DS106 on the couch

Month: March 2014 (page 1 of 3)

I have been desperate to try week 2 assignment to break down a commercial in 5 seconds increments – I did not even look at the list we were provided as I had a commercial in mind. 

I used Vialogues to break it down and make notes. As Christina Hendricks says in her post about this activity, it is not only fun but really revealing. if you want to join me in Vialogues and make your own notes on the commercial you are welcome. I made it public so anyone can comment. 

I have seen this advert/commercial many times and it is an all time favourite. I never stopped to ask why or what was the shape of the story. In week one I explored the story spine technique through a video I made. A series of unconnected images that seemed to come alive in a story just by the addition of the story spine structure. This was fascinating to me. How humans add stuff that is not there, just to make a story even when there isn’t one. 

Here is the story spine for my advert:

Once upon a time there was a cat that saw life as ‘meh!’
Every day passed with cat just lying there whilst the world passed him by
But one day whilst lying bored on the sofa he had a thought that changed his life. Why be so cat?
Because of that he ran outside in the sunshine
Because of that he started to do all the things that dogs do
Because of that he felt full of life and ready to Carpe Diem
Until finally he was accepted by a pack of dogs as one of their own
And ever since then he lived happily ever after!

Is this what you want for you own boring life? Then join the O2 cell phone network.

Is it a contagious story?

Contagious Awe?

Yes, to all the above. It opens with a usual enough sight, a cat lying down in a kitchen. The voiceover soon tells us that it is ‘the cat thinking’. We cannot hear cats thinking normally so this is mysterious. We pay attention. 

Who has not experienced the feelings cat is describing? Boom we have empathy.

It all seems to be going downhill to clinical cat depression and then the surprise. Cat gets an idea. 

The idea reveals to him that life could be different if only he could be more dog! As Flash Gordon music starts to play and he flies out of the cat flap, we want to be Cat, we admire his courage and feel more and more astonished at what Cat can do, culminating with Cat ‘becoming’ a dog represented by him running with the pack and then in the back of the car. 

Contagious awe turns out to be a key emotion that makes stuff goes viral. I do not think it is far fetched to say we (I imagine only if we like animals and can empathise with protagonists) as viewers are awestruck by this clever little cat that decides to carpe diem – it must get the oxytocin and the cortisol going. The cortisol when we see his dead end life at the start, and the oxytocin when we see it grab life by the Frisbee. 

If you want a non-animal version of this same advert, you can watch the film below. The video has the same pattern: compares boredom with awe and tells us why humans will do anything for a bit of awe!

Commenting for learning

For week 2 of the GMU #ds106 course  being taught this Spring by Alan Levine, one of the headings in the weekly assignments this week was ‘giving and receiving peer feedback’. Whilst this can often be one of those topics that makes us yawn and say ‘yeah! I know that stuff’, it is also something so important that it can make or break an experience online or offline. 

I also knew that Alan would not let us down and would find interesting nuggets for us to read on this topic. So, I decided to focus my work this week on this topic in the hope it may serve those new to this process. In my own work using self managed learning to teach a Masters level qualification we major on this topic too. If your grades depend on the quality of feedback and the assessment skills of your peer learning group, the subject is almost as important whatever the content of the course might be. 

I find this particularly interesting as I have been reflecting on how to adapt some of the methods I use when I facilitate learning groups offline to support open education online. My plan here is to review what Alan has offered us and add some ideas from my own work. I am starting to form a view that ‘commenting’ generally has overlaps and also differences with ‘commenting for learning’. Here is how the weekly assignment frames the process. It is now time to,

broaden your scope of class participation by giving feedback to each other. You have gotten comments and will get more from your instructor, but it’s important as a community to comment on your classmates work, incorporate, and reflect on that feedback.

Three aspects are highlighted here:

  • commenting per se
  • incorporating the feedback into one’s own work
  • reflecting on what the commenters say

I am interested in the fact that Alan has made a choice to put the GMU students in learning groups. In usual DS106 style, no boring group names here, the web to the rescue with a Fantasy Team Name generator! The teams are pre-assigned and name is selected. This is interesting to me because in the self managed learning methodology I use, the control of all these parameters rests with the learners. At the first residential the students choose their ‘learning set’ and one of their first tasks is to chose a name for the set. We allow at least half a day for this selection process to be done by the whole group before they meet in their learning sets for the first time the other half day!

Opening the tab of the weekly assignments and seeing the neat and fun named groups made me stop and think. In my case, the students stay together for 18 months – so I could say may be it matters more that they chose for themselves? Yet, I know other institutions that use similar self directed approaches that put their students through the process I described above each term! I am left wondering if in the name of an ideology we make it unnecessarily difficult for our students. 

I also note the groups are called ‘comment groups’. So there is a clear task they have to accomplish. Research in online learning does seem to show that a task focus makes it more likely that groups online will succeed. The same research seems to indicate that pairing people up will help them learn more effectively than just learning alone. In one tab, DS106 has pragmatically and efficiently created clear conditions for success. In my ‘learning sets’, the task is not clear even though we do instantiate the idea of learning together is better than learning alone. It is not uncommon for learning set to spend several weeks deciding how they will work, agreeing assessment criteria, and setting up a ‘to do list’ for the set. Admittedly they are working towards a Masters level qualification and part of their learning has to be about the self managed learning process, but once again I am left thinking if we make it unnecessarily complicated because we are kneeling at the altar of our cherished pedagogy. 

Online as a medium for learning requires that we re-think how we do things. As I opened that tab and saw the groups, I was left wondering if self-direction in the sense of ‘no direction’ unless the student sets it is in the service of learning or dogma. 

The post continues offering clear guidance as to how to make the comment groups work technically – follow others in your group and it will be easier to access what they write. 

We then move on the the meat of this post for me. What does it mean to ‘comment well’? There are the usual guidelines to specificity and why this matters particularly to make it easier for fellow students to make choices about what they incorporate into their work having understood the feedback.


If the comment is specific then action can be taken, if it is just an expression of like/dislike the receiver may now know something about the giver’s tastes but does not have quality data to use.

Several ideas about how to comment well are offered and two excellent (and funny) references to read more. Here I am just going to take the bullet points from these posts but I highly recommend you take time to read them.

Some quick and dirty tips from the first post:

  • Determine your motivation- why are you commenting at all?
  • Provide a context for your comment
  • Be respectful
  • Make a point
  • Know what you are talking about
  • One point per comment
  • Keep it short
  • Link carefully
  • Proofread 

I could go on for hours about the first one, but I will not. Let me just say that I have been on the receiving end of very mixed motivations when people have commented on my writing online, and I have gone to people’s blog with mixed motivation to comment myself. It is useful to take the time to address that first bullet before you even start to comment. In the context of this post ‘commenting for learning’ and of this run of  DS106  – the motivation is clearly laid out: you comment to learn yourself and to support your colleagues learning. That is all. 

In a sense the frame of learning should make commenting easier. The fact that comment groups have been set up should also help, it means you have a more limited load on you to read meaningfully what your colleagues write. 

The next post explores key questions you might choose to ask yourself if you want to be a good commenter. Do you want to be a good commenter?

And I hear you say: Why, I would like to be a good commenter too! Not just here, but in other places where commenting occurs online! Well, of course you do. You’re a fine upstanding human being, not some feculent jackass with a keyboard, an internet connection and a blistering sense of personal inferiority that is indistinguishable from common sociopathy.

It is a funny post but it makes a very serious point. One of the things I value the most in DS106 is that it teaches us how to be good digital citizens. It teaches us to use the web in a way that maximises its possibilities and that means being explicit about what it means to interact functionally rather than dysfunctionally online. And the reference to this post on the weekly assignment is a great example of this. I say reading it is a must, but here are the 10 key questions to ask yourself before ‘you press that post button’,

  1. Do I actually have anything to say?
  2. Is it on topic?
  3. Does it stay on topic?
  4. If I am making an argument, do I actually know how to make an argument?
  5. If I’m making assertions, can what I say be backed up by actual fact?
  6. If I’m refuting an assertion made by others, can what I say be backed up by fact?
  7. Am I approaching this subject like a thoughtful human being, or like a particularly stupid fan?
  8. Am I being an asshole to others?
  9. Do I want to have a conversation or do I want to win the thread?
  10. Do I know when it is time to walk away? 

John Scalzi may be too in your face for some tastes, but bringing it back to commenting for learning what he says bears reading and re-reading. I am new to blog commenting and never thought my life would take me down this path. In the last year, I have been on the receiving end of wonderful commenting that has taken my DS106 work to another level. I have also, rarely in the DS106 community I have to say, been on the receiving end of posters who did not ask themselves any of these questions before pressing the post button. It is painful and totally avoidable with a little forethought. 

John says,

Does what you post in the comments boil down to anything other than “yes, this,” or “WRONG AGAIN,” or even worse, “who cares”? A comment is not meant to be an upvote, downvote or a “like.” It’s meant to be an addition to, and complementary to (but not necessarily complimentary of) the original post.

I love this statement. It offers a clear guideline to find balance in feedback and makes it acceptable to offer the type of feedback that may help us change. My best example of this in DS106 was when we were learning about minimalist posters. You can read the detail here it is worth reading as an example of how you can be really helpful to your comment group – I was told that to do it well I had to change what I was doing, offered an example of how to do what I could not, and positive reinforcement once I had another go even when my output was not (shall we say?) terribly smooth.

The weekly assignment also offers guidance on how to respond to comments and suggests that we think of them as a conversation to avoid a sense of one-sideness in those who take the time to comment. 

I would add to that that in the context of commenting for learning, the conversation is for a purpose. It is not just small talk or networking. 

In my learning groups we organise time with individual air-time for each participant. This air-time is time for each student to use as they see fit given their learning contract. They are in control and manage the conversation. I see this as analogous to using a blog for educational purposes. My blog is the place where I have my air time, and where I manage the conversation to help me achieve my learning goals. 

I too (unsurprisingly) have a set of questions I give my students. I add them here, as I end this post, as I think the complement what we have been offered this week by focussing on the learning process and people more than on the written word.

I suggest that as the blog owner you ask yourself these questions as you read your comments, and post ‘feedback on the feedback’:

  • Am I getting what I need?
  • Is this useful to me?
  • Have I understood what is being said?
  • What else do I need from the group?

I say to my students if you get to the end of your time and you have not got what you needed from the group, it is because you did not have the courage to act on the answers to the above questions. If you are not getting what you need, tell us, and tell us what you want instead. It is not that hard if we assume we are all here to help each other learn.

If you are the commenter, ask yourself these questions as you read the post carefully ( i.e. more than a quick scan)

  • What does this person want from me?
  • Is what I am about to say going to assist their learning?
  • What patterns do I notice?
  • How does this relate to their learning goals?

People will give you clues in their posts as to what they need from you as a commenter. Watch the tendency we all have to go off on tangents, and stay focused on commenting for learning. As you get to know your comment group you will start to see patterns in their behaviour and their output. We are not great at noticing patterns – for good or not – and hearing them from those who are helping us learn can help us change.

For example, I have a tendency to devalue what I produce in DS106. I have (had?) a belief that says that I am an academic not an artist. So, I started DS106 calling my output mere artefacts. It has taken me a long time, but you will now (as a result of feedback from the DS106 community which met all the criteria I have spoken about here, of course 🙂 see the tag #gifart in some of my animated gifs. This may seem like a small thing, but it does show a change in habitual patterns that others noticed and flagged up. 

In closing, I am glad I took the time to reflect on commenting rather than get involved with what may have seemed a more fun assignment. The more I reflect on this process (which is at the edge of learning online in my view), the more I see that unless we have online spaces that support good quality interaction of this kind and us (as students and teachers) implementing best practice in commenting for learning, the potential of open education will not be realised. But that is another story…


Cunningham, I. (1999). The wisdom of strategic learning: The self managed learning solution. Gower Publishing, Ltd.

Dowes, S. (2010) The role of the Educator

Enyedy, N., & Hoadley, C. M. (2006). From dialogue to monologue and back: Middle spaces in computer-mediated learning. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1(4), 413-439.

Myers, D. (1987a). A new environment for communication play: On-line play. In G.A. Fine (Ed.) Meaningful Play, Playful Meaning (pp. 231-245). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.

Uribe, D., Klein, J. D., & Sullivan, H. (2003). The effect of computer-mediated collaborative learning on solving III-defined problems. Educational Technology Research and Development51(1), 5-19.

Xin, C., & Feenberg, A. (2006). Pedagogy in Cyberspace: The Dynamics of Online Discourse. Journal of Distance Education21(2).

Witthaus, G. (2014) Should MOOC students be grouped? 

The Daily create today asked us to write a poem about our birthplace. I felt I could not write one as the tango sung by Carlos Gardel is the definitive ode to my birthplace. I love it. So I entered the lyrics at the website and felt like I was cheating…so I made a video about it all! It has been so cool, to visit my place of birth, listen to a favourite tango and even found a photo online of the hospital I was born in and (unbelievably) the door of the neonatal unit in that hospital. Ah, this web of ours.  

Searched for photos, clips in YT, found best recording I could of the song, used new iMovie to put it together – detach audio on clips, add my audio, mess around with the clips, transitions, etc. and upload to YT. Used a few new filters and I am getting to know the new iMovie and it is not bad.

I still struggle with credits – I cannot find a smooth workflow for those. 

I wanted to have the lyrics in English dancing on the screen…but I did not know how to even try to do that. 


The World’s Smallest Sandcastles Built on Individual Grains of Sand by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho

Well, this sent me down a rabbit hole…

and then I learnt about the camera lucida and after learning about the praxinoscope from Jim Groom i am spoilt for choice of gadgets to play with. I think the camera lucida wins – it undermines notions of original artwork and what it means to copy, it shows us that artists through time have used devices that help the process, it speaks to the relationship between art and technology and can buy me a portable one today! I do not need to invest in an antique:

Wow! History and me have not always been best friends…could it be that as well as challenging my preconceptions on art and artefacts DS106 will also teach me to love history? 

I am ordering me a camera lucida and playing with it…I know, I can do that with layers. But a tool that was used to build a sandcastle in a grain of sand? How can I say no?


Every Sunday at 8.00 UK time ( check here for your local time

The DS106 Good Spell in 106 Bullets –  John Johnston and Mariana Funes talking DS106 learning, community and creativity.

On DS106 Radio: http://ds106rad.io/listen/

A radio programme based on my 106th post for DS106, read it here. And episodes will be archived at EduTalk. Episode 0 is already up!


Playing with the Don’t Turn That Dial main tv today.

I need to find out how to put a gif in here…


“I must attempt a mind meld.” (Star Trek the Motion Picture, 1979)



What GIF best describes how you are currently feeling?

I love any of the gifs on ThePop. When you press on the screen you see the “punchline”. 

I love the DIY ones that kids do on the spur of the moment. 

Right now I’m about to go to bed so I will feel like this guy in the gif. He turns off the light but then realizes that he had forgotten to plug in his phone so he desperately stabs into the wall in the dark. It’s so silly and goofy and “low-production”…. but I think about this GIF every night and laugh every time. 

When did you first start making GIFs? What was the first GIF you made?

About 2 years ago. I did just a couple back then, but now I’m a total convert and addict!  

What attracts you to the GIF format?

It’s a more organic and intuitive medium to relate an experience – more so than a photo or a video. Think of how we recollect memories: close your eyes and think of something from your past. You don’t see a frozen still image – you see GIFs! Even when we dream at night we see fragments of events that collectively create some kind of narrative which we assemble into a story when we wake up. Even when we daydream we don’t watch a full-feature uninterrupted film in our heads – we think in fragments, often non-linear. 

There’s a real sense of fun and joy in your GIFs, something fashion photography isn’t exactly known for. Do you think the GIF medium lends itself to a more lighthearted mood in fashion shoots?

Yes, I do! Comparing to GIFs photos and videos tell a story in a very “epic” way. They feel like something that happened long in the past. They are always so perfect, set in stone and immovable like the great statues in Rome.  GIFs, on the contrary, feel very “NOW” and ephemeral. I don’t know why, they just do. They feel like a medium where experimentation and mistakes are allowed. That’s why there is more fun and ease about them.

Along those same lines, the light tone gives the GIFs an almost improvisational feel to them, but they’re also very tightly constructed. Do you have a vision of exactly the way you want them to turn out, or do you play around with a lot of different ideas?

I create original content for my GIFs. They require a different approach than the ones created by extracting a fun moment from an already existing content. Which, by the way, I consider creatively equally valid and challenging. For me, however, I need to edit them in my head long before I create them. I often practice using myself, dolls ets before I get a real model. Once my storyboard is complete I will experiment with speed and crops. I find GIFs extremely difficult – much more so then a video or a photo. The fact that they have to loop in a hypnotic way is the hardest.  There are certain works of art that SEEM to have a repetition, but it nothing remains static forever. Phillip Glass’s music is repetitive but always evolving. But the great GIFs you can watch forever without getting annoyed. There is no formula of how to do it – it’s a kind of magic. I play with mine until they reach the certain “groove” where I could watch them forever, Then I know it’s right. Once I was looking at my own gif for 15 minutes while riding the subway. (now THAT’s what I call narcissism, lol)

Do you see GIFs as the future of fashion photography?

Absolutely! I want to be one of those who will create this future! 

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I like Kasumi

Current favorite GIF? 

Any fun projects you are currently working on and can share with us?

The model go-sees with girls playing with cutouts from their portfolios is my latest project.

Want to see more of Elle’s GIFs? Check out her page on Giphy.com. And, if you have a Mac iOS 10.7 or higher be sure to download the fashion-fun screensaver.


The era of Facebook is an anomaly
To boyd, social media isn’t new. It’s just the latest scapegoat for America’s obsession with overprotection. She took a few minutes to speak to The Verge about her new book, human nature in the age of Snapchat, and where Facebook fits in an increasingly fragmented social landscape.

It’s complicated. We need deception. Hmmm…

Huize Heyendael – A spine chilling tale 

This week at the DS106 Open Online Participant Offices (OOPO) we have been exploring the structure of story in different ways. Inspired by one of our co-workers over at GMU I decided to play with Ken Adams story spine idea. In his blog ‘bcodelson’ (I do wish our colleagues at GMU gave us a human friendly name to call them) wrote a sweet story spine about ‘The shape of the sneetches’ . Ron over on Google Plus has been creating some lovely atmospheric photos, animated gifs, videos using the Diana App. I thought I could put some of this stuff together into a video story spine. I called it ‘Huize Heyendael – A spine chilling tale’. I found this simple frame for creating a story helpful – there is a child-like quality to it. It feels like a game we can play the kids and make up lovely stories. I like that.  

It is also a helpful checklist to remind us that the spine of the story never contains all the details:

The Story Spine is not the story, it’s the spine. It’s nothing but the bare-boned structure upon which the story is built. And, that’s what makes it such a powerful tool. It allows you, as a writer, to look at your story at its structural core and to ensure that the basic building blocks are all in the right place. Now, of course, turning your Story Spine into a story is a whole different topic…


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