cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by febbrile

This is about as close as I might get to a reflection on my first round of teaching an on site section of ds106 at the University of Mary Washington- the class had barely wrapped and we were off into prep for Faculty Academy, and this week, ds106 cranks up for its summer iteration. I dropped the ball on my audio reflections leaving about 4 recordings sitting high and dry.

Not to mention it is 2am and I have an online presentation to deliver at 9am.

But if I don’t blog it now, I might lose it all, given (another pending blog post) a summer of travel that starts in less than 48 hours.

Enough prelude, get to it, Levine!

First of all, this was about the first time since the mid 1990s that I was teaching a class; then like now, I am humbled at how much in underestimate the toll it takes. No, let me go one back than first of all- it was a thrilling experience I have no regrets on, and could not be prouder of the work done by all of my students (see the collection of final projects).

Knowing how to do the ds106 work is one thing, being able to assist 25 students in doing it… another. I have to say that they accomplish much on what they learn to and not so much what I teach them; I am there to set the pace, to nudge, coach, cajole.

The biggest struggle was my in class strategies and presence; I do not feel like I developed the “shtick” or way to carry the show in my own way. I have no expectations of doing the class a la Jim Groom, who really ends up generating a frenzy of energy among his students (with his gift of talking smack to people and them loving it). Part of it was perhaps the awkward beginning, the 2 weeks of class when it started and I was coming in via Skype, meaning it took more time for the students and I to get to know each other.

What worked best were sessions where I broke things down into small segments of students doing rapid prototyping or group activities. What worked least best was the sessions where I just got up and talked and showed. It was uphill all the way to engage in discussions (though there were good ones when we discussed YouTube genres).

Some of the best classes happened in February, and the peak was likely the night I had them do Foley sounds for a Charlie Chaplin silent film- here is their final work

The intensity of the work was hard, and I sensed many of my students were so focussed on getting their “30 stars” of video assignments, that doing that superseded the making art damnit goal. I did not think I would have to be explicit in criteria for writing up assignments, but even with commenting, I see posts with thrilling titles like “Mashup Assignment”, no links, and not the kind of “story behind the story” I asked for often.

I should go to the half full glass as I had at least 6-8 students who did really good blog writing and pretty much documented their progress. I think all of us got worn out through the video section, but then again, so many students rose to the occasion who had never done video before.

Assignment wise, the “Return to the Silent Era” may have been the killer one, with over 40 people completing it, and the work of Ben Rimes hitting the crowning achievement of appearing in a British tabloid.

My biggest contribution might have ben creating the assignment remix generator, riffing off of the ideas of Tom Woodward for a mechanism for creating different “card twists” to change up a randomly selected assignment. The unplanned gem was in asking students to go back to the original assignments and identify media from another student’s work to use as a reference for the remix. As of this writing, there were 143 new remix assignments done.

The coding on that was largely on the shoulders of the work Martha Burtis did last year on the assignments site. I’ve been doing some cleanup and improvements on that site as well.

The next add on for the remix site might be a tool to encourage re-writing of existing assignments to work in different disciplines, so you could have a tool that lets the user select, say Math, and they get randomly chosen existing assignment and have to contribute a new way to do it for their selected discipline. It’s pretty much the same engine.

All of this is fraying as I enter into the weird colored zone of the summer section I am co-teaching with Martha. This one is a 10 week course, completely online. As a counter to the “Summer of Oblivion” the theme of this summer is bright and happy camp experience as Camp Magic Macguffin. It is my role to bring some sanity and civility to what was a horror sceme last summer.

Martha and I have done a fun series of weekly videos, playing with the theme– the whackiest part was we set up a swag store before sitting down to tweak the syllabus. But this is the fun part about this class being done in a performance mode- the direction and shape will be driven by the people that show up.

And boy have people been great to sign up to take the class or even hover around as wise experienced camp counselors. For our open participants, see a new guide to participation we set up on the main mother site. The things we’d ask the open folks to do are to play as much as they can with the assignments, as well as keeping the flow of Daily Create going. Mainly we hope you interact with our students via their blog posts and tweets.

Now I getting really sleepy and blog sloppy. The summer course may be a ton of work, but it is going to be some crazy unknown directions as hopefully our participants start changing up our story.

If you have been wavering about being in ds106, now is the prime time to jump in- we already have in the first days some art being create, but mostly a lot of the community stepping in and trying to connect with the students.

I was going to work this into another post, but with the cacophony of blogs going on and on about MOOCs and such- I can say as long as I can have some say, there will be no cheap “x” added to ds106- it is what it is, open participants can ge the full or half full immersion that makes it fomcfortabnle (damn I am tired).

Rocking with ds106 in the summer of Magic. Join in now.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff 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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Alan,
    As I am writing curriculum for a DS 106 knock off for Fall 2012, I watched all of you instructors and the class pretty closely. It is my humble (but trained!) observation that your syllabus is overloaded. The students have to have time to absorb new techniques and to create art dammit, and it needs to fit into their already full schedules, as does the art you and I do. I say dial it down and everyone will still play, and nobody will get hurt.
    Just my 2 cents…

    1. The syllabus does have a lot, but I think what gives the sense of overload is how far the instructors push. This last semester was rough for me (as an open online participant) as each week the amount of work was progressively larger. I understand that as the tools become familiar and comfortable, it’s expected that the students should be able to produce more, but I like the way that the large syllabus seems to be a “pick your own course” smorgasbord of options. For example, I haven’t seen the web or writing assignments happen in the last two iterations of the course, and the introduction of the “remix” assignment helped to keep things fresh.

  2. This feedback is helpful, the loading of the assignments was a new element this time around with the introduction of the star weightings. And in hindsight the load for video was high (though compensated by extending the timelines).

    Leaving out the writing and web assignments was a choice to open more space.

    What I could have done more of is activity, prompts, discussion for connecting the work done to the higher level ideas of role of storytelling, relation to concepts of Cyberinfrastructure (most did grok this).

    The Daily Creates grew into a chore for some, the t weeks of doing it 7 times was intense.

    I’d agree the remix was valuable in that it led students to explore each others work- there might be ways to include that as a regular element along the way.

    The experience in the spring is going to be factored into the summer as well.

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