The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Digital Storytelling Course Invites Online Design

4 min read


Digital Storytelling, known as “ds106,” is a new way of teaching that uses an online classroom that enables students to use the web as a framework for thinking about the different ways students can explore and design.

Jim Groom, director of teaching and learning technologies, and Alan Levine, computer science adjunct instructor, teach the course, which fulfills the creative expression general education requirement.

The class began in spring 2010, and so far, 150 students have taken it, according to Groom.

“It is a way to imagine and introduce technology into the curriculum as a new way to teach,” said Groom.

The purpose of the class is not to replace the textbook, but rather to explore the multitude of options and creativity the web has to offer.

ds106 shows how digital media can potentially change the value of discipline within the classroom.

Charles Girard, a senior American studies major was a part of the pilot class for ds106.

“I think it is such a cool class. It is easily the most useful class I’ve had my college career,” said Girard.

The format of the course, as it is explained on the ds106 website, is broken up into visual, design, audio, video and remix components.

The remix component allows students to take the works of their fellow ds106 community members and recreate them into something of their own, according to Groom.

Rather than Groom creating the assignments for the class, the students create their own assignments for the various components and teach the assignments themselves, according to Groom.

Martha Burtis, special projects coordinator of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies is the creator of the framework for the assignments, according to Groom.

Students choose which assignments they want to do on the basis of interest.

“Students imagine what they want to do and it is only as good as how many students do it,” said Groom.

The idea of allowing students to create their own assignments are, according to Groom, harnessing the idea of a framework that allows students to create their own assignments.

“I want them to be in the situation of creating it and doing it,” said Groom.

If students are unsure of how to do something or have a question, Girard said Groom has a simple answer for them.

“If you didn’t know something, his answer was always ‘Google it,’” said Girard.

Another element of the ds106 class is the “Daily Create,” which is a daily assignment created by the students themselves. It is a quick assignment that allows the students to imagine things differently.

“It is about shaping the way you look at things, reinforcing the culture of creativity,” said Groom.

Even people who do not go to UMW participate in the Daily Create.

“It is not only a classroom but a community,” said Groom.

Although Groom has gotten much of the credit, he is steadfast in rebuking it, because he is not the only one behind ds106.

“ds106 has really been a community job,” said Groom. “It is by no means just me.”

The class has been a laboratory for learning and experiencing the open web.

“What is amazing to me is how unbelievably creative UMW students are,” said Groom.

ds106 is an international classroom, with over one thousand people engaged in the assignments. Temple University Japan, Suny Cortland, York College and Kansas State University are all participating Universities of the ds106 community.

So far in this semester alone, there have been 8,000 posts on the ds106 website and there are about 500 people around the world taking this class, according to Groom.

“When given enough freedom people can have a lot of fun,” said Groom.

The people involved in the ds106 website who are not in the class are known as Open Online Students. These people have heard about the site through Twitter and basically a ripple effect, according to Groom.

“ds106 is a weird cult,” said Girard. “It is a strange following of people on the internet.”

The class is not limited to the 15-week semester. Students from previous classes continue to follow and work on the ds106 website.

“I follow the website a lot and still do some of the assignments and learn from them,” said Girard.

“It creates a certain amount of consistency, thinking and cultivating who you are as a human being,” said Groom.

This community is what makes the class so successful, according to Groom.

“It provides a different way of thinking of the rhythms of the semester,” said Groom.

“You can really see the idea of the walls of the classroom disappear,” said Groom.

According to Groom, ds106 re-injects creativity into the curriculum and is a visual rhetoric of the internet.

“It is how as a culture we are rethinking how we communicate things. It is a vernacular of the web and students become participants of that,” said Groom.

The class is able to provide the students of UMW with another set of tools in the classroom; tools of the digital world, through reimagining the classroom and the web, according to Groom.

“It is such a cool creative outlet and you get so much feedback because it is such a community,” said Girard.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently profiled Groom and ds106, highlighting its revolutionary way of teaching.