Connecting to the #DS106 Experience

When first assigned, the DS106 site looked like one huge monster filled with pictures, video and text. There were hyperlinks to every which-way, pictures moving up and down and with it all being against a black background, DS106 appeared to have a Frankenstein’s monster-like hold on the internet. After exploring some links, I realized that’s exactly what it was hoping to achieve.

DS106 is a mass online course that deals with Digital Storytelling (I felt incredibly proud when I realized that’s it’s what the DS stood for) by use of text, image, sound and video. It deals heavily with blogging, with students completing assignments and posting them up on their blog.

On the official DS106, under the About section the instructors pride that “the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.”

The class works to create a narrative that can frame the student’s internet identity – and yes, it’s extremely progressive with a side of “Matrix” science-fiction.  Still curious about the inner workings of the course, I reached-out instructors Jim Groom, Alan Levine, and Michael B. Smith, in true DS106 style, via twitter. To which I learned that curating the internet, so to speak, is no simple task.

Michael Smith was the first to respond, and he discussed how DS160 deals with fair use and how the program avoids copywrite issues.

Smith tweeted me about the copyright issues around not just the DS106 course, but the internet as a whole.

Linking to a post in his blog, he shared a post by Groom regarding what really counts as “fair use.”  The post titled “Is There No Sanctuary?” is told entirely with .gifs, youtube clips and a few sentences of narration for flow. It tells the story of how Groom’s Youtube account was shut-down after various copyright complaints after using clips of copyrighted videos for educational purposes.

In Groom’s blog about the situation he writes,

I feel like a criminal for quoting works I love. I feel like a criminal for wanting to further imagine through the offspring of our moment. Worst of all, I have to feel like a criminal when I am having fun. It’s becoming a much more serious crime, and I’m scared about that prospect. Not so much that they’ll sue me, but more that they have already occupied my mind trying to convince me that sharing online is evil. To convince me that a video sharing site owned by an advertising company that promises to “do no evil” has become the de facto mediary between millions of people and what seems a basic human right to re-use, remix, and re-imagine the media we inhabit.

 – Jim Grooms, Fear of a YouTube Planet

The idea of reusing,  remix, and re-imaging the internet is a central aspect of the DS160 course. Smith tweeted that a lot of images are also taken from public domain sites such as but “mashing bits of popular media like digital punk flyers.”

Smith then linked me to a Youtube video by Groom, titled No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences.

In his lecture, Groom notes the importance of Narration, Curation and Sharing when dealing with any type of digital history and web content.

Which leads me to my conversation with Groom himself. Our conversation was more about the fundamental philosophy of what DS106 is and the inspiration behind such a deeply embedded course for the web.

Jim Groom is the director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies and adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington and is the brainpower behind DS106.

Groom also directed me to Gardner Campbell’s article titled A Personal Cyberinfrastructur, which focused on how the internet should be used in an educational setting.

In short, students would build a personal cyberinfrastructure, one they would continue to modify and extend throughout their college career — and beyond.

In building that personal cyberinfrastructure, students not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments ranging from multimodal writing to information science, knowledge management, bibliographic instruction, and social networking. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own “engagement streams” throughout the learning environment.

– Gardner Campbell,  A Personal Cyberinfrastructur

Much like our own class, the DS106 is a larger version of our own digital curation. With hundreds of students creating content for the web, by the web, with the web. Which left me wonder just how the community is to interact on such a grandiose scale. This is where Alan Levine came in, who explained me to how MOC classes like DS106 work as a community.

So…what now? As a new semester begins to rev its engine, the DS106 community is already finishing up their first few assignments. In a call-out using the #DS106 hash-tag on twitter, I asked students how they felt about the course. Some appeared excited, others confused, but one user tweeted back to me personally.

There’s a famous quote by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of communication theory, that claims that “the medium is the message.” As the lines between offline and online become more blurred, the tools of the web are constantly changing, and with that so is the message. Courses like DS106 are providing podiums for students to share their messages with the world, to be heard through a new medium.  Now what remains is the question of just how many people are willing to listen, and will obstacles such as copyright laws limit creativity.


15 thoughts on “Connecting to the #DS106 Experience

  1. Thomas Harbison says:

    Beautiful post, Caroline. Embedding the responses you elicited from the DS106 community provides strong evidence for your points and brings the post to life.

    However, I notice that you don’t address how DS106 handles intellectual property, fair use, and network ethics (the topics highlighted in the assignment). Exactly what type of Commons does this group of people nurture and promote? I suspect that you already gathered clues about this in your twitter conversations–it just doesn’t come through in the post. Can you add a paragraph tackling the matter? I don’t recommend taking away from the good stuff you already have–just inject the intellectual property and network ethics piece and you’ll have all bases covered.

    • ca101355 says:

      Added! I meant to add that at the beginning (which is why I put Smith first) but I guess with all the uploading and linking it completely slipped my mind!

      Sorry for almost not answering the original question!

    • ca101355 says:

      That’s what got me so excited – I was really scared they would just throw me an easy answer, but they were extremely responsive and linked me to a lot of great sources.

  2. Guang says:

    I think is post is tremendous. I really like the compassion of ds106 to “Frankenstein’s monster” and its very well structure and written.

  3. Michael Branson Smith says:

    DS106 It’s Alive, IT’S ALIVE! MUAHAHAHAHA!!!

    Great job Caroline aggregating the perspectives of a number of the ds106 folk. The narrate, and share montra espoused by Gardner and others is one I deeply connect with and ultimately relates to the ds106 sense of ‘commons’ which is a community of practice. We ‘Make Art Dammit!’ and love to talk about it with our friends.

    • ca101355 says:

      Thanks, Michael! I totally dig what you guys do, and that you’re so passionate about the course. It’s really refreshing, progressive thinking about the web as a whole. It was a blast tweeting with you guys! 🙂

  4. Share Your Trending News says:

    I do agree with all the concepts you have introduced to your post. They’re very convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are very short for beginners. May you please prolong them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  5. moldavite says:

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  7. CogDog says:

    We appreciated your exploration Caroline. The main entrance to ds106 has been rather chaotic. I’ve been working on some re-organization of the site, including moving the flow of the blog posts form participants to an interior page, and putting more info (text and videos) about the course/community up front.

    I’m also working on a 3 way Getting StartedQuick Start, with info for open participants. UMW participants, and those that might be doing it for another class (a work in progress)

    It will still be a bit chaotic for an open participant; because, unlike other MOOCs which are one size fit all, we do not have a prescribed syllabus for everyone. I hope to be building a sort of individual syllabus builder based on all of the materials we have created over the years.

    I should add that this is totally done on a thin show string. I am an adjunct and do this only for the love of ds106. This is not a $50,000 Coursera course or funded by some rich foundation. It is pretty much building the airplane as we fly it!

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