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In doing some additional research on digital storytelling, I had to go all the way back and ask , “What is it?” DS106 has had a strong “Just do it” ethos from before the beginning. However, I’ve been a bit stuck as I tried to explain to non “initiates” just what it was all about.

As I poked around Wikipedia, I found the Center for Digital Storytelling, from which the term seems to have sprung. In the beginning, digital storytelling seems to have had a narrower definition than it does today. Essentially it was

Recorded narration + musical background + slideshow with Ken Burns effect.

The Wikipedia article also pointed to a digital storytelling site put together by BBC Wales, which stuck to the early definition of the form. Many of the stories had transcripts of the narration, and this led to a discovery.

Rather than wait for videos to load, I tended to read the transcript and then decide if the story was interesting enough to bother watching the full version. After sitting through several videos, I realized that the digital part of the storytelling often didn’t add that much to the experience. You saw some nice pictures and heard the author’s voice, but they were just reading their story, not telling it.

For illustration, compare Seamus Heaney reading the opening of his Beowulf translation with Benjamin Bagby telling the story in the original West Saxon. I’ve read the Heaney translation aloud, and it is, IMHO an excellent rendering of Beowulf into modern English. One can read it aloud and feel like you’re telling a story rather than reading a translation, which is no mean feat. Nevertheless, Bagby claims your attention in a way that Heaney just doesn’t.  So what does this comparison of Beowulf readings have to do with digital storytelling?

When we transcend text, we are making stronger claims on our audience’s attention.  If we’re going to tell stories digitally, we need to back up those claims with something that holds that attention. Just as much as how to use the tools, it’s important for us to help would be digital storytellers that they are, well, storytelling , with all the performance aspects that that entails.


I got the idea to reformat DS106 assignment instructions. Here are the audio assignment instructions  in alliterative verse.

Listen here (Source Material)

It occurs to me that I maybe should explain how this came to be.  I’m in the midst of reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to my oldest child, and we got to Book V, Chapter 3 last night, which contains examples of Tolkien’s modern English alliterative verse.  This morning ,in the madly creative spirit of DS106, I got it into my head to do something in this form, but what?

My first thought was some sort of technical tutorial, and I even tweeted seeking suitable material.  I worried that trying to poetically render things like “mouse click” and “command line option” might be nearly impossible and create something forced.

Then I considered some iconic quotation.  Donald Rumsfeld’s “Known knowns…..” seemed too short.  I then considered the Gettysburg Address.  It was too iconic, and the Lincoln was from an era when rhetorical alliteration was part and parcel.

Whose words would work?  At last it was obvious — Jim Groom.

Looking at the Audio Assignment instructions, I made the decision right away that I’d post audio rather than text, since I was working within an oral tradition, even though I wrote it out.

The trickiest part was the hard data.  I decided it wasn’t really a challenge if  one was allowed to transform the instructions into something unrecognizable.  I laid down another ground rule. Whatever I ended up with still had to be usable as instructions.

With this constraint, there were two tricky spots.  One was handling dates and times.  Although one could say five o’ clock or March 11, it didn’t seem to fit the style. Dates ended up being trickier than times. I considered using ancient Roman convention and putting dates in terms of days before the Ides, but it seemed to not mesh with the Germanic origins of the form.

I actually settled on two different solutions. One was to return to the church calendar. Today is, fortunately, St. Mathias’s Day. Unfortunately, it couldn’t find a church feast for the final deadline on March 11.  I thought briefly about making it “six days before the feast of St. Patrick”, since the date is well known.

Then I thought of something else.  Lunar cycles.  Tolkien used this timekeeping mechanism in the chapter I was reading last night. So it was off to search for full moon dates for Fredericksburg. Add that to things I never imagined I’d be looking up.  That led to ….”the full moon filleth the land with light”.

The other thing I worried about was the specific instructions for filenames.  Thankfully the inclusion of the group names in the filename led to epithets.  It’s very much within the style to refer to a person by several names given to them (terror of enemies, gift giver, etc.) sometimes consecutively.  So of course epithets had to be found for Jim and Martha.

Usually the epithet was given by someone else rather than being self claimed. So it was off to Jim and Martha’s blog to research.  Jim has handy testimonials on his front page. so he became “Internet Midas” as well as his usual Reverend.

I don’t know Martha nearly as well, but her blog mentioned her kids (Martha the Mother) and her VW van (Moby’s great Mistress).  Finding the epithets was probably the most fun.

I need to make one correction.  I said “from Richmond a day’s march distant”. The sixty miles from Richmond to Fredericksburg is probably at the absolute limit of what someone could march,so it should have been “a day’s ride distant.”

Inspired by Colin’s Mount Doom poster, I chose another Lord of the Rings location.  I’m now doing extra work , just to show how addictive ds106 is.  Since nobody had trouble with my four icon challenge, I’ll give no further clues and let you guess the location.

OK. Name that film.

1. 2. 3. 4.


Source Image

Here’s my 5 card Flickr assignment.  Thanks to all the photographers who contributed.

I saw Jessica Masulli’s Flickr inspired minimalistic storytelling, and was reminded of another famous example of narrative distillation. I’m sure everyone will get the reference.

Image 1 (flickr user thinkpanama CC-BY-NC)

Image 2 (flickr user Saint Hsu CC-BY-NC-SA)

Image 3 (flickr user Saint Hsu CC-BY-NC-SA)

Today, Jon Udell published Seven Ways to Think Like the Web.  He offers principles for cyberpresence.  The list was nice enough, but one referred to post really caught my eye. Called “Hosted Lifebits“, the post, presents a hypothetical use case for personal cyberinfrastructure, and ties in with last week’s discussions.

  • Tim O’Reilly mentions the question of who owns the data on which Web 2.0 runs. This, written in 2005, now seems prescient.
  • That said,  there is the undercurrent of monetization.  O’Reilly makes money off of Web 2.0 by selling books and organizing conferences and has on his radar the question of how others will seek to monetize it.
  • I’m having some difficulty with Web 2.0 storytelling.  Particularly when we consider crowdsourced storytelling and the proliferation of possible paths through a narrative, we see a corresponding breakdown in the sense of authorship and, to some degree, the sense of narrative.  Storytelling has been about beginning – middle – end , A -B – C .  When you lose the strong sense of starting and ending points, does narrative itself change in a fundamental way?

I noticed a FERPA question circulating on my twitter feed this morning. For non US readers, FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) is the US national law covering how higher education institutions must conduct themselves with regards to student records. There’s a dizzying list of rules and exceptions as to what the institution may and may not disclose without a student’s written permission.   It applies to records maintained by the institution.

This got me to thinking.  When a student deploys a personal cyberinfrastructure, they maintain the data repositories.  How does this affect FERPA compliance in that the institution is not maintaining the records of the students actual work (as opposed to documents stored in an institutional LMS, for example). Has anyone gathered resources on the legal implications of this model?

Header image credit: Flickr user BotheredByBees CC-BY
July 2018
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