksheets, where learning an appreciation for language is forsaken. The real magic is getting kids to see that we learn the rules–where the commas and periods go–so that when we do choose to break them, we do so artfully, on purpose, like in the previous sentence where I purposely employ passive voice to show the captivity many students feel in the classroom.

    We want kids to have stylistic freedom, to express themselves with flair and imagination, to create not formulaic writing but organic writing that stems from unstifled creativity. To do so, though, requires that we first arm them with a writer’s tools, that we teach syntactical strategies and rhetorical devices that will allow them to appreciate words and see the power in being able to string them together artfully–skills that go beyond the reach of a first grader.

    I realize you weren’t dissin’ teaching the basics, but I couldn’t help adding my two cents. I’m a big fan of your work–keep exploring, stretching, and us informed.

  3. Have you ever thought of using Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers are Red” in your intro? I think that illustrates the “getting back to first grade” idea quite well.

  4. Hi Alan

    Thanks for the talk yesterday. Nice to be turned on to some new tools that actually might be useful for teaching….excited to take a closer look at Voicethread.

    If you are interested in another digitalstorytelling tool you should check out http://www.digitalstoryteller.org/. Hosted by the University of Virgina (developed I think in conjunction with Joe Lambert’s group). They are very supportive with allowing others to access and use the tool. I asked about co-locating the application to UBC, but sound like the server backend is quite complex.

    PS Would you have a URL for …..was it…..balberize (sp?)

    Thanks agian

  5. Thanks lhuff for pushing back a little on the “get back to 1sr grade” strand, which I accept is rather simplistic, and of course, there is, i believe, as you suggest, art/creativity in doing writing at higher levels, without relying on fingerpaint. Its more a reaction to seeing so mucg of the pasive voice trying to sound academic writing I read and fall asleep to

    I totally forgot my 11th grade experience when a rather special English teacher really opened up my skills via Thoreau and Emerson, and where I learned a bit of writing as an art, not a chore.

    Its more that at whatever levels we are writing at, to find that passion and express it. Or to write as a person for people.


    No Laura, I have not heard that Chapin song but will check it out.

    Thanks Jim, will check out that resource. Good to see you again. All the URLs are at http://cogdogroo.wikispaces.com/StoryTools

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