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Twitter, Instagram and Micro-Narratives: The benefits of sharing the creative process online

November 17, 2013

The slides embedded below are from a talk that I will be giving at the 3rd Mobile Creativity and Innovation Symposium, which will take place at the Auckland University of Technology from 21-22 November, 2013. You can download the pdf of the presentation (8.5 MB) from Slideshare or from here). I have also uploaded a draft of the written paper (about 3,700 words, 117KB PDF).

The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #MINA2013. MINA stands for the Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa, which is sponsoring the event with Colab (AUT University) and the School of Art & Design (AUT University) in collaboration with the School of Design at the College of Creative Arts (Massey University, Wellington).

I’ll write more following the symposium, but I thought I would upload my presentation and draft paper before the event. Emerging collaborative practices suggest how people can work together in a way that is conversational, rather than emulating old sender-receiver media and processes. I would like to connect with others who are making or following stories that are created and shared in a way that is informed by, and takes advantage of, digital devices and networks.



As Rainie and Wellman explain in Networked (2012) the rise of the Internet, social networks and mobile technologies have resulted in media experiences that are personal, multiuser, multitasking and multithreaded. They refer to this new social operating system as “networked individualism”. In Spreadable Media (2013), Jenkins et al. argue that our networked culture is characterized by instantaneous, informal communication through multiple channels in which the audience participates in the creation of value and meaning, and in the circulation of media and messages. In this paper, I use the concepts of networked individualism and spreadable media in an examination of projects that use Twitter and Instagram to create and share micro-narratives.

In 140 Illustrated Haikus, an iPhone and Instagram were used to document a month-long trip to three countries in late 2012. The resulting photos and short texts were published simultaneously via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, email and Tumblr. In addition to the limitations imposed by time and technology, captions for the photos were written on the spot in the form of a haiku. These constraints were found to help, rather than hinder, the creative process.

Austin Kleon is a writer and artist who creates “Newspaper Blackout Poetry” by selecting a newspaper, choosing a few key words, and blacking out the rest with a marker. He shares the results with more than 28,000 followers on Twitter (@austinkleon), many of whom tweet their own blackout poems. Kleon also posts his poems to a website, where others are encouraged to contribute their own efforts. An advocate of sharing work-in-progress, Kleon’s approach exemplifies the process-based, conversational nature of networked creative practice.

Desert Friends, the “World’s First Instagram TV Show” is about three individuals who are transported to a distant galaxy and try to find their way back to Palm Springs. The filmmakers uploaded the first installment on 23 June 2013, and have continued to publish about four 15-second “shows” each week. Shot in black and white using the Instagram App on an iPhone, the programs emulate the style of low budget science fiction movies of the 1950s and 1960s. By episode number 63, the Desert Friends Instagram stream had attracted over 25,000 followers. This production demonstrates that filmmakers can create their own “TV show” with their own gear, and broadcast it over channels that anyone can use.

These case studies show that, by regularly sharing ideas and processes as well as outcomes online, individuals become part of a creative ecology that enables visibility, mutual support, collaboration, and better work.

Open Strategies in Design Education (Cumulus Dublin Conference 7-9 Nov. 2013)

November 13, 2013

The slides embedded below are from a talk that I gave at the Cumulus Dublin conference, which took place in Dublin from 7-9 November, 2013 (you can download the pdf from Slideshare).  Cumulus is an international association of nearly 200 universities and colleges of art, design and media. The university of Otago and the Otago Polytechnic are both institutional members. I provided a brief summary of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and then discussed three courses that serve as models that we can all learn from. If you know of another good example of an open course in art/design/media, I’d love to hear from you. It would also be good to hear what you think about the examples I have highlighted (which are briefly explained below).


The following is the abstract for the presentation and paper:

In many countries, the increasing costs associated with higher education combined with reduced funding for public education during a period of fiscal restraint threatens the sustainability of current models of provision. Glenn Harlan Reynolds (2012) warns of a “Higher Education Bubble” in the United States. Sebastian Thrun, founder of, a for-profit platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), predicts that there will be only 10 institutions delivering higher education in 50 years (Steven Leckart, 2012). In contrast to these doomsday scenarios, Audrey Watters (2013) and others counter that professors and the institutions that employ them are not necessarily resistant to change, and that we should not “hack education” in a way that dismantles public institutions and threatens local economies, the community, social justice, and the public good.

In this presentation, I briefly trace the development of MOOCs and I discuss the differences between the high profile platforms that rely on lecture videos and machine marking (xMOOCs) and earlier experiments that follow what George Siemens refers to as a “Connectivist” approach (2005), which encourages participants to build their own personal learning network (cMOOCs). Using a case study method, I discuss three types of Design courses that leverage open strategies and serve as exemplars of “digital scholarship” (Martin Weller, 2011). The first, #Phonar (Photography and Narrative), is a Coventry University course that uses blogging and social media to connect place-based students to online participants. The second, ds106 (Digital Storytelling), is an online-only course offered by the University of Mary Washington that requires students to interact with one another and with the wider world through blogs, social media and an Internet radio station. The third, DOCC2013: Dialogues on Feminism and Technology, is a Distributed Open Collaborative Course that was offered for the first time in the fall of 2013 by fifteen universities in the United States and Canada, with academics working collaboratively across institutions.

I argue that by encouraging a paradigm shift in education from Push (broadcast) to Pull (accessing an archive) to Co-create (collaborative production) Design education can provide positive examples of how we can do more, and reach more, sustainably. Blurring the boundaries between teacher and student, online and offline, and formal and informal, education can enhance learning and extend its benefits beyond the lecture theatre and design studio. This pedagogical shift is in line with contemporary Design practice, in which collaborative and participatory processes are crucial, especially when working to solve wicked problems.

#ReclaimOpen Learning Symposium

September 26, 2013

"Open" by Jessica Duensing (CC-BY-SA)

Free streaming of the Reclaim Open Learning Symposium begins at 5:00PM on Saturday 26 Sept. Pacific time (that’s 12:00 noon on Friday 27 Sept. in New Zealand) at UC Irvine, with a conversation with John Seely Brown and Amin Saberi, moderated by Anya Kamenetz. The event (and stream) continues the next day (Sat. 5:00AM-12:00PM NZ time) with Howard Rheingold and the winners of the Reclaim Open Learning Innovation Challenge, who are

transforming higher education toward connected and creative learning, open in content and access, participatory, and building on a growing range of experiments and innovations in networked learning.

These are innovative project worth hearing about from dedicated, creative people who are worth following. Speakers include Jim Groom, Martha Buris and Alan Levine, from the University of Mary Washington (USA). They are behind ds106, an online community as much as a course, that focuses on Digital Storytelling and online identity. Jonathan Worth, Matt Johnston, Shaun Hides and Jonathan Shaw (from Coventry University, UK) won for #Phonar (Photography and Narrative), which they teach to a place-based class linked via blogs, websites and social media to the world. Susanna Ferrell and Jade Ulrich (Scripps College, United States) have put together a DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course), “DOCC 2013: Dialogues on Feminism and Technology“, which looks very promising. I am less familiar with the other winning projects, but I’m sure they are all worthy of our time and attention.

These initiatives challenge the dominant MOOC narrative, which has been captured by large (mostly private, for-profit) internet startups and elite universities, and they demonstrate how we can all innovate now, where we are, in our current institutions of higher education. Check out the winners’ websites and follow the symposium on Twitter (#ReclaimOpen, @DMLResearchHub). I assume the talks will be archived after the streaming of the presentations, so check the symposium website following the event.

2013 NZ Report into the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government

June 21, 2013
From "An Opal Dream Cave" by Jem Yoshioka CC-BY-SA

From “An Opal Dream Cave” by Jem Yoshioka CC-BY-SA (reusing Katherine Mansfield’s poem)

As the Press Release says, “Open data benefits public and economy“. The “2013 report on adoption of the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government” was released by the Honourable Chris Tremain on June 17. It documents how well government agencies in New Zealand are adapting the declaration, which encourages the release of high value public data for reuse. Twenty six (84%) of government departments now include the Declaration in their core business plan or intend to do so next year (up from 72% in 2012). The Cabinet approved the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework on 5 July 2010 to provide guidelines for agencies to follow when releasing material under a licence that enables it to be reused by others. Since that time, progress has been very good. A directory of publicly-available, non-personal New Zealand government held datasets can be found at A list of open data case studies shows the wide variety of ways in which others have made good use of data that the government has made available. These include the Wellington Interactive Map Viewer, the Tongariro Pocket Ranger and CamperMate smart phone applications, and many other innovative products and services that  effectively and productively reuse data that has been collected by the New Zealand government and released under an open licence. The New Zealand Creative Commons Website also has an excellent set of case studies that describe how Creative Commons licences have been applied to a wide range of government material. One good role model is the The Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which has published a wealth of public resources online using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence. As Matthew Oliver, the manager of the Ministry’s Web team says:

The more we could get our content used, the more we justify our work. By making our content available for reuse, we show that our content is important, that there is a need.

The MOOC as Megaphone

May 20, 2013
"The augmented learner, sporting a MOOC helmet" (Sara Roegiers CC-BY-SA)

“The augmented learner, sporting a MOOC helmet” (Sara Roegiers CC-BY-SA)

News and opinion pieces about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) continue to fuel an ongoing discussion with a group of colleagues who have been following the development of these innovative courses. Two recent articles that have attracted attention and comments are “Massive (But Not Open)” (Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Education, May 14, 2013) and “Laptop U: Has the future of college moved online?” (Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, May 20 2013).

Massive (But Not Open)” reports on the Georgia Institute of Technology’s plan to offer a $7,000 Masters degree in Computer Science to 10,000 students. Working in collaboration with Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity MOOC platform Georgia Tech hopes to teach these fee-paying students by adding only a handful of additional academics, demonstrating the impressive economies of scale of that are possible with this approach. Up until recently, MOOCs have been both open access and free of charge and have not been seen as a threat to the bottom line of traditional institutions of higher education. Initiatives like this that experiment with new business models might cause some concern for university administrators who believed they could afford to ignore the MOOC phenomenon.

Sebastian Thrun’s comment, that  “Udacity was nothing more than a “megaphone” for Georgia Tech” says a lot about Udacity’s version of the MOOC, and it reminded me of William W. Fisher III’s critique in the “Laptop U” article:

Two features that can be found in most of this recent wave of online courses are: first, what could be described variously as the ‘guru on the mountaintop,’ or the ‘broadcast model,’ or the ‘one-to-many model,’ or the ‘TV model,’ ” he said. . . . “The basic idea here is that an expert in the field speaks to the masses, who absorb his or her wisdom. The second feature is that, to the extent that learning requires some degree of interactivity, that interactivity is channelled into formats that require automated or right-and-wrong answers.

Although a bigger megaphone allows for larger scale and reach, we are still stuck in the broadcast model here. Other areas of activity are undergoing a paradigm shift from Push (broadcast) to Pull (accessing an archive) to Co-create (collaborative production). This arrises from changing ideas about knowledge and value creation and the advantages of open practices as much as from digital technologies and networks. We have yet to explore what this could mean for higher education.

Fisher’s hybrid CopyrightX course, described at the end of the “Laptop U” article, looks like a more interesting model that mixes online and offline activity and involves interactivity with a “live” element. Peter K. Bol’s “Chinese History 185: Creating ChinaX” looks like another worthwhile experiment. In this course, students are involved in building a MOOC. The author refers to Bol’s interest in “open-access scholarship”.

As in publishing, we need to pay close attention to the use of terms like “Open” and “Open-Access” in teaching. What does “Open Scholarship” mean? What values and goals might inform the work of an “Open Scholar”? Why would an academic choose Open approaches to teaching, research and publishing? Are we ready for a paradigm shift in higher education?

In “The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice“, Martin Weller devotes a chapter to “Openness in Education” and provides a helpful overview of how digital technology is enabling the practice of “Open Scholarship” in research, teaching, and publishing (the book is covered by a CC-BY-NC licence and can be read for free online). I came across his work in Change11, a Connectivist MOOC run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in 2011.

“Design & Thinking” Documentary

May 17, 2013

I attended a screening of the “Design & Thinking” documentary (2012) at the Otago Museum yesterday evening. The free screening was organised and supported by the Otago Polytechnic School of Design and Wellington company, Empathy (check out their website and you can see the connection with the message of the film). The documentary, which is promoted through a Website and a Facebook page, consists of a collage of edited interviews with high profile designers, design educators, business leaders, small business innovators, and social entrepreneurs. The ideas presented by Tim Brown and David Kelley, who are well-known through their association with the design firm IDEO and Stanford’s d school, will be familiar to most design practitioners, educators and students. Stories about less well known people and projects provide concrete examples of the benefits of linking design, business, and social innovation. The documentary raises the profile of design as a discipline that is increasingly concerned with wicked problems that are best addressed through the collaborative efforts of people from different disciplinary backgrounds.

The filmmakers, Yang, Melissa, Mu-Ming Tsai and Iris, formed One Time Studio and funded the film personally before raising $18,645 through, a crowd funding platform. Others are using Kickstarter to raise money for local screenings. It is impressive to see what they accomplished with such limited funds (a product of design thinking, I’m sure). This is a documentary worth seeing, and New Zealanders have an opportunity to see this film and related documentaries during the Resene Architecture and Design Film Festival 2013.

Tasman Declaration on Open Research

May 7, 2013
Open-Closed by Antti T. Nissinen CC-BY

Open/Closed by Antti T. Nissinen CC-BY

“Open Research” is about removing barriers for society to benefit from research, by ensuring open access to and reuse of research papers, data, materials, metadata and code, and by developing the supporting practices and policies (from the Tasman Declaration).

On On 6-7 February 2013 I joined a group of about 60 researchers, students, librarians, lawyers, technology consultants and software developers who met in Auckland for the first New Zealand  Australian Open Research conference. In a mix of formal talks, panel discussions, informal meetings, and dinner (of course), participants discussed the advantages of Open Research, especially in the sciences (reflecting the expertise of the organisers and many attendees). You can get an idea of the topics that were covered by scanning the schedule for Day 1 and Day 2. There was an active Twitter Stream during the event (#NZAUOR) and collaborative notes are available online. Following the gathering, a core group drafted the Tasman Declaration on Open Research, which you are encouraged to sign. You can also follow the ongoing discussion on Twitter (@NZAUOpenRes). For more about the conference and declaration, see

As the conference website explains, Open Research is about “taking the secrecy out of science,” increasing collaboration, reducing the cost of research, and maximising the benefit of research by enabling the sharing and re-use of data. This approach is consistent with other New Zealand initiatives, such as NZGOAL, the government’s “open access and open licensing framework that promotes the release for re-use of non-personal copyright works and non-copyright material held by State Services agencies”, and, a directory of publicly-available datasets held by the New Zealand government.


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