Visiting Digital Storytellers with the Alchemists at Networked Narratives

June 05, 2017
By Educator Innovator

The Networked Narratives team talks with scholars and practitioners thinking about new ways to collaboratively tell and share stories using digital tools.

What is Networked Narratives, also known as NetNarr? This is a tricky question to answer for several reasons. First, NetNarr is many things: it is a hashtag, a course, a community, and an experiment in digital alchemy. Second, NetNarr is a process of worldbuilding, and the participants have in fact built a world with its own histories and mysteries, meaning that newcomers to the website may feel rather lost. Finally, and most importantly, its definition is intentionally vague: NetNarr is an ever-shifting, collaborative process of creation, to get overzealous about defining it would be to constrain and confine it. There are, however, some things about its structure that we can say for sure.

The NetNarr website defines Networked Narratives as “an open connected course of digital storytelling, world building, civic imagination, and a bit of digital alchemy.” It is, in part, a course at Kean University, taught by Kean University Writing Project director Mia Zamora, examining storytelling in the 21st century, harnessing the power of digital tools and collaborative networks. To that end the course is also open to anyone on the internet, taking a page from DS106, a longtime open storytelling course/community run by Alan Levine (aka cogdog), who is also involved in teaching NetNarr. Students and participants created their shared world through weekly blog posts, as well as more frequent creations shared through Twitter, known as Daily Digital Alchemies.

Alchemy: The “North Star” of NetNarr

The guiding spirit infused throughout the NetNarr experience is that of alchemy, of “tinkering and experimenting, sometimes being outside the mainstream,…the idea of turning something not so precious into something that is deeply precious,…the idea of breathing life into something that’s inanimate,” says Zamora. This playful, curious, outsider spirit drives a culture of peer learning and “whimsical sharing,” that creates the co-learning and meaningful interaction that NetNarr is all about.

For more information about the structure and spirit of NetNarr, check out our interview with its creators, Mia Zamora and Alan Levine, as well as Geoffrey Gevalt of the Young Writers Project and several participating students from Kean University.

Studio Visits

As part of the course, NetNarr produced a series of “Studio Visits”, co-streamed here at Educator Innovator, talking with researchers and practitioners whose work intersects with NetNarr’s focus on digital storytelling, digital writing, and transformative, collaborative learning.

Leonardo Flores on Literature in the Digital Age

“It’s an experimental practice at this point, it hasn’t become naturalized. But as it does, it starts to change mindsets, it starts to change how we even conceptualize the work.”

The NetNarr team talks with Leonardo Flores, professor of English and researcher of digital literature at University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, about the development of electronic literature, examining the Electronic Literature Collection, Twitter bots, and other new literary forms based on the affordances of digital media.

Mark Marino and Rob Wittig on #Netprov

“Netprov is, there’s an impulse that lots and lots of people are having which is to make funny fake Twitter accounts, to fictionalize in small ways, and what we’re doing in a lot of ways is to try to bring the whole bag of tricks, or as many tricks as we know, from the grand beautiful literary tradition, and bring those tricks into these new media.”

How do networked media, particularly Twitter, create new opportunities for improv, collaborative satire, and emergent storytelling? Educators and #Netprov artists Mark Marino and Rob Wittig discuss some of their guiding principles and past experiments, and explore the political and pedagogical implications of this new form of participatory culture.

Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel on Fanfiction

“She left so many gaps, and there’s so many silences….He’s the least observant narrator, which gives you so much space to do whatever you want.”

The NetNarr gang visit Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel, hosts of the Fansplaining podcast, to discuss a much older form of participatory culture: fanfiction. They explore the central role that community and reciprocity play in the world of fanfiction, and its possible place as a bellwether for 21st century transmedia culture.

Howard and Mamie Rheingold on Literacy and Citizenship in a Networked World

“Whether 20 people or 20,000 people listen to you, the important thing is agency and participation. You are not just one of the millions of people who are fed what a few people create for you. You are in some way a creator of culture. That does not always move the giant ship of state, sometimes it does.”

Father-daughter duo Howard and Mamie Rheingold join to discuss digital citizenship and critical pedagogy, examining how new digital tools and contexts shape how educators and students think about civic participation.

Though the course itself has come to an end, the community lives on on Twitter at #NetNarr. In addition, the rich and mysterious universe of #NetNarr, the result of a semester of collaborative storytelling and worldbuilding, remains open for exploration at This treasure trove of writing, video, and multimedia creation stands as an example of the rich learning, teaching, and relationship-building that can result from a pedagogy based on experimenting and making.

Photo/ Alan Levine

By Tim McIntyre