In my last post, I suggested that we need an architecture that is designed with a low barrier of entry for educators to actively influence and change themselves. Today, I ran into a related post by Dana Boyd, which I actually found through Hypergene Media Blog which, in turn, found it via Ben Hammersly. (Whew.)
Here’s the relevant quote:
My argument is that we stop thinking of remix as production, but as active consumption. Remix happens as a bi-product of consumption. What we’re remixing is culture and the active consumption of culture is part of identity development and living as a social creature in society.
Think about clothing consumption. Few people buy all of the items on the mannequin. You buy different pieces and mix and mash them. You might even decide to alter them by adding patches, by dying them, by cutting them up. You make the clothing yours. And then you share your consumption with the world by parading on the streets. In this way, you make the clothing tell your story.
Boyd is talking about remixing content by way of analogy to personal effects, but why couldn’t his point apply equally to software services and applications?
For example, in a relatively recent post, I highlighted Google Maps as one particular application that various people have “remixed.” (For those who are not yet hip to the “Web 2.0″ buzzwords, these hybrid applications are called “mashups.”) I described these mashups as “having been programmed (emphasis added) in a matter of days or even hours,” but why do we need to think of this exclusively as a programming, i.e., producing, activity? Why can’t we think of them more like custom iPod playlists? And why can’t I, as a teacher, remix my learning environment by bringing in different services and portlets in different configurations to suit my needs?
What I particularly like about reframing this sort of integration as “active consumption” rather than production (or development) is that it moves the boundary between “users” and system creators while still allowing that boundary to persist. Not every system service needs to be easy for non-propeller-heads to work with; only the ones that could be imagined as “remixing” the educational environment do. It pushes us to empower the users without having to turn them all into programmers.
And so far, existing LMS’s have mostly failed to provide this capacity for remix. As is often the case, Derek Morrison has said it best [PDF]:
When Amazon, Google et al made their services publicly available via either RSS or an API they had no idea that they would be used to create a gestalt…which adds context, meaning and value beyond what could be provided by any individual service. There is no evidence of such publicly available interfaces from which ‘unintended consequences’ will become possible forthcoming from the mainstream VLE vendors. For them such access is only granted to trusted ‘partners’….
Note the key phrase: unintended consequences. Remix happens in an environment in which users/consumers have the capacity to do more than the programmers/producers had planned or even imagined. An architecture that supports remix is an architecture that can be inflected by educators–even (or especially) non-programming educators.
As Morrison further points out in this must-read paper, the proprietary vendors (and I would add most existing FOSS LMS’s to this list) have created architectures that tend to prefer internal development and only selective integration:
Whilst some major league vendors may have certainly grasped the concept of service-driven standards-compliant architectures business logic dictates that they will want their services delivered via their platform….From the consumer perspective it’s important that we don’t confuse vendors apparent embrace of specifications, standards, repositories and services as ultimately freeing the consumer from ‘lock in’. Unless we are alert and responsive it will merely change the nature of that ‘lock-in’.
I would add that you don’t have to have sinister motives to arrive at an architecture that prefers internal development over integration and interoperability. For example, as I mentioned in my last post, the Moodle community has a (perfectly admirable) design requirement of keeping installation, maintenance, and development of the platform simple to enable guerilla installations. This may ultimately lead them to prefer (for example) a community-developed, PHP-based implementation of IMS Learning Design over the Java-based LAMS.
Anyway, the main point is that “remix” is a consumerist ideal that we need to take seriously when designing the next-generation LMS.