The general structure and shape of the 2018 version of an open Digital Alchemy and Networked Narratives Course based at Kean University

Kean University Course Poster for 2018

Note: This course shares a few similarities of the first version from 2017, but like most experimental alchemy practices, it will be quite different this time around. If you joined us last year, please return!

Digital Alchemy & Networked Narratives (#netnarr): This Digital Life

January-May 2018 • ENG 4060/5058 at Kean University • Open/Connected Beyond

Take the oldest and most familiar form of communication, apply principles of medieval scientists, and explore it actively in the modern digital spaces — that frames what we call Digital Alchemy & Networked Narratives, noted online via the symbol #netnarr.

Storytelling and Narrative are long established ways of sharing the human experience. Yet their potential grows larger when we can create, connect, share, collaborate with almost anyone, anywhere, through networks.

Like original alchemists exploring the potential of combining the four elements of the earth, as Digital Alchemists we strive to understand and put to use the basic digital elements of words, images, sounds, motion, in pursuit of unleashing their power for spreading ideas, motivating action, and generating empathy and understanding in the world as done via networked narratives.

The overarching theme of this course is “This Digital Life” — an examination of the role digital and networked technologies play in our lives, and a question of what say we have in the shaping of it. We’d say is no separate “digital world”; the impact of networked digital technologies on our day to day activities is no longer a thing for scientists and geeks. Yet, do we fully understand of what we give up when we use “free” services? Do we have control over our digital representations? How do we untangle, make sense of world given the torrent of information coming at us? Can we really expect others have similar experiences as our own? What is this digital life we have?

To explore this theme, we will enter it through the genres of digital art, gaming, and electronic literature, all as represented in digital, networked spaces. We will also learn and put into practice digital alchemy skills of media creation to express our “digitalness”. More than creating stories of interest or for entertainment (e.g. “for the lolz”), we will be using media to examine our own digital lives.

This experience will happen in the network of our own class but also connected to other ones in Norway and Egypt, and even father with lone digital alchemists operating in the corners of the open web.

Each week will start with a blog post announcement of all activities and assignments for the week. Kean students will be meeting Tuedays 4:30PM – 7:15PM ET (check your local time). Some weeks there may be live video sessions or twitter chats from the class, but all activities will be detailed in the weekly announcement. In class, we will engage in discussions, networked activities, meet a weekly new “Digital Alchemy Tool” and ince into our three genres, we will have a hands on “Make” session with digital media.

Participation in the course activities will be via the writing and sharing from individual participant blogs (which are networked into the site, as well as via maybe the questionable social media space of twitter and an layer of annotation of the web via There will also be live streamed Studio visits to practitioners of digital art, designers of games, and creators of electronic literature.

Below are the main segments of the course spine. As we move through it, each will fill out with detail and links to announcements, activities, and maybe a few alchemical surprises.

pixaby image by PIRO4D shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0

Segment 0: Digital Alchemy, Tools, and Networks We Live In

(weeks of Jan 15 and Jan 22)

To open we ask you to think about the ancient practice of Alchemy applied in the present with digital tools. What would it mean to you to have that title? And there are many things to get set up for this explanation- accounts, blogs, tools. You will start building your own digital alchemy laboratory. And we will begin looking at, and thinking more deeply about networks we engage in, by our own choice, and what they might be engaging us in, not of our choice.

Week 1.0: Get Started with This Digital Life, Digital Alchemy, and Networked Narratives - This is it. The start of a second iteration of Networked Narratives. Welcome all… registered students at Kean University, peer students at the University of Bergen, and curious folks elsewhere on the internet.
Week 2.0: Digital Tracks, Being Tracked, and Tracking Trackers - The internet! It’s free! You can do anything, it’s a global village of connected information! Free! Free! Well that was some people saw it in the early days. There is a cost for running all the pipes and servers and content creators. Without paying for it directly with fees, we pay for it with our information- where we go, what we do. Some of this we do so knowingly, much is done underneath the hood. It’s not all evil; the […]

pixabay image by kellepics shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0

Segment 1: Digital Art Genre, NetArt, and What’s Underneath the Web

weeks of January 29, February 5, February 12, February 19, February 26

Introduction to examples / background of Digital and Networked/New Media Art. What does digital aid, enable in art and artists? How does it reflect / represent the digitalness in our own lives?

In this segment we will learn and applying graphic creation skills and understand to meme messages, remixed visual media, and animated GIFs as short form video. Rather than the typical ways these media types are spread in social media to garner laughter or worse, to mock, we will explore how we can use them to express the ways our digital lives are playing out.

During this segment we plant to have virtual visits to web documentary maker Brett Gaylor and digital artist Emilio Vavarella.

Studio Visit with Emilio Vavarella (Feb 13 @ 1pm EDT) - Our second studio is a special opportunity to learn first hand about the influences and creative processes of digital artist Emilio Vavarella. Emilio will join us via Google Hangout February 13 at 1:00PM EDT in a session scheduled outside of class meeting time.
Week 3.0: Digital Art and the Fundamental Building Block of Photography - In this week of NetNarr we enter the segment on Digital Art, with some discussion, research into early forms, and hands on practice with one of the fundamental building blocks for digital media creation- the photograph.
Week 4.0: One Does Not Simply Make NetNarr Memes - The simple addition of text to images as a meme message is typically aimed at generating a reaction, an expression of an emotion, laughter. One that makes you want to spread it everywhere. Do we even have to explain or ask what these are?
Week 5.0: Looking into (and out from) the Selfie - Like meme images we studied last week selfies are something we probably do not need to explain to you. They are a form of public media expression that has evolved into a thing of their own because of networked social media, and to many, a genre of digital art.
Week 6.0: Reading GIFs is Fundamental - Hatched as means to send video-like content over extremely limited bandwidth of the late 1908s internet, the Animated GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) has evolved from tiny pixelated cartoonish media to something evocative as art plus virally animated memes in social media.
Week 7.0: GIFfing It All Together - In our last week of the Digital Art Segment, following up on Week 6, we continue looking at the art and style of the animated GIF, working to assemble our own miniature GIF movie made of multiple pieces of media.

Pixabay image by igorovsyannykov shared into the public domain with Creative Commons CC0

Segment 2: Is This a Game? Examining Game Mechanics of our Digital Lives, sharing via Audio Documentary Storytelling

Weeks of March 2, March 19, March 26, April 2

Overview of storytelling and mechanics of games. Exploration of game design, collaborative game activities with students in Norway and Egypt, analyzing effectiveness of empathy games and serious games as well as alternate reality games. Engage in discussions and readings on gaming addiction, how game style mechanics play out in other parts of our lives.

Students will also learn audio production skills and contribute to a student produced audio documentary piece or podcast on the impact of games outside of the games themselves.

Week 8.0: This is a Game - We start out NetNarr segment on games and gaming with our own experiences of game play. Our time spent in games we can easily say is for fun, distraction, relief. But what makes them work to do this? In the 1997 movie The Game the Nicholas Van Orton character’s experience had him wondering and muttering at every turn, “Is this a game?” In a few weeks we will take on that question, but for now, in this week, we start […]
Week 10.0: Games as Story, Story of Games - As this course has Narrative in its name, this week we turn to look at the elements of the games we have been discussing and sharing, in particular the role of a story in the creation of a game experience and the story behind games. The Opener The Extra Credits YouTube channel is a weekly show that covers a wide range of topics in the design, building, and use of games. We’ll watch from Episode 9, “Plan, Practice, Improvise – […]
Week 11.0: The Game Board of Digital Redlining - This week we explore at a social dynamics of our digital lives that is certainly not a game, nor fun, but we might look at through the dynamics of game play- who creates the rules, and more importantly here, how is the game board designed. Redlining is “is the practice of denying services, either directly or through selectively raising prices, to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic composition of those areas.” The US National Housing Act […]

pixabay image by geralt shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0

Segment 3: Electronic Literature about Electronic Literature and This Digital Life

Weeks of April 9, April 16, April 23)

Exploration and examination of hypertext fiction, social media writing, creative bots, and generative literature. Readings and discussions about uitems from the Electronic Literature Collection.

Create twitter bots that engage in conversations with yourself and others on the blurring between digital lives. Develop a hypertext or a generative fictional story about your own digital lives.

Week 12.0: Bot, Not, What? - Computers can be platforms for software agents that “acts for a user or other program in a relationship of agency.” More specifically Chatter Bots are ones that “convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner.” Marrying responses of software agents with greater amounts of artificial intelligence (mining information that is collected from millions of people) does offer potential for helpful convenience, aka Siri, Alexa. Are bots all bad? good? useful? dangerous? As described by Mark Sample: Bots […]
Week 13.0: Exploring Electronic Literature - What is Electronic Literature? What is the difference, overlap with “regular” literature? What kinds / genres appeal to you as a form you might want to create? Note: As a reminder, we do not meet in person this week; this work is mostly a reading and exploration assignment, a week off of media creating. E-Literature 101 We need not get bogged down in definitions, but for some starting points consider from the Electronic Literature Organization that it’s literature that is […]
Week 14.0 (and beyond): Conceptualizing E-Lit about This Digital Life - How can Electronic literature be used to express your ideas, worries, forecasts for what it means to experience the theme of this course– This Digital Life? Video Interlude (it has some bearing on E-Lit) The NetNarr Project Last week we explored examples of the genres Electronic Literature. For the final project of this class you are asked to conceptualize a possible E-literature piece about Digital Life, develop the character(s) that might be part of it, outline the setting/environment, research and […]

“Magic Sun” pixabay photo by dimitrisvetsikas1969 shared shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0

Weaving It Together: Synthesis of Final Digital Lives Portfolio

Weeks of April 30 and May 7

Complete final project of developing an annotated portfolio of creative works and summary of it’s meaning published to the Arganee Journal

Week 15.0: The Final Final Checklist - You did not ask for it, but hey, we do check off our checklists, eh? Check?
E-Literature Digital Life Concept Papers Published in Arganee Journal - This third issue of the Arganee Journal is a collection of E-Literature project ideas created as the final assignment for the Spring 2018 Networked Narrative class at Kean University.

Featured Image: Pixnio image by Andrew McMillan shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0.