Teaching and Learning

Bridging to a Better DS106 Class

With the help of Tim Owens and Hippiehosting.org, York College is for the first time starting a semester of ds106 with every single student up with their own domain in the FIRST WEEK! It’s hard to describe how great this has been as in typical semesters I have at least ten or so students out of forty that seem to not sort out their domain issues until the third or fourth week.

So now the focus can be more on overcoming the early learning curves associated with understanding the daily create, aggregation, embedding images, hyperlinking, commenting, and the many aspects of web writing to be discovered in this class. So this first week I thought I’d be a good ds106 student/instructor and summarize my daily creates for the week.

The Daily Create as described on the ct101.us site is meant to be a simple creative exercise. You follow the prompt’s request to make something and post it to the particular space described. This usually entails posting something to your own account on Flickr, Youtube, or Soundcloud. Or in the case of a writing assignment you post directly to the the dailycreate site.

Here’s my week with the TDC:

Breaking Bad Blue Screen Of Death

Last Monday on the first day of class the daily create asked you to, “Make a blue screen of death message using type only.” Those unfamiliar with the Windows BSOD (are lucky) and could find examples doing a simple search. System failures are annoying, and somehow I got Breaking Bad’s final season on the brain. Walter’s ability to dodge all his pursuers appears to be coming to an end, and there will likely be a blaze of glory scene somewhere in the final eight episodes. Hence the ‘say hello to my little friend’ idea.

Office Bridge to LIRR

The next day’s ‘Draw a picture of a new invention‘ did not come quickly, but at a certain point I got the idea of using a dry erase marker to draw on my office window. I tried a few different markers, but they were all too spent. I finally was able to get my hands on a new marker. Drawing with it was still unsatisfying leaving too faint an image. So I decided to bust open the marker and experiment with the filament inside. Squeezing out the marker ink while drawing proved hard to control, but led to some great textures. The invention was as much how to draw thick dry erase lines as much as the bridge from my office to the LIRR.

On the third day, a daily create writing exercise asked that you to, ‘Finish the sentence, “My biggest fear is…” What is the story of overcoming this?‘ I actually hadn’t ever done a writing exercise on the tdc and noticed this is the only type that has you submit your response directly on the site. It was a mixture of parenting and professional fears, but you should read it yourself.

And the last daily create I completed last week, which happened to be four days in a row was the photography prompt, ‘Take/make a photo that represents math at work in the world.‘ This one took sometime to figure out. I had measuring on the brain for most of the day when I thought about this assignment. I actually took a few photos of an old slide ruler that I have in my house but wasn’t satisfied.

Fluid Dynamics

But while sitting in my kitchen with my kids, I caught a glimpse of a big glass of water and thought, ‘I wonder if I could get a photo of two different fluids come together in a glass right at the moment when they first come together, before they are mixed completely.’ The photo definitely gets at that moment, though it definitely looks a little gross.

So that’s my first week, domains for everyone YES! Four Daily Creates, pretty good. And a lot of commenting on them as well. Here are links to my various social media accounts:

Site: michaelbransonsmith.net
Twitter: @mbransons

And looking forward to week two.



After having created a few GIF assignments to help seed the DS106 GIFfest which officially started today, I needed to get a submission done! Andrew Forgrave’s GIF the DS106 came to mind with my third semester of teaching DS106 ending tomorrow. It’s hard to believe how many York College students have been working through the ds106 assignment bin creating so many different pieces.

It’s an overwhelming course at times, teaching semester after semester, and this spring I’m going to have a colleague teach one of the sections so that will be some relief, changing the dynamic a lot. I continue to be amazed by the resulting change in students’ perspective on their work and mapping out their own educational path.

The DS106 strategy has been paying off, a big win for my growth as well as an instructor. It’s hard for me to think about the amount of work I’ve done in the almost two years since discovering ds106. Totally nuclear.


The WOPR, the fictional military supercomputer featured in the film War Games. It was given the job of monitoring nuclear missile silos after too many Air Force missileers refused to launch during a live fire exercise. They figured it would be better to let a supercomputer oversee nuclear apocalypse – let the technology do the job and keep the messy, creative, interrogating types out of this!

Sadly the-powers-that-be are beguiled by their absolute trust in the artificially intelligent computer, forgetting that the computer’s code is written by people and there is an ethics to algorithms.

This thinking is sadly what I believe is driving a set of supercomputer styled MOOCs to build a WOPR for higher education. Figuring that if we put enough processor power behind the education problem we’ll solve it. Those teachers, we can’t trust them?! They might not make the right assessment at the moment when real learning is to happen! They’re flawed – god knows they’re all unionized!

I’m so dismayed about how the dominant coversation about MOOCs looks nothing like what I first discovered less than two years ago, which emphasized the opportunities the interent provided to create communities. Instead it’s been replaced by the cold-war thinking WOPR. A machine that looks to the traditional model of higher ed – structured course timelines, traditional lectures (in 5-10 min bites revolutionary!), and yes of course quizes, tests and final exams.

I just wish the supercomputer MOOCs would get to the end of the War Games narrative already – just ask the MOOC to play itself. They’d realize that they’re only building an arsenal of educational weapons that fulfills only their mutually assured pedigreed awesomeness. They don’t really care about what higher education really looks like, instead they want to assure us all that they’ve got higher education’s future under control, the old models are still right, we just need to scale them.

But that’s a strange game. And the only winning move is not to play.

Suessing Ethiopia

During class today we began discussing the remix generator and remix cards as part of this week’s assignments. I created the example, “What Is Culture For You?? [Remixed]: Dr Suess It,” and under the original assignment I found Mis-tery’s trip to Ethiopia. I would have loved to read more about the trip, as it looks like it was quite an experience, and the photos she shared in a collage were beautiful.

Applying the Dr Suess It card to the culture assignment seems a natural one as you are able to apply all the trappings of the Suess genre to someone’s cultural expression. The travel experience becomes Suess-ified not unlike a trip to the Magic Kingdom. The different places in Mis-tery’s trip became Suess attractions – pose as the Cat-in-th-Hat, visit a real Truffala tree forest, follow the path of ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go,’ and see original Suess art work in the museum.

All fun stuff that I hope Mis-tery enjoys. Thanks for letting me remix your work!

GIFing a Great Conversation About EPortfolio

I made a presentation today about eportfolio and assessment for York College’s annual day of assessment conference. The problem was I showed up with a conversation about eportfolio and a bunch of animated GIFs (see below) and everyone else showed up with graphs, charts, and numbers.

When my colleague asked me to talk to faculty about eportfolio/assessment I was a bit torn. First, I haven’t been working on eportfolios at York for some time as the piloted platform, built on WP/BP has been under-supported rendering the space unusable (resurrection notice Boone to the rescue). And second I’ve grown a little ambivalent about one of the principal driving forces behind campuses considering adopting eporfolios, which is ASSESSMENT.

With trepidation, I decided that it might be interesting to foster a conversation with my faculty about eportfolio by looking at a rich conversation started by Martha Burtis on her blog. She described her role supporting UMW’s effort to choose an eportfolio platform on her campus. Martha decided to ask her community of peers for feedback. What resulted was a great thread of comments, and I thought they would be good foder for my presentation.

I pulled a number of interesting quotes and used a number of GIFs to support the talk. Here’s a basic summary of what I presented:

At the start I quoted Martha’s mission to find/create an eportfolio platform which would support the following,

  • An interest in a system for tracking institutional assessment learning outcomes (on program-, departmental-, and the University-level) and reporting on these otucomes.
  • A space for meta-cognitive reflection by students on their learning, perhaps as part of a larger look at how we advise students.
  • A desire to provide students with a “leg-up” by giving them a robust platform for showcasing their intellectual and professional work and development.
  • A need (specifically in the College of Education) to track student outcomes BEYOND graduation. New laws are requiring us to demonstrate the effectiveness of our students as teachers after they’ve graduated (for a indeterminate amount of time)

The eportfolio elephant in the room is/was the assessment piece. Literally there’s an administrative mandate that loomed over the decision making process.

Boone Georges followed up, and made a great point about how this top down mandate is problematic.

Systems can only succeed in their “institutional” goals (like assessment and alumni connections) if they succeed in their “curricular” goals (genuine student engagement with the platform).

Then Todd Conaway did a little edu-kungfu by substituting the word “students” with “teachers” in the eportfolio goals statement above. Which was a provocation that Martha summarized well as a need to get faculty to “walk the walk” when it comes to reflection and sharing.

Joe Ugoretz introduced his struggles with using eportfolios for assessment, believing that universalizing a set of criteria to measure the success of each student is problematic, if it misses the value of uniqueness.

I’m suggesting I think an assessment that includes individuality, that celebrates it, and that allows us to understand what students themselves value about their accomplishments and their progress.

Antonio Vantaggiato did a great job of reminding everyone that the assessment process for instructors is quite natural, but there’s a new mandate.

When you *change* your methods, styles, technologies as a result of reflecting on how your students do, you are assessing, but now we are being asked to **document it**… the risk is that the reflective part begins with exploring the “how” to do it (document, track, etc.) , instead of focusing on the process.

And finally Gardner Campbell wrote about the limitations in the vernacular of ‘portfolios.’

I’ve been thinking that part of the problem is the metaphor of “portfolio,” which…is all about an inert and meaningless container…The metaphor gets an “e-” in front of it and begins to do damage to our ability to imagine the nature and potential of the new medium.

So I shared these GIFs and these many interesting points about eportfolio and platforms with my assessment crowd. And I got a flatline.


I think I basically sucked it sadly. I was hoping that I might encourage my colleagues to rethink the eportfolio, as an assessment tool born out of Martha’s eportfolio goals 2 & 3 focused on student reflection and  presentation. Talk about it a bit. But I sucked it. Dead room.

I’m disappointed in myself as I imagined I might be effective at fostering a conversation as cool as Martha’s in her blog. But I’ve a long way to go.

Under A Pile of Work, But Still #DS106 #4LIFE

It’s been almost two years since I first discovered DS106, the open-online course created at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). And a year since I took my first York College students through the experience (a crazy humbling one for myself). In the Fall 2011 semester UMW decided not to formally run a ds106 course, but Jim Groom and Martha Burtis were kind enough to support my running my first section of ds106 at York College. And I tried to do some role-playing as a bumbling professor, taking my students on a Journey to the Center of the Internet.

I learned a tremendous amount about teaching out in the open and continue to be inspired by ds106 to keep my art making and teaching chops up. There are times that I get overwhelmed by the work to support the institution as well as teach and make art. But it’s good to have the above reminder hiding under the pile.

We’ll Keep Building At York College

When I started at York College eleven years ago supporting the edtech department (aside –  holy crap this is the longest job I’ve ever held), I was given the opportunity to look at a proposal for a communications technology major that had been dormant since 1991. At first I was, “huh what’s communications technology, it’s new media man,” but new media became not-so-new-media.

Communications technology, commtech,CT, has stuck. And I think for the better.

We’re about to embark on a transformation of the major that will be the largest since its official start in 2003. It’s a crazy, laborious process to update curriculum at a college, but hopefully we’re making a change for the better. I’m excited to finally formalize the ethos of ds106 – digital storytelling into the major (it’s been an unofficial change for three semesters, ack!).

But I’m even more excited to explore the possibilties that might come out of the makerspace Daniel Phelps and I are about to build to support a Hacking and Building course, which will become a foundation course for us. The class is going to replace an introduction to computer science course which taught principally the basics of C++.

The idea of teaching the fundamentals of programming through C++, wasn’t necessarily problematic, but the way the course has been taught was. Semester after semester the CT majors struggled to find any recognizable value for the class, which ultimately is really disappointing. We wanted the students to discover the value of coding as an opportunity to see how digital tools are built. And more importantly how they can be hacked.

Hacked not to do anything malicious of course, that’s such a 1990’s definition of hacking, but to make them your own. And to see that this should be an inherint approach to digital tools, as much as we imagine getting under the hood and modifying cars makes sense.

We’re going to pilot our hacking and building course this spring, and I’m so excited to be a student in the course as much as helping Daniel teach it (ok he wrote the course so I’m fully in a chair, not standing a lecturn). And Tim Owen’s work on the UMW makerspace deserves a huge shout-out for inspiring us as well. See below:


Slinky in Stereo

I created this example Wiggle Stereoscope for class today. Below is a tutorial about how to make a Wiggle Stereoscopic image (ok this isn’t really a stereoscope image just a two frame animated GIF, but the technique is the same) and how to post your first Visual Assignment to DS106.

Recording System Sound with SoundFlower and Quicktime

Here’s a quick tutorial for hijacking the system sound of your Mac, and recording the audio to Quicktime. Soundflower is an application that works with the computer’s audio, acting as a submixer in a sense you can redirect audio to other applications.

1. After launching Soundflower, select the Built-In output so you can monitor sounds redirected to Soundflower.

2. In the  System Preferences > Sound Settings > Output set the output to Soundflower (2ch).

3. Open Quicktime and create a File > New Audio Recording.

4, Set the audio input to Soundflower (2ch)

5. Hit the record button and play a sound from any application, including audio from webpages. When finished hit stop and trim the audio file, using Edit > Trim.


6. After trimming export the file or save as the file. You can use other tools to convert the audio file format. iTunes is actually useful to convert to mp3 if needed.