Returning from #Arganee

Sometimes you take a trip and it changes the way see you everything.  The journey of the course called Networked Narratives was just that kind of trip.  When I was imagining designing a course on digital storytelling in the networked age, I was certainly excited.  But I had no idea how transformative the actual journey would be, and how much magic would be discovered along the way.

I think somewhere in the subconscious, we all have a kind of radar – for ideas, for people, for how you want to grow.  And yet, it is sometimes hard to listen and embrace that inner radar (your special intuition if you will).  For there are always established ways of doing things that prescribe the kind of road you *must* or *should* embark on.  Specific destinations are identified.   God forbid the college class that does not have a clearly mapped out syllabus, and firmly asserted SLOs (student learning outcomes). Amidst this stricture, learning itself has often become a traffic ridden highway of the well-trodden path.  But what if all our learning pathways could be less discernible, and we allowed ourselves to “follow our noses” to where the magic seemed to manifest?  What if learning environments were founded on the intuitive, and were more like “desire pathways” rather than traffic ridden prescriptions?  You could let your instinct determine your next act of creation, your next discovery, your next act of love.  In education, to choose to veer “off-course” in designing a class is not for the faint of heart.  It can be dangerous.  For you might get lost, …perhaps you might never return.

The magic of Networked Narratives started with finding a very special person to collaborate with.  Someone who has made me laugh, has continuously made me think, (…and someone who tells me often to stop saying “sorry” – an important lesson for me).  The genuine collegiality between Alan & I grew to deep friendship over time, a gradual but powerful kind of alchemy in itself.  And this significant transformation became an important foundation while we collectively imagined what could be fun and what others might find intriguing.

I know that teaching is in part performance.  But it is never an act of sincere generosity unless it is also real improvisation.  A teacher who is also learning must always be on their toes, must always be open for what isn’t planned.  Alan & I truly welcomed the unforeseen into this curious act of our own creation.  In #NetNarr we found our way to an alchemical world called #Arganee – a place where two sentient and prophetic beings called us forth.  Perhaps M Prophetissima and Rebeg Maestro were part our ourselves, special corners of our own imagination.  Regardless, at first we were wary, not trusting their hacking-meddling ways.  But we eventually relented, and realized their mission was more than simple disruption.  Their mission was to open a portal to learning that feels more vital and free.  And then they showed us the way back home, transformed.

My feeling now that we have celebrated our last face-to-face gathering for the semester is one of deep gratitude.  I am grateful for the trust, for the unique contributions of each and every human (and #arganee alchemist friend) who played with us along the way.  A special shout out to our open participants – many who infused this face-to-face course with the best kind of networked spirit and 21st century collaboration in remarkable ways.  And a shout out to our studio visit guests (who expanded out notion of digital writing) and our bus tour hosts (who broadened our transnational perspective). As I marvel at the twisting road of our special journey, I realize just how chuck full the conversations have been. The Networked Narratives youtube channel is certainly worth revisiting, if just to catch a glimpse of the places we have been.

As to the future….we now have a crew “alchemist elders” to call into action in our future offerings of #NetNarr. Alan and I will write up a series of installations with DML Central which provide a deeper dive into the wisdom that surfaced from our special pedagogical experiment. Stayed tuned over the course of this summer for a more thorough reflection from both of us on what happen in #NetNarr & #Arganee.  But we also have bigger plans. In August, I am headed off for a year as a Fulbright scholar (in Digital Culture) at the University of Bergen in Norway.  While I am posted there, Alan and I will continue our dynamic collaboration.  He will lead a group of five of our #NetNarr Kean graduate students for their MA thesis seminar, as we conduct an open seminar together where students blog their progress on networked narrative research.  While we will connect Kean students with Norwegian ones, we will continue to grow our transnational digital storytelling network. And in Spring 2018, we plan to run another open iteration of #NetNarr with f2f students from both Kean in NJ & UiB in Norway.

Imagine if we could actually aspire to build our very lives with a bit of magic, mirroring the alchemical #NetNarr serendipity we experienced together?  It would certainly require leaving room for the unknown.  We would have to learn to trust our own instincts more.  We would have to register “connection” as a prioritized value.  Playfulness would also be a top priority.  And it would necessarily require plenty of room for listening and tangents.  As new horizons loom, as I move forward with the conviction to harness this learned wisdom, I know to always leave room for all the things we cannot see.