For an overview of my project, see “Conversations on the Serial Podcast: Beginnings.” These conversations are an exploration of the aspects of new media engagement which affect narrative and knowledge. Rabia Chaudry and I will be discussing each subsequent episode of Serial in a live Google Hangout every Monday at 1pmEST. Feel free to use the hashtag #serialnarrative to send questions or comments before, during, or after each conversation.
The Serial podcast has taken over my attention in the last several weeks.
I’ve been fascinated by the personal, rhetorical, and digital components of this story: the difference between Sarah Koenig’s and Rabia Chaudry’s motivations, their personal attachments (and professional attempts at detachment) to the case, the engagement of online communities around the story (specifically on Twitter, Reddit, and the Serial web portal), and the story’s intersection with my own professional and personal identity. I am a professor of English in the Digital Writing and New Media department at Southern Polytechnic State University, teaching classes and researching how digital environments affect how we teach, write, and learn. Also because my closest friend since 1992 is named Adnan; his family is also from Pakistan. So, yeah, I’m hooked on Serial.
The following is a quick-fired dispatch from the outer bank regions of the zombie horde (i.e. from In the spirit of gameplay (…and let’s admit it, it is a much harder game to play from the human side), we hope to hack last night’s rule release:
The #antidote rule states that: “A zombie player may return to human form by writing a substantive blog post about the game and tweeting a link to it with #antidote. This antidote can only be used once, and the opportunity to use the antidote expires at 8 am EST, Sunday, June 22.”
We have collaboratively written the following and are intentionally back-posting it before 8AM EST on both of our individual blogs in hopes that the community will accept our antidotes and reestablish us as humans…for the time being. We understand that this is merely a loophole, but we’re hoping that the collaborative nature of the composition, cross-posting, and strategizing helps sway you to our side. (This would also provide the zombie horde with more delicious human parts upon which to later chomp.) As we have found in the past, sharing our work with each other, and composing together–even in this quick, short fashion–has enriched the ways we see the work we engage in individually. We’re throwing ourselves at the mercy of the #TvsZ community and invite constructive feedback, debate, and outright denial of this hack on this #TvsZ Google+ post.
Watching the artifacts from #TvsZ pour in during the game has become a joy that I relish during each game. The game is a lot of work — and several of us can attest to the fact that family and friends get a little frustrated with us for being computer “zombies” — but the learning and engagement that happens here is pretty exhilarating. As I reviewed the #antidote posts this morning, I was excited to see players shifting their attitudes and reflecting on the benefits of playing. This morning, for the first time in these games, I realized that I wanted to return as a human and help move the narrative forward that way.
In my work on Project One with Nirmal Trivedi (an exciting re-design of Georgia Tech’s first-year program which invited students to play this round of #TvsZ), I’ve been reflecting constantly on how to build a digital space where a nontraditional organic learning community can thrive. Thomas and Brown in A New Culture of Learning address this in an interesting way; instead of thinking about “culture” as our patterns of behavior, they talk about cultivating new learning “cultures” like biologists in petri dishes. Thus, the culture is not the conversations or points of engagements themselves, it is the substrate from which the unpredictable and organic engagement arises. Granted, this can be quite a challenge: putting the right amount of ingredients (text, image, and other media; activities; motivations; support frameworks) together to catalyze growth, but a successful result can rise from it that reflects authentic connectivist learning principles — community connection, and experiential learning, and the development of digital literacies and ethics.
It’s not an accident that I’m using these organic metaphors here. The zombie narrative has certainly animated, in recent years, my already existing interest in the practice of organic writing — writing from the guts of a text outward, from the seeds (ideas) to the skin (technical aspects). I see something similar happening in the #TvsZ games. Relationships, plot lines, orientations, and media emerge as tiny seeds, unconcerned with how they will “impact” the game but trusting their value to the emergent narrative. We see student writers often struggle with the frustration of “how this sentence will impact the essay,” but #TvsZ players compose tiny pieces of text and media and embrace rhizomatic networks and the learning that will emerge from them.
We have also gained new #TvsZ fans this weekend. The National Writing Project’s #clmooc (Making Learning Connected MOOC) went live this week. Like #TvsZ, this MOOC is designed as a collaborative to embrace the “emergent possible” that organically grow from a community coming together to learn (an alternative to the typical overly structured video lecture series course). Enticed by the collaborative gameplay and narrative writing involved in #TvsZ, several participants have zombie-shuffled their way into #TvsZ. They’re now working on a remixing #TvsZ for their community. We’re not surprised they’re interested. In June and July the community is studying what some call Connected Learning Principles. These principles are the heart, soul, and braiiiiiiins of #TvsZ, and emphasize that learning is production-centered, interest-empowered, openly networked, peer-supported, academically-oriented…all around a shared purpose.
In connected learning environments like #clmooc and #TvsZ, it is easier to see that learning is not bounded by lessons and classroom walls. Rather, even within lessons and classroom walls, the learners are the ones forging learning pathways. These pathways emerge in response to cultural and situational demands of the multiple contexts we engage in daily. The #clmooc has only been active for a week, and already several members are realizing the joy in learning that is (re)discovered when we let ourselves break free from staid notions of what learning looks like–where, when and how it can (and does) occur. Each tweet and post I see from #TvsZ shares this same gleeful tone. It is my hope that by learning for ourselves in such environments, we can begin to envision connected learning futures for others–ones designed to be responsive to the pathways that are being both forged and emerge.
Image courtesy of Educator Innovator via Creative Commons
There is an clear tension between individual publishing (like on a blog) and communal publishing (like on a forum, Facebook page, or some other commenting thread). Rather than a tension to avoid, the mutually exclusive benefits of these two activities deserve critical distinction and, sometimes, simultaneous usage.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these distinct authorial activities in my classes this year, but more specifically they pose a central question in my work on #ATLDomain and Project One at Georgia Tech. What are the pedagogical affordances of reflection in communal space (an LMS, G+, Facebook, or a wiki space)? What about in a network of connected single author blogs? What about the alternatives that present themselves in the space between these two poles – Twitter chats, syndicated blogs in a central location, or group authored sites?
In my work on Georgia Tech’s Project One we spent our first two weeks deciding whether to build the digital experience exclusively in Mahara (a single author platform designed for portfolio construction) or to combine Mahara with a communal space like Instructure’s Canvas. I felt pretty strongly that we needed a central place where participants could interact together before they were thrown to the wilderness of self-publishing. It CAN be a wilderness. It’s easy to forget that the largest, most famous connectivist MOOCs are full of educators and autodidacts who want to build networks. How easily, we keep asking ourselves, does this translate to a more traditional learner? How does it (or can it) transform her?
In my ENGL1102 class (Our Hybrid Selves) this semester, I experimented with a Google+ Community to substitute for an LMS, expecting that it would encourage more interactivity (which it did). The problem was that discrete posts (from me with readings, from students with reflections, reading suggestions, etc.) got buried and unmanageable pretty quickly. It taught us that G+ Communities have a pretty useful search function meaning that posts can use hashtags for aggregation. Ultimately, though, I shifted back to the separate WordPress site that housed syllabus to communicate readings and activities.
Ultimately our team went with a negotiated settlement: use of Mahara (for participant publishing and engagement) along with a public facing blog to communicate formal components of the experience. These questions don’t have cookie-cutter answers, though. In the Domain 101 faculty development course that David Morgen and Dave Fisher have built at Emory this summer, they’re using Canvas, and I think that’s the right choice.
These are the poles: communal, interactive space vs. individual outposts that are tied together (with RSS feeds or other methods). The critical space between them is on mind lately.
By the close of last week’s Domain Incubator, I was full of ideas. I will attempt, over the next couple of posts to break these into smaller chunks.
For one, there is a lexicon to Domain that hangs just over my head like ripe fruit. Indeed, I DO have a little bit of a tech/nerd past: I remember committing to teaching myself GWBASIC when the huge manual came out of our first computer box. It was foreign and mathematical and exciting. I also remember spending spending some time in those early years online (1985-1988) on BBSs — bulletin board services — that acted like giant posting boards for messages about anything.
I come to Domain to explore three things, essentially: connected knowledge, digital literacy, and experiential learning. Sure, we can tack games, multimodal publishing, digital narratives, and host of other things onto that framework, but those three things are the essential pieces for me. And it’s personal. I know that as I more of my professional and academic life migrated into digital environments, I sensed a change (I still do) in how I learn, what interests me, and what constitutes knowledge. I wrote about this in Digital Culture and Shifting Epistemology, one of our first posts up on Hybrid Pedagogy.
A Domain-friendly pedagogy (and it’s important for me to frame it like that because I see plenty of platforms that are fertile for Domain-like projects, whether students and teachers have put the priority on ownership) hinges the difference between whether faculty and students are FANS of connected learning practices or whether they’re PRACTITIONERS. This distinction isn’t always easy to determine. Sometimes I meet
students people who haven’t really heard of “connected learning,” yet I discover that they’re deeply imbedded in an online game community, or a collection of knitting or fashion blogs, or some kind of activism that involves digital interaction.
As our (newly named!) department, Digital Writing and Media Arts (formerly ETCMA), begins its first year of a Domain Pilot, I think our success depends on the digital practices of our participating faculty. Sure, we are all fans of (and theorizers and critics of) digital environments, but can we adapt to and develop the practice of connected learning methodology. That means, for me, familiarity with PLNs (see Allison Seaman), Connectivist learning theory (see Siemens from 2004 and Downes just last week), digital civics (see Ethan Zuckerman), multi-literacies (see Anna Smith and Doug Belshaw), and constant classroom experimentation. This tweet, in response to Whitney’s question last year, sums up what I want to be doing in every class:
— Pete Rorabaugh (@allistelling) October 10, 2013
It’s through interrogating this lens of fan v. practitioner that I think we stand to make the greatest, boldest strides with Domain at SPSU (soon to be KSU). We’re purchasing 200 student domains through Reclaim Hosting and gathering a group of five or six faculty members together to articulate ways in which the Domain Pilot will bring something extra to our pedagogy and to our program’s pedagogical orientation. It should be, as it often is, an experiment, a beautiful mess, a constructive playspace, and a reflective studyhall as we expose our thinking, composing, networking, and design methodologies to more vigorous definitions of community and hybridity.
I’ve been nudged to start collecting these thoughts here by Clay Fenlason, who charged out in front this week with his own shiny new Reclaim blog, Unlearned. Clay and Jim (who answered back on his own blog), are probing the dichotomies of individuality/community and coherence/agency. This is a valuable conversation for me to observe, but I speak a different (though compatible) dialect from these guys. I want to lean on task of preparing faculty for the daring experimental exploits of Domain, but I continue to be grateful for the community that’s springing up around these digital, open, and critically conscious forms of public pedagogy.