1st Session

The first session with the students included a brief introduction to collaborative writing and to Storyline as method (wiki technicalities were left until the next session). Then, the picture was introduced, enlarged on a widescreen canvas, the lights dimmed so as to allow everyone to focus on the details of the photograph. The main teacher started framing the picture while asking questions:

This is a picture of the first character. We are to create a text around him, together. Think about 1972: what did the world look like? This person is born in 1946, he is 26 years old and lives in Norway. What are his interests?

The students quickly respond with various suggestions; that the man’s interests were motorbikes and music. The teacher follows up these suggestions, asking what type of music, whether he plays himself, and with whom. She goes on to ask where he lives, and the students agree that he lives in the south-eastern part of the country, in the vicinity of Oslo but in a small town. He lives in a camper next to his parents terraced house, plays in a band called “Mum’s Meat Balls”, works part time in a record store and spends his leisure time fixing old cars. He is a smoker and not too concerned about his health. He has no girlfriend. The teacher then asks about his name: “what is he called? What were people generally called in 1946?”
The students quickly bring suggest a lot of names, such as Arne, Odd Arne, Geir, Egil, Kåre, Arild, and Svein. They discuss back and forth between them. Someone suggests the name Steinar and suddenly everyone agrees that Steinar is the right name; it suits him. The teacher asks about his surname. Immediately, the name Pedersen is suggested. Without any discussion, the class settles as one common voice: the man on the picture is to be called Steinar Pedersen.

This part of the class is thus organized as an informal brainstorming session in which the students are encouraged to bring forth suggestions and in a casual way either reject or support these so that gradually a common story was created. The teacher notes down keywords on the blackboard as the suggestions appear, erasing those that are ruled out. About half the group contributes actively, the others are more reluctant. Two or three are mostly silent.

The group continues brainstorming, moving on to Steinar’s mother. She is a kind woman; a housewife who likes to cook – not gourmet food, but simple, traditional cooking, such as meat balls in gravy. At this point, the students are very active and more and more voices join in. «What is the mother’s name?» asks the teacher. One of the students has already looked up name statistics on the web and reads to the others what names were popular in Norway in the early 1920s: Solveig, Gerd, Ruth. The group settles for Ruth. They carry on for a while in the same fashion; establishing some features of the local community (given the fictitious name Maurskog): a petrol station, a school. They discuss between them what people had for dinner in 1972, whether pubs were common, and so on.

Teacher A then organizes the notes on the blackbord into several categories: one for “mother”, one for “the house”, one for “Maurskog” and so on. She sums up the facts they have settled on, and asks the group to divide into groups according to which category they feel like developing further. Most of they pick according to interest, those who cannot decide are given a category. Most of them end up in pairs, except one group of three.

Before the writing begins, about 10 minutes is set off for a short introduction to finding pictures on the web that are labelled for reuse. Two strategies are outlined particularly: advanced search via Google Images and Creative Commons search on the photo sharing site Flickr.com. Both the strategies are new to the majority of the students. As they express a certain level of confusion about attribution rules we engage in a small discussion about that.

Then, the first writing session begins. It is to be conducted on collaborative pads – “etherpads ” – rather than a wiki. After a brief demonstration the students are ready to start fleshing out their parts of the Pedersen universe. The students write mostly in silence, except for a few technical questions. They are given approx. 40 minutes to develop their pad texts. Then, the head teacher requires their attention again and engages them in a brief summing up of the developments so far:

Teacher: how far have you got? What have you added?
Group 1: Steinar has been to Germany, met Helga. He has an older sister named Inger.
Group 2: We have a sister named Gro…and we have said that the father is unknown.
(everyone joins in the discussion, and decides that Ruth has to be married and the father indeed known)
Group 1: his best friend is Kjell
Group 3: he is secretly in love with his friend’s girlfriend. Or, we changed it from «is» to «has been». Their band is called Mum’s Meatballs. They’re a folk rock band, their songs are in Norwegian and mostly about love and heavy vehicles.
Group 4: The town is Maurskog, with approximately 5000 inhabitants. There’s a sawmill and a tin factory. A community centre, a small grocery store. Their house was built by Steinar’s grandfather, with some municipal financial aid. It’s covered in asbestos cement sheeting and has a black pitched roof….

Everyone pays attention to the summing-up session; they laugh, correct each other and expand each other’s contributions. The teacher asks questions to make the pieces fit together: Is the sister Inger or Gro? One student checks the name statistics online and reports that Inger is a more popular name in the relevant time period. They go on to discuss Steinar’s father and settle on the name Oddvar.

Teacher: what about Steinar’s work?
Group 4: we’ve said he plays in a band. But, of course, we can change that back if it doesn’t fit in.

The others comment, suggesting ways to make Steinar’s biography consistent (he has a lot of jobs at this point). The teacher continues to ask question, presents suggested alternatives and ask “which of these should we go for?”. The students sometimes take on the same function, asking their fellow students in similar manner. Eventually, all the five texts fit each other in terms of factual information. There are still some lose ends, to which the teacher concludes “we can sort that out as we go along”.

Continue to Between first and second session