Unit 1: Blog Riding Camp


Get in shape for riding with DS106. Set up your blog, social media accounts. Do Daily Creates. Get practice writing up introductions, your experience with Westerns, your idea of storytelling.

Unit 1 (Blog Riding Camp)

Week of January 11, 2016

Welcome to the wide open spaces of Western106, a new frontier of the open digital storytelling course DS106.

The first two units of this experience might be seen basic training for what you will need to survive thrive out in the harsh conditions of the open web. Leave the safe confines of your LMS and social media silos, and look at the big open sky.

In the Open DS106 this part was called “Bootcamp”, but here you are going to be in Blog Riding Camp, in proximity to the ranch, a place you can get your riding (aka writing) skills honed.

Some of you have done this ride before. Good. You can still review your blog set up and writing approaches. But more then that, you can help mentor others, in twitter, and also over at the UMW DS106West Ranch, where a new group of students are doing this same experience. Give ’em feedback on their blogs and in twitter.

But before we get into this how, some words of advice about the path ahead and what its going to take to stay on the Western106 Trail.

A Map of Sorts

Key locations around the Western106 Ranch, not all of them essential now.

Get Yerself a Blog ‘n Connect it to DS106

Your goal this unit is to get your own ds106 web site set up begin your self-publishing. Think of it as building your house- this week we are going to pour the foundation and put of the framing and the roof. The house will take shape. Next week, we will start decorating and making it customized to your preference. If you already have a blog or experience here, well, see if you can help your neighbors, or try some of the creative exercises below.

Keep in mind this blog is yours. It is more than a place to dump assignments. When you write in your space, we are looking to see that you are trying new ideas, thinking things out loud, making connections. It is not about writing an essay or using big words to impress the teacher (because there is none).

If you have never done this, over time, you will find your own writing voice. If you have done blogging before, you may try out blogging as a character (in unit 3 you will actually create a Western character)

It may help to look at the blogs created by other participants (links are on the right side of that page).

We want to have your blog connected to the ds106 site- we use a technology that allows our site to subscribe and syndicate and a link to everything on your site related to ds106, so we can aggregate all of the work everyone does in one place.

When this class is held at UMW, we require all students to set up their own web domains and install a site with WordPress on it, but for this open course, you have options for your digital space. Things are easiest if you make or use a blog solely for western work; you can use an existing blog IF you choose a western106 tag or category for your posts.

For those new to blogging and/or ds106, we have a thorough walk through guide, with some funny pictures, that will get you on the blog riding path. This is a button. Click it.

If this is old hat to you, pardner, then step right away to the form where you add your old blog to Western106.

More Stuff You Might Need

Create an “avatar” for yourself, an icon or image that can represent you online, like me (it need not be your face, see how some people use a dog everywhere). This should be a square image.

Create a “gravatar” for yourself at http://gravatar.com (this might necessitate creating an account at WordPress.com, they are some big city outfit) using the same email address you used to submit your blog to ds106. Many other blogs will automatically use this image to represent you, and the other social media accounts you will use one too (you do not want a default generic icon representing you, right?)

If you do not have them already, you might want create accounts and fill out profiles for yourself (use the same icon as you sent to gravatar) for the following sites. It’s not terribly urgent, but these are sites you will be using. Make sure you can find the url for your profile.

  • Flickr (photo sharing) http://flickr.com – not critically required, but useful for hosting your photos and images in one place. You should upload at least 5 photos to your flickr account; it may not consider you “real” until there are 5 photos in your site. When you post photos to flickr, give them meaningful names and captions! Your profile URL should look something like http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog
  • Soundcloud (for audio publishing, you must have one of these) http://soundcloud.com/. Your profile will look like https://soundcloud.com/cogdog
  • Google+ / Youtube http://www.google.com/accounts/ If you have a Gmail account, you are already set with this. If not create a Google account. This is what will allow you to join any Hangout video sessions we offer and gives you access to post videos to Youtube YouTube. Your Youtube URL will look like http://www.youtube.com/user/cogdog
  • Twitter Well, we already told you to make you one! So you should have it. Make sure you customize your profile! There is no rooms for egg icons out in the mountains. Your profile URL looks like http://twitter.com/cogdog. You may want to use a tool like Tweetdeck to manage your twitter activity.
    • The way we communicate to each other in twitter is to include a #ds106 “hash tag” in every message, when you search on this (or create a column in Tweetdeck) you can find other people who are participating.
    • Find some other participants in the #western106 stream, click their name, and in their profile and click the button to FOLLOW them.
    • Send a message of greetings to other participants by including a “#western” hashtag.
  • We also have a ds106 Community in Google Plus — some people prefer Google plus, and we make no requirement that you use it or twitter (though highly recommend it as a way of connecting). You can do the same thing in G+, find other people to add to your circles, reply to their postings, etc.

One of the reasons we use these social media sites is they provide both a place to store media as well as an ability to “embed” them directly in your blog (learn more about embedding media).


Public domain image from Pixabay

Public domain image from Pixabay

In Western106, and DS106 in general, you will use whatever tools you have available or can find online. We are not in a place to teach you techniques and ideas, not software, so be ready for many a student’s advice:

Google is your friend

So when you get stuck, your first resort should be to look for an answer. This is the key tool in your saddlebag. But more advice:

Do not spend more than 15 minutes trying to find an answer to a problem.

Because you are not alone- learn how to ask in twitter using the #ds106 or #western106 hashtag.

Some, but far from all, common issues we will add to the DS106 Handbook, but it’s far from covering everything.

Organizing Your Blog

If you are smart, you will listen to me, and set up a framework to organize all of the work you will do in Western106. By creating and using categories as your start, by the end of this ride, your blog is going to be like a well-organized tool shed.

Here is a suggested structure, but feel free to come up with your own.

  • Assignments
  • Daily Create
  • Thoughts and Ideas
  • Weekly Summaries
  • Best Work
  • Radio Show
  • Final Project

I am not going to be happy if you start publishing stuff with a URL that says “uncategorized” for a category. That is rookie.

Now create additional categories, and if your tool provides a way to create sub-categories, like in WordPress, set the Parent to be Assignments:

  • Visual
  • Design
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Web
  • Mashup/Remix

You may end up with a category structure like this example.

Some Blog Writing Tips

Every Blog Post Should Be Able to Stand Alone When you are blogging about your western106 work, you are in the middle of a familiar landscape of information. When you write your posts, you may want to consider this question:

If this is the only blog post someone finds reads on your site, will they know what it is part of? What it refers to?

Your posts may show up on search results, shared through social media, maybe linked from a large famous media outlet. Look at your post- if it is the only thing a reader finds, will they know its context, relationship? Are there words, references mentioned that are not explained?

Every blog post should be a stand alone island. It should stand alone and be able to be understood from it’s content.

Public Domain image from pixabay

Public Domain image from pixabay

This does not man you have to explain your project in every blog post. This is where a hyperlink is your friend.

If you refer to a post as your work for the “Reverse Audio Quiz” — will a reader know what that is? The easiest way is to do this is make create hyperlinks to something that represents an assignment or an idea. If you refer to “the movie we watched” — will a reader know where that information is? link to another blog post that explains it.

You do not have to explain everything or link everything, but try to look at your blog post through the eyes of an unfamiliar reader. Does it stand alone?

Add Something to Your About Page

The regular activity of blogging is writing Posts, which are date stamped so that your site typically displays the newest content first. Most tools provides a similar content type know as Pages which are not part of this time flow but are available typically from top level buttons on your site.

In WordPress, you will have a default About page that is pretty boring.

This is an example of a WordPress page, you could edit this to put information about yourself or your site so readers know where you are coming from.

Try your hand at editing this page with some more information about you as a welcome. You do not have to disclose anything that will identify you online, e.g. your full name or address/location, but try seeing what you can put there as a small biography. Or your favorite kinds of horses. Or your favorite western movies. Maybe a photo of you in a funny hat.

Be creative with this and have fun with it! You will come back to this and update it later.

Introduce Yourself!

During this first unit, we want you to get acquainted fellow western106 Blog Riders. Make one of your first posts an introduction to your thousands of readers. Possible things to include:

  • Something about yourself, your job, your interests, your pet turtle’s name.
  • Where do you live (regionally, we do not need your street address). Where have you lived? Where would you like to live?
  • Why are you taking this course? What do you hope to get out of it? What do you know already about using and creating media, or digital stories? What would you like to know or know how to do?
  • What equipment / software do you have / use? What do you want to get better at?
  • What will it take for you to stay on the path? We don;t want to have to send a rider back and find stray blog calves.

Do Daily Creates. Often.

We also want you to start doing The Daily Create (TDC) where we publish daily small creative challenges.

You should attempt to complete at least three Daily Creates this unit to get yourself warmed up.

You may or may not choose to create a new blog post for each dailycreate you do; it is not required– Instead, you may include them in a weekly summary. As you will see when we start writing up assignments next unit, we want to see more than your final creation, we are interested in knowing how you made it.

What do Westerns Mean to You?

Do another blog post about your familiarity or experience with the genre Western. We are not looking for expertise, don’t look things up. Write about your own life. Some ideas

  • What visuals come to mind as association for “Westerns”?
  • What do you remember watching or reading as a child?
  • Who are western characters you can think of? What do you know about them?
  • Where is “the West”? What places do you consider Western? What does it look like? What is the climate? Have you been there in real life?
  • What are some problems with the Western genre? Is this a comfortable association or a problematic one for you? Why?
  • Where in the modern world (news, entertainment) do you see as Westerns?

If you need some ideas, review these articles that describe some of the modern relevance of westerns.

Try and use images in your posts. We will learn more about using and creating imagery soon. Check if your blog’s theme uses a “featured” image.

Start Exploring Some Westerns

Each unit we will recommend some things to read, watch or listen to (and we will ask you soon to help add to this list) to explore the Western Genre. Yes, you can look up other people’s definitions, but isn’t it better to form your own?

So the last bit for this unit, we ask that you find at least two short Western stories from different media forms, and write a blog post about what you learned or felt about the story. If you hate this choices, find your own, but think about short length pieces. We don’t want you to get tired in camp.

Weekly Checklist

  • Blog created and added to DS106
  • Other Social media accounts created.
  • Intro (and hopefully more) tweets to #western106
  • Categories added to (and used in) your blog
  • Introductory blog post
  • At least 3 daily creates done, maybe summarized in a blog post. What do you think of Daily Create and the process of doing it? Did you look at other people’s work? Try embedding tweets? To do this, go to your twitter home page (http://twitter.com when logged in) and click “Tweets” in the upper left. If you click on the date/time stamp of any of your messages, it will load that tweet in a single page with a unique URL. WordPress users can easily embed a tweet by copying that URL and pasting it on a blank line in your Editor. For other platforms, you may have to copy/paste the embed code.

embedded tweet

  • A blog post about your experience, familiarity with the western genre
  • Blog about at least two different short western stories (from different media forms, e.g. video and comic)
  • Maybe a post reflecting on your first unit of western106. What was hard? What did you learn? What are you excited about in this experience? What are you dreading? What questions do you have?

Next week, move on to the next part of western 106

The Western 106 Way