My Take on #DS106

I recently tried to present something on #ds106 and MOOCs in general at VSTE. It’s probably best it wasn’t filmed. I’m going to try to present something more coherent in writing.1 This will be a description of what made this course work for me although I believe it could be generalized at least some to the world as a whole.

My description of #DS106 was essentially an online course2 meets Woodstock. You take a guided online experience and mix it with both chaos and, more importantly, community.

At the core, this is all about community. I’ll play out a few of the things that seem to indicate that to me.

Mechanical Aggregation

DS106 seems to have the semi-mythical eduglu working. People are writing in all sorts of places with a variety of clients and it’s being captured in a way that encourages both commenting, community, and creativity. The synchronous aspect of this course is important and one that is encouraged and leveraged by being able to display both content and comments in one space with very little effort on the user. It’s a really interesting world when we can both have a “room of our own” and aggregate to communal place.

It doesn’t take a room of Java developers or a million dollar a year site license for the shiniest LMS ever. Martha’s work and her description of it makes it accessible to educators without the bottomless budgets or in-house development teams. That’s important, partly because that’ll probably be everyone after the next few rounds of budget cuts, but mainly because the idea that we don’t have to wait for someone else to build what we need is an important concept. Too often, I hear people waiting for things to be given to them- be it training, PD, or some tool or another. Don’t be passive participants. You are not helpless pawns.

The Ego Boost

Audience matters. Comments matter. Jim does an impressive job of encouraging and promoting the kind of work he wants to see. In another life, I’ll go and track pre and post publishing rates for the people he mentions on his blog.3 Guliaforsythe was kind enough to find some classic Jim Groom comments and pass them my way. Bottom line, people want to know people are engaging with their work. People want an audience. That’s, in part, why the synchronicity of DS106 is important. These comments and conversations have to play out in real time for them to impact what people do. Encouraging and modeling that kind of culture is good and important to building community online.

Shared Power/Responsibility

One of the main things that made DS106 attractive to me was that I could play something other than a subservient role. I’m a bad student for normal educational models. I don’t respect people for their degrees. If the assignment seems boring or stupid, I tend not to do it and I’m not really interested in being “assessed”. I’m an adult. I want a strong role in determining what I do and how I do it. DS106 offered me that ability. The fact that any student could submit an assignment was a big deal to me. The ability then to choose from those assignments which were presented as equals with the ones that were designed by the course creators was important.

A slight throw back to the mechanics piece, but a major part of what seemed to make the projects work was the aggregation of submissions under the project itself. Much like comments on posts, seeing that people really voluntarily did your assignments and watching them stacking up was a real motivator. Those kind of feedback cycles keep people engaged and participating.


Once again, the community would take an initial assignment and then start iteratively redesigning it, building on the work of other students and making something new. It be interesting to see if you could guide that without forcing it. One particular example of how it played out is below.

The initial prompt was to read and respond to Gardner Campbell’s “No Digital Facelifts”.

I remixed the talk with Nas and expected that to be the end of it. Another of a series of stones thrown into the vast abyss of the Internet. the song

Yet, Grant Potter took it and remixed it again.

There’s even a Neil Young version out there someplace.

Tim Owens built a whole kinetic text movie out of the speech. I recognize Tim’s work is not a direct outgrowth of the previous work but it is indicative of people gaining momentum in terms of how they might respond to the prompt with a variety of media in ways that probably weren’t intended initially.

Stop Talking

I think a number of these concepts could be integrated into how we do online PD for teachers, how we structure courses for students in K12 and HE, and just how we conceptualize what ingredients we need to build online community.

Anyway, probably enough for now.

1 I’ll skip my pitch about how there might be some lesser revenue streams in the model that would encourage HE institutions to start doing this more. Maybe I’ll do that later just to see Jim’s reaction.

2 I know the slide says OER. I’m still thinking about why I did that other than online course was too long.

3 Martha has some DS106 stats that are interesting but they’re broader of scope.

Comments on this post

  1. Alan Levine said on December 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    “Maybe if we GIF real hard, we can stop this rain”

    • Tom said on December 9, 2011 at 8:24 pm

      Just stay away from the brown GIFs.

  2. scottlo said on December 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I appreciate this post. I too have been trying to think about what makes ds106 work so that I can try to explain it to some of the normal people I occasionally come in contact with.

    The four categories you present seem to really nail it.

    I think the normal people might even be able to get this.

    • Tom said on December 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm

      I’m glad to see it is making sense to someone else. I have to try to explain it to normal people and I’m hoping to do that at scale at some point. There’s some aspects of this post that play out across DS106 as well.

  3. Michael Branson Smith said on December 9, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Great job summarizing many of the amazing pieces of goodness that make up ds106. I love the Woodstock analogy – lots of love and chaos can lead to some real magic.

    And the aggregation of assignment posts under the assignment is also one of my favorite things about the ds106 community and site. It’s particularly rewarding to see how one can inspire the community to create something with an assignment. And how over time the assignment can take on a life of it’s own as you suggest with people building off of each others work, remixing it again and again.

    Thanks so much Tom.

    • Tom said on December 9, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      Appreciate that Michael. I wasn’t sure that post would make much sense to anyone else. Sadly, I’ve got some more in my head but I’ve got to straighten it out some more.

  4. Giulia Forsythe said on December 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    I’m glad you used the Snowballs because as I mention (ad nauseum) that your Bags of Gold audio remix was really a huge hook for me (as shown in my venn diagram of ds106 influencers).
    I can tell you, for ME, at first it was NOT the animated GIFs (I was a bit incredulous…GIFs? what is it 1995??).. Although it is interesting to see the progression of community learning with early interactions between you and @noiseprofessor about GIFs and the Minutemen We Jam Econo ethos connection between Grant Potter and @Noiseprofessor.
    There is something about these fascinating synergies of overlapping interests. Although I think the only requirement is an open mind and a little bit of fearlessness and desire to try something new.
    I know that Jim is absolutely instrumental. If you go to many posts, you will always find an amazing array of comments, usually Jim among them early on.
    So for sure, Jim modelled commenting but he was not alone; you will see on many sites there is active commenting from many people: @cogdog, @dlnorman, @brlamb, @grantpotter, @scottlo, @mbransons and YOU too, of course.
    And finally, I think this point should also not be underestimated: the role of the pingback in WordPress. You knew I was talking about you because I linked to you and you got that pingback. This is probably rudimentary for many tech savvy people but this blew my mind; this ability to connect with you without necessarily bothering you directly; leaving it at your discretion to approve/reject, read or ignore. Magical.
    I didn’t realize it (because I didn’t know WP sent you a pingback) but that is definitely next level commenting: creating an entire blog response celebrating the work you admire. This happens all the time in DS106 and creates real, meaningful and thoughtful connections between ideas and people. This is something I have not seen any LMS or even open MOOC able to emulate.

  5. Ben said on December 13, 2011 at 8:51 am

    While I certainly haven’t gathered all of the thoughts that could be culled from this awesome post, what strikes me over and over again about ds106 is it’s constant ability to feed and drive/be driven by Ego. Just when you think you’ve mastered a particular piece of art or digital storytelling device, someone else comes along and makes your attempts look childish and simplistic. Which in many other communities might be the precursor to a flame-war of epic smack talk proportions, yet with the ds106 community it’s all love, all the time!

    I was talking with a teacher yesterday that’s been contributing to the Video Story Problem channel a few of us are working on, and he told me that he never would have done it if it hadn’t been for the proverbial carrot I held out for him by making a few of my own ( He wanted to do what I was doing, find a way to stroke his Ego by accomplishing something that he thought was “really creative”, and then instill that same sense of creativity in his students by passing the torch onto them to create. With ds106, it’s the same idea of using a carrot to motivate the community, continue to get them to strive for something greater, without the cruel realization that “you’ll never get the final carrot” that often occurs in many classes and online courses that seem to only exist as a hoop to jump through for the next course.

    As for your “I’m an adult” comment, I think you’re doing a serious discredit to young learners. The Ego that drives you to choose what you want to do and how is present in even the youngest of learners (Frued argued that five year olds already posses strong Egos, and many parents probably agree). I would change your comment to “I’m a human being”, but that acknowledgement might mean a serious indictment of most schools and how they educate.

    • Tom said on December 13, 2011 at 10:36 am

      A poor choice of words. I meant- “YOU THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN ME!!!!????” which applies to anyone of any age.

      I actually erased a section I had previously written about trying to separate out what might make DS106 work for adults vs kids and said something about that being a waste of time because in the end they were the same.

      I would say that as I get older, my perception of the power differential in the teacher/student relationship has certainly continued to dwindle. As a child I wanted the same things I do as adult but tended to accept suckiness and opt to sleep instead. Now I tend to be consumed with anger, which makes it harder to sleep.

      I would happily indict schools if I could find a judge who’d prosecute.

      • Ben said on December 13, 2011 at 3:20 pm

        It’s much easier….and satisfying to consume yourself with making cookies than anger 🙂

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