Friday, July 21, 2017

Projects and Tools: Small Project and Tools that have Big Impacts

Over the last five years, it feels like my passion isn't in creating a lasting digital legacy, it is about contributing to something. When I was a student a Western Connecticut State University getting my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing, I started a digital literary magazine. This is where I saw my imprint on the world as a publisher and editor and I really enjoyed it. But what I thought was a project turned into a very significant organization. To this day I am grateful to that community that fostered my experience in editing and publishing. However, it was a massive undertaking and the saving grace was how naive I was about creating something like that. After more than three years, I finally let Miranda Magazine. Not because it wasn't productive, but I couldn't keep up with the hundreds of submissions, deadlines, and the support of the people who were helping me. 

In 2015 I started immersing myself into a community that was different than poets, writers, and artists. I immersed myself in teachers and learning gurus. I joined the Rhizo15 - a Massive Open Online Course and my whole world shifted. There were so many ways to approach learning, creative things, and there were tools and connections to make these things happen. Not only did I meet some of the most prominent thinkers in the field of online learning and thinking, they were also some of the kindest in supporting the course and the community. I then participated in Digital Writing Month and then continued with groups as they emerged over the last few years. During this time, my thinking shifted. I didn't want to make websites that created massive organizations, I didn't want to create three hundred page websites. I wanted to make projects.

I introduced the concept of Digital Humanity Projects to my students and why that is important. How to create a directory of resources is better than explaining one source. I spoke to them about collections, curation tools, and learned that students would gravitate to their own interests in a project. For example, we wanted to catalog historical buildings on campus using an interactive map that would explain how and why all the building are campus came to be. We discussed and created QR codes that we put on bookmarks for virtual book reviews that students could read. I wanted to make tools that connected. 

What does that mean? I didn't want to create a massive product and sell it. I didn't want to create a service and sell it. I wanted to make something that connected people - students, writers, scholars, and just browsing people. In CLMooc - creating and making things digital and real is the cornerstone of the community. But I had been thinking about websites, blogs and connections that were smaller, different, and useful to other people - if only in how they might use it. 

This year I made a few specialty blogs including a political art blog Art from the Resistance and a literary science blog about the ocean titled The Ocean Journal: Writing and Art from the Sea. These two sites are collectives of ideas and connections and not meant to be a complex web magazine. And they create an opportunity for writers and artists to collaborate on topics and ideas that wouldn't find mainstream acceptance. If a fiction writer wrote one obscure piece on falling into the ocean, then it might be an excellent match for the Ocean Journal. Beyond that, perhaps there are marine science writers who like to write essays on their favorite locations and connections. And of course, everything would be a welcomed consideration. 

This year, I created a website called The Experimental Novel Index. Every entry is an explanation of an experimental novel and connections. While there is room for people to write critically about these books, share links to scholarly articles, the point is to connect. Creating tools and resources is practical. And while you create them, you may also find a community who would also use them. We see the all the time as teachers using shared resources. It doesn't need to be epic, you don't need to create an LLC, it just has to connect to something that is meaningful. 

Ultimately I want to create fiction. But what is fascinating to me -- is to take up the challenge. Look around you, what resources are missing in your creativity, in your life, and why? And then start thinking of a process, a way, and creative entry point to make that resource and sustain it. We are in a new era of making. Building something electronically, physically, artistically, or methodically is easier now than ever before. It is a form of creativity, just like writing a poem or painting a canvas. All you need is a little inspiration. The rest will happen. 

Feel free to discuss what you make and how it came about in the comments section. Would love to hear from you. 

The Ocean Journal 
Experimental Novel Project
QR Code Project 


  1. Hi Ron. I met you in the last couple of weeks via the #clmooc. I've visited and read articles on your blog a couple of times. As I read this article I see a commitment to "collect and share" ideas and information that others might value. About an hour ago I read an article on another blog that I follow, talking about efforts to fight corruption in the world. Here's the link.

    Toward the end of the article are some recommendations. One focuses on collecting information that others can learn from.

    I posted a comment on that blog with suggestions that others might aggregate such information. It seems that you're doing something like this, and some of your students might be interested in doing more.

  2. This was a fascinating article and I really thought the idea of creating a governance journal of what is happening on a small level was fascinating. He had a lot of interesting ideas at the end of the article. Thank you so much for your thoughtful insight and sharing ideas. Appreciate it so much.