Fall 2013: The Headless ds106 Syllabus

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cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Paul Goyette

Please Note: This is not an official course anywhere, but an experiment in offering a full ds106 experience to open participants based on previous syllabi of sections taught at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). If you want to get an idea of what you are getting into, review advice from previous UMW students.

Digital Storytelling Syllabus

Course: Digital Storytelling: The Headless Course

Instructor: NOBODY. There is no one in charge of this class, no leaders. Each week, experienced ds106ers may volunteer to coordinate that week's content (add link to shared Google Doc for volunteers)

Location: The Internet

Term: Fall 2013

Course Description

The Wikipedia articles on Digital Storytelling defines it rather succinctly as "using digital tools so that ordinary people can tell their own real-life stories." It then goes on to elaborate as follows:

Digital Storytelling is an emerging term, one that arises from a grassroots movement that uses new digital tools to help ordinary people tell their own ‘true stories’ in a compelling and emotionally engaging form. These stories usually take the form of a relatively short story (less than 8 minutes) and can involve interactivity.

The term can also be a broader journalistic reference to the variety of emergent new forms of digital narratives (web-based stories, interactive stories, hypertexts, fan art/fiction, and narrative computer games).

As an emerging area of creative work, the definition of digital storytelling is still the subject of much debate.

There are a number of ideas and assumptions here that we will be interrogating over the course of this semester, namely the idea of "ordinary people," "true stories," and the debate around the meaning of this term. The above article is rather vague about the details surrounding this emerging genre of narrative, and it is our responsibility to examine the term digital storytelling within the cultural context of our moment. This means each of you will be experimenting with your own digital platform for storytelling, as well as placing yourself within a larger narrative of networked conversation on the internet at large.

This course will require you to both design and build an online identity and narrate your process throughout the ten week semester. Given this, you will be expected to openly frame this process and interact with one another throughout the course as well as engage and interact with the world beyond.

In many ways this course will be part storytelling workshop, part technology training and, most importantly, critical interrogation of the digital landscape all around us that is increasingly defining the the way we communicate with one another.

Course Objectives

  • Develop a deeper understanding of the concept of storytelling and the power of narrative;
  • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres and increase appreciation of technology use in storytelling
  • Develop skill in using technology as a tool in communication of stories
  • Improve communication skills
  • Participate in an ongoing and meaningful conversation with your classmates about the ideas, theories, and technologies discussed in this class; and
  • Publish online your own exploration of digital storytelling techniques and approaches.

Course Materials

  • Web Accounts/Software: You will need to set up accounts on various social media sites we will be using for class. For the most part, no specific software is required; you will need to use what you have or choose from web-based/free/trial versions of software to create media. See the Packing List
  • Web Hosting Account: You will be expected to manage your own digital space in any hosted or self-hosted platform-- any blog that can produce an RSS feed will work, but it will also need to support tagging for your assignment work to be properly associated. If you already have a blog, we strongly suggest that you create a new one, or a second installation on a subdomain for your ds106 work. Suggested platforms include:

You may want to explore the new opportunity UMW is offering educators at http://reclaimhosting.com/

  • Class Web Site: The locus of the course's online activity will be [the DS106 site]. You should always use this URL to enter the course; it is where you will find information about assignments and activities all semester. Over the course of the term, we will also make use of two other important DS106 sites:
    • ds106 Handbook: Resources and tutorials
    • DS106 Assignment Repository: A collection of digital storytelling assignments has been developed over the course of the last few years. We will frequently be drawing upon this collection for course assignments. You can also be create assignments as part of your coursework.
    • The Daily Create: These daily creative assignments ask you to spend no more than 10-15 minutes experimenting with either photography, video, audio, or text based on a pre-defined assignment.

Overall Course Process

The work for every week will be posted Mondays to the ds106 web site and listed under the Syllabus menu at the top of the site. Each weekly post will outline the work for the week and will include videos and readings as assigned. What you do for that week is completely up to you. There may be volunteers who will offer assistance and encouragement from their own sites and in the social media spaces where ds106 is active.

By Sunday at the end of the week, we suggest you post a reflection to your blog about your work for that week.

To recap, here's how you should expect each week to unfold:

  • Go to the course site and review the weekly assignment announcement at the top of the home page. Begin working or planning for your assignments.
  • Complete all of the work for the week.
  • Use your blog to post each storytelling assignment as you complete it.
  • Use your blog to post any reflections that have been assigned.
  • Complete the assigned Daily Creates and make sure they are showing up on the Daily Create site
  • Follow your classmates' work and comment on it.
  • Use Twitter and your blog to share your successes, questions, etc.


This again is up to you, but its what makes out community strong.

For the purpose of this entirely open online version of DS106, presence and participation are actively and thoughtfully engaging with your classmates and the course materials via the various online spaces used for the class and include

  • Narrating your course experience. Throughout the course, you are encouraged to use your blog to regularly provide updates about your course activities. These posts should be substantive, thorough, and reflective.
  • Commenting upon your classmates' work. You are expected to respond thoughtfully and critically to the work that others in the class are creating. This will be accomplished in several ways, primarily through regular, thoughtful blog comments and feedback on Twitter.
  • Engagement with social media. The online nature of this course requires us all to work especially hard to build a learning community. In large part, we expect this community to emerge out of various spaces and tools that you will be asked to use. We will be looking for your regular presence in spaces like Twitter, Flickr, Google+, and YouTube. Complaining that you "don't understand" the tool is not a suitable excuse. You will only begin to understand by using and engaging.

ds106 BootCamp

The first two weeks of class will consist of ds106 "Bootcamp." During this time, you will be given a list of tasks that you should complete in order to demonstrate that you understand the basic tasks and activities that will be required of you during the semester. During this time, you will begin the process of personalizing your own web publishing space.

The Daily Create

Regular, creative exercises are at the heart of ds106, and to this end over the course of the semester we will be suggesting every participant to complete between 2-4 Daily Create assignments each week.

Digital Storytelling Assignments

Throughout the course, we will assign a number of digital storytelling projects using a variety of tools, techniques, and technologies. For the most part, these assignments will come from the ds106 Assignment Repository. You are encouraged to complete all of these assignments by the weekly deadline and share them on your blog, and in your weekly summary.

Again three components are suggested for your assignment work - see the ds106 Handbook section on How to Write Up Assignments

  • The work itself must be embedded as media to view directly in your blog post. It's much better than merely providing a LINK to an image, video, etc.
  • A narration of the story behind it, what was the inspiration? What is the meaning to you? What are the elements of storytelling within it?
  • A description of the process, tools, techniques used to create it, as well as hyperlinked attribution to any source media you did not create yourself.

Also, keep in mind each assignment in the ds106 assignment repository has two tags. You are should use both tags from each assignment so that your work appears on the assignment it is in response to. correctly to receive credit.

Weekly Summary Posts

Every week, you are encouraged to submit a summary post by the weeks end These posts should include links to or embedded media from all the work you have done for the week: storytelling assignments, daily creates, reflections etc. In addition, you mighe use this post to reflect upon your activity of the week:

  • How well do you feel you completed the requirements of the week's assignments?
  • What gave you trouble? What did you enjoy most? What did you learn?
  • What would you do differently? What questions to you have?
  • What are some of the larger issues surrounding your work? Cultural/Societal implications?

Mid-Term and Final Projects

Radio Show

By the mid-term point of the semester, each of you will be asked to work on a group radio show project. You will be given several weeks to complete this project, as a group, and it will build upon work that you will do with digital audio in previous weeks. The radio shows will be broadcast on the ds106 web radio station.

Final Story Challenge

This will be a digital story that you will complete in the final week of the class. You will get more information about the requirements for this story later in this semester, but generally you should be prepared to create a larger digital narrative out of media created by others throughout the semester in ds106.

Late Policy

You are in charge of your own deadlines! Feeling guilty for missing work is silly.


No grades are assigned nor are ant certificates or badges handed out. Why are you doing this?


We encourage you to regularly use Twitter for this class. If you already have an account, you may use it. Otherwise, creating an account is easy! When you post a tweet that is related to your activity in the class, make sure to include the hashtag #ds106. These tweets will be harvested and displayed on the course website. In addition, Twitter can and must be integrated with your class blog (you will get information about how to do this during Boot Camp).


Be nice.

Class Schedule

The following schedule lays out the basic structure of the class and the units and topics we’ll cover over the semester.

The course calendar provides an overview to the topics and assignments for each week of ds106 for people participating as open students. No one is looking over your shoulders so do as much or as little of this that motivates you. Of course, we expect that you will soon be shouting "#4LIFE" like the rest of us.

Week 1 (Boot Camp)

Week of August 26, 2013

The first week of our "Boot Camp" for getting in shape for ds106; setup of your blogs and creation other social media accounts. Complete Introductions via blog, twitter. Review of a range of media with exploration question of what kind of stories do they tell. Explore concepts of personal cyberinfrastructure

Week 2 (Boot Camp cont’d)

Week of September 2, 2013

This week you go deeper into customizing your blog with themes/templates, plugins/widgets, and other key settings. Also, this will be the week you get introduced to the Daily Create. As part of Boot Camp activity this week, you will need to write blogs posts that embed media. You will also need to begin commenting on your classmates' blogs and soliciting comments on your own. This week's discussion and reflection will be around the ideas of sharing media and creative commons.

Week 3 Introduction to Storytelling

Week of September 9, 2013

Storytelling… it’s part of the title this course, and you likely have some idea what it means from your childhood or school years. This week we will explore it in the framing of what you will be doing for the next 13 weeks in ds106. You will hone in on your own understanding of what the Digital part adds, and try your hand at a few creative exercises.

Week 4 Audio Intro (Listening)

Week of September 16, 2013

This week in ds106 we’re going to be diving into our first storytelling genre: audio. Working with audio can be a bit daunting and unfamiliar, so we’ll be easing you into it this week. We’ll ask you to do some listening exercises as well as begin to create your own

Week 5: Visual

Week of September 23, 2013

In doing your ds106 Daily Creates you’ve already been using photography and drawing skills, plus you’ve had some practice on doing visual stories for our introduction to storytelling. In this week we go a bit deeper and give you the opportunity to practice telling stories in primarily visual form.

Week 6: Design

Week of September 30, 2013

We’ve wrapped up our week on visual storytelling and photography, and this week we’re diving into design. You’ll spend some time this week thinking about the way the world around you is designed, as well as creating some of your own design projects. This is when we start forming groups for doing the mid term radio show project

Weeks 7 & 8: Advanced Audio (radio show)

Weeks of October 7 and October 14, 2013

The next two weeks are all about audio and radio. The majority of your work during this time should be working on your radio show.

Week 9: Radio Shows Go Live and Telling Stories Within the Web

Week of October 21, 2013

All the work your groups have done the last two weeks pays off. This week you get to broadcast your shows live on ds106radio. In addition, we move to a different kind of storytelling, one that uses the space of existing web sites as a place for you to assert your own stories into them.

Week 10: Reading Movies

Week of October 28, 2013 This week we enter what most students find the most challenging yet rewarding portion of ds106: video. Working with video presents challenges with file formats and using more complex software. But the end rewards are often the most rewarding. Before we jump into editing, we want to spend some time first looking critically at the video form and do some pre-planning for your first video editing.

Weeks 11 & 12: Movie Time

Weeks of November 4 and November 11, 2013

It’s time to make movies! Video is perhaps the most rich of storytelling forms, and we want you to focus explicitly now on video storytelling. The only assignments on your plate are to work on video assignments, and all of which are due in two weeks time.

Week 13 & 14: Remix

'Weeks of November 18 and November 25, 2013 For the next two weeks, you’ll be exploring the ideas of remixes and mashups, the artistic recasting of existing media into new forms by creative combination and editing. This will build off of your previous work in all media forms. And we will even remix assignments.

Weeks 15 & 16: Final Project and Wrap Up

Weeks of December 2 and December 9, 2013

ds106 in[SPIRE]