The Idea Generator

Karlstad University

Nobody Puts baby in a Corner

A year ago I went to Karlstad University with Tom Woodward thanks to the kind invitation from the great Jörg Pareigis to run a workshop for a group of faculty running open courses. It was a fun workshop, we used ds106 as a model for an open course and quickly found ourselves encouraging faculty to consider how a tool like WordPress can be used to build the open course experience they imagine. This led to a group of faculty teaching a course on Idea Management for the Karlstad Business School. Here is a quick description of the course from its website:

This course is designed for professionals with an interest in idea management and is available to both for-credit (registered students) and non-credit participants (non-registered students). It features openly available, weekly, interactive video lectures from a variety of CTF researchers, other researchers as well as practitioners.

This course was run in conjunction with Karlstad’s Service Research Center, and the folks there were more than willing to explore what might be possible. In particular, professors Peter Magnusson, Lars Olsson, Johan Netz, and Alex Sukhov were keen on trying to design a tool wherein in ideas could be proposed and refined over time as part of an open course community. Sounds pretty ds106-y to me, but given I can’t build anything other  than animosity, the development of this tool was all on Tom. If it’s not already apparent through his regular documentation of his WordPress development at VCU over the past 4 years, Tom has become a seriously amazing ed-tech developer. He was already amongst the most imaginative, funny, and creative folks I’ve been lucky enough to work with in edtech, but he locked in the last four years and has the technical chops to make WordPress do his will—and that is good for all of us. I think his work on Anth101, to name just one thing that pops in my head, is nothing short of brilliant—so while I may be useless, I can pick a winner! 🙂

Tom in Sweden

Over the course of the two-day workshop the basics of the Idea Generator were born. Over the last year we have been working in fits and starts with Jörg, Johan, and Alex to actually build the tool, and just last week it went live for the second module of the course. It’s pretty cool, and very much in keeping with the SPLOT idea (or Tiny Targeted Tools) of small, easy to use tools (often built on top of WordPress) that accomplish a specific task for a course community. And ideally they can be abstracted out, as was the ds106 Assignment Bank, to have a broader appeal.

Anyway, the Idea Generator starts off as a form wherein folks submit their idea:

Simple enough, and as you might expect people can get feedback on their ideas and revise based on this feedback.

But where it starts to get cool is the tool will visually track changes and revisions of an idea over time:

Branching idea revisions based on feedback

And this starts to make good sense given that ideas discussed and cultivated as part of a communal feedback loop might get refined over time. I am really interested to see how the feedback and revisions loop goes. The ideas are just starting to be submitted, so the revisions will happen in the next few weeks, and I am excited to see how they branch out and change as a result of this tool.

Tom also did some custom development work to give everyone in the class a profile page, make posting to the blog seamless, making the aggregation of generated ideas simple, and generally making this WordPress site a robust, stand-alone resource site for this open course. It’s been fun to watch this become real, and it will be interesting to see how the tool is used, and whether or not it might make sense to abstract it as a SPLOT/plugin for others. An Idea Management course with fresh ideas for teaching, I can get behind that! Walk the walk….

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2 Responses to The Idea Generator

  1. Alan Levine says:

    I’m with you in the line marked “Big Fans of Tom Woodward” — this is very cool, and like many of these ideas, they spring from the mond/desire of an instructor, not some commercial focused entity.

    I had a similar idea that never made it off paper back in the early SPLOT days I called it “The Brancher”, good to see this is it.

    For those that may harp on why we keep doing these in WordPress, to me it’s the ability to change function, add feature as you go without requiring ripping apart the infrastructure, because it’s more like a lego kit than anything else. Actually I have thought a better comparison is HyperCard, where the front visual end made it easy for people w/o scripting skills to assemble interesting things not constrained by the limits of the tool, but also, if you have the chops, you get under the hood and use a progamming environment that still do s not require multiple CIS degrees to use.

    One of the constant challenges in making these things, and one I am far from perfecting, is how to make them generalized enough for a large number of uses/peoples skills to configure. It’s relatively easy word WordPress (or any other platform) geeks to do a tool site for one use.

    This has come into play with the form based SPLOTs in that the instructions for the form, labels are hard-wired into the template, so they try to be general. If you know PHP, you can get in and change, but then you are locked out of theme updates or must redo them. At request of a Coventry faculty, I have done a prototype of the Collector where anyone can edit all the form field titles/descriptions via the WordPress Customizer.

    This idea, from an instructor, once fleshed out, can flow back into the other SPLOTs. That’s [but one reason] why I like using this platform.

    • Reverend says:

      Yeah, that is really an interesting move, how these tools become generalizable like the assignment bank theme you made. I think if they can become more akin to plugins and/or themes that gets us closer, and you punch in the details once it is installed. If that were the case, you could have a plugin/theme installed on a WP that say a technologist customizes/localizes for their community, then they use an environment like Reclaim (always be selling) to provide that as a SPLOT for their instructors. The plugin bit allows it to be abstracted from one school (or a one-off project) and I’d like to see the resources flow back into making SPLOTs more sustainable in that regard, and I think a partnership/fellowship might be in order 🙂

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