attending to the shadow of living and learning on the web


digital storytelling

Social Networks then and now

As is often the case with my learning online many paths start with a tweet.

In my digital storytelling work I have of late become interested in Twitter Bots. There are wonderful bots as well as crappy spam ones. Just as in the rest of life amongst humans. Some make art for you, others poetry, and yet others make a fine go at sounding wise mediated by text at least, like @everyadage above. I have made several posters illustrating the sayings as they are in that uncanny valley space of almost making sense and that interests me.

The saying made me stop and reflect. The sense it made for me was in connection with the light and shadow side of groups of people who come together to learn (apologies for the long description but other terms such as communities, connections or networks come with too much baggage for my purpose here) in open online learning events. I have written before and often about the implications of a free-for-all ethos where no social or psychological contract is agreed upon or followed through by participants or facilitators.

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Working virtually: Treat each thing as if it were alive


When I started thinking about this post I wanted to write about ‘team’ work and how to do it virtually. Team seems such an overused word it means little anymore when used to refer to groups of people working together physically or virtually.

In my work I am often asked often how to manage groups of people who are not co-located but have to collaborate. There is literature on it but it mostly says just ‘use what we know about teamwork in the physical and find ways to apply it to the virtual’.  Trouble is, this advise does not work very well. Or, more accurately, if you have the right people for the job they will make the advise work. But then, they would make any advise work. It matters to me to find out what is the difference that makes the difference practically not theoretically.

I set out at the beginning of this year to learn about virtual collaboration by becoming a student again. It is easy to think about the theory of effective team work and say to my own students, this is how I would apply it to working virtually. It is quite another to say, this is how I made it work. This post is about how I made it work. All I offer here is a personal view, informed by many years of teaching and facilitating groups for the purposes of learning and getting business done.

I want to compare a negative experience with a positive one. I studied with the Open University (#H817) earlier in the year and we had to to get a project done in project teams. This ‘teams’  were little more than a collection of individuals mandated to work on a disposable assignment, in the sense the sense David Wiley uses the term:

These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away.

Much of that course was designed through disposable assignments, this was managable when working in isolation, but took a new level of complexity and learnt helplessness when having to engage others in order to succeed at something nobody (including the educators) cared about.

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I am not doing #rhizo14 but I guess I’m in!

Thank you Matthias for your video which I used to remix. See:

I made the decision to not join #rhizo14 as I like to focus on one course at a time when I learn. It was all too tempting though. Many people from my online network were doing it and I wanted in too…

I decided to help out with Google Plus as it seemed an unloved branch of the course. I visited, created a few categories, added some images and resources, offered to support Ron who was really keen to moderate the community and who had actually been moderating it since before the course started welcoming new members and simply being present on G+ – he just did not have the label.

I then moved on to DS106 and what is next for me there. Or so I thought. This morning I thought what harm could it do to watch Dave’s introductory video and then get on with work? I was fascinated by the notion that ‘Learning as cheating’ had been set up by Dave as a way to disrupt and challenge preconceptions about learning.

The whole ethos of this blog (some might say my life…) is the idea of looking into the double mirror of life. Humans get so comfortable with our preconceptions and certainties that I make it a daily practice to live in a state of ‘epistemological hovering’ as Tyler Cohen likes to say. I live life in uncertainty and no longer look for certainty. I ask as often as possible: What have I changed my mind about recently and why? and worry if the answer is nothing. I set up this space to help me look at the other side. Given a chosen field, what are the themes that are being backgrounded or in the shadow? What are we not paying attention to that we might benefit from exploring? In keeping with this, one of my first posts on the #rhizo14 community was one that offered some challenge to the idea of the rhizome as a descriptor for deep learning. A ‘weedy’ rhizome did not seem inspiring and less so this statement:

Bamboo and other rhizomatic plants are great at spread, survival and colonisation of new territories. But as ecologists and gardeners know, if unchecked they become weeds and can dominate and suppress a plant community or a garden instead of enriching it. They are also clones – the rhizomes produce exact copies of the ‘mother’ plant.

So instead of free exploration and exchange of ideas leading to rich and unpredictable learning – the story of rhizomatic learning can equally be a story of domination and monoculture, with rarer and more delicate ‘flowers’ getting pushed out, suppressed – not able to grow.

I can probably spend the next 6 weeks unpacking the implications of the statement above in relation the psychology of learning – which is my passion as a cognitive psychologist. I will come back to this I am sure.

Right now, I was grabbed by the idea of using ‘cheating as learning’ as a construct to challenge dusty beliefs about how we teach and learn. Juxtaposing old beliefs about copying and creating; using the apparent clash to reflect on what it means to learn. Of course, coming fresh from doing DS106 more than full time ( I took a sabbatical from teaching last year to do this) this is not an unfamiliar concept. After all, I now know that ‘everything is a remix’ and find it much easier now to teach creative thinking to my students through this construct than many hours of experimental psychology evidence that shows that  a focus on individual creativity is only half the story. It is only when we ask, where is creativity that we see that individual creativity relies on a domain of knowledge, a community of shared contacts and that systemic creativity is the only sensible way to describe creative thought.

Continue reading “I am not doing #rhizo14 but I guess I’m in!”

No! You should not do DS106

“I found a village of humans from many parts of our planet. How strange is that? I found a small village that seemed caring. Not all of them to be sure. Some were more distant than others, some more polite, some more fearful. But I found them to be, in the rectangle before me on my desk in Swaffham, humans who shared some similar purpose. And I was part of it. The villagers would help me if I needed assistance. Not just the “professor” Jim Groom, but the students themselves offered assistance. Just like my town of Swaffham. There was caring and there was camaraderie. And chaos, but that is another story for someone else to tell.” Dr Oblivion who retired, played Suduku and lived peacefully in Swaffham before his mysterious death.

or is it?

I have been trying to find a cogent critique of the University of Mary Washington’s digital storytelling course – DS106 and I have not managed to find anything that addresses my need to evaluate this course for the Masters in Online and Distance Education I am doing at the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom.

I have to admit a bias upfront – I love DS106 and I am putting my Masters on hold in order to join the next run DS106 charmingly (?) called ‘Headless 13’  I also believe in the ethos demonstrated by the yearly questions set by The Edge – particularly the 2008 one ‘ What have you changed you mind about recently and why?’ I set up this blog to challenge my own thinking beyond those things that seem to me to be self evident and obvious.

So, I set myself the task to look beyond the self evident truth that DS106 is the best thing to have happened to higher education generally and to open education specifically since 1373 when ‘the people of Florence petitioned the Signoria of Florence to provide public lectures of Dante’s work, resulting in a year’s course where a lecturer, paid 100 gold florins, spoke every day except holy days’ (Peter and Deimann, 2013).

One thing we can say about DS106 uncontroversially is that is nodal online learning, a hashtag classroom and that a syndication engine plus the web are the bare bones of any DS106 like course. Once we start to talk about the kind of nodes and links or the directionality of the links we get into a more difficult terrain. It is not my intention here to repeat analysis already available elsewhere. Instead, I want to offer an outsider’s view of DS106, I am utterly uninterested in wether DS106 is a cMOOC but not an xMOOC – although it may be. I daydream when reading arguments about whether it can be put in a box and whether this is desirable – although it may be. As an outsider coming in, I see that it succeeds at getting a level of participation and commitment many can only dream about. It is easy to join in without questioning its limits and boundaries. But then, I was not put on this earth to join anything unquestioningly and I have an assignment to complete damn it!

Can digital storytelling provide an effective educational tool?

Is this a story?

I thought so and I tried to tell my own story using this medium. My first humble attempt at telling a story using kinetic typography – I created it to illustrate the shaky ground of designing technology for learning.

What about this? Is this a story?


or this?


The original 6 word story which has inspired twitter 6 word stories.

In answering the question of the title I started challenging our conventional wisdom of what a story is.

Continue reading “Can digital storytelling provide an effective educational tool?”

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