#2016DML – a look back

tl;dr: I visited the annual conference of the DML Research Hub #2016DML and I tried to pin down some of the many experiences that stuck with me. This should be a much longer post than it actually is.

When I was introduced to the DML Research Hub and the inspiring people in its wider network by Nishant Shah, I was a bit overwhelmed by the complex and critical questions contributors to the blog and to the ‘twittersphere’ (is that still a word?) were asking around digital media and pedagogy, connected learning and its impacts and influences on learning and teaching in general. Leuphana Digital School had been around for a bit longer than one year, we had finished our pilot course and we had also tried out how to apply its infrastructure to the freshmen week at Leuphana. We were still in the process of figuring out things on our own and we had no real capacity for the conscious and planned integration of others’ theories, ideas or practices (see my related post “Where would you start?” for context).

While attending a DML conference seemed out of my world by then, imagining to present during an Ignite Talk session would have blown my ‘2013 self’ out of the universe. So, in October 2016, I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the conference and, while memories are as fresh as they will ever be, I want to take the chance and ban some of them onto the web.

Workshop: Crafting Connected Courses

For me, the conference started on Wednesday, Oct 5th, with the workshop “Crafting Connected Courses” offered by Justin Reich and Alan Levine. Even though I have been following their work closely from Germany, I had never met neither Justin nor Alan in person. One could tell that they had put a lot of thought and craftsmanship into the design of the workshop itself. We started off with an introduction to the world of connected courses. Later on, each participant got to set up domains, subdomains, syndication hubs and Splots. All of this was made possible by the team at Reclaim Hosting and Alan Levine and it was a great peak behind the curtain of setting up connected courses with WordPress and other tools that are available for free online. Especially the creation of hubs, the aggregation of different feeds that works as the backbone infrastructure of #ds106, for example, stuck with me as a powerful process and tool when it comes to connecting communities and learning networks. But what actually makes this powerful to me is not its power once it is set up. The power of these tools lies in the fact that now, because of people like Alan and the folks at Reclaim Hosting, even non-coders and non-techies like me are able to set this up for courses and learning networks at their institutions with a simple WordPress installation. It might seem trivial to those in the community who grew up coding, breaking and fixing things but I feel that now, supported by the openly available work of Alan Levine, Jim Groom and so many other dedicated educators, people like me are now able to tinker with these technologies and apply them where we see fit. This can and will scale and the most recent collaboration between Coventry University and Reclaim Hosting might just be the starting point for this in Europe (all dystopian UK / EU developments and narratives aside).

Keynote: What is the Intellectual Culture of Games?

On Thursday, Constance Steinkuehler delivered a powerful and thought-provoking keynote: “What is the Intellectual Culture of Games?” I have to admit that I was not at all familiar with her work before coming to #2016DML which is probably one of the reasons why I was even more fascinated by the connections between gaming and literacy that she drew. The critical, yet optimistic view on participatory culture, learning and gaming that she combined with a clear call for equity and agenda setting by the DML community was even more mind-blowing due to her humorous and emphatic way of communicating hard truths. At this time, a summary by me is not going to do her justice but I encourage anyone to watch the recording of her keynote right away. I mean it, stop what you’re doing and watch this right now.

Virtually Connecting with Legends Online and Offline

The day went on with sessions and workshops and my next personal highlight was the Virtually Connecting session that I was invited to by Maha Bali. Virtually Connecting was founded by Maha and Rebecca Hogue and they are doing an awesome job in amplifying hallway conversations at conferences using Google Hangouts and Youtube Live. People both on site and from all over the world join scheduled sessions and start exchanging impressions, connections and thoughts just like you would with someone you meet on site. The sessions are live-recorded and provide a great entry point to conferences for anyone who could not make it to the conference in person. Our session was virtually facilitated by Sundi RichardMia Zamora was the on-site buddy at the conference. Among others, Howard Rheingold, Jen Weible, Rebecca Hogue and Maha Bali joined virtually while Kate Green, George Station and myself were the on-site guests. George, Mia and Kate had visited the same workshop and so the conversation we had revolved very much around the topics brought up during that workshop. Questions around digital identity, privacy and security emerged and were discussed from multiple perspectives. On site, we had to keep it short due to an overlap of room bookings and I would have loved to stay longer. There will be a next time.

Ignite Talks – Inspirational Stories and Provocations distilled in 5 Minute Bites

More than anything else, though, the Ignite Talk sessions made the biggest impression on me personally. I am probably biased as this was the session in which I presented my thoughts and ideas regarding access to HigherEd for refugees in Germany. But still, the bandwidth of the topics, the provocations, the presentational skills (yes, there was an education-themed cover version of the Prince of Bel Air performed by Nick Ross), the shock and awe the speakers were able to ignite in the audience erase all potential doubts regarding the contextual depth of this format. My personal highlights were the talks by Robin DeRosa on the role of public universities and the ties to Open Access (first Ignite Session on Thursday), the history of annotation by Remi Kalir and the courageous provocation of the audience by Kate Green (both in the second Ignite session on Friday).

It has always struck me as dull that many of the Open Education initiatives in Germany lack a proper reflection or at least an ongoing exchange with experts in the field from the UK, the US or any other part of the world. We can learn a lot by integrating those perspectives and not making all the mistakes all over again should be the intention of anyone in the German system and beyond. The history of OER funding and OER repositories in the UK might just be the most prominent case to look at but there are many other stories and experiences out there that we don’t reflect and integrate into our thinking. Remi’s talk exemplified how much richer a technology or tool can become by adding context. Seeing the web annotation services offered by hypothes.is in this light and context adds even more educational value to the practice of web annotation. Kate’s talk was exemplary for anyone who seeks to emphatically provoke an audience by making a space for an issue that has not yet made it into the hearts, minds and practices of a particular group of people. It will be interesting to watch her in her efforts to further amplify these issues.

Digital Dreamers: Jose Antonio Vargas talks with Henry Jenkins

I remember overhearing a conversation between two DML participants planning a new project. They were discussing the scope and goal of their project and one of them said: “Let’s take on the big one, let’s talk about race.” Especially with the conversation between Henry Jenkins and Jose Antonio Vargas in mind, one has to applaud this notion. Many thought-provoking statements were made about the role of race, gender and diversity in America. I highly recommend to watch and re-watch this. I think the statement that resonated most with me personally  was this:

This is something that I will have to think more on in the future, especially since I am exactly the kind of guy who has been living the privileged life of a white heterosexual male in Western Europe. At this time, though, 24 hours after the #2016DML conference has come to an end, I am not done processing this and will therefore not blurt out comments or ideas on a topic of this importance. However, I’d love to hear and read more about thoughts and ideas on the role of Open Education in this context, please do comment and recommend.

Hallway Conversations

I have to admit that I skipped several activity slots while talking to folks who I only knew from twitter, their blogs or publications. It was great to get to know these inspiring educators who share and work openly. The first conversations during Wednesday’s workshop erased all doubts that I might feel as an outcast or DML newbie who still has to earn his place at the table of educators, thinkers, academics and practitioners. The welcoming atmosphere in general but also the sincere interest of others to engage in thoughts, conversations and activities about potential collaborations in the future is something the German culture around digital media and learning is severely missing.

Slackbots to the Rescue

A part of the community at #2016DML communicated over Slack during the conference, mostly with regards to organizational matters as far as I am aware. However, Kyle Booten tinkered a bit with a Slackbot that responds to different philosophers’ last names and extracts quotes mostly from Tumblr blogs as far as I understood. A fun exercise that entertained a couple of attendees, me included, that one should not take too seriously.


Still, testing Slackbot’s playful take on different philosophers disposition towards digital media was a cool thing to do between conversations and workshops. I was approached by Kyle after the conference at the In-N-Out (where else) after he noticed the hypothes.is sticker on my laptop and we chatted a bit about a potential future use of Slack within the DML. community. So hypothes.is might have opened a door here – again.

I am certain that there are lots of things I missed during the conference and I will have to re-watch many of the recorded keynotes and sessions. I will certainly pick back up on the workshop on Crafting Connected Courses and potential applications. While I am looking forward to the next DML conference (hope I will make it again next year), I am glad about the connections I made with other like-minded people who work towards open and equitable education while critically examining and testing the potential applications of digital media. Thank you!


  1. Thanks for this. Am about to watch the Ignite talks round 2 and the second keynote. My brain was firing too much yday for me to listen to them so I blogged instead to calm myself down 😉
    I can totally relate to the hallway convos vs sessions thing. I did/do the same, and while it feels borderline disrespectful, i think for those of us so fully present on social media, connected to each other’s content DAILY, the advantages of a conference lie mostly in Hallway convos (hence Virtually Connecting) and… Yeah… Sometimes the most value is just having those convos f2f with one person or a small group rather than listening to a session (which, again, can cause a kind of cognitive overload. I mean I am here and was already getting cognitive overload from the round 1 Ignite talks and 3 VC sessions I attended). I imagine it’s much more for ppl onsite.
    Hope u get/got home safely


    1. Totally agree – if you’re familiar with someone’s work the context provided in a f2f meeting sometimes adds differently than visiting her workshop. Still, you do want to appreciate the work and thought that she put into the design of the workshop and finding that balance is always a struggle for me (at least when it is a conference like #2016DML).


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