cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Kim’n’Cris Knight

The Headless ds106 Experiment is mostly over, in the never really over way of ds106. I had a great time, we saw a nice wave of new energetic folks come into the fold, and we ended with a big bang of a project that was not even in the plans.

You will most likely never read about this in the New York Times, Slate, Fast Company, The Chronicle of Higher Education, not even the Weekly World News. That’s fine by me.

This post has sprawled far past the reasonable bit size attention span length everyone seem so acknowledge. I planned to close with this, but for TLDR or whatever it is–

Massive online learning in numbers does not interest me at all; what does is massive amounts of creative effort by perhaps a small core of participants and a lovely long tail of activity by a larger number.

To recap the original idea

Since January 2011 ds106 has been taught at University of Mary Washington (UMW) and other institutions as a course for credit but also has at the same time been open to participants from the web (learn more about ds106). However, for someone new to ds106 as an open participant, it has not been very clear what they can do (we’ve made some suggestions as a starting point).

Because UMW is not offering a formal course for Fall 2013, I had a thought”“ what if we set up a syllabus based on the previous iterations of class, set the weekly assignments as scheduled posts, and invited people to participate in it as a course w/o a teacher?

It was not simply copy old posts and republish… I greatly underestimated what it would take to remove the parts of previous UMW classes that was specific to them, take out wording that says “required”. About halfway in I started trying to add a weekly video, arttcle link, etc as an “inspiration”… sometimes toed to the topic, sometimes just more general.

So we have a complete syllabus of the experience. More on a plan for this later.

What did you learn? For the long haul, you need a continual flow of people reaching their own peak ds106 experience…

I sometimes use the phrase “infection” for the manic state some people get when they immerse themselves into ds106. My peak experience was the Spring of 2011 when I probably did every bit and more of the open course, and the only reason for my stay in here is I have gotten infected with the insides of the operation.

There is a long list of people who have had peak experiences, who are still “in” ds106 but in a less participatory mode. You cannot really do a second peak experience, so its natural that people who were once heavily involved tail off. It’s the natural order.

People do continue in different ways- Cris Crisman keeps at the Daily Creates, Zack Dowell chips in the funniest photoshop jobs. Melanie made a great GIF to uses as a sidebar feature, Bryan Jackson, Leslie Lindballe, GNA Garcia, Nigel Robertson and more more keep ds106 radio a lively place of its own. Talky Tina, our resident talking / blogging/ giffing/ true friending / creating doll, offers encouragement and taught her radio group a lot of things about organizing a group project.

No xMOOC will every have a talking doll as a key participant.

I could go on and on, and am probably leaving out more than I mention. Sorry.

Todd Conaway dips in frequently (and he picked up the Headless with a graphic and trailer)

So what was refreshing this time was seeing a solid group of people more new to ds106 and watching their peak experiences roll out. Some peaked out, my new mantra is all glasses are pleasantly partly full.

Special Headless recognition goes to Rochelle Lockridge, who may have had a second peak ds106 experience, and took this class where I would have never predicted, inside a corporate firewall at 3M (look for more on this as it expands). I think she is still peaking, but her devotion and detailed writeups of assignments are exemplary.

I also want to call out Marian Funes, our ds106 Shrink who was there for every step of the way as both a creator and a community encourager, and asker of big questions. Her 106 bullet points about ds106 are right out of the Bags of Gold. And as well, a thanks to Christina Hendricks for being there in the cracks of her busy schedule and Sandy Brown Jensen Brown Jensen Brown 🙂 who regularly contributed Daily Creates,rich poetic videos, questioned GIFs, spearheaded a radio show group.

All #4life.

The other addition was the emergence of the ds106 community in Google Plus. While I do not dip in as much, the size and devotion there was a catalyst that in many ways, worked better then in twitter. Out of there emerged the idea and creation of a collaborative storytelling site based on a series of animated GIFs (and again the community comes in, Michael Branson Smith setup a site for this).

There was a whole series of riffing on a GIF that started from a single daily create by Rochelle of her grandson towering over Stonehenge, ending up down a rabbit hole.

And then the whole strand of glitching (which came from?? an experiment by Michael Branson Smith??), John Johnston creating an app that made it much easier, which now features sound?

I cannot even cite all that went on.

And it was a question of the Headless ds106 to see if the community could motor on without a designated UMW class.

How about that data? I’m glad you asked. Well, maybe. Who are you? Oh I am you are me…

I decided out of my own OCD curiosity to try and gather some weekly stats on ds106. What I tracked, every Monday at midnight was:

A few times I was late to grab the data, but the revisions features in Google docs allowed by to back collect, and a few times for the ds106 posts, I had to do some calculations based on the dates of posts in the wordpress dashboard.

I would have liked to track some data from Google Plus.

Here is all the data we can get from Google Plus- the number of members of the community. I cannot even see a way to see the number of posts in the community (and no, I am not manually counting them).

I kept this in a google spreadsheet with some columns to math out the weekly levels of activity (not weak activity!).

There were over 1300 blog posts in the headless13 flow (and they keep coming in), averaging about 60 per week. We tracked over 6500 tweets (270 per week, with 3700 links shared), and among those, 1900 were replies.

Ahh, but I need a Pretty Chart(tm)

(click image for poster sized prettiness)

(click image for poster sized prettiness)

What I can tell you from watching the activity all along was we did have falloff of activity after the mid way point- with the rising action in twitter around the release of the group project radio shows (which were outstanding).

I have seen the exhaustion too at this point in our UMW students as well. The group project is demanding! This was why for UMW we followed this with what we thought are lesser taxing parts of doing Stories in/of the Web, and a observing week for video.

But the video and remix portions of the class take a lot of effort too, and largley people picked and chose what they wanted to do, or did Daily Creates, or went to non ds106 activities.

I debated whether to even add the final project in, heck I did not even feel like doing one. But I wanted it to be in the syllabus for future use.

And the remaining headless participants did what I love best- they trashed my project idea and did their own. They spoke- they wanted to do a group project, and it was one that so unfolded in the best emergent this is really how the internet works way, around the idea of this fictional (really) GIFaChrome camera. In itself, it emerged from a ds106 assignment, and gathered momentum from there.

You cannot peak more highly IMHO than our live radio broadcast event. It was ds106 and radio at its best (so far).

Is there more? Always. Lost in the shuffle of the final radio show was an attempt to gather the “Best of Headless ds106.

Here was the idea- ask people to tweet links to their personal favorite work, tagging it #ds106headlessbest. I set up another TAGs spreadsheet to track this. From here, we hoped people would than select the work of others they found inspiring, and submit them to the ds106 in[SPIRE] site… I ran out of steam there. But I like this as an ongoing way.

I will point to the storify of Headless Best “curated” by Mariana Funes

What’s next for ds106? How ironic, I look up at my computer clock, and it says

1:06 PM

For Spring 2014, there is no ds106 class scheduled for University of Mary Washington (Jim has said he is teaching a summer course). I am teaching an online 10 week version for George Mason University starting mid March, and this will be open as well.

I can see packaging the headless syllabus and assignment posts as an on going, self paced option for people who want to go through ds106 at its own pace. I wonder, ponder, and still cannot say for sure whether the weekly pace of an open course needs to be at that pace.

The Daily Creates will keep going. I cannot stop wanting to see it go on. Doing a 4 day building remix and nagging people seemed to have some success. I am hoping to re-craft the way the Daily Create works, so people could submit a link via a tweet, rather than having to use specific media services (and I plan to turn this into a WordPress theme one could use for their own Daily _________).

I also have to knuckle down and finish up the ds106 Assignment Banks as a theme too, thats on the front burner now, to make be something other people could customize and use.

There was some talk and banter at our closing ds106 campfire about perhaps another “container” for ds106 in January. And Seth Goodman tweeted an idea that is mildly resonating

I made some quip about 12 sided die, but have chatted with Mariana about this. Maybe if I blog it, John Johnston will build something 😉 Or Tom Woodward will Markov me into some weird mix. And for the 2.5 people who maybe got to the bottom of this overly long post, here goes.

Let’s say a group of perhaps four people decided they want a ds106 experience. They decided if they want it to be a week, two, a month. There is a gizmo thing on the ds106 site, maybe with some input parameters, maybe totally random, generates a “quest” for them that might include:

  • X number of future Daily Creates to do
  • X number of randomly chosen past Daily Creates to do
  • X number of randomly chosen assignments to do.
  • X number of new Daily Creates to add to the site
  • Some sort of group challenge, maybe a remix? or maybe they have to design new assignments, and do them?

Or some kind of list of things they are charged to do.

But what I have learned from the Headless experience that there ought to be more creative ways to create these open experience containers than a ____ week course.

They can be headless.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

And do you know what they call a course that ends?


Hardly sounds like open to me.

Keep on makin’ art.

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
Profile Picture for cogdog
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. awwww…. What a lovely summary and preview for a possible future: The DS106 quest! Bring it on.

    I am waiting for the Google Open Gallery to create a DS106 Headless 13 exhibition:

    I will keep adding to the Storify – I want Dorothy’s red shoes in there, an animated gif of yours. I am also thinking of getting an e-frame and load it up with my favourite Gifs…

    A quest with parameters determined by a quest group sound a fertile ground for experimenting.

  2. I loved exploring the statistic and I wondered about the fact that the replies are less than the posts. It would be most interesting to have a statistic about comments on blog posts, still, it is too much work to explore. Anyway, if possible we should honour hour top commenters. What would any creator be without an interested audience?

    1. I thought the twitter replies might indicate something about grow conversational was the use of twitter; it seems a good percentage of the total were replies.

      Sadly getting data on comments is difficult. Only WordPress blogs provide this info via RSS and even there it’s hard to accumulate.

      Everyone who comments wins !

  3. Alan,
    There is a whole lot I’d like to say or write about the headless round of ds106 that I’ll probably never get round to. It has been an amazing joy and distraction.
    I hope no one underestimates how much you put into this, if the course did not have a head it certainly had a beating heart to drive it forward.
    (random aside Heart of a Dog is great book).

    Missing from your data, for obvious reasons, is the google+ stuff. With a class of this size G+ became a very easy place to communicate & collaborate, a great pity it is not open.

    Seth’s idea sounds great, a ds106CourseGenerator. I an envisioning some sort of aggregator page that allows you to drag and drop assignment etc into week blocks to make a course. The course has an amazing set of both resources and assignments. Perhaps if the resources from the weekly posts were split up into posts and categorised and tagged they could be part of this two? Could this be part of your ‘ds106 in a box’?

  4. Oooooh, the idea of a shorter quest is super cool. Though I have to say I’ve really enjoyed the longer courses because I get to know people better, I think the shorter quests may be more do-able for some. And people could get together to get more than one if they want. Cool.

  5. You might have mentioned my name too often, but what one particularly likes about you is your ironic sense of humor.

    I count this Headless course a resounding success because there was a human (you) at the head, wherher you say you were or not. You can’t underestimate the power of one powerfully engaged consciousness as a bright attractor, a magnet for the delighted involvement of others.

    Students still need that mystical archetype called a teacher, whose power radiates through time and space.

    Still talking about you, BTW.

    As for me, I don’t need a MacDS 106 boxed lunch; I like being invited to the feast and being regaled by mine host across the expansive board.

    A toast to you! A toast to all the merry websters gathered here!

    1. Thank you Sandy, I was wanting to put that piece in, and then stopped as it sounds a bit like a self tooting horn and there are plenty of those already out there.

      But you are correct, the teacher’s role is essential, critical, and not just a warm body, but in this kind of environment, someone a bit OCD and willing to be the course bell ringer, court jester, etc. When I wrote up the original idea for headless ds106, I tried to emphasize that this is not a suggestion that courses could teach themselves without any teacher presence. What was folded into Headless ds106 was the experiences, ideas, and teaching strategies from all of us who have taught ds106 at UMW- Jim Groom and Martha Burtis, and others such as Michael Branson Smith and Scott Lockman. Plus we blurred the boundaries with leadership roles played by many participants this time around.

      But yeah, someone has to be there keeping the pace going. Teaching never ever ever is something you press a button and walk away from. I know that, you know that, and most other educators outside of silicon valley investment offices do as well.

      And a toast back to you! Keep on artin’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *