Singing In The Rain

A CONFERENCE ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE

S: I have to admit, I'm a little excited tonight! I've come to the conclusion that we must be watching a musical this evening!

D: Not much of a feat given that R said this week's movie was going to be chipper and full of music.

R: Well, I'll reveal the secret movie - it's Singing in the Rain .

O: Yea! I love this movie!

R: Who has seen this one?

(C, O, and V raise their hands)

C: What - S - you never rented this one for one of those many flights to Singapore?

S: Can't say that I did.

O: How can you grow up without seeing Singing in the Rain? Is that why you're so warped? Have you at least seen the Sound of Music?

R: Ok, ok. Let's get right to the movie. Popcorn is over by door.

V: I've brought some Good & Plenty 's to share, too. You know, to give it more of a movie theater feel.

D: Wow. V, you just gained several respect points.

V: (Somewhat confused) I think that was a compliment...

R: Ok, the movie!

(R turns on the movie, and the group passes 103 minutes of movie watching, interspersed with a variety of clever commentary about how transitions to new technologies are always painful, followed by a 10 minute bathroom break)

[To the reader: Please stop here and do not continue until after watching the movie. Yes. Really.]

R: So, you remember last week's movie and the way we connected it to learning objects. Any guess what this has to do with learning objects?

C: Maybe we're supposed to liken Lockwood's baloney story about his grand upbringing with the the respect we're supposed to pay esteemed international standards for learning object indexing and creation?

S: (Completely unoffended) A noble effort, C, but that was just lame.

O: What about all that stuff we were talking about during the movie? You know, about how impossible it is to figure out how to use technology even when it's readily available? This movie is just a two hour testament to the fact that succesfully implementing a new technology in any setting is much more a social problem than a hardware problem.

D: I think the line "I can't make love to a bush!" is one of my all time favorite movie quotes. Here they clearly have this great tech that can record her voice, but they can't figure out how to get the tech integrated in the flow of their activity.

O: It's the same experience teachers generally have with technology. It's supposed to be great, but side tracks their thinking and prevents them from fully engaging in their practice - just like the mic does to Lina.

C: And it's not just teachers trying to use powerpoint - it's instructional designers trying to use learning objects!

(Laughter and agreement)

V: I also enjoyed the fact that they're responding to a threat created by another organization that adopted the technology first. Monumental Pictures' primary interest in the technology isn't all the great things it will let them do - their interest is in keeping up with the Joneses and not getting left behind.

S: Those are both good points, but something tells me neither is the one R is trying to make.

O: Why not?

S: Because she could have chosen 1,000 other movies or stories to make any of those points. I think we're missing something.

R: S is actually on the right track. And my asking you was kind of unfair, because there's no way you could see the point I'm trying to make by watching the film...

D: (Cutting in, exapserated) Then why watch the film?!?

R: (Finishing) By watching the film... only. Do any of you know the story of how Singing in the Rain came to be?

D: Uh... let's see. Some people wrote a screenplay, some other people wrote some music. Gene Kelly showed up one day...

V: Actually I do remember hearing something about this. Didn't all the songs predate the film?

R: Yes, all but two .

O: Wait a second... so we're comparing the songs to learning objects?

V: (Reading from an obviously wireless-enabled laptop) Freed and Brown wrote most of the songs in the 20s and 30s... Apparently in the late 1940's someone got the notion that Comden and Green should write a screenplay that would integrate all the old songs into a single film.

O: Can you imagine? This sheds a whole new light on the conversation we had a few weeks ago about context and meaning.

S: Yes. Can you imagine the task? Taking a catalog of twenty year-old hit songs and writing a story around them?

R: Yes, I took the liberty of selecting a few. Think about how hard it might be to make a meaningful story around the hits of Olivia Newton John , Barry Manilow , or John Denver .

V: Isn't this what Movin' Out is? Didn't somebody write a musical around Billy Joel's catalog of hits?

D: Yes, and what they did with Mamma Mia! - it's based on all of ABBA's music.

R: Right. I'm not trying to suggest that such undertakings are near impossible, I just want to make the point that they take a significant amount of work. It's also worth noting that, when seen in the context of these musicals, the meanings of the songs change significantly.

C: Right, because they're in a new context. (Almost to himself) It's amazing what context can do. You would thing something as complex and full of words as a song would have a fairly static meaning, but it doesn't.

R: And neither do learning objects. Now, you can imagine what would have happened had you asked an intelligent system to create the necessary context around these existing resources that would make them a meaningful, communicative whole.

V: Yes, but that's not really a fair comparison, is it? An automated system would always be assembling resources based on a specific learner's need, not doing its best to make a meaningful unit out of otherwise related resources...

O: Fair enough, but I don't think it invalidates the point about how hard it can be to build a meaningful unit out of pre-existing materials, regardless of the selection rule you use for choosing the resources.

S: I think we've all had experiences with faculty that have a chosen a great textbook and a great set of additional readings that still couldn't put these together into a meaningful unit.

C: If we're going to be this simple-minded about it, I've had a couple of girlfriends who - even with access to all the right ingredients - couldn't cook their way out of a very wet paper bag.

R: What I take away from the Singing in the Rain example, and C's girlfriends, is that there is some art involved here. Those who would claim that instructional design is 100% science and, therefore 100% automatable, seem to be missing something fundamental about how people communicate and connect with each other. Anyone can walk into a lecture hall with a set of overheads and lecture notes. It takes a teacher to help the students really connect with those existing resources.

D: I'm sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to go...

C: What, have you got a...

O: (Cutting in) We won't ask.

R: Well then, what are the summary questions for the evening?

O: I think one has to do with the role of people in creating context in order to communicate a specific message to someone else.

D: Sounds very behavioral to me, no matter how you dress it up.

R: Anything else?

V: Should we pull in the other insights from the movie, about the difficulty of integrating new technology into business processes, or adoption to keep up with the Joneses?

C: Like we said earlier, I think those are pretty generic phenomena.

S: One of the last examples make me wonder, though. Is there anything new under the sun? How is reusing and connecting learning objects with learners any different from reusing and connecting textbooks, research articles, and transparencies with learners?

V: Huh...

R: Ok. How about this:

  1. In the brick-and-mortar metaphor of learning objects use, what factors go in to making a good mortar, and in building a useful brick structure? How do you create meaningful context?
  2. Is creating a meaningful context for learning object reuse any different from creating a meaningful context for reusing other educational materials, like book chapters or research articles?

R: I think we may get further into some of these issues next week with our last films.

D: (Appalled) Filmzzz? Plural?

R: Yes. I'll be buying dinner for everyone again - a nice dinner this time. It's going to be an awesome evening. I'll see you all then!

Citation: admin. (2006, January 17). Singing In The Rain. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.usu.edu/instructional-technology-learning-sciences/advanced-topics-in-learning-object-design-and-reuse/context2.htm.
Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License