Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Learning With Digital Stories - a Curation

It is always a challenge to find a way to present a portfolio that somehow provides a large-scale overview with the possibility for small-scale exploration. When I looked through the Web assignments in the Assignment Bank of ds106, I came across a tool called Kumu. I immediately knew that I would try to use it to present my portfolio. What you see below is my entire work output for Learning With Digital Stories, arranged by category.

You can click on any assignment (the outermost layer of organization) and a box will appear with an image, video, or other link to media content. There will also be a link to the specific entry in my blog. If you look closely, there are a number of assignments connected to their respective nodes with a red connector. These assignments are related to my focal theme, and will be the focus of this curation and the final Reflection.

This has been a course primarily about literacies, so I have organized my commentary into four sections; media literacy practices, social media literacy practices, literacy practices associated with my focal themes, and my developing understanding of literacies through the writing of Lankshear & Knobel in New Literacies (2011).

Media Literacy Practices

The most overt aspect of this course centered on the media work the students produced largely through their interaction with ds106. In keeping with the class theme of digital storytelling, I tried to produce media projects that not only told a story but which also had a backstory. I even had the titles evoke some aspect of the story. In the Daily Create called My Classroom (see ds106/daily create/tdc1256 above), I created "openings" in my classroom through which I could view nature (celestial objects in this case). The resulting image tells a story of being confined, or blocked, and of finding relief through possible openings to the outside world. I added a poem which popped into my head about my classroom, which in fact has no windows, a detail that vexes me on occasion. The image also points to a facet of my physics teaching - I am an avid fan of astronomy.

When producing my media work, I made an effort to have "story" happening on different levels. I saw this as part of my overall literacy practice in this course. Producing media also involved technical skill, and this was another kind of literacy. In choosing which assignments to tackle, I looked for assignments that stretched my capability, culminating in my using two media tools that I have never used before (Twine and Kumu) which made use of programming skills (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Web above).

Social Media Literacy Practices

All of the assignments in this course were published in my blog. Doing this encouraged me to write, even if the assignment did not require writing, because I have a habit of writing in a blog. This practice resulted in my telling stories, about the assignment itself, about the media produced, or about the backstory. For contrast, you could visit my Flickr collection and see all my visual assignments, but there is little writing. The same is true for my YouTube channel. My practice in both these cases is to use the sites as archives.

My blog developed more of a social aspect as the course progressed. This consisted of comments by classmates, replies by me, an occasional Google recommendation, and my own practice when I write of documenting and linking as much as possible.

Once published, I used Twitter to announce the publication. This is a practice I have used for a long time on Twitter. This time, though, everyone in the class was also announcing on Twitter, and thus we were a community. I was not used to using Twitter in this way, and it was fascinating for me to watch myself learn a new set of practices. It started with Prof Holden favoriting every tweet, a nice bit of modeling. I subscribed to Lisa Dise's Twitter list. I practiced favoriting, retweeting, and replying, trying to understand the subtle differences. I even experimented trying to have a longer conversation, and I tried a technique called "talking to oneself." I also shared outside tweets with the group, and interacted with others outside the group who ended up participating with us.

Our connection with ds106 also had a social practice aspect which started with linking my blog with ds106 through the special class page. This page became a focal point for assignment information, a blog list, and a blog feed. On each assignment page in ds106 there was a way to submit one's work so it would appear in that page, and I made sure that my work was included. Looking at the work of others was both instructive and inspiring - if it seemed that people were having fun with an assignment, I was more likely to join in. When I created my own Daily Create (see ds106/daily create/tdc1303 above) and submitted it, that was my gift back to the community.

Here are a few example interactions:
  • A Twitter conversation.
  • Some retweet encouragement with a classmate.
  • A nice group of comments and replies on one of my blog posts.
  • Two comments on a blog post from people who were not students in the class! Kathy and Mariana were associated with ds106, and they started following and commenting on the work of our class.

Literacy Practices Associated With my Focal Themes

I chose a focal theme, but to be honest, it was not really a choice. I live my focal theme - it's what I do for work, but it is also a practice that I examine critically all the time. I am a physics teacher, and as such I am interested in physics, effective ways to teach physics, and ways of understanding and describing teaching itself. Thus it was not difficult to stay focused on my themes (actually a single continuum in my mind) of teaching physics/understanding teaching. It was in this context that I eagerly joined this course - I regard physics as a great big story.

Any physical phenomenon takes place in time and involves cause and effect. It has a beginning, middle, and end. This is, in effect, a story. My goal as a teacher is for a student to be able to, at least, repeat a story accurately. If the student can reconstruct a story in his own words, that is better. Best is when a student can examine a phenomenon and venture a credible story on his own. Physics also has many technical tools that can be employed in building a story - measuring tools, graphs, charts, and diagrams. Physics also has a variety of story vehicles - equations (very compact stories), text, photos and videos, models, and simulations.

Four of my Assignment Bank assignments were related to my focal theme:
  • My design assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Design above) was basically a hand-drawn infographic on how a tiny electric motor works and how to build one. This assignment came directly from my teaching experience.
  • My mashup assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Mashup above) was a response to a NASA Twitter stream which I felt was inferior to an ESA Twitter stream in telling the story of their respective spacecraft. I mashed up the NASA stream with a Bill Nye stream to make a point.
  • My animated GIF assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB AnimatedGIF above) was an exercise in exploring the arrow of time, a thermodynamic concept that can be explored with videos run backward.
  • My web assignment (see ds106/Assignment Bank/AB Web above) was a trial in using Twine to construct an interactive story as a way of explaining the basic physics of rocket flight.

In all of these assignments, I explored or created a physics explanation using a story coupled with a media product particularly suited to the nature of the story.

Four of my critiques were related to my focal theme:
  • My second critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 2 above) was of a video that came from the PhD thesis of a physics teacher in Australia. His research on videos as instructional tools in physics education was an eye-opener.
  • My fifth critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 5 above) was by the same researcher above from Australia. He now makes instructional videos professionally, and this was one of his earlier physics videos.
  • My seventh critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 7 above) was of a highly professional video that told a short fantasy folk tale. In the process, it demonstrated some aspects of momentum and inertia, two physics concepts.
  • My last critique (see INTE 5340/Critique/Critique 9 above) was of an instructional video of projectile motion which I made with my students, employing three media production tools.

These critiques consisted of an examination of media:
  • that informed my understanding of using media in the classroom (Critique 2);
  • that I would actually use in the classroom (Critiques 5 and 7);
  • and that I created in my classroom (Critique 9).

Developing an Understanding of Literacies

Three of my weekly responses to Lankshear and Knobel were related to my focal theme:
  • My Chapter 4 response (see INTE 5340/Response/Chapter 4 above) was an examination of remix practices as applied to how one learns to play music in a social practices setting, and to the music itself. While this would not seem to be related to my focal theme, I use my own example of learning to become a musician as a way to understand how a student could learn physics in my classroom. In addition, I believe that teaching is an act of performance not unlike a musical performance.

  • My Chapter 7 response (see INTE 5340/Response/Chapter 7 above) examined the real-world education that takes place in the technical programs in my school. I described the shops as platforms that allow students to learn in a community of practice.
  • My Chapter 8 response (see INTE 5340/Response/Chapter 8 above) examined my own reaction to a typical packaged classroom project and how I adapted it to act more like a platform and less like a program. I used the language and concepts in New Literacies to analyze this adaptation.

I understood early on with New Literacies that I would be absorbing both new vocabulary and a new way of looking at media practices. In each of my responses:
  • I told a story that set the basis for my response;
  • I applied the language and ideas of the chapter;
  • and I made note of other ideas that stood out in the reading.

A good way to demonstrate my growing facility with New Literacies is to look at my first attempt (in the Chapter 2 response) to apply the language:
I can see that in my classroom I am trying to make my students literate in science generally, and physics specifically. I wish to create a Discourse of science students who can generate and negotiate physics meanings through the media of equations, explanations involving technical vocabulary, diagrams and graphs, digital simulations, and tangible demonstration equipment. In particular, I insist on seeing all of our encoded texts as narratives to some extent, in the belief that narrative, or story, is the most natural and accessible meaning vehicle.
I was rewarded with a nice response from one of my fellow students:
susannahsimmonsJune 20, 2015 at 10:47 PM

I love how you explore your discomfort with our sociology text in the beginning of your writing then take us through your learning journey. You walk us through the points that resonate with you such as "perform" and "orality", but then you take a stab at defining your Discourse as a physics teacher. From my perspective, you define it as beautifully and succinctly as the quote you adore, "socially recognized ways in which people generate, communicate, and negotiate meanings, as members of Discourses, through the medium of encoded texts (Lankshear and Knobel, 50)." Nice work William.
In my last weekly reflection, I mentioned how I was beginning to read New Literacies differently, to move from seeing only the content of the chapters to understanding the construct:
It was exciting to read Lankshear & Knobel's final chapter. It left me with a lot to think about, not just concerning different approaches to literacy and learning, but also concerning L&K's language and concepts as tools for analyzing a learning environment. In other words, I'm beginning to shift my focus from the social phenomenon itself to how a social phenomenon can be analyzed. As I pointed out in Week 1, I've never studied sociology, so this has been my first exposure to a sociological study of any social practice. I'm only just now getting a feel for how sociologists see and study the world, and how I, in my small way, could do the same.


  1. The Kumu tool is fantastic! What a clean and beautiful way to display your work

  2. Thanks Alicia! It was a lot of work though . . .