Monday, 19 April 2010

Inspired by Shirky

I'm sure other people have written reviews on Shirky's brilliant Here Comes Everybody (not least this interesting page on Wikipedia) so rather than attempt a review I'm just going to try and think about an application of one of his ideas in the book that I found particularly striking.

For a while now I've been thinking about how I could develop more academic skills resources for students here at Leicester (and anyone else who would find them useful for that matter) and I've come to the conclusion that I can't. At least not at the scale I'd like to. My job involves various aspects including teaching, student consultations, managing the website, overseeing our helpdesk, and resource development. The resource development bit just gets squeezed into the gaps around all the other stuff. However, without wanting to blow my own trumpet (okay, maybe just a little bit), many of the resources I've developed have been well received - having more than 50,000 views (yup, fifty thousand) and lots of good feedback. The resources are:
You'll see I've tried a number of formats; the flash-based tutorial using Adobe presenter (inspired by the Vaughan Library tutorials), I once also tried to ape (briefly) the CommonCraft in Plain English videos (though you can't call your own creations that) but they were deceptively difficult to produce. The critical student one was inspired by Steve Boneham's Overview of microblogging from JISC web2practice. What I really like about this last format is:
  • you don't need much technical skill (other than a good working knowledge of PowerPoint animation) to create them;
  • other than PowerPoint the tools you can create them with are free (I used Screenr to do the screen capture and audio);
  • neither do the tools require any installation (useful when working in an environment that restricts such things);
  • when published on YouTube you can add closed captions (useful for accessibility reasons);
  • it's embeddable;
  • and the format is even suitable for mobile devices (like the iPhone).
So, how does this all relate to Shirky? Well, it comes back to the point that I can't develop online resources as much as I'd like too. So how about I try and demystify the process a bit and try and get others more involved (either other learning development professionals or subject academics interested in academic skills). The last chapter of Shirky's book is called Promise, Tool, Bargain, in it he says this (p.260).
Every story in this book relies on a successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users. The promise is the basic "why" for anyone to join or contribute to a group. The tool helps with the "how" - how will the difficulties of coordination be overcome, or at least be held to manageable levels? And the bargain sets the rules of the road: if you are interested in the promise and adopt the tools, what can you expect, and what will be expected of you?
Although he does say in the next sentence...
[...] the interaction of promise, tool, and bargain cannot be used as a recipe, because the interactions among the different components is too complex.
But even though he says it can't be used as a recipe, I still think it's worth a go. I could apply for funding for this but there's little of it about in higher education at the moment, in any case, I'd like to see if it can be done without funding. So...


Or why would anyone want to be involved in this project? Well, I think it's a good opportunity to contribute some valuable creative commons, open educational resources and learn some valuable new skills.


We'd need a space to discuss and collaborate on the development of the resources. It could be Twitter, it could be this blog, or it could be a space we set up especially for the purpose (as long as it was public and not a walled garden like Ning). In terms of developing the tutorials themselves I guess people could use whatever tools they liked but I think it's important that the final output should be in YouTube with closed captions for reasons of both consistency and accessibility. My recent experience, as mentioned above, has been with PowerPoint and Screenr, but people could use whatever animation (I'd love to see it done with Open Ofiice's Presentation tool) and screen capture software they were most familiar with.


Shirky says this is difficult to pin down at an early stage, but it would include receiving feedback, comment and support from me and whoever else joins.

It might not work of course. This whole idea also relates to another of Shirky's chapters, Lowering the cost of failure, but that's probably the subject of another post. If between us we could make 5 or 10 decent tutorials I think it would be a worthwhile project.

What have I missed? If there's enough interest this post will need a part two, which will be more of a how-to, including the original template files. Who'd like to help?


  1. Great post Stu - see where blogging gets you?! Hope that you get something up and running from this, happy to be included.

  2. Looks good to me. Ning doesn't have to be a walled garden tho... (but not sure people will want to be using it now tho anyway!!). Definitely interested in being involved too!

  3. [...] With thanks to Stuart Johnson at the University of Leicester who posted this in one of his recent blog posts. [...]

  4. Great resources Stuart. We're at an early stage with a lot of this but we've produced a few podcasts recently and I'm trying to maintain some LDHEN-generated momentum and produce some new stuff in the coming months. So yes, definitely interested.

  5. Excellent. I'll do another post with a few more ideas and will let you know. Hopefully next week

  6. I am very new to all this stuff, but work closely with adam Read-our learning technologist-and hold your critical thinking screencast in high regard. Would really like to get involved with this sort of project in a sort of 'teaching and old dog new tricks' kind of way! Am all in favour of 'demystification' of anything, but especially of the technology!
    Have just read the first chapter of the Sharky boot at Amazon, and went straight to purchase the book-so thank you for that.

  7. Hi Helen. Thanks for commenting. I hope to follow up the post later this week when I've given it some more thought but really pleased you're interested

  8. [...] the plagiarism tutorials creative commons by Stuart Johnson on 28/04/2010 Since my recent Inspired by Shirky post I’ve decided to make the plagiarism tutorials creative [...]

  9. [...] study skills tutorials by Stuart Johnson on 12/05/2010 In my Inspired by Shirky post a few weeks ago I finished up by saying: If there’s enough interest this post will need a [...]