the myth of reuse

November 10, 2006

Yesterday, during Brian Lamb’s excellent session on mashups, I had a little epiphany. Brian made a throwaway comment about learning object repositories and my mind wandered for a moment, and suddenly a shaft of light pierced the dusty fog in my brain and I realized this truth: reuse isn’t the point.

Back in the mists of time (technologically speaking) I wrote about learning objects, and one of the things I wrote is that learning objects should be designed to make it easy for the creator and others to reuse or repurpose them. This was the conventional wisdom of the day, but I don’t think it holds true any more.

The important thing now is not reusability. The important thing now is customization. It needs to be easy — really, really, ridiculously easy — to create something new. To reverse engineer. To change your mind, customize your message, substitute a different flavor, get the sauce on the side.

Back when I preached reusability, it was hard to make learning objects, and the amount of effort that had to be put into one justified the claim that reusability was desirable. But it needs to not be hard. We need ways that people — and not just geeky people — can decide one afternoon that they want to make a learning object (or call it what you will) and have it ready by dinnertime. It needs to be point-click-drag-click-clickclickclick easy. The tech isn’t there yet, at least not for everyone, but it’s getting very close.

Like Brian’s mashups, these things will have little existing pieces of other things pulled into them. This means the barrier we face isn’t just technological. We need to rethink ideas of ownership, permissions, fair use, and copyright. We need a model that works, so people can grab stuff, make stuff, and share stuff, and assemble it into a learning-object-of-the-moment. These things don’t have to last forever. I want something that responds to my instant need to communicate information by letting me pull words and sounds and clips and pictures and stuff together instantly. Let’s call it the Teachable Moment Authoring System.


like a religious experience for artists

August 8, 2006

is this video of Robbie Dingo creating a guitar for Suzanne Vega for her upcoming performance in Second Life. Wow.


that talk on data visualization

June 28, 2006

The talk by Hans Rosling I mentioned in an earlier post is available online! TEDTalks is a new feature on the TED website where selected talks from the TED2006 conference, TED Global, and others are made available — the way it should be, free — so that you can view them in the page, or subscribe to them as a podcast. I love the web. Read the rest of this entry »


at the Faculty Academy

May 16, 2006

I’m sitting in a lovely auditorium at the University of Mary Washington, reveling in being at a conference where I am not a host (and reveling no less in the power outlet right here in the arm of my seat and the no-fuss wireless access… cool… if I had a tropical drink it would be just like a vacation!). Cyprien’s showing us stuff I had no idea Flickr could do, and explaining stuff that I knew it could do but couldn’t work out how.

I’ve also seen the neat stuff faculty here are doing with their courses. Wikis, blogs, digital storytelling, moviemaking — it’s all here. The faculty are sharing the process, the ups and downs, what worked and what didn’t, all with frankness and humor. There’s a fantastic atmosphere of support and a willingness to learn from each other that’s wonderful to see. I’m thrilled and honored to be a guest here.

Take a look at the conference blog — we’re writing it as we go!


A creative side of gaming

April 12, 2006

You might not think that playing an MMO (massively multiplayer online [game]) is a creative activity. Given that the world is heavily designed, and animations are scripted, and players can’t really customize much in-game, there is a lot of truth to that. Choices for in-game creativity are limited. But many games have a vibrant fan community where creativity abounds; players write fan fiction, create fan art (drawings of their characters and equipment, or artist’s renderings of favorite in-game locations), write game-related comics, and even make movies. I ran across a particularly nice one: Big Blue Dress.

Fair warning: the rest of this post contains spoilers about the movie, so go watch it first if you prefer. (Now would be a good time. Go on, I’ll wait.) It’s worth the time it takes to download. Use headphones if you share an office. Read the rest of this entry »


I want a whiteboard in Second Life.

March 29, 2006

The NMC’s island in Second Life, NMC Campus, is nearly finished. It’s being built by Electric Sheep, who do absolutely fantastic work, and it’s as pleasant and inspiring a space as you could want. One of the buildings in particular would be amazing to actually walk through in the physical world. But the really neat thing, the thing that I’m most excited about, is not the space itself. What I’m really interested in is figuring out what kinds of activities we can offer in the space, and planning them, and participating in them.

It’s important to me that for the activities that we choose, it actually makes a difference to have them in SL versus, say, having them on the phone, or using Writely, or Learning Times. I realize that at first we will spend a lot of time getting people used to the space, but we do that with every online tool that we use, so that doesn’t bug me. I’m puzzling about what happens next, and whether there are advantages to having an avatar, and what those advantages might be.

One of the things that I do at face-to-face meetings is graphic facilitation. Maybe you’ve seen this; there’s a giant sheet of paper, 4′ high by 8 or 14 or 16 feet long, mounted on a whiteboard or a wall or foamcore boards or whatever, and while the meeting goes on, someone (me in many cases) records the discussion visually using colored markers on the large paper. It’s really impressive to watch — I can say this because I’ve seen other people do it — and it’s also fun to do. I want to be able to do this in Second Life.

It shouldn’t be that hard, right? Imagine I’m sitting at my desk, logged in to SL, and I’ve got a graphics tablet with a pen. I’ve got my headset on and I’m connected via Skype or phone bridge or whatever audio technology, so I can hear what people are saying. My avatar is standing in front of a whiteboard in SL, and when I move my pen on my tablet, the marks appear on the whiteboard. (My avatar doesn’t have to look like she’s drawing; I’m not asking for the moon here.) The other avatars in the room can see what I’m writing as I write it, just as if we were doing it face to face. Then when I’m done, I can save the contents of the whiteboard as a jpg (or whatever, I’m not picky) so we have a record of the visuals.

I’d need to be able to switch “pens” — choose a different color — quickly and easily, maybe by tapping a square on a palette. The pens all have the same tip, so I don’t need a huge variety of Photoshoplike brushes. It would be nice to have a softer tip to emulate the chalks I use for emphasis, but I can wait for that.

So, who’s bored? Someone want to write me one of these? I’ll help with the requirements and testing.


Campus Impact

February 14, 2006

I’m editing this post. My husband, who does not yet keep a blog but who actively reads them, came home yesterday and said “Your post on Campus Impact might be a little vague, dahling.” (Okay, he didn’t say “dahling,” but the rest is more or less true.) His English upbringing results in a certain delicacy of expression; translated to modern-day conversational American English, what he meant was, “I’m pretty sure that people who haven’t heard you talk about this particular project day in and day out for the past I-don’t-know-how-many-weeks won’t have a clue what it’s about from the little bit you chose to say about it.” So I’m editing this post, which he assures me is a perfectly acceptable thing to do in the world of blogging, so long as I’m up front about it.

Read the rest of this entry »


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