The Pachyderm is Coming to Town

No, this is not about the circus. Well, we hope not. Tomorrow (Jan 30) is our Pachyderm: Building Meaningful Content with Learning Objects Dialogue Day event for about 70 registered participants from our colleges, held at Paradise Valley Community College (our “Dialogue Days” are one day special events, workshops, etc that are organized by our office in response to requests of faculty or promising trends, etc).

Pachyderm is one of the most promising tools that would actually be able to build something useful from so-called “learning objects”. Developed by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as a vehicle to allow non-technical staff (museum curators) to create rich multimedia web/CD/kiosk experiences that add layers of context around the museum exhibits, and it is constructed via a web interface that accesses a database of digitized assets. It is not a small leap to say this is a similar need for faculty, so SFMOMA in conjunction with the New Media Consortium (NMC) have launched the Pachyderm 2.0 project with this goal in mind- to create an open-source authoring platform for educators.

It is not just another tool, especially when you look deeply at some of the SFMOMA examples such as Ansel Adams at 100 and Making Sense of Modern Art. This are not just your hybercard-like “click next and back, read content” presentations that are all too common, nor are they the “sit back and watch a flash animation of a chick embryo”- Pachyderm content is exploratory, non-linear, media-rich, and most importantly, it build relevant and thought provoking context around a subject.

Anyhow, we are fortunate to have Peter Samis from SFMOMA visit us tomorrow and provide an overview of Pachyderm, how SFMOMA uses it, and background on the planning, storyboarding process they use to create online content (if you are not coming, Peter gave an excellent Breeze presentation at the NMC Online Conference on Learning Objects, we have an archived copy). We then have a series of group activities where we ask participants to try and pretend they are art faculty (if not already) and have them use the SFMOMA storyboard templates for timeline, comparison of media, and variety of media screens to build (on paper) the schematics for a Pachyderm content piece based on a small selection of the Buxton Art collection that is on display right where the activities take place. Our “database” is a printed sheet with information about the paintings.

We know faculty may resist doing an activity out of their discipline, but the thought is that every subject area can extrapolate the use of a timeline to their own discipline. The Comparison of Media screen is rather unique and shows how Pachyderm can be more of a deep learning tool than just presenting content. In a following activity, we group them by discipline so they can start thinking about what subjects, activities, concepts might work well in a Pachyderm type format.

This first event is purposely done without jumping into technology and the computers, as we want our folks to think at a higher level of what such a platform could do, to think about the development process, planning, acquisition of digital assets, etc. The plan (hopefully) is to follow this event up with another hands-on session in late April, when we hope there is some version of the Pachyderm software we can use then online. Between now and then, the people who are interested can be thinking about what kind of Pachyderm project is do-able and worth doing.

So mount up! Pachy is comin’ to town!

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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.