Inspired by an iWipe: Reuse Objects? Use Web Apps?

I was pretty sure I had seen it before in quick passing, by Michael Feldstein’s recent mention of Instructables led me back for a slight deeper scan:

Here’s a nice little tool, community, and design pattern for creating and sharing how-to learning objects. Basically, it provides a wizard for inputting text step descriptions and illustrative images. Mix in some Flickr-style usability principles and some folksonomic tagging goodness, and you have a nice little instructional confection.

Following a long line of resources for the Do It Your Self Type leading up and through MakeZine, Istructables provides both a collection of information for those interested and a platfom for building illustrated guides on how to build stuff.


What can you learn to make? A bike rack made of PVC pipe, Computer-controlled music-synchronized Flashing Christmas Tree Lights, 3D chocolate printer made from LEGO, Patternmakiing tips for Bras, and my favorite, How to turn an old Mac into a toilet paper holder, or an Apple iWipe (pictured).

Okay, it would be easy to dismiss this stuff as niche activities for nerds, glue gun and soldering island junkies, and people who comb through garbage to find useful parts.

But I agree with Michael, when you look more closely at the environment set up on the site, the flickr like use of photos with notes areas to highlight key features, the use of tags, there is something worth considering past the silly content.

The instructables site, a free web app hanging out there, is a versatile content creation platform. Written in the “about” section, beyond the history, is a glint at a place to record things that are essentially linear in form (steps in building a project) but may be constructed of steps that may be common to other projects:

A key insight behind instructables is that humans are constrained to working in linear time – ie you do things sequentially and are generally not in two places at once. This gives us the overall framework for instructables, a way of documenting the sequence of steps that are undertaken to make any particular thing or do any task. Many of the sub-sequences will be re-useable. Why have everyone document how to drill a hole repetitively? These sorts of things should be seen as share-able sub-routines in the library of how to do things. Add to that the power of a large community filtering sub-routines for best practice and you get an expanding library of human knowledge, craftsmanship, and best practice for making just about anything.

Does that ring of the decades old not very much realized goal of resuable learning objects, but here they are, in the flesh? Maybe it is reusable “doing” objects. I don’t care what you call it- it’s a tool that mere mortal, non technical people can use to create multimedia content.

As Michael suggests:

We’re starting to see more and more of these specialized tools that instantiate particular design patterns to address specific learning needs. What we need to do now is to start codifying them into a pattern language.

So no, not all learning could be encapsulated in this structure, but think of how many things taught would benefit from a clear sequence of illustrated steps, in a shared environment that allows content to be mixed and matched. What could be cast into this form? How to write an argumentative essay? How to differentiate an equation? How to conduct a titration? How to measure strike and dip of a stratigraphic layer? How to…

But the bigger question is- with all these free content constructions tools blossoming like mad weeds, the free hosted wikis, the flickr and wanna-bes, the various feedmixers, the social bookmark collections, the free hosting of rich media at places like Ourmedia, are there hordes of teachers yet beating down a path to use them? I am extremely interested in hearing of educators who are exploiting these Web 2.0 (or whatever decimal place they fall into) tools that maybe were not built explicitly for learning, but have been used to do exactly that.

As many people who have gotten excited when I demo-ed all the things you can do in an app like Flickr (annotating images, building slide shows, holding discussions, group pools, syndicating images, the cool stuff Michael’s colleague Beth harris has done with Art history, things like flicktion or the Memory Maps), there really does not seem to be as much of a rich treasure of educational uses as I thought might bubble up. Or maybe I am just not seeing them (which is entirely possible).

I’ve done more than my share of trying to push these tools for consideration, and I do get some pushback from our teachers who say, “I don’t want my students to have to have remember another log in” or “They cannot handle another interface beyond their Blackboard”, or “my colleagues fear storing our work on an outsider’s site that may disappear.” It really does not hold up against the way not just the Net generation, but the Grandmma Generation, the Boomer Generation, are using technology outside of school.

So I just cannot buy into the notion that learning is “managed” by a single über tool. I think it is much more relevant, much more timely, much more valuable, to exploit a number of environments and tools, because the technology land under our feet is not fixed and stable, but a rapidly shifting tectonic force.

So tell me, where are the cool, compelling pieces of content that educators are spinning out of Web 2.0 sites? Is there life outside of the CMS?

Whew! I need a wipe now.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.