Remix and Reshuffle Revisited

FLOSS Manuals Remix
FLOSS Manuals Remix

A few years ago, I wrote a brief post on Remix vs Shuffle. At the time, the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement was struggling to work out how existing teaching materials could be remixed and reused. No one had really cracked it. At the same time, we built remix into FLOSS Manuals. The primary use case was for workshop leaders to be able to compile their own workshop manual from existing resources. We had a large enough repository of works, so it was a question of how we went about enabling remix.

Recently, I have been in two separate conversations about remix (after not having thought or talked about it for some time). One conversation was in the context of OER, the other in the context of remixing many journal articles into a Collection. So, I’m revisiting some earlier thoughts on the topic and updating etc…

At the time, we expected the FLOSS Manuals remix to be used a lot. I was a workshop leader myself and thought I could benefit from the feature. However, remixing wasn’t used very much by me (I did get some very useful manuals from using it, but didn’t use it often) or anyone else. Hence I wrote the reflection on remix (linked above). My position is outlined by the following quotes from that article:

I have come to the understanding the ‘remix’ as such has only a limited use when it comes to constructing books from multiple sources.

And the following, where I liken book remix to remixing of music to illustrate the shortcomings:

Text requires the same kind of shaping. If you take a chapter from one book and then put it next to another chapter from another book, you do not have a book – you have two adjacent chapters. You need to work to make them fit together. Working material like this is not just a matter of cross-fading from one to the other by smoothing out the requisite intros and outros (although this makes a big difference in itself), but there are other aspects to consider – tone, tempo, texture, language used, point of view, voice etc as well as some more mundane mechanical issues. What, for example, do you do with a chapter that makes reference to other chapters in the book it originated from? You need to change these references and other mechanics as well as take care of the more tonal components of the text.

I think these are valid points, but I think, revising this, there is one nuance I would like to add. Sometimes ‘shuffling’ is adequate where you are compiling an anthology which is, as it happens, the case when you are putting multiple journal articles into a collection. Building tools to enable this kind of ‘reshuffle’ is very useful but still I would question the usefulness in certain contexts. It is a use case that, from my experience, would be great as a tool used by, for example, a publisher or curator. I’m not sure of its usefulness in a more generic ‘user space’. Journal publishers do, in fact, make collections where several articles are compiled together to form one ‘bound’ work (often a PDF). In this space, such a tool could make life much easier. Whether members of the research community, for example, would want, need, or use such a tool is still an open question to me.

For information on how FLOSS Manuals Remix worked see here:

It is still working here:

Here is a video (ogg vorbis) demo of it in action, with the resulting PDF linked below.

my_pdf (note, the colored text is because, as shown in the demo above, I edited the styles via CSS to make the body text red).

video made with recordmydesktop.

Books as Learning Environments

Books are of course learning environments. However, this is usually understood from the perspective of the reader. What is often forgotten is that book production itself is a tremendous learning process. As people work together to write/illustrate/create a book together they are learning a tremendous amount about the subject.

Kieran Nolan, a teacher at DkIT1 in Ireland, asked students to create a book together using Booktype. The project was for a module called “User Theories” for fourth-year students in the BA (Honors) program in Communications and Creative Multimedia. The course looks at different interactive media types, different user groups and the creative ways in which people repurpose and reuse all the digital creation and distribution. In Kieran’s words:

“The topic we had last week in class was ‘Emotive Design’ and trying to reduce user frustration with interactive media. In other words, looking at ideas of giving interactive products personality (for instance, avatars) so that users feel some sort of connection and less alienated to the product. So the students are being asked to reflect on the readings and come up with their own idea for an ‘emotive interface.’”

Rather than creating the content individually, Kieran’s students are creating a book collaboratively. Kieran liked producing a book collaboratively online because the class could share their ideas, learn from each other, and learn about collaborative production by doing it. The fact that students can produce a book from the result adds another dimension for Kieran: “It bridges the gap between digital and print media and produces a tangible product.”

Kieran utilised the history feature of the production software to track a student’s contribution to the project. The work counted for 15% of the final mark.

Over the space of two weeks, the class collaborated online both in the lab and individually at home to create a compendium book of 21 original design concepts.

The students I teach are well accustomed to using the online space as a learning environment. While a lot of material can be covered in the space of a single lecture, extra time is often needed to help students absorb and reach a deeper understanding of their source material. Online discussion of in class topics helps facilitate this. So too experiential learning is essential for reaching a deep understanding of a subject.

We can, of course, imagine a perfect perpetual production book machine – students write textbooks together and learn the subject and get evaluated on their contributions- the next year’s students improve the textbooks and hand onto the next year’s students and get evaluated on their contributions etc. Students produce their own textbooks for their school and to fulfil their own learning needs.

There are some experiments going on in this area but not nearly enough. The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement is largely stuck in traditional publishing work processes. With time, hopefully, the value of learning within the book production processes will be understood and utilised to produce more open textbooks which students need.


Booki, OLPC and OER

You may be familiar with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. It’s pretty well known and aims to provide free laptops to children all over the world who otherwise could not afford them.

The OLPC is also a pretty good ebook reader, as demonstrated here:

eBook on the OLPC

The above image is taken from Reading and Sugar – an excellent manual by James Simmons about working with ebooks on the OLPC. The image shows a book taken from and imported into Booki – Booki then exported this to an ePub and this was opened on the OLPC as shown.

In the same manual, James talks about using Booki on the OLPC to author ebooks. To quote James:

“Booki is one of the best tools available for Sugar users to create e-books.  It can be used on the XO or from Sugar on a Stick.  It supports many authors collaborating on a single book.  It supports translating books into many languages.  It can create PDFs and EPUBs.  It can create books formatted for print-on-demand services.  It can create documents in Open Office ODT format (which Open Office can convert to MS Word format).  It can even be used to download, proofread, and correct EPUBs created by the Internet Archive.

Booki is an excellent option for teachers preparing textbooks, but it can be used by students for their own projects too.”

Below is an image from the same manual showing Booki being used in the Browse activity (the OLPC browser).

Booki on the OLPC

We are hoping the good work James has been doing will help raise the awareness of Booki as a platform for book authoring on the OLPC which would open up the world of publishing considerably and (we hope) open up exciting possibilities for OER (Open Educational Resources)…