Migrating content to the web
Learning what I am doing I have been approached by two academics who would like advice on how to migrate content to the web to support their students, both are heavy hitters. Their apparently being somewhat behind the times ought not to tarnish their professionalism as educators; one is a professor in a faculty of law, the other a retired Oxford philosopher and political scientist.
For a decade now I have tried to imagine how the contents of a person’s brain might be saved, not just the content, but how they value and use it, including some kind of artificial intelligence so that should or when (inevitably) they die, or simply lose their faculties or retire, their life’s work can live on.
We know that simply putting stuff online doesn’t work.
I recall with pain being told to migrate the content of an extensive and rich interactive multimedia learning experience from a CD-rom to the web, none of the affordance of the web were to be given consideration, other than ‘having it out there.’ Video clips, this is 1998, were reduced to a snap shot (not streaming), and much of the interactivity was lost. i.e. it was reduced to a series of cascading pages, no better than a catalogue or at best a slide show. Over a decade later the Internet works best where it plays to its unique strengths, which must include thinking how it will improve and change much more.
How therefore, beyond a podcast and lecture notes, do I go about this task?
In the case of the Oxford don he has hundreds, thousands of books and paper and stacked three rows deep to the ceiling of rooms and corridors. Like a fairytale orphan confronted with a gargantuan task that can never be completed there is a feeling that every must count. I suspect that the only way in will be to interview this gentleman at length and use this as a way in, even go on a guided tour of the ‘contents of his brain.’ His is a journey coming to an end.
In the case of the professor in law the journey is just beginning, this is a path she will travel herself.
Do I therefore arm her with some of the basic tools to go down the DIY route?
Might it start with something as simple as a blog populated with lecture notes?
Or given the tendency for blogs to be a tad informal, might an e-portfolio be the answer?
Surely her faculty has a well-established policy and support network by now.
The degree to which academics behave like and are treated like boffins who only function in isolation surprises me. Their lack of commercial savvydoesn’t surprise me.
Their motivation isn’t financial, it is recognition and reputation.
Though this should not be a reason to encourage them to empty the contents of their brains online for anyone to exploit it as they see fit (or unfit).
My approach will be that of a professional communications consultant, someone whose tasks is quite simple.
What is the immediate problem that needs to be addressed?
We have to start somewhere, even if it is nothing more than the last paper they published, or the first.
What is the opportunity?
In their eyes what do they hope or expect to achieve and having discussed it with me, what do they consider to be the best outcome? Who are we talking to? (or teaching, or engaging, or impacting …)
In the case of the Oxford don, ‘everything online for everyone to exploit’ would be akin to building a match-stick model of the Eiffel Tower with chopsticks. The task would never end. Parameters must be set. A good beginning, will lead to a pleasant, potentially constructive and even valuable journey.
What is the message?
What are we trying to say?
And what do we want this audience to take from this? If they are students the completed essays or assignments of the best pupils these academics have taught (if we even have the rights to publish such work), serves no purpose – our interest is in the learning journey, not someone else’s journey’s end.
How do we want them to respond to this message?
See how it is message in the singular. However high the pile of papers, or however full the folder with documents, I want both to think in terms of single learning objects, taken one a time, rather than volumes of material.
To create connectivity between resources they need to be appropriately weighed, assessed, reversioned or multi-versioned and tagged. One at a time.
What do they say, in their words, about this asset or object?
What do we expect them to say?
Hear them speak. Something that is achievable, ultimately, through comment, feedback and evaluation. For now we must use our powers of imagination, we should put words into their mouths, suppose the best outcome.
And finally, kept to a few sentences or bullet points, bearing in mind the focus we require, ‘what else do we need to know.’
Not background notes, not ‘everything,’ but specifically, based on decisions already made by answering the questions above.
Make a start. Put something out there. It may be nothing more than a drop of ink in the digital ocean, an air-rifle shot into cyberspace, but it’s a start.