And so it begins. Welcome to Networked Narratives.

In The Matrix Morpheous offered Neo only two life choices in red or blue form; we have here a full rainbow of options to explore storymaking with digital media in the networked space of the internet. Your choices, participating here may as well change you.

We are using a frame of asking what might the ancient practice of alchemy mean in a digital era, when we are trying to combine different elements of digital media, genres, narrative– are you ready to be a Digital Alchemist?

What Kind of Course is This?

Not like many others. While we will use the web as a platform of creativity and communication, Networked Narratives is not a course delivered online. It surely is not a MOOC. If you need an acronym, make one up.

At it’s core this is a bonafide on the ground course in Digital Storytelling at Kean University, with registered students who will spend some time each week in a classroom. Taught in that room by Mia Zamora, she is joined via the interwebs by Alan Levine who will beam in from Arizona.

At the same time, as an open connected course, we are offering the experience to anyone else on the internet who wants to do all or part of the same activities and assignments. Why? Because that’s how networks work, the Kean students will benefit from participating with a larger group of people from different places, interests, and cultures.

How this mix happens is that rather than students doing their work in a centralized system, they create and reflect in their own digital space, a blog. We use syndication technology to bring together everyone’s work in one place (latest on the front page) or all in the Syndicated Category, where you might see some open participants are already active.

We will be learning to express ideas and stories in multiple forms of media- photos, graphic images, animated GIFs, audio, video, and remixes of them all. If you have never done this before and you are reaching for the “I’m not creative response”, relax. We will get you to a comfortable level. If you are skilled in these forms, you will get more practice and explore new techniques.

These media will be used in our study of how familiar kinds of stories– the linear form, e.g. spoken word, books, film can be extended or take new forms in the non-linear networked space.

“Identified! [Charles Greeley Abbot, astrophysicist and Secretary of the Smithsonian, with his device: a silver-disc pyrheliometer which measures direct beam solar irradiance] (LOC)” flickr photo by The Library of Congress shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons)

How Does This Thing Work?

There are quite a few moving parts. Much of this will be new to our Kean students. Don’t worry, we will take small steps. Our experienced open participants are eager to help too.

These first two weeks are meant to get you set up with the main tools you will use and get started communicating with each other.

Doing much of the creative work will be much easier to do with a desktop or laptop computer and ideally, a high speed internet connection. It’s not to say one could not do this on a mobile or tablet device, but it’s not recommended. We hope you have access to a camera or a smartphone or a computer with a built in camera.

We do not require specific software; you are welcome to use what you have access to, and we will always offer free / open source or web-based creation tools.

Each week will start with a looooooooooong blog post like this one (just scroll, see how long this thing goes) that will give an overview of all the activities and assignments for a week’s worth. Way down at the bottom you will find a summary checklist of all the required items (well for Kean students, you open folks are free to pick and choose).

These will be published (hopefully) by early Tuesday, EST (Likely you will find links that don’t work and typos). The latest announcements will always appear in the top two blocks below the top featured content as well as in their own corner of the site.

Kean students will meet in person for discussion and hands on activities every Wednesday 4:15 – 7:30pm EST — the same activities will be posted here for our open participants (keep on scrolling!).

During the week everyone then takes on the weekly activities at their own pace, plus being active in our online spaces. Kean students are expected to write a summary reflective blog post by midnight Sunday. Open participants, you can do whatever…

Each month, we will have a different format and scope for our class activities, so glance into the future, see our Course Spine.

But Wait! What About Grades?

Hang on a week. We are going to introduce a grading contract for Kean students, and give them an opportunity to provide input (e.g. edit). We will also make a copy available for open participants; it will be interesting to see what kinds of levels of commitment you might define.

That’s a lot of preamble, let’s get into what’s on the list this week…

Cropped version of “Michelangelo shopping list” a Wikimedia Commons public domain image

Week 1 Activities

The first three items below are discussion topics / activities Kean students will be doing in class on Wednesday. Open participants are invited to ponder, to write blog posts, to tweet.

(1) Storytelling = What? to You

Our course is called “digital storytelling” but let’s step back and just think about what comes to mind what the word “storytelling” means to you. Don’t look up definitions (resist the google urge!) – this is to frame your current concept of what story means and share it.

This is more like an association exercise than an academic treatise. What comes to mind visually when you think of the word? Think about what the word brings to mind: images, places, people, sounds. Cave paintings? Who do you recall as telling you memorable stories? Where? What was the purpose? Why do they appeal? Author of The New Digital Storytelling Bryan Alexander likes to ask audiences, “What is not a story?”

Then expand on what it might mean to introduce the format of “digital” to traditional forms? What changes, is different, or is the same? What do you see or think of when we say “digital storytelling”?

Lastly, take this concept and consider what it means when digital stories can take place in, expand, spread in networked spaces?

(2) Keychain Story Activity

This is an activity to practice telling a small story, a variant of a found object story.

Kean students will be doing this in groups Wednesday night, and experience what happens when they retell other’s stories. We suggest open participants try recording theirs as a short video and upload to YouTube (there will be a task for everyone to do this next week). Or they can just try it out on a friend or family member or an attentive cat.

When we ask you to do a story on video, please keep in mind there is no reason you have to put your face on camera. You could film your hands, or just a stand in character like a stuffed animal. The important part is your voice and seeing your object.

Do not overthink this. Take out your keychain and pick one thing on it (if you do not have a keychain, find an object you always carry with you, like a piece of jewelry). We are not looking for a description of the object, but what it represents to you, why it’s important. Just see where it takes you.

If you share your story try to keep it to about two minutes. Is there an unexpected twist? A life lesson?

For examples, see video keychain stories done by past DS106 students here, here, and here (apologies, YouTube broke the tag search).

If you try this in a group, see what happens when you tell someone else’s story (or try to tell someone else’s story you can find in the links above). How does the story change? What does it mean for the original teller to have it retold?

Consider that often we are telling our own stories, and we know all the context, but in a lot of instances (writing, biography, sales?) we are telling someone else’s story.

(3) Ponder Digital Alchemy

As mentioned way way at the top of this long post, we are asking you to think of your self as modern versions of alchemists. You may have no knowledge what Alchemy is– we will save you the Googling and provide a direct Wikipedia link. Your teachers are not experts either!

But this is not a research task. We just want you to think about, maybe write, maybe tweet, maybe create a video to share what comes to mind if you think of yourself as practicing alchemy with modern digital tools and media.

Kean students will review some messages already shared by open participants and get a chance to add theirs next week.

Setting Up Our Alchemy Labs

As digital alchemists, your place of creation may not be a dark laboratory, but you will definitely use different online tools. Our task this week is to start with three that we will use throughout the course.

You will then get to follow our Choose Your Own Adventure Game version of questions to help you get set up (below). If you are experienced this will be a breeze, and if you are new we will guide you with some suggestions to help you get started and to be mindful of your own privacy (We will encourage everyone to not use your real name or location on any new accounts- there is no requirement to share any identifying information, and we can offer options if it’s not viable for you).

  1. The Connective Fiber: Twitter We use twitter as a way to connect via a common hashtag, to share resources, to ask/answer questions, to submit responses to some creative challenges we will start doing next week. But twitter has heinous characters, abuse towards women and people of color, and has become a space of ugly acts. We will do all we can to avoid that end of the pool. Yet it represents some part of human behavior that exists outside of twitter. Can we address this with some Good Alchemy?
  2. An Open Alchemy Notebook: Blog As mentioned above, each participant will publish and reflect on their work in their own web site. You will then enter information in a web form to make sure your blog can send updates to this site, so your posts are syndicated in.

Our goal this week is to get you started with these tools, the blog being the most important. If you are new to blogging, we will suggest that you avoid getting too caught up in how your site looks, and think of it more as a notebook, and over the next few weeks we will help you improve it’s appearance. It’s the writing and reflecting there that matter the most.

Now you can enter our Choose Your Own Netnarr Tools Adventure to get these three tools set up this week. We will walk you through some questions where you can decide whether to use an existing account, create a new one, or skip for now.

Enter the Labyrinthus

Checklist for Week 1

Explore the Networked Narratives site, make sure I know how to get here. See what’s under the “Don’t Click Here” menu. See some blog posts written by open participants before the course began.

If you prefer email notices when the weekly blog posts are published, sign up for our announcement email newsletter.

Respond to the “What is Storytelling?” questions, perhaps taking notes for use in a blog post (hint).

Watch examples and make my own version of a Keychain story. Give thought to how I would tell it in a video form.

Watch some of the “What is Digital Alchemy?” videos, perhaps taking notes for use in a blog post (hint).

Complete the Alchemy Lab Pathway, create twitter account, account, create a simple blog, and add it to this web site.

Write a blog post summarizing all you did this week. What questions, ideas do you have about digital alchemy? How do you feel about this? Stressed or cucumber cool? What do you need to feel like a confident digital alchemist?

Featured image: “Tunnel” pixabay photo by MK1_FIESTA shared under a CC0 license

Profile Picture for Alan Levine
Alan Levine feels weird writing about himself in the third person. A 1990s pioneer on the web and early proponent of blogging, he shares his ideas at His interests include web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), mocking MOOCs, daily photography, bending WordPress, and randomly dipping into the infinite river of the internet.


  1. What have you done with Alan?
    I found only one typo – that anyone could make: “ This in exciting tool that let’s groups of people annotate web pages and papers with notes…” *lets*
    The doggy syntax gives me hope that he is alive.

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