cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by cj berry

Every other sentence in this post is going to be a disclaimer that I am NOT criticizing the newest efforts of the ds106 course being drawn out by Michael B Smith. Can I repeat– I am NOT criticizing the newest efforts of the ds106 course being drawn out by Michael B Smith. Once more– I am NOT criticizing the newest efforts of the ds106 course being drawn out by Michael B Smith.

One can tell from the opening that Journey to the Center of the Internet is going to be something cinematic, weird, and open ended, all of my favorite ingredients. It is everything that your typical online course locked inside a Bbox is not, everything that most other of these spray of newly minted MOOCs are not.

At the same time, I could only follow the Summer of Oblivion madness from the ds106 summer, so I only got a taste of what the mad reverend spawned.

And I did miss the DTLT discussion of the future of ds106 in Fall 2011 (but watched it recently on DTLT).

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by renedepaula

So here is a fence I am sitting on.

It seemed to me there is a tacit assumption that ds106 needs a narrative, a story like Dr Oblivion.

Is that so?

Do not get me wrong, what was woven with the Dr Oblivion saga was wonderfully weird (etc, you know my favorite stuff) and suspended out there past the cutting edge. But does it set up an expectation that this is needed to tie the course together? Might it also possibly, I hate almost to say… get in the way? Can it potentially overwhelm the creativity part?

Hear me out- the first iteration of ds106 as an open course, Spring of 2011– was a raging success, but lacked a narrative; to me it was all about a continued flow of people just being creative where and when they could. To me it was more of an open studio experience than a course.

So during the summer of Oblivion, I was not able to follow much because of travel and lacking the ability to follow along. Not being part of the narrative, to me, makes it harder to dip in and out as people did in ds106 1.0 (I did hear Michael describe that he was aiming for this sort of approach, almost that the narrative was optional).

Once more- don’t get me wrong, the narrative is fascinating, and seems to apply for a space of exploring identity, or a social media course, a digital culture course. I wonder though, for a course or space of open creativity, if it is really critical?

Once more I am NOT criticizing the newest efforts of the ds106 course being drawn out by Michael B Smith.I am NOT criticizing the newest efforts of the ds106 course being drawn out by Michael B Smith.I am NOT criticizing the newest efforts of the ds106 course being drawn out by Michael B Smith.

In fact I will follow it as much as I can.

Do not take this as a criticism, and frankly we are inventing this stuff as we go– I want to hear ideas on this.

Maybe I would rather chase red trucks while everyone else plays ball or naps.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by nico.cavallotto

whaddya think?

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at 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. Room for me on that fence? I think the narrative piece was desired because while the Summer of Oblivion was a wild experiment, it was only 5 weeks. I wasn’t able to follow along much either with 2 weeks vacation and making a job transition during the majority of it. I think the desire is to see what a full semester-long narrative can do for a course and a community. I also feel like people are inherently more creative when they are prompted. The narrative is not, to my understanding, meant to restrict the art, but rather to rally the masses around a topic. If that prompt is a fictional event it seems to allow folks even more creative license (although there seems to be an equal split on fiction v/s non-fiction). I certainly don’t want to see the “narrative” become a critical component to ds106, and I don’t think it will. But on the same token I’m extremely interested to see what a 13 week narrative produces, especially under the reigns of someone like Michael Branson Smith. I think what we’re going to see is something very different from what happened this summer, obviously different from this past Spring, and I think that’s ok. I’d hate for ds106 to become too rigid in its structure.

  2. Thanks Alan for the very supportive fence riding. I do hope I have some success with this class narrative and there’s no guarantee in that.

    And I agree that the collaborative narrative shouldn’t be essential, but something Jim and I spoke about was how it might be what keeps the course fresh for the open participants and hopefully sustain them in the community.

    But other ways to keep the ds106 course community engaged is probably necessary. Ds106radio doesn’t seem to need a course to sustain it. But the nature of the course (maybe it should be described as the latest “ds106 bootcamp” with new recruits) is assignment driven and the thought of having a broad narrative that constantly changes would keep the course fresh and community actively producing with the students registered.

    There could/should be other ways to sustain each semester’s cohort of participants. Maybe it’s a matter of having different instructors bringing a different set of ideas of how to teach ds106 differently for some semesters? Or might there be other classes that the ds106 community creates and can engage in with different contents, specificity, etc. around digital storytelling? Then there would be the possibility of cross pollination between courses. This could even happen across different communities? I’m not sure, just throwing out ideas.

    Anyway, I hope there is some success this semester and I don’t disappoint. DS106 has really been a blast for me as both a learner and a teacher. So away we go!

  3. I agree with Tim that you are doing Michael is pushing ds106 further, to be more than one course in one place.

    It is a movement, a religion, a crazy road show, a vaudeville show, a pick up jam band… and it ought to be boundless.

    Take it even farther away from the course-ishness of those other MOOC-y things.

  4. For me what I am so excited about “Journey to the Center of the Internet” for is that we can hone in on having the class be part of an emerging story online. ds106 in the Spring was magic, but I think those who wanted to play have played, a few will play again but I want to use these opportunities to push my own skills, and seeing the work Michael does with video blows my mind. I want to experiment with that, I want to keep building on DTLT Today like programs and I want ds106 as a particular “type” of class to be irrelevant. I think the crowd around the Spring course has come and gone but the reall experimentation and further exploration is just beginning—I want to play along and sharpen my video chops, comment widely on MBS’s students work and play from a different angle. I also wonder if we can’t make a bigger web narrative like we did with the Summer of Oblivion as a result.

    I know the Spring semester was amazing, but for me the Summer was a creative experience on another level, we were tv show writers and we came into work everyday with insane amounts of fun, creativity, and experimentation—it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I now the form of ds106 will change yet again, but i am more than willing to give the Center of the Internet a long, sustained go until it does. And I think the Center of the Internet will change it yet again 😉

  5. Since I left a little way into Summer of Oblivion and ended up somewhere with total sucky Internet access, I couldn’t follow the narrative this summer, and I actually still don’t know how things turned out. There isn’t one solid place to reconstruct it since it happened all over the web. I’m one more on that fence. I think the narrative is cool, and a fun experiment. Definitely a way to keep faculty and repeat participants interested, and keep things fresh for them.

    Did you ever take an acting class and have to improv? I had to improv at some point and had never tried it before and due to inexperience I made a mess of it. Some parts of the Summer of Oblivion narrative felt like that to me. I felt like I was watching what I looked like on stage. It needed polish and editing, and a lot of it went on too long for the format it was delivered in. And I felt like it could seem fairly self-involved from the point of view of a first year college student. And understand I’m delivering that feedback from the pint of view of someone who couldn’t fully participate and probably missed tons of the good or important bits.

    Im eager to see how it goes for Michael and to watch it evolve and change. I like that students can dive into the narrative for inspiration for their assignments or just do their own self-driven assignments.

  6. @cheryl

    The distributed nature of the online collaborative story was definitely a challenge to track after the fact. I liked playing the ds106 story historian for a couple weeks using Storify –

    Piecing together a perspective about what had gone down with the broad narrative was a lot fun and actually helped me try and make sense of the story. It’s definitely something I hope to continue with the “Journey” narrative.

    To the seemingly improvisational nature of the course/videos, it was definitely imperfect, but that futzing with story was an unusual risk for the instructors to take. There was a student that didn’t wish to engage that side of ds106, and even called Jim and Martha out on it in a blog post (the student didn’t maintain the blog so it’s gone.) But Jim and Martha did their best to defend the trajectory the course had taken based on a belief that the student must take some responsibility for their own education.

    That idea is something I’m pretty certain most of my students are not used to, but isn’t it the central idea? Of DS106? Of teaching in general? Being adaptable, forging their own path, and not just focusing on what does the professor wants so she/he can pass this class.

  7. Oh, HUGE respect for that answer, @smith. (can I call you Smith?)

    First, I’m amazingly grateful for your storify links, I simply could not have put all these pieces together on my own getting back so long after the 5-week Oblivion-fest had ended.

    I totally agree, the risk taken by the UMW team was unusual and stunningly brave, I am so very proud of them for doing it.

    And I have to admit my own students are pretty frequently short on feeling the sense of responsibility for their own learning. (I miss teaching my Photoshop class because I finally had it set up with NO points, just progressive mastery of skills. It was always so much fun to see each student reach the aha moment when they realized their success in the course was really and truly in their own hands and on their own schedule. That motivated some to amazing heights while others basically dragged themselves through it as though it were the worst thing I could ask of them. But I digress.)

    Just because I didn’t personally grok the narrative doesn’t mean it was useless or bad or wrong or anything other than a bold experiment. Huge props for keeping it real, my esteem for you just shot through the roof.

  8. As a future follower of the new #netnarr, which , I believe, this is all about, I would like to stress my wish for a very open structure. Because I will be abroad for a while when netnarr is running , have some appointments that will need time.
    In a rather famous book I did read the name Chautauqua for a series of short stories (if I remember well). One could jump in, play some time, and disappear for a short time until next stage is up.

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