DIY Digital: First Steps to Selling Out

DIY Digital: Doing Punk Online grew out of the third year Special Subject History course ‘Post-Punk Britain’.

The course is in its second year and from the start, my co-tutor Chris Warne and myself, imagined it as an experiment in democratic teaching and learning.  We use the growth of academic work around subcultures and youth culture since 1976 to explore bigger questions around what it means to be a contemporary historian today.  This means that we look at local histories, archival practices, life history like memoirs, sound, image and moving images, and oral history alongside popular culture.  Although there has been a determined growth in academic work on subcultures in history, sociology, criminology, English studies and beyond, PPB puts these alongside other forms of history work outside of the formal universities.  We take the memories that people inherit, share and turn into stories as seriously as the academic theories around the politics of popular culture.

For subcultures these other forms of history can be summed up as DIY (Do it Yourself) and DIT (Do it Together).   DIY – tell your own story for yourself, and DIT – build your story alongside other people’s stories.  Both DIY and DIT have been increasingly facilitated through the internet; Youtube, Facebook, WordPress blogs, Twitter, Pinterest etc all work as types of archive,  and build communities of shared taste, style and memory.  Doing it for Yourself and then stepping beyond an individual sense by doing it Together seemed to fit with the pedagogical goals we had.  It was also inspired by the current work of Jez Collins and others on DIY archiving as a collective practice. We have learnt the lessons from the mix-tapes, fanzines, interviews and popular music and used them to try and understand what virtual identities bring to the mix.  The bottom line for us was what’s the difference between a Facebook group and a fanzine?

We wanted our students to be able to learn the skills and develop the analytic approaches to use social networking as a form of research, but more importantly we wanted them to think about what they meant, for them, for those they study, and for the discipline as a whole.  We have two goals; the first is to think about the different types of evidence we have to hand as historians of subcultures.  The second goal is to think about what it means to take this evidence into the academic context, and turn it into a formal examined university course.  Who gets to speak about subcultures and how do they do it?

How we imagined the process

We designed a three week block in the middle of the PPB module in which students would use open access and social networking resources to build an online seminar on a topic of their choice which could then be shared with students taking related courses in other disciplines, other universities and other educational context.

At a basic pedagogical level we knew, from our own experiences, that students, and academics, learn best by teaching others.  Furthermore if we set our own agendas, decide what it is we want to teach and learn, we are more likely to be invested in the process. We also knew that historical work on subcultures borrows much from other disciplines and wanted to see what happened when we fed it back out to those disciplines.

What we did

In the first phase of the project two seminar groups each produced an online resource which we will share with tutors and students in Popular music Studies, English, History and Cultural Studies at a number of institutions next term.

I’m going to outline the processes we went through and then reflect on the lessons that we, and I, learnt.  Particularly, it became clear that there were a number of sets of values being created.

DIY Digital raised a new set of questions

Who decides who has the authority to teach?

What is the difference between what happens in a seminar room collectively and what happens online?

How do students feel about setting their own agendas and not necessarily knowing where they are going?

We explained the project at the beginning of the module to both seminar groups.  If I’m really honest I’m not sure how many of the students really got what we were trying to do when it was at the wholly abstract and open ended level. We contacted a group of students who had taken the module last year and are currently masters students at Sussex to be trained up as mentors and then liaised with Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) to identify possible apps and websites that might help.  We identified Padlet as a possible option and myself, Chris Warne and our masters mentors had bespoke training sessions on its use.

Chris Warne and two of the ma mentors, Jimmy and Kasia getting their heads around Padlet
Chris Warne and two of the ma mentors, Jimmy and Kasia getting their heads around Padlet

Padlet was easy to use, pretty much anything could be added to it, it could be edited by multiple users at once, and had various privacy settings.  The downside was that it did not offer ways to easily structure the relationship between the different objects uploaded to it.  The trained mentors students then sat in on the seminars and worked with small groups of students on individual tasks.

The process

There were three stages in developing each online seminar.

  • Identify a Topic
  • Identify how you would teach it
  • Translate it into social networking tasks, either reusing existing online sources or producing original where needed,

Week 1

We went through the outline of the project.

Each seminar group identified a key theme or big question that they wanted to focus on.  We collated a list of their existing skills: thinking about how they already used social networking already to facilitate their learning (or get them through the day)

How group 1 felt after the 1st week of the project. (PPB students in red, mentors in black)
How group 1 felt after the 1st week of the project. (PPB students in red, mentors in black)

One seminar group chose the concept of ‘Moral Panic’ and the other group chose the concept of the ‘Cultural Circuit’.

Week 2

We introduced students to Padlet. We broke the theme into tasks; introduction, familiarisation with key concepts, a series of tasks related to sources and evidence, apply concept to sources, and vice versa, some form of conclusion and feedback.

We matched each of these tasks with different tools that we had listed in our skill audit for each group; podcasts, timelines, twitter tasks, buzzfeed articles.

 Week 3/ 4 : put it all together, and launch it! 

Each task group tested each other’s task for usability and clarity.  Then finally we gave each page a shape (using labels, instructions, directions) and created a way of capturing use.  We had decided that we would suggest Tozzl if students felt they wanted a more visual and formal structure for their seminars.  In the end both groups went for the looser, messier and more organic option, Padlet.  A bit of mess and confusion in the form of the seminar seemed to map onto a lot of mess and confusion in the literature around subcultures.

This is a source we have analysed in the seminar room and as part of formal assessment on the course.

Prof Martin Evans shared his framed copy of the original ‘this is a chord, this is another, this is a third, now form a band’,  from the zine Sideburns.
Prof Martin Evans shared his framed copy of the original ‘this is a chord, this is another, this is a third, now form a band’,  from the zine Sideburns.

How to use the DIY Digital: Moral Panic.  Students came up with their own version of the design and used it as a ‘how to’ guide to their online resource.

this is a tumblr

Then we went a bit viral and early modern historian Dr Nik Funke took it to the next stage.

Where it all went a bit wrong in the middle

There were some challenges on the way.  Despite our common assumptions not all students are comfortable or familiar with everything available to them on the internet.  Furthermore, importantly, there is a big difference between ‘using’ a digital tool, and feeling comfortable to create them yourself.  Similarly just because you have been taught in a seminar doesn’t mean you necessarily understand the structure of one.  I had to strip back my own seminar planning and explain how and why my seminars are structured in certain ways.

Structure with signed tasks as a ‘commitment to the group’.
Structure with signed tasks as a ‘commitment to the group’.

We also found that although enthusiasm and engagement was high in the seminar room, it was difficult to ensure that students delivered on the tasks assigned in between.  One group was not clear about what concept they were working on (which was compounded by variable attendance over the weeks of the project)

A second anxiety was over what constitutes ‘teaching’, and whether the students felt qualified to teach someone else.  One seminar group decided that their DIY digital should be renamed a ‘project’ rather than a seminar.

You can’t really force people to DIY, so I was aware that there was a contradiction in my position. How could can I get that back on track without stepping in and asserting my authority over theirs?  In the end students literally signed up for tasks. I reasserted the time limit and the students’ own sense of competition between the two seminar groups seemed to spur them on in the end.

There is of course an irony that a digital project worked really well in the teaching room.

Surprisingly good bits

Students pulled together some really good matches between tasks and digital tools

They produced a ‘How To’ guide to create and map shares of Buzzfeed articles to look at circulation of online sources.

They used Tiki-Toki timelines to think about the relationship between football disasters, legislation on hooliganism, and academic work on moral panics.

They set up Tumblr pages for users to leave their mark and feed their own discipline into the online resources.

They recorded and uploaded short podcasts of discussions into Soundcloud.  These were particularly useful for academic literature where open access versions of key texts were not available to share.

I had underestimated the value of having the masters students involved and how much the masters students were integral to the success of the project.  One of the PPB groups actually used the masters students’ group research project as the basis for their online seminar.  Mentors were interviewed for podcasts.

Students were very clear on the importance of capturing usage of the resources.  Each of the two seminars came up with different approaches to capturing  usage and user response but both approaches shared similar values.  That usage should be seen as active, and measured through people contributing to the project –through  timelines, buzzfeeds, twitter or  tumblr.  Here myself and the students were genuinely all in it together, we all needed to know what conversations we are part of.  We need to know who we are having those conversations with.


The idea of the ‘sell-out’ is at the heart of most stories about subcultures.  What does it mean to be teaching (and assessing) Punk? We closed the course by selling ourselves out. I asked students to think about how they would use their experience in DIY Digital: Doing Punk Online in a job interview for their dream job.  This is what they came up with

  • Team working, analytical skills, teaching and leadership, research skills – secondary and primary, follow orders but take initiative, curatorship, and creativity, applying theory, the value of being self-motivated, time management, riding on coattails of innovation, and Lucy and Chris being brilliant, moral panics have taught me everything I know about journalism.

They also left their own advice for students to pick up where they left off

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The Cultural Circuit Group
The Cultural Circuit Group


I’m looking forward to analysing the student responses in more detail and seeing what happens when other groups of students use the resources. Do let me know if you think you would like to be involved.

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