Everyone’s a DJ: Defining the Instructional Remix

Joel Dickinson
Sara Hurley

In this modern age, everyone’s a DJ – whether they know it or not. DJs create new meaning by blending records, samples and other aural elements together, just as instructors and instructional designers blend content together in new ways to create learning experiences that are engaging and innovative. These new pieces are “instructional remixes,” but there are also other forms of remixing happening within the academic world. These include a combination of ideas, cultures, and areas of knowledge in interdisciplinary work and the mingling of identity between our academic, personal, and professional selves.

Using remix concepts as a springboard for developing curricula and instruction led to valuable and interesting results. In the School of Public Health, we have begun using terminology borrowed from remix theory and DJ culture to inspire faculty, connect with students in new ways, and challenge our personal identities and their intermingling.

Remix History
All of us are inspired by the ideas that came before. We use these previously existing ideas and concepts as foundations upon which to add, edit, and reconfigure, as well as to create new pieces of art, computer programs, languages, and architecture. Throughout history, we have celebrated remixers even before the term was coined. Many see remixes as devoid of originality or creativity, when, in actuality, they may require more originality than seen at first glance.

Some famous remixes include Judy Garland & Barbra Streisand’s “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” medley; nearly all of Walt Disney’s fairytale films, including “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Tangled”; Thom Yorke’s lyrics for Radiohead’s “Kid A” album (which used the cut-up technique); the Marilyn and Campbell’s Soup prints by Andy Warhol; and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats,” which adds music, dance and a plot to the classic poems by T.S. Eliot.

To begin using the concepts of remixing in education, we must define key terms that sometimes may carry different implications when applying them to different disciplines.
Remixing in Education
When we apply the concept of remixing to education, there are a number of different forms this can take. Remixing could refer to a new combination of instructional materials, a new mix of concepts and ideas, or a combination of identities and expertise.

Remixing materials
The Scenario
For PubH 6560: Operations Research and Quality in Healthcare, a fully online course, Dr. Sandra Potthoff was concerned about students losing interest with nothing but lectures.  She wanted to find creative ways to remix a traditional course lecture.  To do that, she found real-world multimedia that she could use to ground explanations of some course concepts.  The challenge was how to truly incorporate these multimedia components, rather than just posting a link to the external multimedia resources. How would we remix the multimedia components with lectures, assignments, and case studies?

Identifying the Remix 
The first step was to identify the different components to be included in these instructional remixes and their sources. What we came to see as both a good remix and a good use of time was to incorporate a Father Guido Sarducci (of “Saturday Night Live” fame) video from YouTube, combining that with some traditional lecture with PowerPoint, and creating screen capture videos. This combination of media seemed especially effective, since it would provide students the traditional lecture segments which the School of Public Health uses in a variety of other courses. By integrating the short external video with Father Guido Sarducci, students wouldn’t leave the course for very long – just enough for a short break.  Since the Father Guido Sarducci video had already been produced, this instructional remix only required the lectures and screen capture videos to be developed by an in-house production team.

Arranging the Remix
Next, we worked to sequence these components in a meaningful way that would guide students through each lesson. In order to give students a context for the video, we decided it would be important to have a brief introduction that would place the video in context and then follow that up with more detailed instruction. This instruction would further explain how Father Guido Sarducci’s 5 Minute University concept can be used in modeling practice. The next step was to select the most appropriate technology for delivery and presentation of these components. It was determined that Moodle books, with its ability to sequence the items as chapters, but also provide flexibility to incorporate a wide range of multimedia types was the most appropriate and readily-available technology.

In the first chapter of the lesson, Dr. Potthoff introduces the “Father Guido Sarducci Principle of Modeling.” This component is a traditional online lecture video that combines images and narration, recorded and produced in TechSmith Camtasia. Once this video portion is completed, students gain access to the next chapter of the Moodle book, which contains an embedded YouTube video where Father Guido introduces his “5 Minute University” concept. After completion of this video segment, Dr. Potthoff returns in the next chapter to explain how Father Guido’s “5 Minute University” concepts can be used in real-world modeling problems using Excel.

Finally, students are challenged with a real-world problem where they must apply this principle on their own using Microsoft Excel skills, their own experience, and prior knowledge. The student work using Excel is submitted as a traditional assignment.

Instructional remixes, such as the remixed lessons using existing multimedia (i.e., the Father Guido video clip), new lectures, and screen capture videos allow faculty to explore new ways of teaching that incorporate non-traditional and traditional elements. Students react positively to these experiences, some because the humor of Father Guido is a welcome break from traditional academic material; others because the concept is unique and more memorable.

Remixing Interdisciplinary Concepts
The Scenario
In “Business Continuity Planning for Disasters and Emergencies,” a continuing education module, we mixed theories and practices from different disciplines combine to create a new process for developing a continuity plan for businesses. This process incorporates principles of risk communication, disaster preparedness, public health considerations, and business practices in a way that makes this process valuable for a variety of audiences. This new process is itself a remix of pre-existing ideas from a variety of disciplines and new ideas and bridging content to create new discourse.

Identifying the Remix
A key component of this remix was showing students the differences and similarities between disciplinary approaches to the subject matter. To capture the differences and similarities between experts in these fields, we interviewed experts and directly asked them about their experiences. These interviews were conducted with a small business owner, a manager from HMS Host at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a director from the Minnesota Department of Health, and a disaster preparedness expert. These interviews are used to illustrate specific components of the business continuity planning process in practice from different perspectives. The production team decided the best way to draw these comparisons was to ask the experts identical questions and use editing to illuminate the similarities and differences in perspectives.

Arranging the Remix
The interviews were recorded separately and in addition to the predetermined questions, we also asked experts to share a story about how they have used business continuity planning principles in their roles. After the interviews were conducted, a script was developed. This script was the map for the remix; including pre-existing content (business continuity practices), new content (perspectives and stories from field experts) and new ideas (the proposed multi-disciplinary business continuity planning strategy). The expert narrative stories were used to “set the stage” and emphasize the importance of pre-disaster planning. A particularly moving segment comes from the manager of HMS Host as he speaks about how their pre-disaster planning was essential in allowing them to function in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that crippled airports immediately. The questions are presented in a relatively straightforward manner with each expert having an edited response. This remix allows students to consistently see the difference in approaches, knowledge and strategies in the same context. The new business continuity planning strategy proposed by this training module is examined at the conclusion of the edited interview segment. During this portion of the learning material, subject matter experts and faculty refer back to the expert interviews to draw connections between disciplines.

Bringing these disciplines together seamlessly allows participants with different educational objectives and backgrounds to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding for not only business continuity planning, but also how their planning can impact and affect other disciplines. This module has received praise from business people, public health officials, and risk communicators for its holistic and unique approach to this complex issue.

Remixing Identities
Remixing can also be seen in how faculty, students and staff see themselves within the context of the academy. For example: 

I am a music producer/remixer/DJ in addition to my role as instructional designer here at the University. My work to connect DJ culture and terminology with educational concepts as a means to enhance understanding of the pedagogic foundations of instruction is a clear example of a mingling of identities to create a new identity – that of the “instructional remixer.” When my identities clash, they challenge me to refine and rethink my pedagogical approaches. When I can draw parallels from these two areas of expertise, I find a stronger connection to my work and the context around it.

I am consistently surprised at how profoundly my work teaching first-year writing has informed the rest of my career.  Though I haven’t taught in that field for several years, the philosophies that underscored my pedagogical perspectives have carried over into my role as an instructional designer.  Teaching is fun, it is frustrating, and many faculty get enjoyment from those in-class interactions and feel worried that they won’t have that experience anymore. One thing I ask of the faculty I work with is to consider their passions—what do they enjoy about teaching in the physical classroom? Can they bring their passion for their research into their teaching?  As adept as I am with coding and making things work technologically, it is my perspectives on passion and empowerment in education that inform conversations about course structures and strategies.

The use of remix culture and DJ terminology can be invigorating and refreshing. It can also be inspiring and challenging. But, through inspiration and challenge, we grow as instructors, students, and staff. As we look toward the future, we continue to think creatively about education, interdisciplinary work and our identities within the academy. We’re all DJs – creating our own remixes, mashups and other configurations of new and existing ideas.

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy.

Sahin, M.C. (2008). Constructivism, participation and Web 2.0.


Joel Dickinson, M.Ed <dick0196@umn.edu>
Joel Dickinson is recognized for his work with the Digital Learning Group at the School of Public Health which includes design of custom modules and interfaces to enrich the student experience; course transformation, adaptation, revision and Moodle expertise. Joel is also recognized for his educational project planning and management experience, stakeholder relationship building and drive to achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction. He is also an accomplished music producer with numerous productions that have been featured in the top ten on the Billboard dance charts.
Sara Hurley, MFA, Ph.D. Candidate <hurley@umn.edu>
Sara Hurley has over 10 years of experience working in technology and education. Her current work focuses on engaging with faculty to develop new strategies for online pedagogy, online course design, and technological innovation. Sara has taught at the University of Minnesota’s English department and School of Public Health, in the MLIS program at Saint Catherine University, and in English departments at Brooklyn College and Kingsborough Community College. As a Ph.D. candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program at the University of Minnesota, Sara is researching social media, public pedagogy and the "It Gets Better" Project.