Thanks to a series of well-timed clicks on social media, I recently became one of twenty, international co-authors of a collaborative digital writing project, the NetNarr Alchemy Lab.
How I Got Involved
Scrolling through social media, I was intrigued by a playful invitation that teased the possibility of a transmedia, collaborative story.
“Come. Join us,” the invitation stated.
“Take a chance. We’ll be right there with you. Together, we hope to create something magical.”
The sign-up sheet made the following, modest offer:
“We’re hoping you will be open to working on creating one digital piece of art or story. We will then stitch our stories together into an interactive Alchemy Lab.”
I later learned that NetNarr referenced Networked Narratives, a co-located class taught by Alan Levine at Kean University and Dr. Mia Zamora at the University of Bergen, Norway. (Learn more about the structure, here.)
A colleague had suggested I try out Adobe Muse to create digital animations, and I figured that a CLMOOC invitation was the perfect time to “tinker, fail, and explore,” to borrow a phrase from Renee Hobbs.
Enter the Alchemy Lab
My Contribution to the Lab
In case you can’t guess from the image above, my contribution to the lab is a lock (located on the bottom shelf of the purple case at the center of the above photo). The lock graphic itself — and all of the others in the lab — were drawn by the talented Susan Watson and shared via a Google doc that asked contributors to first claim an image, and later drop in a link to their finished product.
Even though I was tempted by other images (the already-claimed neon green flask, especially) I chose the lock because I thought it would be a convenient method, conceptually, to move from one piece of the transmedia text to another.
Clicking on the lock in the Alchemy Lab links to a website I created using Adobe Muse. Taking a cue from the style of the original invitation, my goal was to make an animation that moved a key graphic towards the lock to open the next page of the lab. I was somewhat successful.
Media Jumping: Triumphs and Challenges
In the spirit of Connected Learning, here are my reflections on creating my piece of the Alchemy Lab.
✓ Win: The design of my site matches the look and feel of the original invitation to join the NetNarr media jumping experience.
X Fail: The original invitation did not really inform the look and feel of the finished Alchemy Lab.
✓ Win: I found a cool looking key image. After hours of trial and error with animations in Muse, I was able to move the key (down and to the right) to meet the lock.
X Fail: The key meets the lock perfectly on my Windows-based work computer. Unfortunately, it does not perfectly meet the key on my Mac, or on my mobile phone.
✓ Win: At first, I was unable to publish my Muse webpage on this WordPress site. After a few false starts, I was able to host my Muse website using Adobe’s free service, Adobe Business Catalyst.
X Fail: About one month after the Alchemy Lab was published, I received an email from Adobe Business Catalyst that it will be discontinued in March 26, 2020.
✓ Win: After a few days of research, and several emails with patient WP developers, I was able to migrate my site from Adobe Business Catalyst to this WordPress site, using the free, MWuse plugin. [Luckily, digital texts are especially conducive to revisions.]
- Continue saying yes to offers from the CLMOOC community, even if I don’t really understand what they entail.
- Do a bit more research before committing to a platform. Had I known what headaches Adobe Muse and Business Catalyst would bring, I might have found a better alternative. Next time, I’ll ask my PLN via Twitter.
- Know when to ask for help. I enjoy the challenge of tinkering myself, but I realized I was in over my head long after I felt committed to a platform.
The Learning Continues
While researching to write this post, I grew curious about ThingLink 360. It is on my growing to-do list of new tech to explore. Here are three other resources that I’m excited to try out soon:
- Knight Lab’s storytelling tools, shared by Troy Hicks in his excellent piece on “The Next Decade of Digital Writing” in Voices from the Middle. Here’s a version of Hicks’ article that was crowd-annotated with Hypothesis.
- A list of tools for creating visual texts via Common Sense
- Other methods for creating animations, like this WordPress plugin that might’ve been much simpler.
Special thanks to Kevin Hodgson for your encouragement, and congrats to all of the Alchemy Lab authors for such an incredible collaboration.