Scott Leslie: Open Educator as DJ

Liveblog notes from Scott Leslie‘s IET Technology Coffee Morning on “The Open Educator as DJ: Towards a Practice of Network Performance”, on 14 July 2010 in the Jennie Lee Labs.

Scott is from British Columbia, and is currently a Visiting Fellow with the OLnet project.

(cc) deejayres on Flickr

His Prezi slides, notes and links are all available online.

Why Open Educator as DJ? Mass proliferation/reproduction of music led to DJs; similar situation now for educators. Digital music culture – we’re at a sea change with how we interact with information, new devices, digital instruments in to performance instruments – same now happening with knowledge. Distinction between online/real life no longer useful.

Idea of remixing isn’t new. But there are differences between mixing music and mixing learning materials.

Scott claims to be an amateur – not a specialist. Not a single technique demoed here that isn’t freely available and masterable in 15 minutes.

The workflow: Search, sample, sequence, record, perform, share.


First step is to find things – DJ goes through the record bins. For educators, Google, plus a mass of resources that are educational and licensed for reuse. Where do you find them? So many places to start. Don’t try to search every place, develop relationships with ones that work for you. Also can do constrained search. Made a site Free Learning – using Delicious to capture URLs of open educational resource sites, cooperatively, which populated a Google Custom Search Engine that searches over those sites. Constrained search over his RSS feed list – it’s not over the whole Internet, it’s over a lens of people he’s selected; it’s a way of adding trust and authority to your searching.


Taking out the bits that are really useful. Learning objects, OER – experience is there isn’t usually a perfect fit between what’s available and what you want. So take what you want. Simplest: Copy and Paste. So much time spent on interoperability … but copy/paste is ultimate interoperability. Except it breaks addressability, attribution, and so on. Next most obvious: the link! Overcomplicate things by trying to copy when linking to them will work. Bookmarking tools (Diigo, Delicious, TrailFire)  all help. If you use RSS feed readers, can have ability to star or share items, gives page of new items. Many repositories produce RSS feeds – Jorum, Merlot – follow on a keyword. Can link/sample to a specific part of a video – can link directly to a point in a YouTube video by adding ‘#34m23s’ to the end of the URL to start at 34:23 in to the video. Useful tools – DownThemAll (Firefox extension downloads all media files on a page); PwnYouTube (now lets you download YouTube. Video conversion tools – Zamzar,, Media-Convert – upload/reformat files online. Finally – if it’s really challenging to get at your content – kwout, Jing, Dapper (?). DRM arms race is folly – until they control the hardware, you can make a copy of it. A web browser is a copying machine! That’s how the web was built – an HTTP server sends you a copy of the page you want. Also – clipmarks and (by friend of Scott’s), EverNote – technologies that capture what you’re doing, and keeps the attribution. Can add to your book of notes by taking pictures, bookmarking, whatever. Creates clipbooks which has attribution/source, and making RSS feeds so you can get the content flowing out of there.

(cc) 1Happysnapper on Flickr


Wikis are good for simple web-page creation – e.g. MediaWiki, PBworks, Wetpaint – and blogs e.g. Blogger, WordPress. Then very simple tools like Posterous (works by email), Tumblr and Glogster – multimedia creation with no real skills required. RSS feeds can be aggregated with e.g. Suprglu, FriendFeed, though less sequencing. Feed2JS script, and Grazr.


Idea here is that there are times when you really can’t find stuff to reuse. Many tools to create – audio, pictures, video – easy, low skill level required. Should have at least one favourite of each of these. You don’t need to be really ‘artistic’. Rob Cunningham on ‘can’t draw’ – showed 15 ways to create cartoons that don’t require it. Example of XKCD, is only stick figures, but has tens of thousands of readers.

Generators – – Scott used an album generator for the images of records in this Prezi that he saw on that blog. “That’s nice, and fun, but what’s the point?” – will come back to this.


This is still important – the act of teaching, can involve actual performance. Can be asynchronous, but bridging techniques. Wikis can be presentation tools – with MediaWiki. He sent out a wiki page ahead of a keynote, asked people to add headings, and he built the presentation with them. But can then use it as a presentation tool, like Powerpoint. And, of course, Prezi, used for this presentation. Not just swooshing around, but also that it’s not sequential like a book, but a canvas, can build paths through it. It’s a presentation and a digital artifact you – or students – can explore for themselves. Including stuff not mentioned in the presentation; can also allow annotation. Zooming too. CoolIris – made for big walls of photographs. But any page that has lots of images, CoolIris does a great presentation of it.

Oops, a demo of this failed to work, and then the browser crashed. “Man, it sucks when your demos don’t work.” – but he carried on very well and relaunched it.

Also idea of having a Google Jockey – like in a face to face environment. As you’re doing a talk, one student Googles interesting stuff and shows it in a second screen. Can do with e.g. app sharing on a second screen in Elluminate. A way to augment the synchronous session while you’re going. Could be Google or any of the OER search techniques. See a lot in conferences when there’s lots of laptops. Also the backchannel! Today’sMeet, chatterous, TweetChat, and of course Twitter. And


No technologies specifically mentioned here – because all of the previous stuff happens in th eopen. So sharing isn’t a separate act, it’s all open.


Not implying there’s a single workflow. Showed lots of tools to show it’s not about a specific tool, should use what works for you. Not all DJs have the same flow, but they do have one. There is a flow of information, but learning to manage it is how you become a networked teacher or a networked learner.

Each step has value in and of itself. E.g. just the search, can add searching for OER in to your daily activity. Or sampling – how to grab for reuse – that’s useful too. Metaphor stitches these together.

If you start with the assumption that there’s already a ton of stuff, you produce new things that are simple, more engaging, and students can learn from the flow and step in to it themselves. Model what it means to be a network learner yourself. Not only is useful to produce your stuff, but models behaviour for your students.

It’s important that the metaphor is of a creative activity. The design, the experience is important. Borrowing a metaphor can be revealing about your own field. A classic from art education – take a subject, do it in different styles – not so you become those styles, but to inform your own. DJs often repurposed tools, built their own interfaces. Very much a maker/hacker culture of creating things that don’t exist. Many of these technologies are called tools, but they don’t work like we want them to. Our use doesn’t affect the tool – e.g. handle wearing to your hand.

If the metaphor of Educator as DJ doesn’t work, that’s fine – could be scientist, mash-up artist, whatever – seek out the metaphor you already bring. As long as it’s not educator as ditch-digger and student as wheelbarrow. Act of teaching is the supreme metaphorical act!

It’s also fun – work is so much better when it’s fun. Trent Bayson (?) Education is not management – fundamental problem is that noone chooses to use the educational software for fun, they’re like large textbooks. So don’t discard the fun, the playful.


Joe: As a metaphor, it’s quite a breakthrough, is really nice. There’s a very normative slant, like we should be teaching this way, and that’s Ok too. Will use a lot of these ideas. But open educator as jam session participant – the metaphor of DJ has a very broadcast-oriented slant to it. In this paradigm it all works but a different one might work differently.

Scott: I agree. But good DJs are very responsive to the crowd. There is a distinction, they’re not all the same. But don’t necessarily want to collapse the distinction between teacher and student. But do want to blur the lines. Not just broadcast any more. The techniques don’t have that aspect, are inviting people in to the open flow.

Pete: There are a couple of levels here. Sequencing, but presenting it as a sequence but in a broader context, a lot to learn as distance educators. Create a sequence to support people to learn but enrich view of the wider world, it’s not just one thing connected to another, but wider aspects.

Scott: Our challenge with ubiquitous access, we bring real value, but not to insist ours is the only view. Here’s a path we’re showing you, but there are tendrils that go off- expose them, show you. Business models have start, end, objectives – but students may intereact beyond the course. These are challenges, don’t shy away from them, try to firm up the boundaries, but explore things.

Chris: Like metaphor. When talk about reuse to practitioners, seems dull, against their originality. But comes across here that there’s lots of choice, variety, control, interest to your teaching. Do it once as a combined create/share act is fundamental.

Scott: We need to bridge researching and teaching roles better. But is an uneasy tension there in many institutions. Publicly funded to do one role, privately to do another. Bridge people’s lives so research in an open way so students can benefit. Not to trivialise.

Chris: Making reuse more exciting – motivates people to do it. Better argument than economic.

Scott: Online since 1976 – as 7-year-old through his Dad. Mostly self-taught on technologies, doesn’t occur to him not to share or look to see if someone’s already solved the problem. Seems intuitive to him but is counter to some institutional cultures.

Chris: We’re often wary of sharing anything but finished research. We at OU expose our teaching in progress through course teams.

Scott: Benefit to sharing early, sharing often. Art to knowing when to – can be too early. It’s not just your personal comfort level. If too early, not enough effort for others to benefit from. Too late and too much in. Wants a nice neologism. Same in software development: an idea is nice, but once you’ve written some code where it kind of does something, then people will get involved. When’s the right time to share is an important question.

Joe: Once you’re thinking about those questions, like with jam session, it’s not just about when to jump in, it’s what to play. And right crowd.

Scott: Howard Rheingold’s five networked literacies. Cooperation – understanding how to establish oneself in a network to have social capital and reputation so when you do share it’s paid attention to. Getting stuff to a point where sharing does engender further activity. Some really brilliant blog posts with no comments and interaction – but is like a term paper, not conversational. Different from formal research process where you get to some conclusion and then publish. Blogging as a conversational medium, they’re a networked dialogue.

Patrick: How do you keep control of what you’ve done? So you know what you’ve done. As you make contributions in new places all the time … have you found a tool where you gather it all together? A blog?

Scott: Personally. Have a couple of workspaces where any main things I produce go in to – my blog, my wiki. Some public spaces where I put things that flow back to me. Places to put things and be notified when used. Decisions about what’s valuable. People use commenting systems where everything flows back to you – not that concerned, not that important. If somebody’s done something and I’m riffing on it, not substantially my contribution, I’ll do it in that space and let it go there. But if I’m taking it and really running with it, redoing it, I’ll republish in my space. Decision is has my contribution been enough that I want credit for it vs just part of a networked dialogue.

Patrick: Is a mix of letting things go. Partly that one person getting confused is myself. Think I’ve left a Prezi presentation somewhere and have forgotten about it.

Scott: There’s a page on my site with links to my presentation, brings it all back, my own documentation. Like publications. My blog is my aggregator in that way. Not trying to bring all Tweets, comments etc back to my blog. Evaluating importance.

Someone: That might be Ok for you, but for other people might be difficult. Academic culture on ideas and data. If you’re a young academic mindful of publication record, competitive environment, might not want to distribute your ideas really widely, that’s your capital.

Scott: This is the major argument in academia. Wow. The only place in the universe where your value is increased by being more obscure. Every cultural/content industry is going through this transformation. Music is interesting where it hit early on. Efforts to create false economies of scarcity where you control flow of ideas are rearguard actions that are bound to fail. Ubiquitous access to knowledge is not a small disruption. This is of a large order. Fact that you’re an academic now where you’re only evaluated on limited criteria – that’s an artifact of the time you’re in. Change in the workplace, employee performance evaluation away from individual to network/team. Understand real pressures are there, but way forward is not through hoarding.

Someone: They remain normative practices in the mean time.

Scott: At some point something changes it. Those forces we don’t have control over, but have choices to make. Can choose to conform to forces, or swim against them – in constructive ways. Is the art of surviving in institutions. Like Seth Godin – has academic credentials, but is basically doing books, seminars under his nam. They’re not going to leave with a degree from Columbia, but a connection to his name. There are choices to make – within the normative make it easier in the short term, but if swimming against tides then may well change. Before I retire these forces will have greatly disrupted our institutions to a point where they’re almost unrecognisable. Let’s transform universities – if we don’t actively engage with these forces they will disrupt us and wash us away. Respect other choices, e.g. publication track record.

Will: Analogy of DJ may break down when think about DJ can go back 50-60 years, pick up a record and mix it. Have a problem with degradation of information. Also with quality. Institutions have quality control, why has every institution its own VLE – control is one reason.

Scott: Institutions overstate their ability to provide that quality. And the requirement for learners for it to exist. When money changes hands that expectation is set up. Big example is the ConAcademy – fellow has done 7000 YouTube videos, 30m hits – screencasts of solving maths problems. Not high production values. Speaks to learners with specific needs. Right cost/effort/granularity. When you get the combination right it can work. Proponents of PLE do often overstate/overestimate learners’ abilities, and their desires for these safe environments. Don’t want to do away with institutions. But find bridging strategies. Approaches that are economical and simple. Pressure of budgets disappearing. VLE – let’s not reify this thing, look at the pieces. A VLE is really just a common authentication to a set of tools that sends data back to a gradebook. Maybe with branding in there. It’s a real false starter the SLAs, etc. In IT it looks important. But any institution – if you think you can compete with commercial services with economies of scale 100x larger than you, you’re wrong. Some issues are FUD, some are real. Coherent, trusting experience for the users – that’s less expensive. Doing it through clients. We think of the web as spaces, but is wrong metaphor. It’s actually about flows and nodes, if any space exists it’s the space on their desktop, and there are things flowing in and out of that. So e.g. have an OU browser that can have some authentication to all those other services – that gives the coherency of experience. Need to think differently like that.

Keren: Presentation Ken Robinson gave to TED a while ago. Bemoaned that universities beget more academics, don’t do great job of preparation for life outside. Your model caters to that need better. Life at work doesn’t come with things in neatly quality-controlled boxes. If they’ve seen that more economical mode of production, and participated, would help them approach problem-solving, efficiency and other things they need in a working environment outside academia.

Scott: How many students will see Moodle outside an institution? Will see Google Docs, Wikipedia outside. We consistently force our requirements on to our wrong users – is absolutely the wrong way round. Give them freedom. You folks are big enough to become large enough aggregates to talk to commercial providers and formalise the relationship – with some contractual relationship, so not the Wild West. Google, Microsoft doing this. We’ll take this for all of our students, use real-world tools. Don’t want to get too wedded to that, want to keep some of the anarchy this technique endorses. Believe in the generative process of engaging in these. Knowledge isn’t poured out of a bucket, there’s a process of engagement that’s important. Messiness is not necessarily a bad thing.

Someone: Making learning and teaching fun, dear to my heart. How do students respond?

Scott: It just ignites students. Being realistic, people engage with formal education because is a path to credentials to a better life. Would be nice to think people engaged to become enlightened, inspired, but reality is not everybody does. But if you don’t offer the opportunity you’re much less likely to see it. It could happen – and it does in my experience.

Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

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