#UniFreeClass: Introduction and Structure

For students in my hybrid ENGL 1102 courses and onlookers

Our class is about to begin publishing a collaborative web project investigating the question that Diane raised several weeks ago during our “big argument” free-for-all, while sharing a link to an article by Aaron Bady:

This post is a description of how we’ll be organizing the work of that publishing endeavor in a project called #UniFreeClass this semester.

We have 37 students across two sections of a hybrid class. We’ll use a structure that approximates what happens on a newspaper staff, with two MANAGING EDITORS, five PROJECT EDITORS, and pairs of WRITERS/DESIGNERS who, for the most part, will research and compose “articles” for project. These articles will correspond to the assignment categories at the bottom of the syllabus that comprise a student’s grade in the course.

The two managing editors will organize the workflow of stories composed by the project teams, make top-level design choices about the site, implement engagement strategies, edit and revise content, and blog about the evolution of the site.

The five project managers will organize three two-person teams, suggest article ideas in a weekly meeting format, guide the decisions of the group on what it should cover, serve as first reader on articles submitted to the project, and include their own design input on the website. Projects will be divided into the following topic categories: GEORGIA UNIVERSITIES, UNIFREE MODELS, CHALLENGES TO FREE HIGHER ED, STUDENT DEBT, and WILDCARD (where we’ll put stories that defy categorization).

The writers/designers on the project will, for the most part remain associated with one of the project managers and his/her topic. Writers/designers will participate in a weekly project meeting wherein they and their project editors will both contribute ideas. Pairs of writers/designers will  collaborate to complete an article every 7-10 days; assignments will originate in the weekly project (“beat” meetings).

The shifting role of the writer/designer is central to the success of this kind of project, so I’ll focus a bit more on each of those roles:

A writer on the project is also, simultaneously, a designer. She switches roles from week to week, serving in one role for one article and the other role for her next article. In her week as a writer, she researchers a particular idea, composes the text for a particular story in Phase One and Phase Two draft forms, revises and edits for ideas, organization, and conventions, and meets her team’s deadline.

A designer on the project is also, simultaneously, a writer. He switches roles from week to week, serving in one role for one article and the other for his next article. As a designer, he curates an initial collection of research for the writer, simultaneously participates at least once in the writer’s composition process, assists in revision and editing, selects an image(s) that abides by ethical use practices, titles and formats the article, and submits it to the project editor.

Managing editors, project editors, and writers/designers all have the responsibility to complete the major assignment categories for the class listed in the syllabus, so as you participate in weekly project meetings, suggest things and take on ideas that will allow you to a) contribute meaningfully to the project and b) satisfy grade requirements.


The Evolution of #TvsZ

Derek Bruff | #TvsZ Notes| via Twitter (@derekbruff) | Feb. 10, 2015
Derek Bruff | #TvsZ Notes| via Twitter (@derekbruff) | Feb. 10, 2015

In the fall of 2012, when Jesse Stommel and I were invited by Adeline Koh to give a talk on digital pedagogy to the Greater Than Games and PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge Initiatives at Duke University, we knew that we had to do something unique. With Adeline, we settled on the title “Digital Pedagogy, Play, and Mass Collaboration” for the lecture, and we set to work coming up with an engaging way to talk about our work as pedagogues and scholars over the previous two years. The result was a collaborative social media game that we called Twitter vs. Zombies. With over 150 players, we developed, played, and processed the game with over a hundred players between Nov. 9-12, and we walked into our presentation at Duke that afternoon ready to talk through something fresh and exciting — an immersive digital story that engaged players and that focused on increasing network knowledge and digital literacies for players.

Over the next two years the game was formally renamed (#TvsZ), played five more times, and forked into a new narrative. Along with five colleagues, Andrea Rhen and I recently presented a mini-version of the game in a “learnshop” format at Educause’s annual ELI meeting, and we’re reorganizing to present on a full game again at this year’s Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Conference sponsored by Online Learning Consortium.

Andrea Rehn | Remixing #TvsZ | Educause ELI | Feb. 10, 2015


That’s a lot of backstory to a game that began as a simple adaptation of Humans vs. Zombies and has become a flexible pedagogical framework for introducing individuals and groups to the joys of digital collaboration, storytelling, and play. As Maha Bali, Janine DeBaise, Lizzie Finnegan, Christina Hendricks, JR Dingwall, Andrea Rehn, and I virtually prepared for last week’s presentation, we continued to run-up against a new challenge: how do you run a game in 45 minutes that normally takes place over an entire weekend? We had to boil the game down to its most basic mechanic (tag) and its most important thematic element (collaborative storytelling). Inasmuch our feedback reveals, the presentation was successful, introducing around 50 new players to the game and hopefully beginning conversations about learning, connectivity, collaboration, and play in some new corners. Thanks to Leisha Jones at Penn State who dragged her class into the game, Rolin Moe for his encouraging comments after the session, and Derek Bruff whose awesome notes from the session are featured above, and special thanks to the collaborative admin team members with whom it’s been a pleasure to work for the last six months!

We’ve been asked to turn our learnshop presentation into a submission to the University of Central Florida’s Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository which has inspired a conversation about whether the current #TsvZ admin group should also prepare for a larger publishing project on the game. Between submitting to TOPR, building and promoting a new 3-day game for April, and preparing for a the ET4Online presentation, we’ve got lots of work to do — let’s remember, everyone on this “team” is also working away at their own university jobs. All of us have other academic projects running simultaneously. But if we’re always working to expand the overlap of what we must do and what we enjoy doing, #TvsZ will continue to evolve in the directions best suited for its audience. Facilitating and critically reflecting on that evolution have brought me a lot of joy, so I’m in. I hope that you’ll join us.

See the rules, narrative, and critical links from #TvsZ 6.5 at ELI here.
Browse the tweet stream from #TvsZ 6.5 at ELI here.

Departmental Reframing

I joined the faculty of Southern Polytechnic State University under the former English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts Department, and within two months arriving learned that SPSU would be merging with Kennesaw State University, a much larger liberal arts institution ten miles north of us. Now, I belong to the Digital Writing and Media Arts Department of KSU which is nearing completion of its reframed degree programs. For the last sixteen months, my department has been undergone a complete revision. Continue reading Departmental Reframing

Writing a Response Paper

Originally for students in my “Media and Narrative” and “Film as Literature” classes, Spring 2015

“Responding” to a media artifact (whether film, text, or some other form) in an academic environment is a valuable exercise in idea generation, research, and organization. We have to immediately interrogate the idea that any response at all (“I liked it” or “I didn’t like it) demonstrates analysis; we have to separate our definitions of opinion and response. Continue reading Writing a Response Paper

Hangout with Rabia and guests rescheduled

Rabia Chaudry and I had originally arranged to have one final Serial Hangout today with some folks who’ve been regular viewers/commenters on our Conversations series so far. Due to holiday family plans, I need to reschedule. We’re going to shoot for next Monday (Jan. 5) at the same time, but I will confirm that later. If you’d like to join us, get in touch with me (prorabaugh at gmail).

Serial and Literature


“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed
ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up,” Esquire, February 1936

Serial has become gut-wrenching to me, in the way that every good novel I’ve ever read feels like it’s re-organizing my thinking with fire. It is instructive, artful, and intricately organized. It is also a painful path to walk, but the million-odd folks who are listening to it together are embracing that complex ambivalence. Most of us know by now that there will be no smoking gun or creaking prison door swinging open. However Serial ends, it leaves a wake of pain. Whether Adnan is innocent or guilty, two horrible things have happened: the lives of two potentially vibrant, intelligent, kind people were lost. Their families grieve them.

Continue reading Serial and Literature