Archive for the ‘magicmacguffin’ Category


The End (of the ISI): Thoughts Mostly for Myself

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

I have done more writing in the past four weeks than I believe I have ever done in such a period in my life. Not as much of that writing has been here as I would have liked. It is important to write publicly, at least for me. Whether or not anyone reads it doesn’t really matter. Putting my writing and my thinking out beyond me pushes me to think deeper and to take things a step further.

I was a co-director for this summer’s Invitational Summer Institute (ISI) for the Northern Virginia Writing Project. Last summer was my introduction to the ISI. I wrote some about it then, certainly more than I managed to do this year! Last year was an absolutely amazing experience and gave me a passion for the writing project that kept me involved throughout the year and brought me back this summer.

This summer was even better. We were a much larger group, more than double last year’s size. Fifteen amazing people last year and thirty-two this year. When everyone is fabulous, having more fabulous people makes it better.

A typical morning at the ISI starts with thirty minutes of ‘morning pages.’ Just silent writing. I did a terrible job of continuing that throughout this past year and I’m aiming to do better this go-round.

After that we had demonstration lessons. Every participant gives an hour and fifteen minute demo lesson about writing. We had lessons on revision, mentor texts, multi-genre writing, persuasive writing, using rhetoric in writing, poetry, tone, journalism, nonfiction, voice, and more. Each morning we would have two of these demo lessons before lunch.

After lunch we had guest presenters (people who had done the ISI in the past and had stellar lessons to share), conversations, or our writing groups. We met in writing groups of about five people twice a week for the entire afternoon. We brought writing to share and talk about. At the end of the ISI we create an anthology with work from everyone.

I plan to do some serious reflection on this year’s ISI and what I gained from it over the next week. My ‘morning pages’ (which might be written at 7:30 at night) will be a post about my thinking. I have a composition book full of writing from morning pages, demo lessons, and conversations to review. I think there’s gold in there if I’ll just take the time to sift through.

Emerging from Chaos

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

This digital story is by Celina Byers, who is originally from Brazil. She tells the story of learning English as her second language.

She introduced herself and her interest in digital storytelling like this:

I am a lucky person! I love my job: what I do for work, where I work, and with whom I work… One morning towards the end of last year I was talking to my director about the increasing requests we are getting for instructional video production and the need for me to update my video production skills to effectively coordinate my team…

We talked a little about how to go about it and she posed me a question: how would you feel about refreshing your video skills through the exploration of digital story telling? How cool is that? I took the lead and found the digital storytelling certification offered by UC Denver and the CDS… Therefore, here I am taking this course and will be completing my certification by the end of the summer….. I am loving it!!

Final Two Chapters in Choice Words (Seven and Eight)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

My husband, a college history professor, and I drove to Princeton, NJ this weekend for a wedding. On the drive home he asked for the highlights in Choice Words. I told him he didn’t need me to give him the highlights because he reads my blog. He did not seem to think that was a sufficient response. I read him a few parts of chapters seven and eight. Reading aloud the book felt very different to me. It felt more academic, more intellectual. Reading it to myself I feel like I’m talking with an old friend. It was an interesting thing to notice.

Having now finished (re)reading the book, I am grateful that Opening Minds is waiting for me. I don’t feel quite the same sadness as I finish knowing that Johnston has more to say to me, more to teach me.

Chapter seven is Evolutionary, Democratic Learning Community. In many ways all the other chapters have clearly been building up to this one. Here Johnston makes the argument that the language teachers use in their classroom creates (or at least helps create) the community in which the teacher and students live together. The importance of this is voiced early in the chapter, on page 65:

Some teachers are particularly good at building learning communities in which individuals feel valued and supported, and that sustain productive and critical learning. Children must have the experience of such communities if they are to know what to aim for in constructing their own learning environments. 

We’re back, as always, to the idea of agency, just on a slightly grander scale. We have to model for students how to do what they will need to do for themselves. In this case, construct a learning environment that will help them continue learning outside of and beyond school.

A lot of this is more focused on the social aspects of interactions than the academic. Johnston talks about use of the word ‘we’ in building community. Other language pulls students in to thinking about others, how they feel, what they like. Another important role of language here is to encourage reflection. He writes about inviting students to reflect on the process of working together and solving a problem (“You managed to figure that out with each other’s help. How did you do that?” p. 71). Reflecting on this helps students create a narrative for themselves about collaboration. Another example is on p. 72, “How do you know when a conversation is finished?” Johnston explains this reflection as a way to think about

how to manage not just one’s own cognition, but the source of one’s cognition in the learning environment

As reflection has been a big focus of mine I was especially interested in these ideas.

Johnston does a lot in chapter eight, Who Do You Think You’re Talking To? More than I can begin to process here. One important piece is the idea that language doesn’t stand alone. It is received in context of the situation, the past, body language, tone, and more. On page 78 Johnston writes briefly in a way that sums this up for me:

You have probably had someone talk to you in a way that made you think, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” or, equally, “Who do you think you are?” When this happens to us, the other person has clearly communicated, by the way they talk to us, who they think we are. We become conscious of it because who they think we are conflicts with who we think we are.

As adults we are capable of dealing with this, often through immense frustration, but dealing all the same. Children, on the other hand, are still developing who they think they are and use all they take in to do so. Our language and all that goes with it, are often shaping a student’s self-concept. That’s a large burden but also a wonderful opportunity. We can, if we are thoughtful, help students see themselves as learners, caring individuals, writers, mathematicians, scientists, activists, etc.

One final quote on page 84 is, I think, a wonderful, one-sentence wrap up of this book.

If we want to change our words, we need to change our views.

What’s in a Name?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Mustafa  Sakarya is a colleague I met through my Digital Storytelling classwork at UC/Denver. This is a great story that anyone who has ever been teased about their name can relate to!

introduces himself like this:

It was tough growing up with my name in Wisconsin and Illinois.  Got beat up a lot, made fun of.  I escaped into my own fantasy world of day dreaming and drawing.  In 7th grade I began a daily journal that became an obsession – my one true friend that was always there, ready to listen.  I started making films with a Super 8 camera – they were silly things.  After college I made vague, experimental videos for ten years.

I truly believed that all I could ever be was an artist, or a poet – that I had no other skills.  Then time caught up.  Children happened – a mortgage – a Masters in Library Science – suddenly I’m a librarian at Mercy College.  How could I salvage the creative side of my soul?  Then I found out about digital storytelling.  Could this be my savior?  I enlisted the help of a fellow enthusiast and creative soul, Matt Lewis.  The ball of fulfillment kept getting bigger.  Students and faculty keep climbing on board this amazing vehicle.

Camp Magic Macguffin By the Numbers

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

makes use of cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by bitchcakesny:

Now that the 2012 Summer of ds106, Camp Version is over, I spent some time trying to pull some numbers from the machine, given how crazy folks are about analytics and massive.

First of all, I want to thank all 172,000 people who registered for the course (just kidding, we want to make the BIG MOOCS nervous).


This is the number of blog posts by the 11 registered UMW students over the 10 week course. I first ran a database query to find the number of posts in ds106, where all the aggregation happens, that were tagged for our summer section (umwsum12)

SELECT count(p.ID)
FROM wp_posts p 
INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships tr ON (p.ID = tr.object_id) 
INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy tt ON (tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id) 
INNER JOIN wp_terms t ON (tt.term_id = t.term_id) 
WHERE tt.taxonomy = 'post_tag' 
AND t.slug ='umwsum12' 

And I got 435. We have been having some issues with Feedwordpress missing a few blog posts (the developer is working on a fix for us), so in the interest of pure analytics, I went to each students blogs and counted their posts. This os not quite as tedious, if you page through their archives Until you get a not found response and go back one), and find that their last paged url is 5 and there are 3 blog posts on that last page, that means a total of 43 (10 per page plus the last 3).

The activity per student ranged from 22 to 55 blog posts for the class with an average of 41.2 (that would be 4 per week). The distribution actually might be closely proportional to the grade distribution:

Distribution of ds106 student total blog posts

Some consideration should go into that some students did a lot individual posts per daily create where others did weekly summaries, and if I really was going to get into it, I should analyze post lengths and amount fo media embedded.


Total number of blog posts from open participants, here by looking at posts aggregated to the ds106 site tagged ‘openonline’ and after the start date of the class:

SELECT count(p.ID)
FROM wp_posts p 
INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships tr ON (p.ID = tr.object_id) 
INNER JOIN wp_term_taxonomy tt ON (tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id) 
INNER JOIN wp_terms t ON (tt.term_id = t.term_id) 
WHERE tt.taxonomy = 'post_tag' 
AND t.slug ='openonline' 
AND p.post_date > '2012-05-14 00:00:00'

This again is an approximation given some trouble we have had from some blogs not being picked up by Feedwordpress, although the discrepancy fro the UMW student blogs was only 4%.

But this would indicate the activity of the non-registered students exceeded that of the registered ones, but likely spread over more individuals.

Combined, we had well over 1000 blog posts come into the site over the 10 week course.


Number of unique tags/categories used across all blog posts (we convert all tags on incoming feeds to categories. I have no idea what this means. But among the tags for assignments, we find from random sampling:

  • Under pressure
  • just plain blogging
  • Doctor Who
  • bavahead
  • schizopolis
  • lifelong learning
  • dew player
  • DayDoubler
  • Zack Parsons
  • ray harryhausen
  • the magic of zazzy

Draw your own conclusions.


Number of blogs/users syndicate and published to the Magicmacguffin site. This is based on the number of users created on the site, which is done by Feedwordpress as new feeds are added. Our signup form and ds106 registations were the source for us assigning 84 users to our groups (or bunkhouses). So this means that 16 people supplied information but never posted.

Does this mean our “dropout” rate (a term I think has no meaning in open courses) was 19% (or 81% of the people who signed up participated by blogging at least once).

But you know how I feel about the use of the word “dropouts” (“hence” “scarequotes”)


This is the total number of assignment blog posts aggregated to the site (based on the number of occurrences of the post tags, found by searching for the tags in the admin dashboard). I know this is an under estimate because end of the semester we found one student had mistagged all of her posts (she forgot the comma between the general and specific tag).

By looking at the distribution, we might infer that the visual and design assignments are more popular, but it should be noted that the audio and video assignments carry more stars (difficulty rating) so students generally do fewer of the number of assignments because they are more challenging)

or by the numbers

  • VisualAssignments 116
  • DesignAssignments 89
  • AudioAssignments 52
  • VideoAssignments 40
  • RemixAssignments 11
  • MashupAssignments 18


This is six plus hours of the 18 videos created by Martha and I just for the weekly announcements. Tn the first few weeks, we filmed them in DTLT and used the green screen, editing and uploading to YouTube. Because I was traveling for the rest of the course, we went the easy route and did our videos via Google hangouts live, and using the awesome feature that archives them directly to YouTube… This means they may not be edited cleanly but there was no post processing.

And we did all of these without any scripts, after discussing what we would do before hand for maybe 10 minutes, they were totally improvised (the last video had some serious editing, but the audio was done improv).

Without a doubt, working with Martha on these was one of the highlights of the summer experience.

This of course does not include the individual videos Martha and I each did to frame the “narrative”. We each did our own tumblr hosted blog for this Macguffin Summer and Martha’s Camp Journal


One of my to do lists is to add some capability of the Daily Create site to track the number of submissions each challenge (since these are drawn from third party sources, we would need to poll via their APIs).

Also, not figured out yet is some way to keep track of the comment activity across the blogs (#pipedream)

Also what I’d like to get at are some ways to visualize the activity in this busy network on the front of the site, as the chronological view moves so fast and is not very useful.

So there you go, the numbers. Coming up sometime soon, my own reflections on teaching.

The Credit She Never Gets

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Earlier today I posted a quick video about using the ds106 assignments repository to create engagement in an online learning experience. To be clear there are many things that go into such an experience, but I’ve found the ds106 assignment repository has allowed me to re-think ds106 over the last year and a half. The ability to syndicate filtered assignment posts, rate the difficulty level,  relate tutorials, and create new assignments puts the course in the unique position to allow students to shape the experience. The simple act that has proven powerful, fun, and created a sense of community.

The current state of the assignment repository came out of an experimental model Martha Burtis has been iterating on since December 2010. It’s pretty amazing because that was the beginning of the idea of ds106 as open architecture, a space that others can build sites onto, like Alan Levine’s Remix site, Tim Owens’ Daily Create, and Linda McKenna and Rachel McGuirk’s Inspire site.

What’s more, when you think about MOOCs, and ds106 more specifically—which isn’t all that MOOCy—Martha is rarely mentioned. Credit is a tricky thing, and I think Martha would be the last person to really care about all that. That said, she was in Spring 2011 building and teaching an open online course that would be massive in its conception :)

Soon after I became director of DTLT I’ve depended on Martha for advice, guidance, and direction—and she regularly abides. She shares her vast experience freely despite the fact she doesn’t get credit for her work as director of DTLT from 2006 to 2008, her seminal role in ds106 (she made the Summer of Oblivion; I failed the Magic MacGuffin), her deft WordPress coding skills, and her strategic acumen that has kept DTLT relevant and on the edge for years she refuses to be phased. She’s been the organizational and strategic mind running DTLT , and her leadership has been all too often overlooked. So here is a little know secret about the truth on the ground here at DTLT: Martha Burtis is the brains of the organization.

Just the other day while we were figuring out how to help UMW’s current Quality Enhancement Plan (a.k.a. QEP) figure out why they were going to pay a contractor way too much money to transform pre-packaged content in to three online modules (not sure how this idea emerged) covering speaking, writing, and library search skills respectively. The pre-fabricated modules would have a definitive lifespan, there would be no space for iteration, and it would ultimately be resources wasted. Within 10 minutes Martha adeptly refocused the conversation to experimenting with a publishing platform. And rather than rushing to get everything done as soon as possible, we test out one or two individual “lessons” online to see what works. Once we learn how faculty use this in their curriculum, and what would be most useful going forward we’ll make recommendations for developing a platform over the Summer. Hopefully that will be something we can build out from WordPress or MediaWiki or some other similar application, adding to the open ecosystem of options. That’s exactly how you want to run a meeting like this. This is the best possible outcome: experimentation, iteration, and open. Thanks to Martha (and Jerry after her) DTLT has been doing that for years, but this is only just a little of the credit she never gets. I guess we have to start somewhere.

Colleagues, Alan and Martha, LOST in MINECRAFT !!

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
"HELP! Alan and Martha are Missing in Minecraft !!" by aforgrave, on Flickr

“HELP! Alan and Martha are Missing in Minecraft !!” by aforgrave, on Flickr

Our two Camp Magic Macguffin co-coordinators, Alan (@cogdog) and Martha (@mburtis), have gone missing in Minecraft. News is sketchy at this point, but it would appear that they vanished at or near the surface to a “ZoneStone Mine” at the border between our world and that of Minecraft, during a series of explosions at or about 19:20 EDT on July 30th. If you have not yet seen it, you may wish to view the news video feed embedded at the bottom of this post. (Caution: May upset some viewers.)

We are marshalling support for our colleagues at this moment. If you can provide assistance of any kind, please add your information to this form.

We are all hoping for the safe and soon return of our beloved friends.

The following news feed provides further details surrounding the disappearance of Alan and Martha. (Again, some images may be disturbing.)

We will be using the tag #106lostinminecraft in aid of the search proceedings.

12:03 PM July 31st Update: Close viewing of this artifact seems to reveal a number of “loops” in the video feed, frequently accompanied by an out-of-sync audio commentary. In the simplest explanation, it may be that our colleagues were somehow spirited away PRIOR to the apparent explosion, and their likenesses remained visible due to the re-played images. In a more chilling, yet possible explanation, Alan and Martha may have been caught within some kind of “Moebius effect,” often implicated within looping or repeating instances of time.

The Moebius Reflux Wave by <a href="">Stamp</a>

The Moebius Reflux Wave majestically sweeping over and returning Earth home. by Stamp

Story Challenge: Final Project

Monday, July 30th, 2012

The Slide Guy Mystery

Who is this man? Exploring the mystery of Slide Guy! at Camp Magic Macguffin


This story cannot be displayed because Storify is overloaded.

A Slave’s Voice

Monday, July 30th, 2012

This digital story was created by 8th grade American History teacher Daniel Medina. It is a great example of how students can adopt a historical voice and point of view to illustrate an important issue.

Daniel was a student with me in “Digital Storytelling in the Curriculum” at UC/Denver, Summer 2012. This is how he introduced himself:

“When I scrolled through the course catalog I noticed an interesting class called Digital Storytelling in a Curriculum. I thought to myself, “That sounds pretty cool, a class the focuses on personal narrative using technology.” As an 8th grade American History Teacher I believe this can go a long way in the classroom by engaging students and allowing them to approach learning in a variety of ways. I am excited to see what this course has to offer because I currently use storyboards for many of my ELL students. So I figured, “I have to see what this course is about!” On a more personal note, I feel like the course could benefit my ministry, as I am a Youth Pastor at our church. Storytelling plays an important role through the Bible and the testimonies that people have to share.”

At the War Memorial

Monday, July 30th, 2012


“Those whose sacrifice this Cenotaph commemorates were among the men
who, at call of King and Country, left all that was dear, endured hardship,
faced danger, and finally passed from the sight of men by the path of
duty, giving their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those
who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten.”


At the War Memorial

The sun was out when I got there. I went out in it, and I saw a young person– a student – I thought, lying on the slanted lawn of the war memorial. He was pale as a cave cricket. I was squinting as I came down the steps through the park. The sun was in my eyes.

“…pale as a cave cricket…”

Another man was walking fast toward me using a cane, one leg straight, so he humped forward like a fast-moving inchworm. He reached the war memorial while I was still under the deep shade of the big trees there – chestnuts, maybe or Bigleaf Maples. The sunbathing man didn’t look up at the sound of the metal cane hitting the cement.
The limping man– I believe he was a soldier because he dropped to the ground stiff as an ant. He stacked one leg on top of the other and did 50 push-ups. He was magnificent. I thought of the leaf cutter ants in the Amazon, the way they march over the duff of the dead holding bright green bits of leaf over their heads. Thousands of them march in a line as  far as the eye can see, and each is strong and magnificent and carries a leaf over his head.

Leaf-cutters on the eternal march….

 As I reached the bottom step and hurried forward as if to address the man, he got up and delivered a passionate salute to the memorial. He turned on his good heel and limped away into the jungle maze of Vancouver.
The student still slept in the sun as I circled the war memorial. I looked at it curiously. I wondered what the man saw in it. I felt like I was missing something. The sun stayed out all day, and the next day it rained..






NOTE: The Cenotaph is in Victory Square in Vancouver, B.C.

The engraved inscriptions are:

Facing Hastings Street: “Their name liveth for evermore,” and, within a stone wreath, “1914-1918.”

Facing Hamilton Street: “Is it nothing to you?”

Facing Pender Street: “All ye that pass by…”