Radical reuse: or, what happens to online learning when things fall apart?

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Banksy, originally uploaded by Pete Ashton.

This blog is rapidly approaching a state of hibernation. I have not even pointed toward the contribution that Jim Groom (with major assists from Tom Woodward and Serena Epstein, and a minor one from me) made to the Open Education Conference in Logan, Utah a little over a week ago.

The concepts that we were trying to communicate will be a familiar ones to readers of this blog: the maturation of user-owned open source publishing tools; the increasing capacity for these tools to support fast, easy and (if need be) dynamic and embedded reuse of content; the absolute need for syndication in our toolsets; and finally an attempt to frame the thinking of these tools against a backdrop of simple economics.

We also wanted to share the materials not just as a set of visuals accompanying a talk, but as a resource that itself modeled what we were trying to communicate. Given the apocalyptic tenor of the times, the aesthetic sensibilities involved, and the riotous late-night planning phone calls, perhaps it was inevitable that Radical Reuse would result.

I’m not sure how the RR site comes across to readers – my observation is that most people don’t get it at first glance – but it is something I am very proud to be associated with (though again, I have to stress that Jim ended up doing the vast majority of the work, and deserves an equivalent share of the credit). There are links to a vast array of WordPress plugins, MediaWiki extensions, and real-world examples that might provide a good starting point for establishing a learning environment that is inexpensive to run, friendly to users, supports open source code and open educational resource sharing, and incidentally presents an argument for economic and cultural imperatives along the way (albeit in some unconventional and downright silly ways)…

Yes, it was an absolute hoot to do from start to finish. I can’t express what I kick I got out of the videos that Jim, Tom and Serena have put together: the Mad Max meets liberal arts revolutionary intro; the fishing with feeds episode (which has cracked up every person I’ve shown it to, even those with no idea what RSS is); the reprise of Non-Programmistan (another Groom/Woodward masterwork); and the most recent hybrid of the Matrix and First Blood. These guys might be my favorite comedy team going these days.

There is some raw video of me talking this stuff during a poster session at the conference (the sound gets better about a minute or so in.) Mike Caulfield does an excellent job of framing the moment in the broader discussion that was happening at the conference… capturing why, even with all these fantastic tools at hand it still can be so useful to get together in person.

One aside, to be followed up in a future post… in the video clip linked above I’m talking about the happy accidental discovery of just how well blog-based learning environments and approaches translate to mobile devices, in this case with no additional development or cost whatsoever. (Can your LMS say the same thing?)

Another aside… I mentioned that on first glance people didn’t usually get our presentation concept. They’d ask what was up with the camouflage and the survivalist language. I’d do my best to put on a deadpan face and reply with “well, we are exploring how education technology might continue in a world that follows economic and societal collapse.” Suffice it to say, this response did not go over well with anyone. I concede it might be in questionable taste to make light of some real financial (and social, and environmental, and military) pain that is coming down right now. But though the rhetoric is light-hearted, the message is serious. I was (am) a bit surprised that considerations of social conditions that affect everyone are seemingly off-limits at educational conferences. Even if we consider these issues strictly from our own selfish perspectives, it seems clear that what we are reading about in the business pages is bound to cycle down on all of us. Even “best case” scenarios would suggest that budget cuts and job losses at our institutions and in our departments are likely. How we are prepared to deal with scarcity in the near future is not a pleasant thing to consider, but it strikes me as pertinent, and urgent. But that, again, will need another post for a more detailed consideration.

3 thoughts on “Radical reuse: or, what happens to online learning when things fall apart?

  1. Well, fuck ’em if they can’t handle a bit of humor in trying times. If they’re that far in the tank they’re headed for extinction anyway!

  2. Great post. Coming from a research lab that promoted Open Access I feel very lucky to work with a group that embraces this once again.

    About the economy and Open Access / Open Source the recession/depression may have some positive aspects O’reilly Radar had a cool post today on that fact:
    http://radar.oreilly.com/2008/10/effect-of-the-depression-on-te.html

    Hopefully after the collapse there will be a total shift in the way people think about OA/OS .

    *Oct 14 is Open Access Day
    http://openaccessday.org/

  3. You know, on a serious post-apocalyptic note there was a night I always meant to blog about but never did — Jon Udell and I were talking to a guy that does citizen science, and the conversation wandered to micro-hydro, the collapse of the ice shelves the deteriorating power grid, etc. And so the subject of that 1% chance of complete climate-precipitated societal collapse came up.

    And we started talking about what happens when gas is $20 a gallon? When the grid breaks down? When modern food distribution fails? I mean, fourth beer sorts of stuff.

    But what it came down to is in the absence of centralized hierarchical control, in that 1% apocalyptic scenario, that people have to learn to collaborate, spontaneously and organically.

    I like to think that we, the proto-geeks, could do that. I like to think that in some sort of disaster scenario we’d self-organize through twitter, that we’d figure out some way to optimize food production and transportation through whatever tech was left standing. Or do whatever.

    All very dramatic, but the point is that I think you’ve stumbled on a weird concoction that combines Wiley’s reuse footprint idea with a realization that post apocalyptic worlds are lateral concoctions…it’s not just a joke.

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