Blackboard Mashups

Blackboard 9.1 includes some quick-embed options for pulling content in from social sharing sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Slideshare. I laughed when I saw how they used the term mashup, though I refrained from actually saying the word “lol” out loud.

I’m willing to concede that they aren’t wrong to call this a mashup, but I still think it’s funny. I think they are trying to lend some geeky net cred to what amounts to taking a task that could always be done and making the fact that it can be done more obvious.

That’s okay. It’s absolutely okay, but I’m still going to talk about why it makes me giggle.

First, a mashup is a combination of information from two or more sources. In web development terms, that might mean taking data from two different applications to build a third. In creativity and communication terms, we hear “mashup” most often when applied to mixing video or sound or text or image from more than one location together in order to make something new.

Here’s a classic example in this Buffy meets Edward Cullen Twilight mashup.

This video makes me giggle too. It does, however, represent my basic understand of what a mashup is. A new creation made by combining elements from at least two separate sources. A creative act. An act of making new meaning simply from the way materials are combined.

What does that have to do with Blackboard mashups which are just a matter of pulling in embedded content from other places? Hmmm…well…you actually can call it a mashup simply because web content from Blackboard and web content from another site are combined on one page in a way that appears as though they were made together. I’ll buy that, but it’s a lame use of the word mashup because embedding in and of itself doesn’t necessarily create new meaning. I can embed YouTubes all day long on this blog, but if I haven’t made them part of something else, I haven’t created new meaning. I’ve just shared the same meaning in a new place.

I’m more comfortable thinking of YouTube embeds in Blackboard as mashups if I’ve actually integrated them into an assignment I have created, if I’ve combined them with other types of information, and if I’ve written my own materials to go with them.

Keep that in mind when develop materials for online classes. If you create your assignment and drag Flickr photos and/or YouTube videos into your assignment as integrated aspects of some larger creation of your own, then you have a mashup.

Otherwise, just enjoy the fact that it is so easy to pull external materials into Blackboard. You do this by going to “Build Content” and “Mashups.” From there you, select YouTube, Flickr, or Slideshare from a menu, and search for content on the selected site. Once you’ve found what you want, you hit “select” and follow the prompts to format your viewing options. Hit “submit,” and you’re done. Easy.

You can also embed content by copying and pasting the embed code from the social sharing site and pasting that code into your text editor while the editor is in html mode. You can do that in Blackboard 8. The different is just that Blackboard 9.1 prompts you to add content from social sharing sites by providing the mashup menu.

When I first started teaching, students wrote a lot of drafts out by hand before typing because access to typewriters and computers was much more scarce than it is now. The first year or two we switched over to writing first drafts on a computer, I noticed a huge upsurge in semi-colons. Students hardly ever used them before, and then suddenly they were everywhere. I attributed that to the fact that they were visually available as an option on the keyboard. Students felt prompted to use them.

Maybe the Blackboard mashup menu will work the same way. Maybe Flickr pics will suddenly be everywhere in online classes because teachers feel prompted to share them. Maybe so. It will be interesting to find out.