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“Student as Producer” and integrating creativity

All right, I know I said I was going to discuss ds106 exclusively this week and go back to the NITLE paper I started with, but in finishing up this chapter of Alexander’s The New Digital Storytelling I came across one idea that I do want to explore in more depth. Plus, there’s still that Student as Producer initiative to digest—it remains insanely cool.

Last week I talked a little bit about the unwillingness of some students to adapt to certain kinds of edtech in their classrooms, specifically teaching through digital storytelling. I mentioned that I believe some of that unwillingness arises because students are taught to value rote learning and test-base assessments over more creative teaching methods. Bryan Alexander touches on that in his book in a discussion of curricular integration:

“… curricular integration… represents a subset of a broader conversation concerning the meaning of technology in education and the importance of making digital work evidently part of the learning mission. Storytelling cannot be seen as separate from learning, even though the mind-set may break from the ordinary classroom world of tests and standards. Story assignments, therefore, need to be interconnected with curriculum in many ways.”

In short, if students feel like storytelling or edtech is a gimmick or a break from “real” work, they aren’t going to be invested in learning.

The University of Lincoln’s “Student as Producer” initiative circumvents that problem by applying research-based, student-focused teaching across the entire university. The project is still in its early stages, and even though the program is geared toward pedagogical restructuring of the university and not specifically edtech, much of what they’re doing matches up with the type of openness and student-focused innovation that Alexander talks about. For one thing, Lincoln is posting much of the documentation for the project online, creating an open resource for other students, educators and administrators to learn from. The student-focused and collaborative nature of the initiative is also similar to one of the main benefits of edtech and open education, and finally, one of the projects greatest motivating forces is to reduce the cost of higher education. Although the majority of the research I’ve been doing has revolved around liberal arts institutions, not the research-vs-teaching dichotomy that Lincoln is grappling with, the parallels and the potential here are far too compelling to ignore.

I find the line drawn between “student as producer” and “student as consumer” extremely pertinent; in fact, that’s one of the things I loved most about ds106. I felt I had a level of control and agency in terms of how I was learning and how I got to display what I’d learned, which differed wildly from the majority of classes I’d taken before. Instead of being expected to passively consume information/teaching, I had an active role in creating my own learning experience. The confidence I’ve gained in my ability to discover and implement information on my own has remained with me; I’m a better student and a more engaged learner because of that experience. While I’ve run into various assignments, and even a few classes, that employed similar techniques, it’s always been piecemeal, and therefore, as Alexander implies in the quoted passage above, those more creative and production-focused lessons failed to make a greater impact. I couldn’t see the broader implications of more creative teaching models because I didn’t know how to extend those techniques beyond a single classroom or assignment, I couldn’t see how they connected to the rest of my educational experience. When integrated into a curriculum in a holistic way, such as through ds106 in my case, or Lincoln’s Student as Producer project, self-motivated learning becomes intuitive.


  1. This is amazing commentary Haley, and I too think the work that folks like Mike Neary and Joss Winn are doing at Lincoln is amazing. Approaching the question of scale and cost from an entirely different perspective: collective action through a community both local and distributed, though deeply rooted in that local. As for Bryan Alexander’s compelling parallel with this approach, it makes total sense in that alternative future is exactly the genius Alexander brings, and this is absolutely one, almost like an Ursula K LeGuin vision of alternative futures.

    • aetherbunny aetherbunny

      Thank you so much, Jim! Glad to know my commentary makes sense. I’m totally fascinated by the Student as Producer approach to education, and I’d love to study their work more closely someday–that’s worthy of its own research project!

      And yeah, Bryan Alexander is amazing. There’s a reason I keep coming back to his texts and articles over and over again. In fact, it was his lecture on the future of liberal arts that started me on all this craziness in the first place. 🙂

  2. It’s wonderful that you’ve picked up on Student as Producer. Do get in touch if you have any questions or thoughts about it. I’m sure we’ve much to learn from you, too.

    • aetherbunny aetherbunny

      I’m beyond delighted to hear from you! If I can corral my thoughts enough, I very well might send you an email. There’s a great deal I’m curious about the program you’ve launched, especially regarding how you hope it will shape the way students learn. Thank you so much for the encouragement! It means the world to me.

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