Vermontian Style (using WordPress Galleries)

Just to demonstrate the use of Galleries for your wordpress sites, here’s what I have been suffering through this past week…

You should first enable some of the gallery features in your own site via Settings — Media

image galleries

You can create these galleries from the images you upload to wordpress, via the Add Media Button. A gallery can be made form images already there or ones you add after clicking- Click Create Gallery on the left, and upload/select the images to use:

create gallery

You can then add captions to each, re-order, and explore some options on the right for the kind of gallery to create, even to randomize the order

edit gallery

You can change the options for the gallery (make sure your wordpress editor is in visual mode)- click once on the gallery area in the editor, and the pencil icon again to change the properties

edit

By enabling the slide show carousel, and icon on the gallery on the page can launch the full screen slideshow– use Galleries when you want to add a collection of photos to a blog post that go together.

Week 1 Reflections


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

I use the word reflection often in teaching ds106- it has shades of meaning, and less of looking at your own outward appearances but re-processing the work you are doing in learning and practicing digital storytelling. Sure Malcolm Gladwell suggests if we do something for 10,000 hours we might be as good as the Beatles. Maybe. Repetition is boring, but repeated practice is beneficial. I believe you can amplify the effect if you addd to it the practice of reviewing what you are doing, and doing it in proximity to others. Hence the use of public, open blogs in ds106.

I was about to email my GMU students a few general observations on what I saw for the first week, but this may be useful to others. And I can send a shorter email if a link replaces paragraphs of text.

Off to the Races

When we teach this as a 15 week course, the first 2 weeks are lovingly called “Bootcamp” as it is meant to get students up to speed with using their blogs, creating accounts, and starting to write in a way that is new for them. More or less the same is happening here.

Most importantly, you cannot do well in this class by doing all the work the night before. When that happens, you are doing things just because they are required, and its the rush to avoid “losing points”. This work is designed to be done in stages, and the best strategy is to scan the assignments when first published Sunday nights, at least to gauge what is going to take more time. Last week and this week are viewing videos, listen to audio, a few web pages to read, and writing about them in your blog. IN weeks 3-7 there is more a focus on making media, and that will take even more planning.

It’s Your Blog and You Will Dance if You Want To

The best part of this first week is seeing how you all personalize the wordpress blogs. A few names and URLs made me smile at a playful sense of creativity. For many of you the interface, and options are bewildering. The most important one is where you write- get to know the editing features.

The feature you all must be using a lot is the hyperlink editor. Highlight text, click the link, and paste in a URL. Make sure there is a link for movies, web sites, books, complicated terms that you use in writing. Link to the assignment you are doing. Link to something that is just tangentially related. But it’s not much of a web if it does not link anywhere.

Each blog post should stand on its own, as its own article, story, with beginning, middle, and end. When you refer to an assignment you are doing, you must explain, paraphrase, and/or link to it so a user knows what “the Vonnegut video” is or what you are talking about “story spines”. When you are done, ask yourself if you randomly came cross this on the web, would you understand its context? What it is in response to?

I am also going to be looking to see that you are using more media in your blog. Text is fine, but we are creating media rich stories. Think about using images as metaphors, through caution to the wind…


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by David Goehring

When you refer to a video, you can always link to it, but why not embed it directly into your blog page?

WordPress makes it easy, you just need the URL for a video from Youtube or vimeo- learn the ways media can be directly embedded into your blog and how you can use WordPress shortcodes.

And.. if you use someone else’s media, get in the habit of citing the source, by link or credit.

But mostly, I want you to start finding a way to write about your ideas and thinking that feels natural, and gives me (and the rest of the open internet) an idea to how you think– not just “here is my assignment” (yawn).

The Wonder of Widgets

All wordpress themes have portions called sidebars and footers that you can customize. Look under Appearance — Widgets for things you can add to the sidebar of your blog beyond the defaults they provide. Learn more about widgets

Browsers Browsers Browsers

A few people mentioned trouble viewing the Touchcast and Snowfall sites– I forgot to mention that these sites use modern web code that is mostly standard, but you can have challenges depending on which web browser you use. I have about 4 installed in my computer, because often when a site does not work in one browser, it may work in another.

Not without getting to religious, but you will run into the most limitations with Internet Explorer. Sorry. But I reccomend using Google Chrome and or Firefox.

The ds106 Community

As you have been sending me your wordpress blog urls, I am adding them to a subscription tool on the ds106 site, that allows us to list links and summaries to your blog posts in one place. So there is a page that shows the latest posts from Section 1, another for section 2, and a third that combines them together.

This gets useful when I ask you (his week) to start commenting on each other blogs. Plus, if you are looking for ideas to do an assignment, seek inspiration from a classmate. In addition, as an open course, there are helpful interested people from all over the world that might read your blog posts too and offer (free!) suggestions and feedbacks. Some of your blogs already have comments from outside the course.

That may seem weird at first.

Especially when one of the most helpful souls appears on line as a talking doll. This is one case where a ds106er is experimenting with themselves as a character, as a story.

Your Final Weekly Checklists

The summary of your week’s work is what I will base your grades on. Now let’s be serious, you are all adults and should not be worrying much about points and such. Let’s not make this a task just for the points. Wjat I am looking for is a short summary, and a link back to, your own blog post that is one of the required items for each week’s work (detailed as the last block of the weekly assignment post. IN fact, I would like to see how you would grade your own performance for the week, you know better than me.

I am also looking for a few sentences or more as a reflection on what you learned, struggle with, discovered in the week. The list of links to assignment is the part of your weekly story spine of “this happened, then this happened, then…” but I also want to see the “so what did the character learn about themself” too.

In a few weeks, the WordPress part should seem less complex, and maybe more natural. Some students say it works for them better to compose in Word first. That’s fine. You can write notes and parts of posts in your blog, and keep them as unpublished drafts (that’s how I work). The point is with everything in this class is to try different solutions til one feels right for you.

Now get out there, and listen to and watch some stories!

If This Much Instruction is Needed…


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

For the first week of DS106 Goes to Work, I’ve asked students to be on the look out for things in their world that might benefit from a “storified” approach. This was deliberately left vague, and I want students to struggle a bit with this.

As you interact with media in your every day activities– shows, advertising, online content– start asking yourself if you are seeing a storified approach (which may not always be called for). Look for things that do not seem to be explained well, or that do not kind much interest for you to become engaged with it.

This might be an instruction manual, a recipe, a web site, a video that explains poorly complicated task, an article. This will be an ongoing activity to find an example you can use for your final project, where you will create media to add storytelling elements to it. Do not worry if you cannot find a great example, just start the process of thinking about it, and observing the world around you. This also needs to be something that others can see on the web, or for which you can post a photo/video to your blog, so for GMU students you should look for things outside the scope of your job.

It is not about coming up with a “right” answer for “points”. This will be an ongoing task (oops, I already forgot to add it the second week) to nudge them to look for, ponder, and likely discard ideas which might work for their final project after week 7.

My example came from this series of signs at the train station in Saratoga Springs, new York. Clearly, a train station needs a system to notify the authorities of an emergency (e.g. trains going off the track?) and the station is not fully attended; it was closed when I got there after 5pm on a week day.

Clearly, the addition of three hand written signs of attempted clarification are not working. My gut hunch is that for design of functional objects, the more you need signage to explain how it works suggests the bigger the problem of the design; some of my favorites when I travel are the ways in which hotels seem to need to explain how to work the controls in the shower:


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

For the train station, I am not quite sure how the storifying would work for public signage- maybe a graphic comic? Or it may not be something that is part of the display,perhaps some public campaign messages? There are many stories that could be woven of either the people who pull it because the emergency is a lack of taxi cabs, or the poor responders who keep having to come out and add new signs.

This is just a maybe. Keep on observing.

There is a Shape to The Road

A road is a rich visual metaphor, a path, a sense of adventure, leading you someplace, openness… but in the case of Cormac McCarthy’s book, it is also one dark view of the future of our quite/unquote civilization. The tale is usually described as grim. post-apocalyptic– and the setting most certainly is, with the cannibalism, horrific conditions (which come off more adventurous, even partly comical in the Mad Max movies). When I first read the book, I had a bit of a different take away— it was a powerful love story of what a father could instill in his son.

Kurt Vonnegut so playfully yet insightfully teaches us, with the power of his voice and the technology of… a chalk board, the ideas of a story having a shape, that it is the dramatic ups and downs the hills and valleys what pulls us along. I’ve asked and speculated if there were stories that never reach that final upper positive ending, or do not spend as much time criss-crossing the midpoint.

I think The Road may be one that pretty much warbles around about as low on the negative fortune as one can manage.

shape-of-the-road

(That is my own photo of one of many lonely desolate highways in Nevada… that I adore driving).

Things are bad in the beginning, without saying explicitly when, we are in a future time, but not too far in the future, when war / greed etc have rendered everything in this world smoldering ruins. The father we know is sick. Winter is coming. The father’s wife is a memory. This is much lower than Cinderella started. The one thing he can hold onto is making sure his son has a chance at a better existence, a less miserable one. So they know they cannot stay with the coming dead of winter, that a warmer place at least has a slightly better chance for him to get to a place where he might have a chance (we know what the father’s future is from the beginning).

The movie version is a very close adaptation of the book, with maybe one of the most gruesome scenes just made slightly less gruesome, but visually makes the ominous real

Any bits of upturn are relatively small in amplitude, finding the hidden food supplies, maybe one person that cannot mis-trust, but how can one even put this much off the bottom of the graph? For the father the rise does not happem, in fact his graph terminates. One might say the relief is an upturn? Debatable. And so I opted to split the graph at the end. We do not know what happens to the boy even to speculate that his graph would rise, but there is at least the potential set for him to “find the fire” and be with “the good guys”. So what propels this story along is not the ups and down it takes, but the reader’s desire/expectation for the fortune to be truly good and not “less bad”.

Can there be positive hopes in the grimmest of settings? Why not, that has to be one of our best human attributes.

I am really curious for other odd story shapes.

Let Me Be the First to…

… set up a demo WordPress Blog for the new class of DS106 I am teaching, and informally theming as “DS106 Goes to Work”


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ian Sane

This is because the students in the George Mason University course I am teaching, are all “road warriors” (that’s the phrase the GMU folks told me) as full time employees of a large company. Let’s be vague and call the company… Rancor Innovations (okay, this was generated randomly).

Students in these sections will be creating wordpress.com blogs for their work, and once submitted to me, they will be connected to the main ds106 site– so that all student blog posts will appear at the main course hub; with also sub collections for section 1 and for section 2.

But the main reason to have this first post, is so I can make sure all the aggregation works!