Book Review: Creative Quest by Questlove

I am intrigued the curious spirit of Questlove, the drummer and one of the leaders of The Roots. He seems to have his fingers and mind into many things, all with what appears a desire to collaborate and make stuff (like music but not just music) and to reflect on and share out his experiences in hopes of inspiring others.

His latest book — Creative Quest — is an exploration (with co-writer Ben Greenman) of his ideas on how to be and how to stay creative in the world.

While the book itself is rather uneven (and could have used a better editor to tighten the text), Questlove’s voice comes through the mix as he talks about expanding the definitions and ideas of what an artist is, how the influx of technology can both help and hinder the creative spirit, how moving out of your comfort zone is as important as mining the treasures of that same space, how collaborating with others will give you new paths to follow even if they at first make your uncomfortable, and how remix and appreciative appropriation of others’ work can build into something new.

Questlove mentions that he enjoys the segments on The Tonight Show (his band is the house band for Jimmy Fallon) when they play with artists outside of their typical genre, and notes that when they do off-kilter music segments with toy instruments or other pieces, it forces them as a musicians to work in a different way. All good.

It’s nothing new but Questlove’s advice to follow your instincts and be open to the unknown ring true with me as someone who tries to do creative work each day, as a poet, as a songwriter, as someone who dabbles in media (thank you, DS106).

I do wish that the book had brought the reader deeper into the songwriting process of The Roots. He does share some stories of being in the studio with artists like D’Angelo and Tariq, his main partner in The Roots.  But mostly those stories are about finding a sound, as opposed to discovering through creative experimentation the song that needs to be written and sung.

Ah. Well. Maybe next time.

For now, I enjoyed Questlove’s journey into creativity with Creative Quest, and I hope his message of how nurturing and exploring a creative life can enhance all of our worlds is something that resonates. Find art. Make art.

Peace (sing it),

Teaching Design Elements: Problems of Text, Color, Image, Conflict

This is not the first lesson around design that I have done with my students, but our Haiku project has brought to the surface the need to remind and re-teach some basic Design Principles when it comes to merging text (in this case, poems) and images, via Google Slides.

This presentation is what I shared yesterday in class and used as a talking point as students got down to work. I tried to integrate three hints for them to use to make their project more design-friendly. Too many of my young digital poets find busy images to use or bury their text into the slide or don’t consider color combinations.

I want them to see the work as art, as much as writing. Design comes into play with that lens.

Peace (in the mess),



CLMOOC Annotation: On Ivan Illich and Connected Learning

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

There’s been some interesting conversations flowing in the margins of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society as part of a CLMOOC annotation activity, proposed by our friends Charlene and Sarah. We’re using the annotation tool, Hypothesis, to “mark up” Illich’s seminal critique from the 1970s of traditional schooling and the ways students are under/mis-served by the educational system in the United States. I have to admit, I’ve never really read Illich that deeply, so this has been an experience.


And I come away from reading this piece over a few weeks with some lingering reactions. The first is that I find myself in a defensive crouch as Illich attacks traditional schools from all different angles, arguing that teachers are ineffective, that schools only care for students as cogs in the business machine, that funding is misspent, that curriculum is merely a means to keep young people in line, the entire educational system is designed to slow down learning.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

I won’t say some of his criticisms don’t have some merit, even today, decades later. But I felt as if he were attacking me personally, as someone who has dedicated my career to teaching and working with young people. It may be that I am too sensitive and ready to shout back (which I did in the margins of Illich’s text).

Still, Illich has some interesting points that do seem to coincide with the principles of Connected Learning — particularly around the concepts of student choice, peers as powerful motivators, project-based learning (which is what Charlene to first suggest this text for annotation, I believe), finding mentors in the field to help guide understanding, and building networks through technology to expand access to materials and information.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

Remember (and I remind myself), he wrote all this during the time of Mainframe Computers and microfiche files. He was envisioning an expanding educational system that allowed students to think and learn beyond the walls of the classroom, to follow their interests. He talks about poverty and urban schools failing their students. Those are insights to wonder at with appreciation (too bad I find his writing tone off-putting and snobby in its own way).

I’ve enjoyed reading and interacting with the other readers of the text, and marvel that there are more than 130 annotations (so far) about Illich’s views, and that many of the annotations have responses and discussions unfolding. It’s pretty cool.

And open. You can add your ideas, too, and reflect along with us.

I plan to head back in and make the rounds of comments, and think about how to keep the threads turning on our thinking. I hope to see you there.

Peace (in the margins),

CLMOOC Pop-Up Invitation: Annotating DeSchooling Society

CLMOOC Annotating DeSchooling

The deeper I am reading into Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, the more annoyed I am getting at his view of teachers, like myself, in public schools, like where I teach. His accusatory tone and finger-pointing of the problems of the world seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of teachers. In some ways, this echoes the political landscape of today, with the kind of sentiment stated by Betsy DeVos and her crew, although the recent teacher actions are visible public counters to this narrative.

Which is not to say that every teacher in every classroom is doing what they need to do for all their students. There is plenty of blame to go around for why too many of our students are not getting the education they need to live the life they deserve. But Illich has all teachers in traditional settings in his crosshairs.

That said, I am enjoying the ability to annotate and discuss his book in the margins via Hypothesis, as a part of a CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Activity, and others are in the mix with me. I have just finished the section section and am moving on to the third.

You come, too.

We’re having discussions and feedback in the margins of the text, with a focus on how Illich’s views on education (published in the early 1970s) on student agency and individualized student learning might connect/disconnect with the principles underpinning Connected Learning. It’s been interesting to read this piece with that frame in mind.

So far, I see nearly 75 annotations have been made. There’s room for you.

Join the annotation.

See you in the margins.

Peace (off the side),


Upon Reflection, Part Three: Creating a Virtual Gallery of Digital Art

Alchemy Lab unofficial object tally

As I write this, a week after launching the Alchemy Lab of Digital Objects, I am looking at stats for the immersive space. The space has been visited nearly 300 times and objects within the lab itself have been “clicks/viewed” nearly 700 times. Not everything worth writing about is data-driven, but at least, the numbers show us that people are giving the Lab a look, which is satisfying.

start here and go there

The other day, I posted the first of a series of reflections about digital storytelling and media creation. Yesterday, I posted about collaboration, participation and the platform technology. Today, I am reflecting on what might happen next with the Alchemy Lab after writing about the experience of making a vision become a reality (even if the reality didn’t quite reach the vision.) We had nearly 20 people, making nearly 50 digital media pieces in the Lab.

A side note: the building of the Lab is part of an open project within Networked Narratives, a course being taught in the US by Alan Levine and in Norway by Mia Zamora. This is the second iteration of NetNarr, and I am part of the “open wild” of Networked Narratives — which means I don’t have to do any homework I don’t wanna do, and I can ignore Mia and Alan whenever I want. It’s great!

First, tour the lab:

In this post, I want to think out loud about further possibilities.

When we constructed the Alchemy Lab project, we wanted a “doorway” in and a “doorway” out. This entailed a lot of conversation early on, about how such doorways might help the narrative flow of the project. Again, we struggled with a cohesive storytelling narrative. In the end, we created a website entry point and, if you click on the E on the ceiling of the Lab, you can find an exit point to another website.

Here, Wendy set up a checklist of objects, in hopes that a visitor might realize they might have missed something and gone back into the Lab. We also set up a MediaJumping Padlet site, inviting visitors to the Lab to remix or make their own art. We’re still hoping ..

Made with Padlet


Todd also shared a bunch of links and an invitation to keep creativity flowing, with links to DS106 and CLMOOC and more. The idea is that the Lab is merely a stepping stone, leading to other collaborations and creativity projects.

Some of the chatter behind the scenes once the Lab was released was about reaction of offline work colleagues to the shared Alchemy Lab, and that had me thinking about how I can best share this project with my sixth grade students.

What might 11 year old writers think of Mr. H’s crazy project? More than that, how could I have my students contribute to a similar project? Luckily, we have the originals of everything we used — from Susan’s artwork, to the ThingLink 360 account, to the signing up forms, to the Twine invite, and more — and all can be adapted.

I am thinking of trying to get my students into the Lab before we head off on April break next week … and reconstructing the lab during our unit on poetry. What about if they choose an object, write poems about it (and maybe create media), and then rebuilt the lab as a space where Every Object Is a Poem?

Maybe. Just maybe.

Peace (in the make),




Upon Reflection, Part Two: Creating a Virtual Gallery of Digital Art

Meet Voltar

Yesterday, I posted the first of a few reflections on the collaboration and thinking, and making, that went into the building of the online NetNarr Alchemy Lab of Digital Objects. This post is the follow-up, with more reflections on things that seemed to work and things didn’t seem to work (as well as I would have liked). One more post tomorrow will look at potential next steps and following up with the Alchemy Lab experience.

Visit the NetNarr Alchemy Lab to see what has emerged.

Read the first post.


Where it worked: Early on, we had a vision of an immersive virtual lab that visitors could wander around in, like a museum. None of us had done much with immersive media, but it was Wendy who found and then suggested we try out the new ThingLink 360 platform. Many of us have used ThingLink before — it allows you to layer information and links and media on top of an image — so this seemed like a good fit. Mostly, it was. Susan created the artwork of the lab — I am still in awe of what she did and how quickly she did it — and Niall was able to stitch the images together into a useable 360 degree image that ThingLink accepted. The immersive lab means that you wander around the lab, as you zoom in and out, and it works on browsers, and on mobile devices, and with VR devices like Google Cardboard. Some of the embedded media works better than others.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): One thing I noticed early on as I moved individual media projects into the Lab is that things got rather crowded with the layered icons from ThingLink. Also, some media objects I could upload directly, and they worked fine, and some I had to host elsewhere, and embed, and some I had to create a portal that moves the user from the Lab to the site outside the Lab, which was not ideal. We also find that some of the media that works fine in one platform (like a mobile device) doesn’t always work so great in another platform (like a browser). I’m not sure of a solution to this problem, so we sort of accepted it as a condition of our construction. On a technical side, for some reason, my Chrome browser won’t play ThingLink 360 (but I am certain is something on my end … perhaps my video card is too old). It works great in Firefox and on mobile.

Participants and Makers

Where it worked: This project began with a group of open participants in the NetNarr ecosystem, but soon spread to folks in the DS106 and CLMOOC communities, and beyond. We shared various invitations widely at the start, hoping to get more people involved. We really wanted a slew of students in the NetNarr classes to come in with us — to bridge the network of the narrative — and sent out personal invitations on Twitter to them. These are those who made art for the lab: Niall B, Todd C, Charlene D, Sheri E, Simon E, Roj F, Terry G, Kelli H, Kevin H, Sarah H, John J, Alan L, Keegan L, Algot R, Ron S, Wendy T, Clare T, Susan W and Lauren Z. That’s nearly 20 people involved in making digital art. Pretty nifty.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): We didn’t get many NetNarr university students, which points to how busy they are in their learning lives at the university, or maybe some wariness of invitations from folks they only know through Twitter hashtags, or something else. It still seems like open NetNarr folks are on the outside, looking in, as opposed to being part of the fabric of NetNarr. I am not blaming Mia or Alan, because it makes me wonder how courses can tap into the open community more, and in meaningful ways.


Where it worked: This whole project could not have been done without a handful of folks behind the scenes: Wendy, Sarah, Todd, Susan, and others. We had an open Twitter DM Chatline going nearly constantly through six weeks or so, and we also did two different Google Hangouts (on the same day) because of time zone differences. I am in the US. Wendy is in Australia. Sarah is in Scotland. It all made the organization of things easier (so many of us) and difficult (communication unfolded over time zones). We self-assigned the work, I realize, with me building the Lab in ThingLink, and Wendy keeping the invitations and table of objects organized, and Sarah providing technical support (sometimes, with help of Niall) and as a sounding board. Todd gave us encouragement and ideas, and Susan gave her art and spirit.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): There was no hurdle that we didn’t overcome. This may come from mostly knowing each other over the years through other collaborations, and it points to the value of developing creative relationships over time.

So, what now? Please enjoy the Alchemy Lab, and maybe add some art when you get to the Exit point (you can leave the lab by looking up at the ceiling). The collaboration and making of media doesn’t have to end with the Lab. Bring your alchemy out into the world! And who knows … another collaborative project is always right around the corner.

I’ll be writing one more post …

Peace (immerse yourself),

Upon Reflection, Part One: Creating a Virtual Gallery of Digital Art

The Lab

Ideas and Inspirations

This all began when I had a crazy, inspired thought that I decided not to keep to myself (because how much fun would that be?): What if the (open and university) folks dabbling in Networked Narratives together created a collaborative piece of transmedia artwork together?

I had recently been thinking more about transmedia storytelling — about how to try to tell a story that unfolds across different digital media and mediums, each piece with the ability to stand alone and yet each piece also part of the larger story. A course I took via FutureLearn gave me some ideas, and I have tinkered with the concept before with the now-defunct Digital Writing Month.

I pitched the idea out to create an Alchemy Lab space filled with objects that could be used to inspire stories, and some of my friends — Wendy and Sarah and Todd and Susan and Niall, and others — bit. Phew. This did not seem like something one could go into alone, so I was quite happy to have partners. Ok. So, could we actually pull this off? We did, sort of, although not quite like the original vision. We centered on the term of “Mediajumping” in the early stages of our invitations to folks to collaborate.

The Lab

Visit the NetNarr Alchemy Lab to see what has emerged.

Some background: Networked Narratives is a university course being taught in the US by Alan Levine and in Norway by Mia Zamora, and the NetNarr course has an open participation element to it, which I am part of. This is the second iteration of Networked Narratives.

This post is part of a series of reflections on the last six to eight weeks of work behind the scenes as we wrangled a vision of collaborative digital art and storytelling into reality. It’s also an attempt to remember what we did, and workarounds we had to find, to make the Alchemy Lab exist.

Storytelling and Narrative

Where it worked: The original idea is that a virtual lab would become a source of a larger story — the Narrative of the Network — to be told by many people, with many different media. Originally, I wondered if we could “hand off” the story, in chapters, to the next participant in line. We have done this concept in CLMOOC with projects such as The Search for ChalkBoard Man and the DigiWriMo StoryJumpers project. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t work because the common narrative threads get lost as the story moves. Sarah, in particular, really wanted something more logical, more story-centered. The use of the term “Mediajumping” in our early invititations allowed for an open invitation for folks to create with the tools they had available, and to follow their interests.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): I don’t think we figured this out, for the “story” that emerged was more of the Lab as the anchor point for media. We decided to allow people to choose items from the lab and build media and stories around the items. The overarching narrative is that you have found a hidden lab. I pondered if we could leave clues, like easter eggs, in our media that would point a larger story. The scope and scale was too difficult to pull that off. In the end, we let it go as a media-oriented lab experience, and hoped that smaller pieces of stories might emerge. Some did. Some did not. Will someone take the smaller pieces and stitch together something larger? I don’t know.

Media Creation and Sharing

Where it worked: Susan’s artwork of the lab (which Niall stitched into a 360 image) was stunningly beautiful, and inspirational. We knew we would have to find a means to disperse the story and the objects, so we created an collaborative document with a table, and asked folks who had signed up (via a Google Form, via an interactive story invitation in Twine) to choose an object and create. I had hoped for a wide variety of media. There were 46 items made.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): We have a lot of GIFs in the lab, and we celebrated whenever someone added something different — like a time-lapse video poem or an interactive website. If this were our full time jobs, we would no doubt have had more variety, and I am happy with what folks made and shared. I found myself penned in a bit from time to time with how to make media, and tell a story, all with a single object as inspiration. But our unofficial tagline of “every object tells a story” still seems inspirational. I think the idea of telling a story through small media pieces like gifs and images is something we grapple with.

I’ll share some more reflections tomorrow in a second post, in which I look at topics of platform, participants and collaboration.

Peace (reflected),


Song Share: Things I Couldn’t Keep

Rusty Bolts flickr photo by junkyardpatinafan shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

A song, for and inspired by Terry Elliott, as well as some other swirling things in my mind I couldn’t keep in the box.

Things I Couldn’t Keep
(for Terry)

(you know) A life goes by in the blink of an eye
and the stories that we tell
Remind us of days — they slip away
I’ll hold on … as tight as hell

(he said) Son, here’s a box of things you’ll need
to navigate the stars
A collection of bolts, sprockets and tools
to remind you … of who you are

A cardboard box — Things unnamed
A quiet voice — An act of faith
His story’s running deep
All these things I couldn’t keep

His treasures, what others throw away
what he knew was still good
the coin of man with steady hands
It’s a life … never understood

For forty years, I watched him walk
watched him pack it all away
Odds and ends into coffee cans
And memories … tucked far away

‘Don’t ever say I gave you nothing,’
my grandaddy speaks through him
I hold on tight to hand me downs
It’s my turn now … to begin again

Peace (singing it),


Six Word Slice of Life: Postcard Remix

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Six Word Slice of Life Postcards

Context: This month, in the ongoing CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) community, our postcard theme (we send postcards to each other all year long) is Remix. I decided to remix the audio of a Hangout we had over the summer in which we chatted about the art of sending postcards to each other. On postcards I sent out earlier this month, I included a URL to the audio remix, and then shared out this video (which is really just visual audio). It’s been neat to get some reaction from the folks who received my postcard, and also from others in CLMOOC who read updates from the postcard receivers, and react.

Peace (in the post),

Inside the #NetNarr Alchemy Lab: An Open Invitation to Collaborate

NetNarr Invitation to Collaborate

A group of us who are in the Wide and Wild Open Community of Networked Narratives decided we want to put into practice the elements of those networks and narratives with a collaborative transmedia project. Transmedia concepts involve various forms of digital media, and digital platforms, connected together into one larger story thread.

We’re calling this project “MediaJumpers”, and our tagline is “Every Object Tells a Story.”

We’re using the concept of the magical “Alchemy Lab” as the setting for the backbone of our narratives, and folks like you who join in will have their own digital art and stories connected inside elements of the lab. We’ve got a cool idea brewing in the background for how this might all work as a final project.

Come play the invitation and sign up to be part of what we think will be an interesting collaboration.

We hope the students in the Networked Narratives classes (Mia Zamora and Alan Levine are professors in the US and in Norway this semester, and Maha Bali will be joining in later from Egypt) as well as friends and collaborators from other networked spaces — like CLMOOC and DS106 and beyond — will join us.

We hope YOU will join us.

The first step is to play the invitation … then sign up at the form at the end of the game … the Master Alchemist will be in touch in the days ahead with further instructions (basically, create some digital work).

It’s going to be a blast! And the more, the merrier.

Peace (and MediaJumping),