It’s back.

It’s dark, reflective, you are looking into it. It looks “off”.

But it’s not.

It’s looking at you.

Is it?

This is the 2020 iteration of a recast Network Narratives, the course I’ve co-taught (completely remotely) at Kean University with Mia Zamora. Things are different this time around, start with the intro that leads you to the new site. Here’s what it’s about.

Through my own fascination with the dystopian future as now series Black Mirror, I convinced Mia to borrow it as a metaphor (I used the Nosedive episode as a class project when I taught solo in 2018). The metaphor really jumped when I caught this video of series genius creator Charlie Brooker describing where the name cam from. It’s brilliant.

I also very much wanted to weave in the Black Mirror Writers Room activity that was done at Mozfest last year- I only knew of this via Anne-Marie Scott’s post from her experience in the workshop. It also wove in well as Mia and I wanted as well to have students appreciate the brilliance of the Screening Surveillance short films (very much part of the same genre) and hopefully tie in a remote class visit with sava saheli singh.

What we are aiming for is an examination of issues of digital citizenship, participatory culture, networked learning, and identity, leading to the creation of networked narrative type stories that can look into them along maybe the same kind of approach as the ones listed above.

We noticed last year when we attempted to engage students in looking at issues of privacy, tracking, surveillance, that often the result (even sometimes for ourselves) is a kind of melancholy sense of helplessness “what can we really do?” (we did ask them to creatively imagine in their final projects possible ways of light through the dark).

And if you’ve watched a few Black Mirror episodes, some are so dark they leave you rather… as they say over yonder… “gutted”.

But in an excellent essay about the series at the Verge, I like how they suggest that the narrative is changing, and maybe, not as utterly dystopian. That’s why I suggested one possible sub title of “Not Necessarily Dystopia”. It leaves room for participants to go darker, but it need not be that way.

We’ve changed up some things this time around, first by launching a new course site at http://netmirror.arganee.world

Twitter will be a part but not as central, we’ll engage in some activities around understanding network and participatory culture again using the #netnarr hashtag. As an interest crossover, Mia is asking students in her other course on Ethnic American Literature to use the same tag (their theme is “What does it Mean to be American”)

And as much as I love the syndicated course approach, I was eager to try the more in house approach of having the students write as authors on the course blog. This takes a chunk of setup away from setting up and fiddling with a blog, and just focus on writing.

I’m also eager to push more use of Hypothes.is – we have had the periodic use as most academics do to have participants do shared annotation of readings. I really want to have them as well to think about how it’s different as a public, but less visible, conversation space than social media. And I really keep holding hopes of getting some students to consider what a network narrative could be like that maybe hopped across the web in the annotation layer. It strikes me as a way of participating, but less visibly, in networked publics.

As before, the class meets in a regular (well it is in a new building) classroom at Kean University, with Mia in the room. As me on a screen with them for 3 hours was not always effective, we have a new format. The first half I will be out of the room as the class discusses weekly readings (students will each sign up to lead a session, suggest more readings, and organize a presentation/discussion activity).

I suggested rather than just have me trying to listen remotely, that it could be more interesting for the students to collaboratively recap the highlights, with tweets and or some group note taking on the whiteboard. It may not have a name, but maybe it’s “Recap for Alan”.

I will come in to help lead the “do” part of class where we engage with activities, maybe make some media, explore some network tools, etc.

There’s more on the table, we have a working overview of what will be happening by topic (kind of like our previous “spines”). This time around will be less trying to get all the activity in gory detail on the site, we have a new flavor to the weekly posts with them happening the day after class- Mia will post on the class discussion and what we are asking the students to do that week. Mine will be an overview and resources for the hands on activities.

I anticipate our long standing friends (Hi Kevin! Hi Wendy) who followed before as open participants might say, “what about us?” We will still have lots of places for you to jump in and mingle, but it’s less about trying to design a full parallel experience.

Like this week, we invite folks to join in our first Annotation as Discussion activity, a page on our site rigged to open up with Hypothes.is enabled.

I had some fun on the little splash site with a CSS animation technique I found in CodePen that replicates the opening title sequence of Black Mirror (I tossed in a background image with Backstretch and a second bit of text, and an old fashioned HTTP-Refresh for redirection).

Also on the Do Something New front, for the new site, maybe the first time ever, I am using the default WordPress theme, the new Twenty Twenty. I was intrigued as it’s development involved my favorite theme designer, Anders Norén, and it was built atop his Chaplin theme which I used last year on a few sites.

I know plenty of my colleagues whinge about the WordPress block editor, but I’m all in. The most recent version of WordPress has a lot of blocks that make it compelling, groups, and flexible columns, full width bleed blocks, better control over colors and backgrounds… I’m having fun pushing to around. To me it does a lot of things people end up wielding in those visual builders that end up turning your site into a tower of shortcodes.

Anyhow, that’s about a week in to this course. #NetNarr is a bit new, a bit dark, but not necessarily dystopian. And fun to be a part of.


Featured Image: Image used for NetMirror course page based on portion of cracked glass CC0 Pixrepo image (darkened) superimposed on Pixabay image of surveillance camera by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke plus distorted previous Netnarr logo.

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com 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.

Leave a Reply

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