Expanding the ds106 Model

I’ve been thinking for some time about how the framework developed for ds106 might be applicable to other subjects.  Seeing Mike Caulfield go forth and attempt this helped me think that I might be able to.

All this led to several Twitter discussions, and today to a post from Alan “cogdog” Levine in which he points out that, “You don’t get ds106 in a box.”  I’m pretty sure Mike’s tweet that Alan quotes was typed with tongue, or perhaps pinky, firmly planted in cheek.  Nevertheless, it seems possible that I haven’t been clear about what I’m trying to do and what I need\want.

I’m sure I’m not the only educator who saw the sustained engagement in ds106 and thought, “I wish classes at my institution could be like that. What makes it work as well as it does?”

Alan addresses this when he writes:

The magic of ds106 is not the web site, it is the people who came when Jim asked, and people who came later. It is the stuff between the sites that is the elixer, the social connectivity. Why would people be investing precious time in August doing daily animated GIFs? It is how waves of people come in, like recent ds106 infected souls such as Rochelle LockridgeChristina Hendricks. We even have a talking doll encouraging creative action. Then there is Mariana Funes who come to ds106 vis Martin Weller’s H817 open course.

He’s of course right about the social aspects, but  let’s try to answer his question, “Why would people be investing precious time in August doing daily animated GIFs?” Here’s at least a partial list of possible answers:

  • Jim Groom is a charismatic thought leader with a significant following. When Jim asked, he had a large enough network and a personal brand (does anyone remember EDUP__K?)  that the message got out. So does Alan, although I don’t know if he’ll admit it.
  • While it operates on different levels, the core of what someone does in ds106 is to “Make art, damnit” with all sorts of digital tools.  The University of Mary Washington, which served as the nursery for ds106, had the vision to allow those creative activities to count towards general education requirements.  UMW is also fairly selective
  • The aggregation model encourages participants to take ownership of their own identity and work.
  • The daily create keeps participants regularly engaged by giving them several small tasks each week.
  • Finally, the assignment bank creates a framework which permits participants , within some broad constraints, to choose what work they do, creating a rare sense of learner agency.

How many of those key features are replicable at an urban community college in a course which has a strong knowledge mastery component? Without realizing it, I’ve listed them in what I perceive as less to more replicable order.

  • I am nether bava nor cogdog.  Perhaps, since I’m just starting out here, that’s not a big deal.  I don’t particularly aspire to create a movement.
  • Water policy or music appreciation may never be as cool as animated GIFs, but thinking about how to make a more traditional curriculum into a ds106 model has helped me consider how even content driven courses can be more about doing than they currently are.
  • The core of the model, having students create in their own spaces, is a particular challenge.  Beyond the need to explain how this whole model works (did I mention I’m doing this in an online course), there is the challenge that, for the many students at institutions like mine that rely on financial aid, having any required course costs (like a domain registration) that can’t be paid in the college bookstore using a financial aid voucher is a big impediment.
  • The daily create, or its analogue, is something I believe to be possible.  My biggest concern is coming up with enough prompts. Since the course is all about becoming a more thoughtful listener, that’s what the daily activities should center on.  I’m still trying to figure out how not to have the daily listen decay into dull repetitiveness where the only thing that changes in the process is what you listen to.  A conversation with Mike Caulfield last week has helped germinate some ideas as to how I might stay out of that rut.
  • The first version of the assignment bank will be my creation.  I’m not ready yet for participants to design their own.  For it to align with institutional and course objectives and state requirements, I really want the ability to put multiple tags on each assignment ( something like the ds106 assignment category, an historical period tag, and an optional required tag fo the couple of tasks that are obligitory)  Alan indicates that this is possible ,but I’m far from certain I have the WordPress or PHP chops to do it, hence my interest in the theme on which Alan is working.Lisa Lane has previously discussed the challenges of running an aggregated course hub without a critical mass of coding knowledge somewhere in the design team.

Since this a course redesign, I’m also wondering how many of these assignments equate to an end of unit 40 question objective test.  It’s a shame that one has to do that kind of math, but as long as the Department of Education measures a credit hour in terms of student time on task, it’s inevitable.

So I join the handful of brave sources exploring this new model.  Will it work?  I’ll let you know in a few months.




3 thoughts on “Expanding the ds106 Model

  1. Alan Levine (@cogdog)

    Hey Jason,

    I yeah, I know where the tongue and cheek are. And let me be clear that I am very excited that you and Mike are integrating ds106 concepts into new subjects. We have been eager to see this happen.

    My suggestion would be to set up your site as multi-site, and keep the aggregator in its own subdomain/directory as a stand alone, the way we did ETMOOC- it makes using tags and categories easier and you are not mixing your course content with the aggregated stuff.

    Sorry if the assignment site may not be ready, I hope to get a chunk done in the next week or two, and i bet you could wrangle an early version. Not having student submissions is easy, in fact it makes the setup easier siince you dont need that form. Multiple tags are not a problem as the items are content types and you can apply any tag/category scheme you like.

    Rebuilding the Daily Create is a longer term project, but you could easily do it as its own blog, and assigned tags you want students to use, which can then be aggregated and linked as a WP archive on your aggregator site. We’ve found the students love it in the first weeks, at some point it got to seem more like a chore for them.

    In terms of the limits on what you can ask students to do, there is no absolute requirement that you have students get their own domain. It’s worth building into the course as an awareness, but you can do everything 106ish with student running their stuff on WordPress.com (Michael Branson Smith has done this) or blogger… or for the Project Community course I set up, we had them use tumblr so the learning curve for writing was low– http://projectcommunity.info/

    You could give them option to claim a domain at the end of the course and offer suggestions/tips on how to migrate sites.

  2. Jim Groom

    I think the idea of my charisma is over stated, and I think a headless ds106, that really is such, will start to get away from folks like Me and Alan, and give the class over to others. Fact is, the idea of the syndication framework get lost in all the attention paid to the idea of ds106. I love ds106, it’s amazing, but if this model is going to work for others, the automatic discovery of feeds and syndication needs to be made simple.

    Also, another point, if you are having students get their own domains and web hosting, affordability is a huge issue—and we have come up against that at UMW. One thing Hippie Hosting, and now Reclaim Hosting, is trying to do is allow that to be made a lot cheaper, and also come up with packages that allow students to defer payment. While potentially more difficult, I think the bottom line is that giving students, particularly community college students, access to these tools, technologies, and possibilities you move beyond the idea of a single course or framework, and begin to intimate how they can build their own. There in lies the greatness of such a model, and with a class of 20-40 students that might be doable, but wrangling feeds is a lot to ask a faculty member who might be experimenting with this. Fact is, we need tp provide broader support for this model because it can be messy and it does take time, and tightening a few elements like syndication, and making signing-up for domains and web hosting that much more seamless are the first steps!

  3. Paul

    Hi Jason,

    I think a big part of what makes ds106 work is the power of community. Making stuff is fun, but the interactions around making stuff helps keep people engaged – the feedback and the questions & answers. I guess that’s what Alan was pointing to.

    I definitely think it could work with music appreciation. Music is much cooler than animated GIFs, but it’s harder to do. But music affects us at such an elemental level – anyone can relate to it in a deeply personal way. Music appreciation, I think, helps us articulate what we intuitively feel. Rather than a daily listen, I’d probably make it a daily DJ, where students have to say (or blog) something about the pieces, perhaps building up to creating their own radio shows. I’m not sure how an assignment bank would work for such a course, but letting the students in on that was ds106 genius. You could put the requirements and objectives out there and challenge the students to come up with ways to demonstrate meeting them. It would force to think about taking charge of their own learning, in a way they probably haven’t thought before.

    While I see the value of owning your own domain, I think you could skip that expense and sacrifice some control and use some of the free platforms out there. Students would still be able to learn in the open and build digital communication skills.

    Just my two cents. I’d be very interested to see how it works out.


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