cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Here comes the requisite apology for late blogging…

I had plans to write up some reflections on the past semester of ds106; this is part 1 of a series, in the next one I hope to look out the front windshield to some ideas for the next iteration of the class I am teaching at UMW starting January 14.

Some summary I’ve assembled from my section (I reelly like using Storify for this):

This was the most highly functioning groups of students I have had this year. I saw more than a few of them really pick up the level of writing to be more than reporting “this is my assignment” but where they were thinking and reflecting on it. I’m going to sprinkle a few quotes from them as this post grows legs.

And my last bit of advice, start early. Start early on the assignments and start early asking for help. The professors are more than helpful and have lightning fast responses compared to all those other dull professors you’ve had. Don’t fall behind, because as I’m finding out, from week one until week sixteen, it all builds off what you learn. And if you learn a lot, and understand what you’re doing, the assignments will be a lot easier and you won’t stay up all night trying to get your URL in by the deadline. Plus, start early on your summary. A good summary should take 45 mins ““ 1 hour to type up. That way you can explain what you did and why you did it. Take my advice and you will prevent hacking away at DS106 for hours and hours on Sunday and wishing you weren’t so stressed.

First, I cannto say enough about parallel teaching with Martha Burtis; last summer we co-taught the Camp Magic Macguffin iteration of ds106. This past semester we each had our own section, but collaboratively planned each week so we were doing the same assignments- doing this while I was bopping around the country. We tried each week to publish a video review of the week’s work, our Tuesday Videos. We did these as one off ad-lib videos via Google Hangouts, used solely to record and publish the videos. Sometimes they went live within 5 minutes of ending the sessions.

The other big change (another Brilliant Idea from Martha) was our use of an LMS.


Yes, we used Canvas– as a gradebook. The way we graded in the past was a large cumulative grading at the end, based on some general outline of percentages. The students never really knew where they stood. The new wrinkle was that each week students had to blog their weekly summaries, and that was a URL they would enter in the Canvas gradebook as a record of what they did that week.

This did a few things- it made a deadline they had to reach for turning in their work. The gradebook is good because it captures a static snapshot at the time they turned it in (so they canot change ti later and sat ‘I DID DO MY 5 CARD STORY’), but its also available as a live link. Each week’sportion had a point value as well as their requirements like the group project, final project and participation. So they could check any time and see where they stood in class.

It also gave a place to give some more critical feedback than I might put in their blog

For me, it helped to look each week at the student work side by side, rather than trying to hold memories in my head.

There it is. I am a fan of the LMS.

It’s been one heck of a ride. I’m going to really miss this class. Despite doing a ton of last minute work, the work I’ve done for this class has been by far my most enjoyable of my college career. With that being said, there’s no time to get misty eyed. I have to share with you one of my favorite things I’ve done for DS106.

We also used it for having students set up groups

The roll out of UMW Domains greatly accelerated our students entrance into owning and setting up their domain, and getting going with WordPress (see Tim Owens’ series coming out now on this project). Within 2 days, more than 3/4 of our students not only had domains active but already had WordPress installed and all of them were going in the first week.

Our two week focusBoot Camp” on getting up to speed with blogging, using flickr, youtube, and sound cloud was also extremely effective on getting them up to speed with their web publishing.

Well this is it. My final blog post. Never thought this day will come. At moments throughout this semester i prayed from this day to come but now that its hear i really dont know how i feel. Kinda upset, sad, i feel like im breaking up with my blog. I feel like i need to grab some ice-cream and watch reruns of Seinfeld just to life my spirit. I was a man and his blog and now Im just a man..

To begin my final blog post Ill start with my final thoughts about DS106. DS106 really pushed my boundaries. It made me come out of my shell are share my creative side with the world through Youtube videos, Soundloud clips and Flickr photos. For christ sake i was a quite, keep to myself kid and some how, cogdog, you got me pumped up to reenact a dialogue from the notebook between Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosseling! Never thought in a million years id do that! But ok getting back to my final thoughts i really enjoyed this class it has gotten me more connected with the social world and has taught me skills that i will remember and master for the rest of my life.

Moving the introduction to audio earlier helped as well – it gave them longer to do the set up work for their group audio projects. After a focus on listening to audio, and an introduction to ds106 radio, we moved them into the two weeks of Visual Storytelling and Design.

As for my final reflections on ds106 I have to say that I enjoyed it. Maybe this has something to do with throwing out a lot of terrible puns and hoping that someone will catch them. I’ll probably creep on back and be a random commenter on the next semesters’ blogs and hopefully continue to work on assignments in the repository. I learned that that’s when I create best and I’ll be challenged because the more I work on them the fewer and fewer my options will be and I’ll truly challenge myself to make good work. I’m excited about the future of Domain of One’s Own and what part I can play in it (because I’m 100% certain that I am keeping this blog). Maybe there will be a graduate ds106 school to apply to?

The group projects were a mixed success; the quality and group dynamics. I saw the whole spectrum, a group that jelled better than I could ever dream, one group that totally did not, one student who just did not participate — the usual stuff that happens in groups.

We found it effective also in the later parts of the course (Video, Remix, final projects) when we gave a two week span for work, but had at least one part due in between. Some students still waited until way late, but others did well to space their work out.

I do worry some about how most students cling to the Assignment Mindset- “what do I need to do to get the points in the least amount of effort?” Repeatedly I remind them:

The first rule of ds106 club is that you can break any assignment rule if you do something creative as a result

I want them to feel free to interpret the how to do assignments in a way they see fit, not just do what the assingment says. A few of them still comb through the assignment bank to find the easy ones just to check them off. Franly I see no value in doing things like Zombify it which only takes uploading a photo to a web site and clicking a button. The only way I see value there is if they write something around it and give it a context.

I had a great time this semester!!! I go a chance to experience and learn many different things. I got out of my comfort zone, got more comfortable with my own thoughts and ideas, and realized that how I interpret things can not be defined as “right” or “wrong””¦ simply because it’s within my thoughts and there is no definition for ones thoughts. I enjoyed making new accounts (that I will most likely continue to use)”¦ looking at other people’s working and realizing that although I may not think I’m being creative, someone else in the world may see my work as creative.

One idea Martha and I ad is that rather them give them free reign for a week’s work from the Assignment bank for just “15 stars” is to pick one common assignment they all must do, and then use the bank for a number of additional assignments they can choose from. This way we have some common ones all will do, so they can compare their work with others.

I spent hours and hours commenting, prodding students to do more than just seek the end goal of making an image or a GIF, but to write abut it, tell us the idea behind it. I’d always ask “what is the story here?”

I started my idea of what digital storytelling is by saying “To add digital to storytelling creates a whole new world”. I still believe that is true and I believe that I accomplished that through this class. I created new things from old things, remixed, created new audio, and new visual things. I still believe that digital opens up a whole new world to the idea of general storytelling. They can be accessed by so many people. I’ve had friends randomly come across one of my projects on youtube. It’s truly amazing what adding digital does to the idea of storytelling.

Some general summaries:

  • They resonated a lot with the Kurt Vonnegut video on The Shape of Stories, the Ira Glass videos on storytellng, the Everything is a Remix series. Most had never heard of or considered Creative Commons (making them no different from ost of their teachers), copyright.
  • They all started audio with dread or dioscomfot, but grew to appreciate the power of editing audio and producing sound effects.
  • >I had one student who experienced the Reddit Effect – she was wondering why her site was offline; it was because her GIF was getting upvoted like crazy. Success in ds106 is doing something that causes traffic to take down the server.
  • Most students lack experience in video editing, and were able to do fair to high quality editing in a short span of time.
  • I still struggle with a way to get them to comment more on each other’s work (again making them no different than 99% of the internet). I hate making a point count. I am thinking next semester of making them responsible for recruiting feedback to their own blog posts, make them responsible for soliciting comments.
  • I just love that we do not have to teach software. We dont do tutorials on how to do every task- it is a key feature of ds106 that students have to figure a lot out. They learn about their best friend. They discover tools I have not heard of. They figure out that YouTube has more how to videos than we could ever dream of.

Perhaps this is crass, but I have to say it: holy crap.

When I signed up for ds106 last semester, I think I was expecting a fun, creative class that would help me earn all my required credits towards graduation without pushing me over the limit of English courses I could take. I was curious about all the hype and figured if I had the chance, I might as well jump in and see what everybody was talking about. I never could have predicted what I was getting myself into.

I wasn’t expecting mad Sunday Scrambles, late nights, Team RadTASTIC, zombies, the best group project in the history of the world, coding, YouTube videos, awkward filming at train stations, creating my own assignments, rampant nerdery, redefining how I learn, two weeks spent fangirling over favorite novels, and a growing passion for a field I didn’t even know existed until I took this class. Ds106 hasn’t just been a great course, it’s helped me to realize what I might want to do with my life, influenced where I’m going to apply to grad school, inspired an independent research project for next semester, and will hopefully lead me into a career that I would have bet money against me being interested in last August.

  • We saw more use of twitter by students, maybe of them realizing it to be the best way to get answers. We had afew minor tweetable tasks early on, but want them to grow into it as a thing they see the value of, not tweeting for the grade.
  • I thought using Google Hangouts for office hours was a good idea, and I had a few sessions in the beginning where I was able to trouble shoot some issues via screen sharing, but most students never took advantage of it. I stopped trying.
  • Two students have already picked up their post-ds106 blogging, writing of their next interests.
  • I was pleased to see students keeping to a common theme or topic, if it was Cap’n Tony’s Pirate theme, how Rescue Sgt Socks used his activities as an EMT for content, Shenika for using her cute son as regular subject, Grace and her interest in surfing, or Brittany’s love of Nemo.
  • We tried something new for the final projects; instead of open-ended “Make a story” we had them pick a character and tell a story using a mix of ~15 stars worth of assignments to support the story. the goal was to have them weave a narrative though the media which a number of them did well, but others just did a string of assignments and never made any connective tissue. For them, i tossed them back to that Kurt Vonnegut video and asked them to consider if they had really created any shape to their story.

For me, I am feeling like I am hitting my stride with teaching. We have the syllabus in a place where the timing and tasks feel right. I had a superb group of students who kept at it when we gave them more and more work each week.

So what more can I say about digital storytelling that I have not already said this week? Ahhh maybe I should be thankful for my opportunity to take part in such a unique online class. Some last minute brown nosing is definitely in order. I would like to thank my professor Alan Levine for all he has done for us throughout this semester. With his help and the help of this class along with the help of my fellow students, I have a new outlook on Digital Storytelling. I look for video editing and new ideas in every video I watch now. It is a curse, I used to just mindlessly enjoy them. Nah that is not entirely true. I was getting ideas from video and applying them to life and new ideas before this class, I just was not aware of what I was doing. I do this to the radio now too. When listening to broadcasts, I now know more of what goes into the broadcasts and the ideas behind loud noises and soft noises. Furthermore, I get to understand the ideas behind the design of anything that gets designed. Photos, billboards, webpages, houses, pretty much anything that is designed, I understand better. In closing, I have known through my collage career that you can utilize every class in any other class you take, and I know that this class will come in handy as I continue my major and future endeavors. That being said I leave you with one more borrowed and edited phrase. Cap’n, out!

You know, re-reading these quotes, I am so energized and confirmed for what we are doing with ds106. If you do anything, listen to the students themselves describe their experience.

This is not about revolutionizing education or scaling some thing to world changing proportions, it is not even about us changing students, its showing them how to change themselves. I see in their writings new awarenesses of media, of the web, of their place in it, I see unleashed creativity, I see an acceptance of a learning environment that pushes them to reach out and grab their own learning.

And I am pretty friggin’ excited to do this again.

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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. Alan, thank you for this awesome round-up. You are my teaching hero! When I am banging my head against the wall of the rules of General Education instruction at my school, I ask myself “how can I be more like ds106 and not get fired…?” – because, alas, the first rule of General Education courses at my school is NOT that you can break any rule if you do something creative as a result… THANK YOU for being a ray of hope in the MOOC darkness.

  2. Alan, This is a very useful and instructive and inspiring summary/metacognitive rear view mirror look at the semester that was. I am intrigued by your innovative use of Storify and I am thinking it is a way for students to do research projects. I appreciate your focus on narrative line; that is an important outcome of an earlier discussion. This is a syllabus-building weekend for me, and you have my mind thinking outside the box first thing this morning!

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