cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by blentley

When I taught ds106 last Spring at University of Mary Washington, one of the effective in class activities Jim Groom and I came up with was giving the students what we called “rapid design challenges” – just quick activities that pressured them to create quickly, and stretch their on the spot thinking.

These were things like asking them to find three photos of varying kinds (converging lines, people shots) and posting to flickr, finding design elements in the building, etc. In a similar fashion, Michael Branson Smith started his ds106-like class at York College by having his students photograph and post images of interesting shadows.

I can only guess about why this seems effective, it has many of the merits of improv:

  • The adrenaline rush of the time limit makes it exciting. I will not take a word like game and attach am “ify” to the end of it. I won’t
  • It moves people over laboring tediously over the media- make it and move in.
  • It encourages creativity in the moment.
  • It helps people notice things they might not see before.
  • Heck, it is fun

This week in ds106 we focus on visual storytelling much which is photography, and I thought how this activity might translate for online students. Part of the energy when I was in the classroom was that multiplied energy as people were doing the same challenge in the same space.

So this is how we set it up:

Here is an exercise we did in class as a fun way to try out your visual interpretation skills. We give you a series of things to capture in photos you must capture within a 20 minute window of time. In this case, it is less about capturing artistic images, but just doing what you can to be inventive. Before you do this, pick a place that is likely to have a lot of variety of subjects (middle of town ro campus, your basement, whatever).

Here is what to do on for the blitz!

  1. Your first photo is of something that shows the current time! Document when you started the blitz.
  2. In the next 20 minutes, try to capture as many of the following photos as you can
    • Make an ordinary object look more interesting, almost supernatural.
    • Take a photo that makes use of converging lines.
    • Take a photo dominated by a single color
    • Take a photo of something at an unusual angle
    • Take a photo of two things that do not belong together.
    • Take a photo that represents the idea of “openness”
    • Take a photo that expresses a human emotion
    • Make a photo that is abstract, that would make someone ask, “Is that a photograph?”
    • Take a photo of an interesting shadow.
    • Take a photo of someone else’s hand (or paw)
  3. Take another photo of a timepiece that shows the time you stopped. It should be twenty minutes since step 1, right?
  4. Upload your five best photos to flickr, and tag them “ds106photoblitz”
  5. Write a blog post about your experience. Describe the place you chose to do this, and why you chose it. What was the experience like? What photos worked for you best? Give feedback/suggestions via comments for at least 3 other persons photos (you can find all the ones with this tag at What were the best ones you saw in the pool of photos? Why?

I was proud to see several of my students have already taken it on, a number of them choosing to do the challenge in their dorm room.

This means I ought to do my own challenge.

So while working today with Giulia at Brock University, we clocked our 20 minutes wandering the connected hallways around campus. I clocked my time by doing scree caps on my iPhone… and I managed to take 40 photos in 20 minutes (compulsive). Here is mine, done by adding them to a flickr set and then embedding the slide show:

There are already more than 200 photos in the tag stream – if you want to do the assignment, I also put the elements in the text for my set

What do you think of the value of this? How might you do your own blitz?

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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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so)


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