#NetNarr: Using StepWorks to Make a StoryPoem

NetNarr StepWorks

This is all rather early in my exploration of an interesting storytelling site called Stepworks (which Alan Levine tweeted out about and which I then followed and became intrigued). I spent some time diving into it yesterday (and got some help from the kind developer of the site via email), and during the day, I made a little something for the Networked Narratives course.

Go ahead .. read my story/poem about Networked Narratives.

Erik Loyer, the site developer, did put together a video tutorial that is worth watching and using as a learning tool. He walks the viewer through each step. I watched it carefully. It was very helpful.

But I figured I would learn and remember better if I made a tutorial of my own for others in NetNarr to follow, if they wanted. It might help anyone who wanted to make their own (and maybe, collaborate later on together? Anyone?). Diving into something new for storytelling … that’s NetNarr, right?

My own next step is to remix some of Erik’s scripts for sounds and see if I can’t add the audio element to my story/poem. Erik says a video is coming down the road about how to do that, but he suggested I look at some of existing files and see what I could do on my own. He’s got that NetNarr spirit!

Here, then, are the steps, which I followed after watching Erik (and emailing for some help):

StepWorks1

Stepworks2

StepWorks3

Stepworks4

Stepworks5

StepWorks6

Stepworks7

Stepworks8

Be sure to share your story with us! Use the #NetNarr hashtag on Twitter.

Peace (in steps of the story),
Kevin

Interactive Fiction Invitation: Come Play Some Stories

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

The other day, I wrote about my sixth graders planning out and learning about Interactive Fiction. They are in the midst of creating their own stories, using Google Slides and Hyperlinks as the backbone technology for composition and publishing. A few students are nearing the end of their projects, so I figured I would share out a few for you to play, if you want.

So strange to say that — Playing the Story — but I do it all the time with my students in this writing unit, to enforce the mindset of a different kind of narrative writing and reading. It makes the story a game, of sorts, and puts them in a different kind of position as writers of the story.

Peace (follow every path),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Eight): Designing Interactive Fiction Story Trees

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Last week, I wrote about my students reading and mapping out Interactive Fiction novels (Make-Your-Own-Ending is another term for the books), and now they have flipped and are becoming the writers of Interactive Fiction. We use Google Sites and the power of Hyperlinks to move the reader through the story. In fact, I did an entire mini-lesson yesterday about the innovative power of Hyperlinks, which are the digital architecture of the Internet.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

First, though, is task of the creating of Story Trees and Decision Branches where choices will become part of the story. Yesterday, many students were finishing their Story Trees up, and talking about what is going to happen at different branches.

The project is called A Mystery of Ruins, and the theme of the stories are about an archeological dig or an explorer coming across the remains of a lost civilization or culture. They have to write in second person narrative point of view, use good descriptive writing, have at least five to seven branch points and three different endings, and no violence or death.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

What I love seeing in the development of the Story Trees is the thinking out loud, and the connecting of story points, and how the narrative will be weaving this way and that way, and how a writer plans for the reader to be in charge of the story.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

This is a very different kind of writing for my students, and many are deeply involved in their narratives, and are eager to get writing as soon as class starts each day. That is always a good thing.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

Peace (branches here and there),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Five): On the Possibilities of Collaboration

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

One of my hesitations in jumping into Slice of Life is my participation in something known as Networked Narratives, a ‘course’ being run at Kean University by Mia Zamora and Alan Levine (remotely) which has an open online invitational component, which I am part of. So, this Slice of Life sort of converges with Networked Narratives. That’s a good thing.

My good friend, Wendy, from Australia, has been tinkering with the app Acapella as a way to foster more narrative collaborations with the NetNarr folks, mostly those of us out here in the wide open spaces. The students in the actual course seem a bit more restrained and follow the course’s activity guidelines pretty closely. Out here, we just do what we wanna do. We’re not getting graded, of course.

Anyhoo … Wendy and I have been trying to navigate the potential of the Acapella app, which has strange quirks around collaboration yet has some potential that we find intriguing enough to stay with it. We’ve messaging back and forth, working through the kinks and frustrations.

This is one of our impromptu collaborations.

Next up is an invite to a few more friends (Sandy and Terry) and plan out something a little more creative and focused.

Peace (in collaboration),
Kevin

PS — this is one acapella mix I made myself long ago, when I first tried out the app.

Television Review: Abstract (The Art of Design)

I only watched the first episode of this new series on Netflix, called Abstract, which is focused on design across the fields of art. I was curious to see how it might connect to some of the elements we have been talking about in Networked Narratives.

And I was intrigued by the first episode, which is about artist Christoph Niemann, whose name I didn’t recognize but whose art I certainly did, as he often does the covers for New Yorker magazine, and his views of the world — where technology and art intersect with humanity — often catch my eye. And I remembered the cover that is the focus of this documentary, too — the one which began an Augmented Reality cover, in which the viewer is immersed in the artistic New York of Niemann’s imagination.

What’s interesting here is the approach the filmmakers use to showcase Niemann’s fertile artistic mind, bringing us into the cartoony world and using “meta discussions” to show how hard it is to understand what makes an artist tick, and in fact, by trying to show the process, you ruin the artistic inspiration. Time and again, Neimann resists the filmmaker’s urge for “reality” and instead, Niemann calls for more “abstractness” and the collision of these two is often funny, entertaining, insightful.

I was most interested in the moments where Niemann talks about the creative process and his realization that working hard — doodling, sketching, trying new ideas — is the way to pave the way for inspiration to hit, but if you just sit and wait around for the “big idea” you will likely be disappointed.

I am reminded of some of what Howard Rheingold told NetNarr during his “studio visit” about how artists pave the way for possibilities, even if you are not certain yet what those possibilities are. You follow your interests, and make art because you have to make art, not because it is required. Even though Niemann works as a design artist for a living, he still tinkers with the unexpected, such as this interesting Instagram series called Abstract Sundays, where he meshes found objects with drawing and painting … just for the fun of it.

In other words, an artist has to keep working, even when the art is not. You have to have faith in the creative sparks, and Niemann’s keen observations of the world are what fuels his work, but he notes that he has to withdraw from the world in order to create his abstract versions of the world. He also talks about the “editor mind” and the “artist mind” that often comes into conflict with each other as he works independently.

The Abstract documentary is a fascinating look at the mind of an artist, and while we see him talking about and struggling with the design of the Augmented Reality cover of a paper magazine — indeed, he often wonders whether the two ideas will ever be in sync with each other — I wanted to see more of the technical aspects of how they built the cover to actually work for the reader/viewer. There’s less of that, and more of Niemann as artist, with brush and pen. Which is great, too.

I have not yet seen other episodes in the Abstract series, but I aim to.

Peace (make art),
Kevin

#NetNarr Astronaut: Roaming the Underside of YouTube

from Wired Magazine

 

When you go to YouTube, you are often pulled into the homepage of videos that others have watched. You’re drawn by the activity of others, because the underlying algorithm suggests that the more eyeballs, the more interesting. Maybe. But what about on the other end of the spectrum? What about the videos that people post which gain no views or only a scattered few? The site Astronaut takes that idea and provides a way in, by showing you the videos with almost no views and with obscure video titles.

This is what it says on the homepage of Astronaut:

Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments.

I was drawn to that idea, of being the sole viewer of scattered videos, and such an interesting collection they were, too. Yes, there were puppy videos.

Always puppy videos:

But was also this tender video of a grandmother reading Knuffle Bunny to some faraway grandchild, using video to shorten the distance between family.

There this short shot of a machine, likely in some museum somewhere. The marble is up to something there.

And there was this beautiful musical performance to what seems to be a small audience, but whose audience now includes us:

What you quickly understand is the way that people all over the world, in all sorts of languages and visuals, are documenting their world, even when there is no real audience there for them to see. This is a view into the global humanity that you don’t see anywhere else, and it harkens back to the very first YouTube video of an elephant in a zoo (if I remember correctly).

In fact, this use of video for every documentary is the argument for YouTube as a human experience — it’s not that we expect polished productions or expertly edited videos. We still understand that the raw parts of life might be visible, and connect my life to yours, and our life to ours.

Using Astronaut is like flipping YouTube upside down, and seeing how average people are viewing the world through their lens, often through their mobile phones. Put on your helmet and float in.

Peace (upside down and inside out),
Kevin

 

#NetNarr: Observing the Rheingold(s) Effect

Creative Chaos Theory ... follow your heart

The other day, in one of the Networked Narratives studio visits, the guests were Howard Rheingold and his daughter, Mamie. It was a crowded Hangout and we ran out of time before talking about what was going to be one of the main topics: connecting the dream-state to the art of storytelling. I’m afraid my questions about civic discourse in the age we’re in, and Howard’s long work with the Internet as Public Sphere, sidetracked us.

You can come listen in and annotate the video over at Vialogues. The conversation keeps flowing …

Netnarr GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

(A Howard gif/meme from NetNarr activity box)

Here are some observations from the gathering:

  • Howard talked about his own background, noting that the structure of school stifled him as a child to the point that he was labeled as a “troublemaker” and often got send to the art room, which was run by his mom. There, he was free to create, invent, explore. He wonders why more classrooms aren’t like his mom’s art room. Partially, I blame standardized testing, and its emphasis on right/wrong dichotomies, not open-ended problem solving and thinking.
  • Mamie worked for nine years at Google, and she talked about the culture there, and how it moved through different phases. She focused on the early “creative chaos” in which people were encouraged to follow passions, and “bump” into other’s work, as serendipity moments. That sounds a lot like some of the Connected Learning spaces where I enjoy hanging out.
  • There was a bit of pushback, or questioning, from one of Mia’s students in NetNarr, observing that the openness of the course felt a little strange, and that more structure might have eased some of that anxiety. The comment reminded me of my first grad course like this, too, and how I kept wondering, am I doing this right? I realize now, years later, how instructive that course was to my thinking and my teaching.
  • The issue of “silos” that we find ourselves in, and how to reach out beyond our comfort zone to better understand others of different political stripes. I mentioned that it feels a bit as if the promise of connected ideals has not brought us closer to together — not nurtured more compassion and understanding of the “other” — but seems to have divided us even more, creating pockets where we write and learn with those who have our same frame of mind. I wonder if the same tools that brought us here, into our echo chambers, can also help us crawl back out? Or do we need a new way forward?
  • Howard talks about “trusting your intuitive process” as we moved into the idea of tapping the inner artist, and finding ways to free yourself to create. “It’s about messing with things and seeing what happens.” — Howard. He talked about his passion for making spiderweb art years ago and now, he finding ways to use circuitry and programming to revamp that earlier art into something new. This points to being open to possibilities and going with your passions.

Thanks to the Rheingolds for spending time with NetNarr.

Peace (reaches out),
Kevin

 

Entering the Realm of Minecraft: A #NetNarr Adventure

I can’t say I am utterly unknowledgeable about Minecraft, but my basic understanding comes from the excited chatter over the years of my sixth grade students, particularly during our video game design unit, and my youngest son. It’s often confusing chatter to an outsider like me, with a vocabulary and a flow all of its own.

Whenever I have tried to jump into Minecraft, I have quickly gotten lost and felt aimless. I could always see the potential in collaborative World-building — and there are amazing examples of how educators are using Minecraft to connect with learning — but now I realized that what I needed were: goals with a interesting hook, a knowledgeable guide to keep me alive and a crew to hang out with.

My Networked Narratives colleague, Keegan (ie Crazyirishman7, there in the corner of the video), provided all three, by setting up a Minecraft Realm server space and inviting NetNarr folks into an exploration of a new world. I joined in, along with Terry G. (“the Annihilator”), and we spent about 90 minutes watching the sun rise and set at an alarming rate, as we began to build a home before the zombies came, with a bed to regenerate ourselves; a garden for food that Terry farmed with gusto; and a mineshaft where Keegan and I began to seek out ore and then diamonds.

Keegan, an educational technologist at the university level, clearly knew what he was doing. Terry and I clearly did not, as I scrambled to learn how to swim and walk and run and turn, and I kept a little command cheat sheet that he had sent us right at my fingertips. I’ve never been more grateful for fake torchlights and lanterns than I was yesterday.

But that’s how expert-novice relationships work, and that’s how the Connected Learning theory comes into action with immersive experiences like this. We dove in, made mistakes, died a few times, re-spawned, and had a steady hand following Keegan, who was generous and patient with us. I know a whole heck of a lot about Minecraft now than I did 24 hours ago, even with lots of reading about it. I even ended up with a Diamond Pickaxe, after using the crafting device that Keegan set up. Apparently, that’s a good thing to have.

Keegan also set up a livestream of our adventures in his Twitch Channel (a new experience for me) to share our experiences with the larger NetNarr community (more Connected Learning in action) and we used an app called Discord to be able to “talk live” amongst ourselves as we explored Minecraft. Keegan has since migrated the Twitch video to YouTube (where you can see me as Meatballlol5, which is my son’s avatar all suited up like Deadpool, since I borrowed his account to play with my NetNarr friends, much to his amusement. He even dropped a Minecraft Hacking book at my side while playing, as if that would help me. Thanks, kid.)

Keegan also cut up the video into themed pieces at his blog, and that is probably the best way to get a sense of what we were talking about and doing.

Since the Networked Narratives course is centered on a concept of Digital Alchemy, Keegan’s plan for the Minecraft World space is to move into “magic potions” and crafting of “elements,” as a way to explore the notions of Alchemy in a Worldbuilding Space. I find that intriguing, and watched as he wrote out our “goals” on the walls of the house we are building. He gave me a sign to play with, too.

Our next step is to find a common time to go back to our world, and maybe invite a few more folks to come along with us (I’d say, connect with Keegan on Twitter and let him know). I’m intrigued by the possibilities of us building a world of magic, and then thinking about how storytelling might evolve from the mix and flow of immersive open-ended gaming experiences like this.

Peace (until the sun goes down),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Getting Enlightened on Aspects of FanFic

The third “studio visit” by the folks at the Networked Narratives earlier this week was with two interesting women with extensive experience and understanding about the worlds of Fan Fiction. If you know nothing about FanFic, then this studio visit is worth your time. There are entire communities — very large ones, in fact — where fans of novels (and television shows, and movies, and …) write entire offshoot stories with secondary characters, or mixing characters from one novel with characters with another.

I popped the video into Vialogues as a way to closely watch the discussion and think about what Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkle, of the Fansplaining podcast, shared during the hour-long conversation.

You are invited to annotate the discussion, too in Vialogues. There is also a Soundcloud audio file that the formal class is using for annotation. You can annotate that, too, if you prefer. Or both!

Here are some of my take-aways from listening in and some lingering questions in my mind:

  • FanFiction sites are composed of significantly more readers (ie, lurkers) than writers, which makes a certain kind of sense, I guess, although one wishes that more people were writing (that’s the writing teacher in me talking). What kinds of hurdles are there for new writers? What kinds of entry points are there? Is there as welcome wagon?
  • There seems to a fairly narrow demographic field of readers and writers, if I understood Klink and Minkle correctly. Most FanFic sites are populated by women (there was a real feminine theme emerging from this discussion), with a “Queer” sentiment (this is often known as “slash” fiction — ie, Spock/Kirk), and mostly white middle class. I wonder why? Is it cultural? What draws that demographic in? What keeps others out?
  • Comments by readers in the FanFic world can be supportive and they can be critical, although there is apparently a sense of criticism being done privately, not publicly. Does this private criticism run counter to why people write in these open sites? It’s more likely a sense of protectiveness of writers, I suspect.
  • There is a lot of explicit content in many FanFic sites, which makes it something to consider when introducing young writers (like mine) to the prospects of fan fiction. So, yeah, don’t start fanfic in your classroom with a tour of some of these sites. Just saying.
  • I wonder about the roles of writers in these spaces. Who is there because an avenue for writing has suddenly emerged and they want to write to write? And who is there because they want a career as a writer (good luck with that) and see fanfic as a stepping stone to something larger? This fault line seems important to me.
  • Finally, FanFic sites are built under the radar, purposefully (except for Harry Potter worlds, which is supported by Rowling and her publisher). If teachers teach fanfic, do we suck the fun out of it and ruin the very thing that makes fan fiction so wonderfully unique and important to communities of young people? (FanFic is mostly the domain of teens and younger adults). I grapple with this question on many occasions (ie, video game design).

Overall, the exploration was enlightening, and raised a lot of questions to consider and mull over. Flourish and Elizabeth seemed to have in-depth knowledge, but openly admitted they can’t speak for all of FanFic, since it is large and rather undefinable. But this very unknown nature — where writing and networking and creativity and literacy come together — is what makes learning more about FanFic worth the time.

Peace (/love),
Kevin

#NetNarr: The Magical Alchemy of Uncovered Lines

Blackout Poem of a Folded Story

I will be hard-pressed to explain this (go here and read more if you are interested) but one of the Networked Narrative assignments this week is the result of a blackout poem exercise the folks in the real course did and tweeted out. We are asked to find three “lines” from those blackouts and create a “story spine” without the words — only images and sound.

Interesting … just so you know, I borrowed lines from Mia, Quanesha and Hailey, and then added one of mine. BUT, they used a common text (I think) and I used something else completely — I did my blackout poem from the Folded Story project.

NOTE: I may even be doing this assignment completely wrong  .. but what the heck … there ain’t no wrong out here in the land of open learning ….

Here goes .. my visual story as image pulled from invisible text borrowed from other’s poems that you can’t see …


Miracle flickr photo by kiki follettosa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


You lost me in your dreams series flickr photo by Nick Kenrick.. back from Incredible India shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


<=unravel flickr photo by Yersinia shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


Assembly I flickr photo by liquidnight shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Meta-Analysis: Well, finding the right keywords that captured the essence of the borrowed sentences was tricky, and also, I had a tough time thinking about which images in my search worked on its own, and which images worked as one piece the whole. I’m not convinced I accomplished what I wanted, although I’m not too terribly disappointed either.

Does this sequence of imagery even hint at a story? Maybe that’s why we are just creating the “spine” of the story here.  Does this soundtrack help set the stage? The mood? Is its suitably mysterious and creepy?

If you want to cheat, you can also see the Zeega I created in which I inserted the images, and the sound file, and the lines from the texts. But, hey, it’s up to you.

Peace (beyond the words),
Kevin