Remix culture and education

In my last blog post I illustrated a new model of digital literacies in the context of the remix culture. Since then, several have asked me what I mean by remix culture, and how it applies to education.

Remixing is the act of taking previously created works or artefacts and adapting them in some way. Sometimes several works are combined or ‘mashed up’ to create new versions. In the digital age, where many have access to the participatory web such as social media, it is easier than ever to remix and mashup content.

Remixing is a human pastime that has existed for millennia. We see or hear something we like, and we try to make our own personal version of it. In popular culture, folk songs and stories, often with no traceable origin, have been sung or told, and then retold across the generations. Often old stories and songs are modified to meet the needs or interests of contemporary society. Parodies and satirical versions of original stories or songs are also considered to fall into this category of remixing.

One of the most widespread examples of digital remix is Wikipedia. The online encyclopaedia relies almost exclusively on members of the public to share their knowledge and update contents. That knowledge is published, and then modified and remixed to the point where it becomes more accurate. The appeal of Wikipedia and also any digital remix is that it is never complete. It is always a work in progress.

The digital age has given us many tools which can be used to easily remix the work of someone else. Garage Band for example, enables the production and reproduction of just about any musical instrument sound, and allows the user to mix these into a musical sequence. Photoshop is software that allows users to do the same thing with images. Vidding, modding, sampling and hacking are all techniques developed in the digital age to modify, remix and repurpose existing content. This article tells us why the remix culture is such an important movement because ‘all cultural artefacts are open to re-appropriation’ when the meaning ascribed to objects is transient.

Remixing is a creative process. It takes imagination to adapt an existing piece of art or music into something new or apply it in a completely different context. However, in formal education settings, remixing is sometimes seen as undesirable. For example, some students copy and paste content from the web into their own work, and claim that it is their own. This is clearly plagiarism, and is considered an academic offence. If instead they paraphrase the ideas of another and cite the source, it is research and is considered acceptable. There is a fine line between copying and remixing. It is the extent to which you can prove that your own influence, imagination and thought processes have been invested into the work of someone else to make it significantly different to the original piece that assumes importance.

There are many educational applications for remix. Any of the above tools can be used to promote creative thinking. Students can also be encouraged to think more critically about the origin and provenance of content, and how it can be so easily subject to change. Teachers should be aware of existing copyright law, and also how to use licences such as Creative Commons to discover and share content that is specifically created for remixing.

About the author – Steve Wheeler

Steve Wheeler is Associate Professor of learning technology in the Plymouth Institute of Education at Plymouth University. I chair the EDEN Network of Academics and Professionals and I serve on the editorial boards of a dozen international journals, including the open access publications Research in Learning Technology (formerly ALT-J), Digital Culture and Education, EURODL and IRRODL. I’m a Fellow of the European Distance and E-learning Network (EDEN) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. My research interests include learning technology, cybercultures, creativity and social media.

Follow Steve on Twitter @timbuckteeth

Check out Steve’s blog

Image from Wikipedia (remixed by Steve Wheeler)

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