DS106 on the couch

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Letting Go


So we came to the end of our radio show  The DS106 Good Spell in 106 Bullets. We did it in 107 bullets, of course!

Just before the last episode somebody sent me the above diagram, it reminded me that cycles are an inherent part of life. It also got me reflecting on the nature of the ‘group’ that is DS106 as an online open community. In our last show we talked about the value of combining of open participants and those doing the course at a university for a qualification. We spoke about how this reciprocal relationship works – offering students at a university a sense of audience beyond the professor and open participants a sense of structure and physicality that supports learning. 

The rest of this post is my personal reflections after the final show. 

Looking at the diagram I see how little ‘we’ within the DS106 community we talk ‘about’ the nature of the group we are; attention seems always focussed in the digital output we produce and we relate through that over time. Using the ideas  in the diagram as a descriptive and reflective model, I very much see  the hashtag classroom that is #ds106  as a community of practice. 

I remember starting to learn about it and seeing its potential for supporting learning; taking the first steps to get to know people and evaluating if this were ‘my kind of people’. Once I joined the question changed to how I could contribute. What Jim Groom referred to on our show as ‘we ask what we can do for #ds106 rather than what it can do for us’. This desire to contribute does not come from nowhere; it comes and grows as we see how being part of this group helps our digital practice. Some of us see what we do as art, others as story, yet others as mere artefact (that would be me when I started); but what brings us together is the practice we share and are developing. For some of us it is a limited enterprise, we need the credits for the course and for others of us it is a wider enterprise that supports the work we do elsewhere on an ongoing basis.


The DS106 Good Spell show is a good example of the last two stages in the diagram. The ‘course’ I did, DS106 Headless, finished in 2013. Some people dispersed and some of us stayed in touch and continued to engage around the hashtag as  ‘a force and a centre of knowledge’ that still exists and that is to some extent independent of who participates at any one time.

John and I started this little project as a way to stay connected *because* we experienced the value of the community. We kept making stuff. We stayed around to be of use to others as best we could whilst we moved on to other projects and life. Even when DS106  is ‘no longer central’ (in the sense that it takes up every waking hour of your life) ‘people still remember it as an integral part of their identities’. Online, we express this with the hashtag #4life and make jokes about how DS106 is like Hotel California – you can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.


The last episode of the DS106 Good Spell Radio Show was very much and example of this ‘memorable’ stage the diagram suggests as the end of the cycle. We told many stories, spoke about artefacts we have made and created. And, of course, the show itself is the most amazing artefact. @johnjohnston has painstakingly archived it all, so anyone can binge listen all episodes!

As we spoke about what we made, the stories we tell through time and the way in which ‘DS106 is just like the Internet but with less trolls’ you can hear in our voices how proud of DS106 memorabilia we are and how much we all wish we had some DS106 socks! (in-joke, sorry. But if you are interested watch the latest instalment of the story here). We talked about the most significant symbol of all, the number 106. A meaningless symbol given life by the relationships and stories people chose and choose to build around it. We even made a radio programme on DS106 Numerology, of course.



We spoke about issues of inclusion and exclusion. There is a way in which DS106 does not set up to be inclusive. This for me connects with how our attention is on what we make and how we embody what we believe: ‘Show them, don’t tell them’ is a mantra for DS106. To me, this simple sentence expresses the essence of transformational pedagogy much more than much of the convoluted jargon I read on open pedagogy (critical or otherwise) elsewhere. 

The ethos of DS106 means that it is not for everyone, there is a vulnerability that comes with being willing to ‘futz splendidly’ in public. On the show we spoke about how what was important to us as educators was to be as transparent as possible about the nature of the experience, make it okay for people to join or not – much in the same way as not everyone plays golf and joining a golf club is not something inherently good or bad, just a preference. 

We may be more dispersed now than when I started in 2013, may be we only gather around the metaphorical campfire to reminisce about the great old days sporadically as other projects gain our attention. Yet, the important things remain and develop outside of the hashtag.

John and I are talking about a new radio show, I am furnishing a new home outside of Tumblr where I will show my ‘digital art’. I can now contemplate the idea of calling myself an artist as well as an academic. My new online home is with the best educational hosting company ever, Reclaim Hosting , run by DS106 folk.  I started to build an online contemplation studio, again with Reclaim Hosting, at the stillweb.org with support from people I met through DS106. I even run a kind of daily create of my own, thanks to @cogdog​, focussed on activities to ‘find stillness in movement (digital or otherwise)’ which I use in my university teaching on the LMS. All this and more would never have been possible without the people I have met through this great hashtag. 

The joy of having been part of what Warren Bennis labels ‘a great group’ will stay with me for a lifetime and reminds me that open true ego-free collaboration is possible…even at times when competition and comprehensive doctrines seem to make up most of our educational dialogue online. As James Poulos explains,

We’re all succumbing to what philosophers call “comprehensive doctrines.” Translated into plain language, comprehensive doctrines are grandiose, all-inclusive accounts of how the world is and should be.

Whatever I do for #ds106 going forward will never pay the debt I feel for it offering  me a learning environment that reminds me each day what true education can be.


So, my love for making photos look old goes back to @bionicteaching and a long time. This photo of @gifadog was the first one I ever made. I used a blog post written by Tom and fell in love with the idea as well as learning a lot about how to Photoshop.

So the top photo (labelled ‘made by hand’) is the one I made. You can find it on Flickr and also read the comment there. It took a long time to make. It takes me less time now but it is still in the region of hours to get ‘just so’. I also feel a sense of ownership for each blemish I add and that makes me love the ‘old’ photo I end up with. 

Today’s Daily create asks us to use a generator for the same purpose. I was not going to do it, as I am a bit of a snob when it comes to apps and generators…but this is the Daily Create, we must obey! 

The bottom photo (labelled ‘made by generator’) is my submission for today’s daily create. Clearly much easier, upload a photo and download the ‘old’ photo. Emotional attachment to output? None.

Which do you prefer and why? 

Yet another Daily Create…actually this one was not for DS106 but as it has taken me days and days to pull together,  I thought that I could offer the .PSD file for #artdropday. So far, no takers. I guess it is a bit boring to count as art! It was made for a blog post elsewhere on the subject of our relationship to social media. You can find funnier gifs at @gifadog ‘s Tumblr, I guess.

The garden of death Hugo Simberg (1896) 

Just playing with old images today. I loved this one and tried to ‘see it better’. Death is gardening, I love that. Thanks @jimgroom for pointing me to the post. 

The new daily create site is making me lazy. It is so easy to just post on Twitter and forget to write posts narrating process and reflecting on learning. I keep telling myself it is ephemera and it does not matter, picking up on Michael Branson Smith’s  distinction between ephemeral art and more long term projects. 

All this is true. What is also true is that each little creation teaches me something and helps me keep up to date with what the web offers to help us make digital art. 

The rest of this post is my attempt to put this right in terms of a few dailies Creates I made the last few weeks. I want to explore the tools I used and write some reflections on what I have learnt.

A while back we made a logo with a logo generator. My immediate reaction to it was negative. I often find that with prompts that send me in directions I would not choose to go! What is the point of just using a programmer’s knowledge of design in order to create an output that I have nothing to do with? Where is the creativity in that? I have learnt to ignore the critic when it comes to this type of thing. So I started to play with Emblematic

My immediate reaction was: meh. But here is the kicker; as I played I saw that it was possible to adapt parameters in the designs I liked. Some of these parameters were not familiar to me and changing them taught me new elements of design. In making a choice about what I like, I am choosing what I like for a purpose. This taught me something about aesthetics for fulfilling a brief. It is not the same to design a logo for this blog and for, say, a fake hipster new ‘hood as in my ‘WickGre’  logo above. Again, quoting Michael and @ryanseslow: In making a choice about ‘like’ I am learning something about art even if I am not creating it myself; I am learning about refining my taste for a purpose. A design skill. 

I first used Emblematic to make the new logo for this blog. When it came to creating acronames I remembered that tool and decided to use it. The brief: a hipster fake name for an area in my locality. I do not want to put too much location information online, because I am paranoid. So, I chose a local area that has gone through huge development recently but is not too close to me. The development has been controversial. I remembered the idea of Honest Slogans (another daily create from a long time ago, I think). What would it be like if my fake name for the new development had an honest slogan? 

So I looked for an image that would be an accurate reflection of what people are buying when they buy houses there. The place basically overlooks a huge roundabout with a huge superstore. I have nothing against this, but it does feel rather dishonest when commercials advertise the new homes as ‘luxury countryside living’. It is dangerous to cross the roads to get out of the development and I fail to see how living by a roundabout (large road intersection, for those not in the UK) can be said to be ‘countryside’. So, I made my poster for WickGre – creating places where people aspire to live, with a background of the large roundabout that defines it. It really is not that different from “DoWiSeTrePla”  – Downwind of the Sewage Treatment Plant mentioned on the podcast that explores ‘the SoHo effect’. Perhaps I should have called it: CleViBiRo – Clear View of Big Roundabout. 

On other news, we had a another create that made us use a nifty tool that allows us to print out video. Again, I could not see the point initially. I knew that @johnjohnston had made these storyboards many times and his were awesome. What was the point of something that gave you no control? You just gave it a URL and then it gave you a series of frames on a pdf. Meh. But, not meh! Read on.

John’s scrolls are wonderful but beyond those of us who do not command the Command line on a Mac. This tool made this accessible to the rest of us, but I genuinely did not see this when I first tried the tool. So I made a comic.


I could see how awesome the programming was, I could not see practical applications. I chose to do my background with and abstract video. I got a beautiful wallpaper, and assumed that this would be the only use. Then others started to use it. I realised how wrong I was. Jim Groom explored the potential use for scene analysis and understanding of a film. Doh! Of course, I never thought of that. I left a comment to that effect. He further suggested in his response,

Yeah, John Johnston has been doing amazing experiments along these lines for a few years now, we need to make some of that available. I like the idea of a daily tool..

Yes! Imagine watching a film and being able to create a storyboard of different scenes to analyse later not being dependent on You Tube. I started to learn how this could be useful practically as well as aesthetically. 

We then had a daily create that asked us to give clues for people to guess a movie. I immediately thought about the print a video tool. Get a scene and use as background to give clues on top of that background. The film was easy to guess, but I thought the poster looked lovely with the watercolour version of Blade Runner as background. 


And we are up to yesterday’s daily create. A 3 word map story. For this to work with the image of a map, I had to post location information. How to do it without that? I searched for my 3 words for the same location of my previous honest poster: Bricks, Flames and Active. This made me laugh. I immediately thought of the slogan: Actively flaming the countryside one brick at a time. I did a little bit of research. Turns out that 1500 houses have been built, without any changes to the local infrastructure. Who knows what the people buying the houses will have to go through as the houses sell – no more school places, no more parking, no more access roads…

I decided to do a protest poster. I wanted to do flames around the logo. I have tried and failed to learn how to do this in Photoshop before; mainly because I did not get the how to select a path before rendering the flames. I used a tutorial and managed to create what I had in mind. 


I replaced the background with a wallpaper of some public domain footage of a black and white house build, using the print video tool. And Bob is your uncle. 

So, yes it is true that the creations are ephemeral and are not something I will add to my best work folder. Yet, as a daily practice it cannot get much better than this: my expectations challenged so I can learn something new, finding practical uses for tools I was unfamiliar with, learning one more trick in a tool that will take many lifetimes to learn well and finding out about my local area’s development plans. 

And the biggest gift? I realise that I now have a tool to select frames for gifs easily. I can print it out, take time to view as stills and select my moments when making video gifs. Anything that help us gif better is a god send, says @gifadog 

Thank you, daily create.

Why U use Tumblr?


Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs on Twitter) is presenting somewhere on blogging platforms. He asked about Tumblr on Twitter and I tweeted a few things. 

It is such a good question though, I often ask myself why use it. So, I thought I would reflect out loud here and it may be of use for Aaron’s presentation. It also serves as the ideal displacement activity for avoiding grading papers. 

First thing: Always use the ‘keep reading tag’. People forget that the Dashboard on Tumblr is designed for media other than words and long text posts are utterly annoying on the Dashboard. 

I use many different platforms, I try all I can and have the capacity to because I am often asked to advice people on developing their digital presence – often academics or therapists. I always recommend WordPress. 

So why U use Tumblr? 

One big reason is their archive link. I have not found any other platform that allows me to view my work in such an aesthetically pleasing manner without me having to do anything except type in a URL. Try it now for this blog. Awesome, no?

If Tumblr disappeared tomorrow, I would be heartbroken to lose my archive. 

Staying on the use side of it, once upon a time I also loved the editor and its simplicity. It was easy to learn HTML as you could access it easily and customise Tumblr themes with no hassle. If you did not know something the Tumblr community always had a post or a response to help out with a quick search. They have now gone ‘all medium’ on us. I think the editor is not nearly as good as it once was. And the HTML option for viewing your posts is not very user friendly anymore – I guess the majority of users just post media other than text so the editor caters more for that now. 

Because it is designed for showing photos, animated gifs and video – what you can do with that here is better than on any other platform. Check out the photo gallery options. It is easy to make things look good on Tumblr. 

Then, there is the Dashboard. If you curate your follows well, there is nothing I like more than settling of an evening to view the Tumblr Dashboard. For me it is like an art exhibition in my lounge. Its main use case is for those interested in digital art, I would say. Young ones use it for confessional blogs too. If you go to certain spaces you are likely to be surprised and/or shocked but what can be found here. Yet, to me that is one of the attractions; it is unpredictable and it challenges me more than other platform – no cozy echo chamber of like minded folk.

And yet, there is also a great sense of community here. I have never had a problem with my theme that I have not been able to solve, there are so many themes to choose from and these are so easily customisable that one can be creative in ways that other platforms do not allow. Or rather, other platforms do not allow with as much ease. There is no assumption of technical know how in Tumblr land – people want an output and find a way to do it with the help of others who try things out. 

I do not reblog stuff, but many people do. I like the idea that in doing this, young people can discover their own sense of aesthetics as @ryanseslow often says. I can see that there are many other platforms that offer more technically, my attachment to Tumblr is more emotional than technical. It is a friendly space and it makes it easy for me to do stuff. 

Who is it good for? I would say that artists and people who are interested in art. It is also good for people who want to learn about digital trends – Tumblr attracts people who like to play and experiment with the digital, sometimes in ways that I find quite unexpected. But to find all of this you need to invest time searching and curating your sources carefully. 

Would I use it if I was starting now? No. I think that with the adverts and suggestions of who to follow on the Dashboard my ‘art gallery’ experience is diminished. I would pay for no adverts or suggestions, but this is not the way of the world. 

Also, I love gifs and I love the constraints that Tumblr puts on size of what can be uploaded. It helps me hone my technical skills. The tension between the aesthetics of a gif and the number of frames or colours used is one of the joys in making gifs for me. I learnt about all of that thanks to Tumblr – I wanted to post gifs on my blog and I had to learn how to make it work. This is the essence of what makes me like it: it pushes me to experiment with stuff to get an output.

Some more downsides: there are many many ways to view stuff (the archive, the dashboard, your blog, your post, etc.) You need to learn how it all works or there will be a view that will look bad if you do not update it. It takes time to get how the community side of things works if this is something that attracts you. If there is a topic that interests you or that you want to be known for – be sure to study the hashtags used. A lot of what works on Tumblr is about the tags. 

It is quirky, it is easy, it is experimental, it is the only place on the web where I feel free to futz. But that may be just me. 

My grandmother’s hat


I was going to call this post ‘The improvisational And’ but I thought above was much more #DS106 mysterious…

We have been dealing with the serious matter of #sockgate on DS106 over the last few days. Check the hashtag on Twitter and also listen to @Scottlo ‘s second podcast if you have a need for background. 

This reflection post is my attempt to pull together some ideas about what makes ‘storytelling in the wild’ work (or not) under the #DS106 hashtag. 

Scott’s podcast explores what it has been like for him to come back into DS106 after not being around for a while. The podcast is not self-referential. Scott uses his experience to wonder what it may be like for somebody coming in new to DS106 and who may just be doing Daily Creates, for example. He suggests that may be those of us who have been around for a while may have a lesson to learn when we ‘bring back to life’ stories from the past – the essence of his inquiry is: are we making some people feel excluded? Alan’s is clear in his response to Scott in the comments:

If it looks like other people are having fun in ds106, and you want to have fun, well jump in the game, or ask someone. I don’t have much sympathy for people who sit on the sidelines and cry about being left out. I’m having too much fun in the mix.

So there are two views on one experience highlighting different elements. One that suggests certain ‘in jokes’ may be excluding and one that says ‘if you want to join in and don’t understand, just ask us.’ We cannot know how everyone who joins DS106 will feel. I can say that when I joined, it never felt excluding. If I did not know, I asked or googled and then joined in. Easy. But it is a personal thing, some people may need more context. Yes, I would say the clue is in the title: Digital Storytelling. 

I often talk about DS106 and its ‘oral tradition of storytelling’ and the socks are a great example of that. Since DS106 started there have been many stories told by many different people. The stories evolve over time, they appear and reappear. If you are new to this game, it can seem excluding and a game that only who were ‘there’ can play – playfully expressed by @dogtrax


Kathy Onarheim finds other stories in the DS106 oral tradition,

“There is something with hedgehogs – not sure what the story is – but they show up now and again and cause some conversation…kinda like socks….you don’t need to know the original story – just jump on and weave the next chapter…. I see @mdvfunes drawing hedge hogs and @annycow tweeting about them and even @mburtis in this snuggle with one…has to be stories here somewhere!”

“You do not need to know the original story, just jump in and start weaving.” And we can certainly weave: Dolls, paper bags for president, time travelling motorcycles, transporter tree houses, fake families, sock fraud, student revolutions and on and on…

In DS106 we do different type of stories. Some are neatly packaged in a video or in a radio show, others are improvisational in nature and evolve over time. The clue is in the title – this is about storytelling. When you do a formal run of the course or run through the open course, there is whole module on ‘weaving stories on the web’. It is just digital improvisation, we make up characters and places and events and run with them. Just like #sockgate. Sure, it makes more sense to those who were ‘there’ but we can all jump in and weave, as Kathy says. 

It seems to me that what may help new people who are uncertain about improvisational storytelling online is the same thing that helps us learn how to improvise elsewhere: My grandmother’s hat. Now go back and read the story at the start of this post. It is and excerpt from Piers Ibbotson’s book. In improvisational theatre this is called the ‘Yes, and’ game. It is the only way the telling of a spontaneous story between people can work. At least I trust the father of improvisational theatre Keith Johnstone on that. Archive.org has the full original text if you want to learn more. He describes the process as ‘blocking or accepting’  – if we block, the story dies; if we accept, it gets told. He does say that the same is true in life, but I will not digress now. 

In this context, we block when we stop ourselves from joining in because we do not know what went on before today. We accept when we say: Sock Fraud? I can do that. I want the socks you promised us, Jim. Or, there were never any socks! Or, you are all a bunch of  ‘sockists’! Or….

Yes, this is true and what is also true is…See how it works? Facts are not relevant, we build on what is being spoken (or tweeted) as we go. 

So for the record I want to remind everyone that:


…but maybe, just maybe, Jim ‘the Impresario from the Web Hosting racket’ (listen to Scottlo on this – linked above) is plotting his next sock move with Gardner at the Italian Gelateria Pingu in Via Sant’Anna…


Oh, my! This daily was just too much fun. 

My first Žižuku poem! 

What is a Žižuku poem? You may well ask: “pick on any widely received idea and find the most clever-sounding way to invert it, so as to create a paradox, or at least the semblance of one.” The post is well worth a read though it may only amuse a few language or philosophy geeks. 

Read on if you want to know how I did it.

I read the post and got hang of the rules of the game. 

I took the subject of the Daily Create today and applied the rules to it using some of the content on the blog to help me get started. Then went to Notegraphy and looked for a template that was suitably tacky and ‘new agey’ – I wanted it to look as if the words actually meant something. Once I found the perfect template, Bob is your uncle

Lastly, I just keep laughing as I read it. Humans make wonderful nonsense generators. Just give us an arbitrary rule and we are away!

So today the Daily Create hit 1500 daily prompts! A kind of a birthday, no? I thought I would play a little more with pixel art, I did the other day and liked it. And it is right for today’s celebrations as well! 

An open education conference I am attending in April asked us to create ‘a promo poster’ for it using our #ds106 digital skills. I am still uncertain as to what the brief is. I wonder if they want us to keep to their current theme of just make some fun posters. I went for fun posters! Others kept to the current theme – I hate that blue! 

I wanted an image that spoke of ‘open culture’ as this is the theme of the conference – I spent a long time searching in Wikimedia and other spaces for public domain images that were free to use. Found one. 

Poster 1

I also was not comfortable with highlighting keynote speakers as the ‘main event’ – for me the main event is about the whole community coming together to search their ideas and research. I wanted the poster to be about the perspective of a potential participant thinking about attending. The one way ticket idea, spoke to me in terms of how once you become an open online educator ‘there is not going back, it is a one way ticket’ – in one’s heart, at least. The tag line kept ringing in my head, it is probably lyrics to a song I heard long ago.  The Delicate font I found recently and love the open and minimal nature of it, it seemed the obvious choice. As the poster was a non-english movie poster the credits are in a language other than English, I chose to leave that as it was as it highlighted the idea that conferences are not (or should not be?) about personalities but about egoless dialogue. The poster highlights the theme and the participant – that is all. The image give the sense of endless ocean, marking the potential of ‘open culture’ in education. I love the simplicity of this one. 

Poster 2

I did the traditional thing and followed a template. The ‘movie’ has stars and they will pull the punters in. The stars at the top, the potential participant and his thoughts lower down in the image, with a smaller and fuzzier font. White highlight shows up the ‘stars’ that much more. I liked the PG rating – may not be suitable for children! This spoke to me about how we need to reflect on what it really means for our students to give informed consent to using open online education tools to learn. I really like how the OER16 logo hides behind the credits at the bottom. 

I guess what really makes both posters is the wonderful public domain image. The language is Azerbaijani and the image is for a movie poster in Azerbaijan

It has been a fun assignment, helped me reflect on how the narrative we chose to highlight in publicising conferences speaks to many of the norms that may need changing in the creation of an open culture in education. 


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