Hacking and Reuse: A Regrouping


Via Clay Fenlason: “Feeling like the time spent to understand WTF is talking about would be well spent, but who has that kind of time?”

Fair enough. I blog mostly for myself, to try and push on my own ideas in front of a relatively small group of people I know who push back. And part of that process is a bit manic and expansive. At some point that’s followed by a more contractive process that tries to organize and summarize. Maybe it’s time to get to that phase.

So I’ll do that soon. What I’ll say in the meantime is that all of this stuff — hybrid apps, storage-neutral apps, federated wikis, etc — is interesting to me because of my obsession with hacking and reuse. Why is reuse so darn hard? Why don’t we reuse more things? What systems would support a higher degree of reuse and sharing, of hacking and recombination? What are the cultural barriers?

There are implications to this stuff far bigger than that, but reuse (and hacking, which is a type of reuse) has been a core obsession of mine for a decade now, so that ends up being the lens.

You go to an event and there’s 50 people taking pictures of it individually on their cell phones, none of whom will share those photos with one another, yet all of whom would benefit from sharing the load of picture taking. There are psychological and social reasons why that’s the case, but there’s also technological reasons for that. Likewise there are brilliant economics teachers who have built exercises and case studies that would set your class on *fire* if you used them — but you’ll never see them.

I’ve been over the several hundred reasons why reuse doesn’t happen, over a period of ten years, It’s not just about the technology, absolutely. But occasionally I see places where reuse explodes, and the technology turns out to be a pretty big piece of that. My wife is a K-3 art teacher. And Pinterest just exploded reuse in that community. Sharing went from minimal to amazing in the space of 12 months. And suddenly she was putting together a much better art curriculum than she could have ever dreamed of in half the time, in ways that had a huge impact on her students.

So — reuse, sharing, networked learning, hacking. I’m interested in the two sides of this: first, we must teach students how to work this way. We have to. And two, we have to get our colleagues to work this way.

What does that have to do with the shift to hybrid apps? With moving from a world of reference to a world of copies and forks? With storage-neutral designs? With the pull request culture of GitHub vs. the single copy culture of OER?  With the move back to file-based publication systems? I’m still trying to work that out. But I think the answer is “a lot”, and a post is coming soon.

95 thoughts on “Hacking and Reuse: A Regrouping

    • I think there’s a couple things. But something like a fifth of internet-using American females are on Pinterest. And most K-3 art teachers are female, so you’re probably looking at a fifth of art teachers using it just based on that. Add to that that adoption by people who do crafts and decorating is high and I think that even before it became a professional network for art teachers a majority were already on it. So the ubiquity helped.

      The second big lesson is one we know from other domains but keep forgetting — make “sharing” and “use” indistinguishable. In order to save something for her class, Nicole saves it to her board. That process, which makes it accesible to her, also is the process by which it is shared to other people. Conversely, the process with most OER is to drag it into an LMS, or link to it instead of copying it. So use in OER is a process of making “not-shared”. Sharing and use are seperate actions.

      The final lesson is stop idolizing creators in your software design. Idolize the sharers. Reward the sharers. In the end, this makes a better world for creators too. Every major OER project I’ve seen (short of maybe Wiley’s efforts) has started from the premise that we need to fund creation of OER or OER repositories in a very “creator-out” sort of way. Here’s a question I have not heard once in an OER presentation “How do we make it really fun for people to share OER that they DIDN’T build themselves?” Because it’s that audience and network of sharers that’s the secret sauce, not the Yale prof you sign to write your textbook.

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