Blog Pile

When the course is over…

Yeah, c’mon

When the course is over
When the course is over, yeah
When the course is over
Keep on the blogs
Keep on the blogs
Keep on the blogs, yeah

For the blog is your special friend
Keep on feeding as it intends
Blog is your only friend
Until the end
Until the end
Until the end

About the time last week I was in the UK, my most recent DS106 course ended. Thus DS Goes to Work, went to work, and overall I was very pleased with what the students were able to do. And more for the way they were able to write about their story ideas and process then the media products.

Again, this was an online course for George Mason University’s Instructional Design and Technology program. Students are all full time employees of a major consulting firm; many of them where taking one other courses. Quite a load on top of a job.

Besides the weekly assignment writeups, for no real reason beyond my own obsession, I made a fun (or I hoped would be) intro video that played on the “Goes to Work theme”, and included at least one relevant clip from a movie.

This was a chance to practice rapid video production, as I usually got the idea Sunday morning (often in the shower), did my filming while there was light (often me in multiple roles and wardrobes), and edited that evening.

OCD yes.

As compared to the more typical 14 week three credit undergraduate class, this one was seven weeks and two credits, so the weekly assignments had to be made leaner. The two week “bootcamp” and Introduction to Story telling were wrapped into the first week.

Rather than domaining on their owning, I had them create blogs, a new environment for just about all of them. Also a hard decision, I took twitter off the table as a required means of communication, something I think puts a chink in the community aspect. My approach was to make their blog commenting the place for interconnection.

They had a weekly requirement to provide constructive feedback to at least 3 other students (I started them in assigned groups of 4 blogs so they have least to skim through). What I asked in their weekly summaries of a recap of what they learned from the feedback received, as well as ideas they gained by looking at other people’s blogs. I’m really loose on how this is assessed; I do not want to be bean counting comments.

I saw some of the better commenting than I have seen before, maybe because this was the only avenue for students to be “together”? As one student noted

“Overall good ideas from the class and interesting ways folks are thinking this assignment through. I think that was part of what I liked is how different people took different angles with their story. That gave me some ideas on how I can make my story just a story about something that happened. It does not have to be something that is a step-by-step process.”

Also left on the road side was animated GIFs (sad, I know) and the mid term group audio project.

Everything was meant to build towards creating a final project in their last week. In previous years, I had students create a story woven form media created from various DS106 Assignments. To make it geared more towards the work they do (but stay outside of the proprietary stuff they might do at work), I let them know the final project would be (as described in the first week, deliberately vaguely defined) having to find something in the world around them that could be better explained or understood via a storytelling approach.

In week 1, I suggested looking at the difference in a “storified” and “non-storified” approach, with examples taken from a Touchcast video on Design and Storytelling. These are both technical products, take a different approach to the way the product is presented

To have students thinking about this, I made a weekly exercise for them to write a post on their site with a possible example they found that week; whether good or bad, by the time week 8 rolled along, they could have as many as 8 potential project subjects (rather than trying to come up with it that last week). This did work out well, thought later in the class I could sense they were wheel spinning, so in week 7 I suggested that they could revisit an earlier idea, and in week 7/8, they could review the ideas from others in class. See the final project specs for what was asked of them.

Among newer things I introduced this time around is using the concept of the Story Spine (thanks to Darren Kuropatwa) for students to outline the shape of a story, be it theirs or ones they reviewed. I saw it used by students in many of their assignments and their final projects

Another early exercise meant to help them understand how video works and the notion of a story in a small container, I asked them to analyze a TV commercial (found in YouTube) down to 5 second intervals. I introduced this with a video of Ridley Scott talking about the making of the 1984 Macintosh commercial and Jeffery Davis’s piece in The Story Code Behind Van Damme’s Viral Splits.

I got this idea truly from a post by one of Michael Branson-Smith’s students who analyzed a Nike commercial at this detail– this close watching makes for good practice in noticing details of camera angle, sound effects, and the movement of a story arc.

Some sample work here:

Week 3 (Visual Storytelling) and Week 4 (Design) followed from previous DS106 classes; there was practice in photo techniques, a five card flickr story, a photo safari, a design safari, and use of the Assignment Bank to choose additional assignments. Rather them sending into the big pool, I suggested each week a recommended set of 6-8 assignments, but they were free (and several did) to go in the bank to find one on their own.

I was told these students had access to the Adobe Creative Suite, so to bring myself up to date, I got the latest Photoshop via the new cloud subscription service. However, I found most students relied on pixlr or did their compositions in, of all things, Powerpoint. As I tell them there is no required tool, I certainly cannot ding them on that one (and it does let you create in layers).

I saw work that may have been visually and design-wise more simple than years past, but what mattered more was when I saw good ideas and process described. Some examples

Design Safari

The Swann (Street) Never Looked Better (Photo Safari)

“I must admit I always wondered about the grid lines on the iphone when you were taking a photo and why you would ever want to turn them on. Now after reading about all these photo techniques and especially the “Rule of Thirds” you get to know why. “

Fourth Times The Charm (Four Icon challenge)

“I used Flat Icon for all of my images and chose the Mask, Cat, Typewriter, and Present icons for the assignment. I downloaded these images for free, and inserted them into a PowerPoint slide for editing. I re-sized the images so that they were all the same height and width for symmetry, and aligned them so they fell on the same line. I spaced them out using the “distribute horizontally” tool so that they were evenly spread. I then put a border around them, added in elements of color (hint #3) by layering shapes behind the images, and grouped the images all together. I then selected the grouping and saved as an jpeg image for embedding into this post. I may have been a little too obvious in my design, but I was having way too much fun with colors and themes.”

Note- this one is new to me, thanks!

A curse upon me ““ my selfie photobombed! (Historical Seflies) – this student made a lot of use of her own photos from international travel

I Love It When It Rains Quotes (Illustrating Odd Auto-completes)

5 card flickr stories

I covered audio in a week; to get them into SoundCloud and embedding one into their blog, I made a simple task to record a fake newscast. This gave some latitude they used well, a side benefit was it was the first time I heard their own voices. One comment I heard from at least three students was that they had accounts but had used it primarily for listening to music.

“I actually already had a SoundCloud account before this assignment, but have never uploaded anything to my account. I had created it a while ago to listen to some of my friend’s music, but never really felt like I had much to contribute to that world.”

Some examples of their intros

As usual, I required them to do the Sound Effect Story, it works so well to get them editing in Audacity and using layers (I started last year requiring students to include a screen shot of their editing so I could get a glimpse of how they were using tracks). Some examples

I also have them experience the creating of Foley sounds by doing a 30 second segment of Charlie Chaplin clip. This nearly always garners interesting responses, and highlights inventiveness in generating the sound sources. I had at least 3 students report getting assistance from their spouses/partners, e.g. Saturday in the Park with a Lion

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to incorporate all of these sound elements, so I walked through it a couple times in my head to see which made sense. I then gathered my sound creation elements and experimented with how the sounds interacted and practiced switching between them quickly.

My husband thought I was going crazy for a second, and walked over to see what was going on. I took that as an opportunity to get him involved as my Foley partner.”

I do have to comment the student who took on the Craigs List Beat Poetry audio assignment, with
All you can take Cactus–

The Chaplin Foley audio exercise becomes something I build on in the two week segment of video; they have to take that clip, edit in foley sounds from other students, and create a video story out of it. This has them get into video editing, basics of separating sound, using multiple audio tracks, and creating titles, credits, and cuts. I was imrpessed with the different kinds of stories they told for the Tramp inside the Lion Cage; just two exmaples

Darwin Award Honorable Mention

Chaplin Circus Fraternity Initiation

“This was my first video creation/editing experience! I learned a lot from this assignment and it was cool to see how easy it can be to add in things like a title and credits. The trickiest part for me was adding in the overlay audio, but I ended up using Audacity to create the “layered” audio that I needed. The story that I used was that the man in the video was a new employee looking to join the Circus’ fraternity and part if joining it, he needed to prove his “worth” by entering the lions cage. There really wasn’t any main reason as to why I chose this storyline, it’s just something I thought of and went with it.”

As usual, students using Windows Movie Maker end up rarely giving the software compliments.

The final projects showed again a lot of inventiveness, and a few even went a bit astray of the assignment intent. I really do not feel like the rules of the assignment are worth enforcing as a constraint; if a student produces something compelling and well explained as a digital story, I would rather reward creativity than punish for not following rules.

I am thinking here of what one student did as a story about a font named Calvin; I was looking more for a web page story with media elements of audio, visual, design, but she did demonstrate it all in her writeup. And I like the way she stayed true to the story elements.

A few other samples

The Silent Super Hero ““ Polly Public

“I’m glad that I got to work with Audacity several times prior as I finally felt comfortable with it and only had to look up how to lower my pitch. Movie Maker was also not as scary given that I had experience with it as well. All in all, save for perhaps the images, I would not have believed it if I told myself back in March I would make my own audio and video track and post them to a blog!!”

More details on the making of Polly Public

One student used a bit of his own story, which I find a brave move, considering the reveal:

“Despite all of the late nights wrapping up work for this course, this final project made it all worth it. To be completely honest, this story isn’t really about Eric. It’s about me. Although I definitely embellished and exaggerated many aspects of the story, I was unquestionably addicted to video games when I was in college. Specifically, I was addicted to Halo. This addiction almost cost me everything. I was indeed staying up until all hours of the night playing Halo, and I definitely skipped the majority of my classes.”

A bit lighthearted personification of a berry of all things in being mixed into Sangria , is used to probe more the idea of multiculturalism

“I storified my sangria recipe to serve as a metaphor for how I see multiculturalism. I personified d the strawberry, the main staple ingredient in my recipe, to act as the central character in the story. I named it Strauss Behre. I humanized a strawberry by adding eyes and a nose using bits of a blueberry. I also personified a navel orange and a yellow mango by adding eyes, ears, and a mouth using grapes.”

More on the making of the Sangria Story

I will highlight one video assignment that pretty much blew my socks off, called “It’s Not You, It’s Me”

“The title of the story is “It’s not you, it’s me” named after the dreaded line that any guy or gal loathes to hear on the other end of a phone line or an awkward coffee table. A more recent encounter with this phrase inspired the video and the story is about a person who starts of his day like normal, assuming all is well and continuous until he checks his mail and receives “the line.” The world turns to grey and through body gestures, pauses, perspective, he comes to a realization that he shouldn’t worry and that there are others around to support him. He loosens the constraints of his work attire, representing the confines of emotion to which he has resigned himself and finds new friends in strangers in the park who support him on a slack line, a metaphor for balancing life and how we can’t do it alone.”

This was quite a production, with filming around various locations of Washington DC, attention to Ebert’s idea of left and right character placement, and use of black and white versus color. But in a comment, Amos says he was influenced by a 2012 DS106 video assignment, Coffee, Is My, by UMW student Rachel

That is, he was inspired.

As usual, teaching DS106 ends up as wonderful rewarding and completely draining. I lost 3 students to schedule demands (one pregnancy). Three more could not keep up and took incompletes. And 10 finished strong, all but one an A. I am an easy grader if they are in the mix, and writing up their work consistently.

Alas, I just got the word from central HQ

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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. So…you were fired? What’s up with that? Is that actually what happened? Cliffhanger!
    Great write-up…i don’t consider Twitter and gifs to be big losses. Word Press was a gutsy choice. When I have a set of newbies that are already challenged by course content, I put them on Blogger; however, I actually think professionals who want to perform at the higher tech levels promised/demanded by DS106 should be able to handle Word Press.

    Well, you are a teachin’ fool. Give it a rest!

  2. Dog, I’m impressed by this post.
    First, because it shows a deeply committed teacher, working carefully with students and also experimenting effectively. I admire how you’re willing to give up on some favorites (animated GIFs, Twitter).
    Second, because you took such pains to document and reflect on the experience here. Linking out to student work, looking back on your decisions, making more media yourself – all in public, for us to learn from. What a model for other teachers!

  3. Thank you for a great 8-week course! I may find myself trolling through the DS Assignment Bank again, when time permits, and challenging myself to complete more of those assignments 🙂

  4. Dr. Levine – Just hoping to reach you! I sent you an email but haven’t heard back. What’s the best way to reach you?

    Thanks for the course!

  5. I’m just now seeing this. I think it shows great integrity that you took the time to do a write-up just as you asked us to do every week for class! I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I’m taking another design-related course this summer and I am so thankful I had the introduction to the concepts you taught in this class and am missing the sense of community you were so successful in building for us/with us.

    1. Thank you so much- it makes everything worth it to hear comments like this. So sometimes you have to make community if it’s not there. Best of luck in your course work; your creativity in ds106 was rewarding.

  6. I can only commend the creator of DS106. I learned more than I could have imagined about my computer, my eyes and unique ways to use sounds, tools to design and create stories even from photos. At this point it is time to start over again now that I can work the tools and I can apply my design skills.

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