Farewell DS106!

Ugh. Time to choose another gen. ed.

After successfully avoiding ALPP classes for three years, this thought lingered in the back of my mind last August.  Of course, being a rising senior, I waited until the last minute to do anything about it–and the thought of taking a gen. ed. during senior year made me wonder why I hadn’t done anything about it sooner.  Knowing my dilemma, my roommate, a CPSC106 alumna, recommended that I attend a digital storytelling class during the first week of the semester.  I missed the section she’d actually suggested and found myself in Jim Groom’s class instead, anxiously awaiting  whatever challenges an artistic “performance” course would throw my way.

In retrospect, I have no regrets about waiting to finish my ALPP gen. ed., because, fortunately, DS106 was nothing I’d anticipated–at all.

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I have few complaints (if you’d really call them that) about how the assignments went in class.  I enjoyed the time I spent working on them, and usually this homework didn’t feel like work at all.  It was a nice break from the monotonous routine of regular college classes.  Occasionally, I found myself struggling to keep up learning about and producing with the tools required for projects, but a little planning went a long way, and I think the assignments were staggered at a manageable pace with a logical progression.  Granted, some weeks were more successful than others, but as I sift through both my project and digital story posts, I can’t pinpoint anything with a truly disappointing outcome.

In particular, the challenge of understanding audio and video tools offered a welcome break from more traditional assignments.  My two favourite projects were “El Mashup” and fan fiction.  While these assignments were time consuming, they forced me to think critically about and work creatively with media with which I have no prior experience.  From these assignments I gleaned the satisfaction of creating new from old, which is also something my regular coursework has never covered.

That being said, I think more emphasis could be placed on image and audio storytelling in lieu of video. More specifically, while the group videos were fun to make, I think I learned more from the commentary, mashup, and screencast assignments since the group video didn’t require me to try tools or techniques that I hadn’t used in the other assignments.  Perhaps this project could be replaced by a graphic design assignment?  After trying my hand at fan fiction postcards, I felt like I was just getting started with design and wished we’d had more direction with it in class.  Actually, thinking of it, I think graphic design would follow image stories and photography quite naturally.

Although Gardner Campbell’s article and presentation took awhile to digest, this early exposure to the notion of a “personal cyberinfrastructure” gave meaning to our blogs, and particularly to blog customization.  For this reason, I think WordPress itself was the most important tool I learned to use this semester.  At least for my major, I may never again need MPEG Streamclip or Audacity, but it’s likely that I’ll have to establish and manage personal Web space somewhere down the road.  Additionally, I now have a better understanding of the Internet’s helpful and harmful capabilities, as well as how to use this powerful tool to my advantage.  In a similar vein, while there weren’t any tools that I feel a need to specifically criticize, I recommend telling future DS106ers to keep track of all downloaded programs for purging purposes come the end of the semester.

Another suggestion I’ll make is the use of a syllabus (if only a loose one) to help students plan ahead.  At the beginning of the semester, it was difficult to gauge how much time I’d have to allocate for DS106 assignments without a basic syllabus and outline of course expectations.  (I did find one posted to the Spring 2010 course blog, but was unsure of its relevance to the upcoming weeks.)  Fortunately, I didn’t waiver at the prospect of work-intensive weeks to come, and had no qualms about making time to complete the assignments thoughtfully and thoroughly.  After all, this is what college-level learning is about.  I’d recommend that students considering DS106 in addition to a heavy workload should probably wait on taking the class to make the most of the assignments and digital story, and, again, an up-front syllabus would help them make this decision.

Way back in August, I seriously considered Jim Groom’s warnings of uninteresting or unmanageable blogging topics, and was running low on ideas until Daily Shoot miraculously inspired my project.  Like the official assignments, my digital story required substantial forethought to successfully keep up, but my genuine interest in photography made it relatively easy to maintain weekly posts.   Without a doubt, I consider my digital story a narrative of my progress and interest in a new hobby.  Moreover, the most satisfying facet of my digital story is that it will not end with the semester; it would be a shame for the journey to end simply because I’ve stopped earning grades for it.

Lastly, I’ll admit that my primary weakness was in commenting distribution.  I often found myself commenting on the same blogs over and over again–but not consciously, it just sort of happened.  There was a clear set of digital stories that held my interest, and kept drawing me back for more.  My suggestion for future classes is to require installation of the Subscribe to Comments plugin at the beginning of the semester.  Once I could track my comments on other blogs, it was much easier to engage in online discussions.  I think this plugin, or something similar, is an essential part of Internet-based discussion since remembering to check for new comments on a post you’ve already read is fairly unlikely.

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Maybe my the right side of my brain’s been starved for attention, or maybe it was the unstructured, self-driven nature of DS106 that made this semester a success.  Regardless of what “it” was, I’ve found DS106 to be definitely what you make of it.  After seven semesters at UMW, I struggle to think of a more enjoyable gen. ed. course to round out my liberal arts experience.

buna

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