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Chapter 7: Case Study-DS106


DS106, Digital Storytelling 106, began marked the first time a MOOC wasn’t used to either study open education or the use of tools like social media or wikis. In fact the online class was the first distributed classroom utilizing both the plumbing and the philosophy of open pedagogy to teach domain specific knowledge of digital storytelling. DS106 brought an ethos of focusing on the web as our primary source of identity. From this perspective the first step in learning digital storytelling is figuring out how to tell the story of you.

For Jim Groom, course creator, this meant starting with your personal cyberinfrastructure (Gardner, 2010) and a Domain’s of One’s Own. Groom felt students should join a community of creators, make stuff, and reflecting on the process of all three .The community gathers loosely under an ethos of what Jim Groom coined as “EduPunk.” A Do-It Yourself approach to learning that rejects the corporate interest in the formulation of edtech.


DS106 began at the University of Mary Washington in 2010 as an online adaption of a computer science class focused on digital storytelling taught by Jim Groom and Martha Burris. To date the class has aggregated and archived over 76 thousand blog post. The class is taught for credit on college campuses but there is also an avid cult-like following (Downes, 2018) that creates a multi-generation affinity spaces. The community support page has over 60 names of open participant who made the hall of fame for their support of the open course work.

In terms of the socio-technical system DS106 works with every student having their own blog. These posts are then fed to an RSS aggregator. The majority of students taking the class are college students who take the class for credit. However there are approximately thirty people who participate almost every day annually.

DS106 also relied heavily of Twitter and Google+ as social networks. In the 2014-2015 year, for example, over a thousand people used the #ds106 hashtag on Twitter sharing 14,361 tweets. 402 people sent more than two tweets, 210 participants sent over 10 tweets, and 30 people sent over 100 tweets.

The class included the module of events and then a series of daily creates that are randomly chosen from an assignment bank of hundreds of task. There are also a series of weekly events found in traditional classes. In some semesters there was a physical classroom presence and other semesters a mix of online or physical drop in help.

At the same time the larger DS106 community began to flourish and launch separate programs such as a 24 hour radio station playing to this day. "DS106radio is interesting in week one there was no #ds106 radio. I put out a Twitter message like, 'you know what #ds106 needs is a radio station" Then an open participant in Canada took it upon himself to set up a server and start a radio station. This rhizomatic growth of learning (Cormier, 2015) would not be possible without the holistic technologies used in human socio technical system. There were community spun classes around Noir and Westerns. The group was very active on Google+ and on Twitter. Especially completing daily creates with a hashtag that is very active.

Shared Goals as a Community

#DS106Radio4Life and #Ds1064Life these call to actions permeated many of the artifacts collected as part of this study, and you can hear in the open participants voices how much they take it to heart. (Johnston & Funes, n.d.). A call many open participants answer to a class that college professors teach all over the world.

DS106 is the shared endeavor. Many strive to build and support the community while supporting each other as digital remix artists.

Yet at the same time the shared endeavor that drives #ds106 is in the art of defining oneself through story telling and by building our a domain of "online".

Groom (2008) defined his vision early on:

"A digital identity should be an online address one can have no matter where they are, a space where you can track that person as they move not only from being a freshman to a sophomore, but from an undergraduate to a graduate and beyond. An online home where they consciously integrate their professional profile through a streaming set of resources and spaces they inhabit online."

In fact for Groom and Marth Burris who designed the first iterations of the class. Encouraging people to make was always the primary goal right behind the other primary goal of making yourself online. Jim described it as, "an experiment in thinking where we ask the students to frame their narrative on their own space and on their own way" (Groom & Burris, 2011)

The students also reflected these goals One noted, "In just two weeks I was doing something I have never done before. I have a blog. Something I am very proud of. As the student looks back at the page." (Linda, 2012). As the student panned over a two week reflection post in a final course reflection. In the post she discusses how cool it is to have her own website. Other students noted how much more they were writing and remixing and the spikes they had in creativity (Forsyth, 2011).

The course does has specific learning objectives yet the assessment is also community driven.

  • Develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression.
  • Frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking
  • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres

The students have a specific website where they can nominate each other. DS106 also has a community supported and built wall of fame. Mainly though assessment is done through self reflection and sharing posts about what you did and why you did it. This creates a "circuit of reflective thought" (Gee, 2013) that supports both the individual and the community endeavors and thereby helps grow #DS106 as a space.

Organizational Structure

DS206 is organized around college campuses. This does provide monetary support for instructors. However the open participants usually stick to the daily creates or may choose a themed class like "Noir" or "Westerns: to join even if these are hosted by different universities.

These local nodes create knowledge centers in the network. Alan Levine describes the growth as fractal:

but they are not all the same- different courses, different education levels, and each one not taking the course as a single product, but reframing it for their own needs. These are not just carbon copies of ds106, but mutants, lovel mutants, and in some sense fractal, especially around the core of the assignment bank.

The different participants and classes would network together through aggregated RSS feeds, using the #ds106 hashtag on Twitter and a Google+ community.

Membership Pathways and Barriers

While the community strives around a common endeavor there is a distinction between those students who take the class as part of their college class. You see this in the sharp drop off of participation. This #MandatedTweet (Kist, 2008) phenomenon occurs when students complete tasks. Such a powerimpance is also seen in the analysis of links.

(Insert Martin ) Picture

An analysis of over 20,000 The wider open participants rarely link and communicate with each other based on an analysis of links. DS106 instructors accounted for this phenomenon by introducing "daily shoots" a period where pictures had to be taken every day. This has morphed into an assignment bank that generates a ne #Daily Create every day. A strong focus on community as curriculum has helped newer participants feel welcome.

(Insert Death Star picture) An visual analysis of the hashtag #ds106 also reveals a concentration of power among a small number of people in the network. There are many participants outside of the connections that simply lurk or hand in their assignments by posting a tweet. It could also be noted a concentration of links emerging from an instructor should be how a node on learning network should loog (Levine

Older members of the community also work to welcome newcomers. In lurking is celebrated as a form of learning. "We have a place for you, when you are ready come on through" A collaborative song lyric on the power of learning while lurking in the community (Hodgson & Funes, 2018).

There are debates, based on Twitter logs, if elder members feel they need to hold back on sharing really elaborate digital texts as being too intimidating early on, but each course as a promotional video that shares a "Bring it on" attitude when it comes to remixing text. For example in a video recorded by Alan Levine to announce his class he remixes multiple layers of audio and video.

Students while no developing deep connections on either social media or blogs still respond positively to the class. One student noted. "Between the creativity, remixing my culture, and creating a communi... actually tapping into an amazing community [sic]The people I have met have blown my mind" (Forsyth, 2011). In the majority of reflection post collected for this study students note the importance of looking up to the open participants.

Still the use of of new blogging paradigms and the pedagogical focus towards openness may not be welcoming to all students. The DS106 community noticed this trend and began to offer a week zero, which was a sign up and help week before class. Many on the ground iterations offered drop in help.

Leadership Pathways and Barriers

The pathways to leadership for open participants revolve around creating and engaging in narrative creation. Major offshoots like DS106 radio, and share narratives all launched by open participants. The class has also ran without as an experiment with no formal instructor.

DS106 often spawned offshoot communities such as #netnarr the Conneced Leaning MOOC, originally sponsored by the National Writing Project. Many of the participants in these communities overlap and are found in other online courses such as Rhizomatic Learning #MoocMooc, and others.

Thia rhizomatic learning and leadership (Cormier, 2015) grew out of early learning around a podcast started in 2005 called #edtechtalk and then continued in open courses since Connectivism Course in 2008. The principles of #ds106 and the leadership that supports the communities all travel through these sociotechincal systems.

Content Creation

Gee defines affinity spaces as production based places to learn. The content created in affinity spaces is encourages at every level. The content isself then shapes the spaces through a process of welcome iteration. This space then influences the content participants make. Everything is malleable.

The evidence gathered from DS106 illustrates the importance of making as part of an ethos of learning. As a storytelling class content creation became a central tenant. The announcement for the 2017 version of the course has a mashup of different spy movie songs and scenes including mission impossible James Bond, and Austin Powers.

Currently there 800 assignments in the media and the daily creates get published. Top date over 17,00 posts have been collected by more than 800 people. The top five daily create participants have submitted over 1,200 posts this year.

In fact as the the final step of data reduction was occuring during this study new content was being created from the artifacts I was collecting while participants, organizers, and other pedagogy scholars discussed definitions and patterns.

(Insert @dogtrax comic)

Agentive Apprenticeships

Gee makes multiple distinctions of different types of knowledge in his definition of Affinity Spaces. Most important Gee notes that Affinity spaces encourage tacit knowledge. These ideas and ways of being that are not easily expressed are found in networks driven by holistic technologies such as the #ds106 class.

Affinity Spaces also value individual and distributed knowledge. This is where the networked technologies augment our ability to think and solve problems. This occurs throughout DS106 where people contribute to community tutorials in Google+ communities.

Extensive, or broad knowledge and intensive, or specialized knowledge are also encouraged in affinity spaces, and like the other types of knowledge that Gee identifies we find examples of each. However we found so much overlap when trying to categorize learning or events into knowledge.

Instead we chose to focus our case studies on Knowledge Brokering. In these spaces knowledge is not learned by memorizing sets of discrete skills or rote practicing of video editing. Instead participants in spaces like #ds106 exchange strategies through a process of knowledge brokering.

Brokering, from a sociologist perspective is a service one individual can provide to another or in the case of affinity spaces to the endeavor writ large. In terms of knowledge brokering we build off of Ching, Santo, Hoadley, & Pepler (2015) work into learning brokering in youth spaces. Brokering provides access to ideas and serving wider needs needs (Burt, 2005; Stovel & Shaw, 2012). Using this lens on affinity spaces we see how this knowledge exists in the space and endeavor of the community.

In #ds106 we see an exchange of techniques driven mainly through remix. Many of the projects, much like the class itself get remixed. Through this act tacit cultural knowledge on the value of creation, ownership, and attribution are spread. Extensive knowledge of blogging techniques grow. Then many, may specialize in technical skills, video production, photography.

A key tenant of #ds106 which supports knowledge brokering is the publication of reflection post explaining how different projects were made.

case_study.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/29 13:36 (external edit)