Mice and Creativity

Given it’s April 1st, I woke up this morning with the powerful urge to post a BDRA version of Orson Welles’ radio show of 1938:


Now, after having played a few pranks to relatives, friends and colleagues, the practical joke impulse has been subdued somewhat. Still, it is Fool’s Day and one needs a lot of inspiration and creativity to come up with amusing (for one) and believable (for one’s victim) pranks, I decided that my post will be about bright ideas, creativity and insight.

I read yesterday the story of the invention and evolution of the computer mouse. It all started in the 1970s with the Xerox PARC mouse that cost 400$ to which an extra 300$ needed to be added for the interface connecting the mouse to the computer. A picture can say more than a thousand words, so just take a look at the image below and you will see why people were eager to improve the technology.


 Then, Steve Jobs from Apple contracted two young designers to come up with something 90% cheaper (he wanted the manufacturing costs to be no more than 25-30$), sturdier and more functional. This is where the story becomes fascinating. The two designers – Dean Hovey and David Kelley, found inspiration for the prototype of the mice we use today from the design of roll-on deodorants. In Hovey’s words:

“The first place I went was to Walgreens, and I bought all the roll-on deodorants I could find on the shelves. They had these plastic balls in them that roll around. Then I went over to the housewares area and bought some butter dishes and plastic things that were about the size I might need to prototype something. Over the weekend I hacked together a simple spatial prototype of what this thing might be, with Teflon and a ball. The first mouse had a Ban Roll-On ball.”


 I have been reading lots and lots of scenarios about the future lately. When discussing change in the future and where it may come from, very often the authors of these scenarios seem to believe that the more extraordinary, “unthinkable” and unusual the sources of change and its consequences are, the more authentic and believable and “expert” their scenarios will be. And yet, to me, the story of the invention of the mouse shows how often ground-breaking change happens when little, unnoticeable, everyday things are arranged by people or by chance into novel combinations, or used for innovative purposes.

Happy Fool’s Day!

Sandra Romenska, BDRA


Playing in the Same Key

Apparently, I am the ‘new Matthew Mobbs’; at least, this is how I have been introduced to my colleagues in the Attenborough Tower.

Highly flattered as I am to be compared to this articulate educator, software wizard and internationally renowned Mick Jagger impersonator (he really is very good – ask for ‘You Tube’ proof!), I know it will be some time before I am able to fill Matt’s shoes (if ever) and find myself up to speed on the many BDRA projects. But I have made a start. And it has been very exciting.

But today I will wear my other HE hat as a long-in-the-tooth face-to-face tutor and distance learning e-moderator. What is clear is that the emerging e-learning technologies and associated pedagogies that the Alliance rigorously explores allow our students to confront us with differing expectations. For this reason, the skills base required of the modern educator appears daunting.

I see BDRA at the cutting edge of research into these technologies – podcasts, e-books, 3-D MUVES such as Second Life, and so on. It provides the link between research and practice that is so vital in academia. Via its many research dissemination avenues and through innovative practices such as the Media Zoo’s  excellent Carpe Diem two-day workshop, BDRA enables educators to adapt their material to best meet these new student expectations. BDRA offers the reasons why they should or, equally as important, shouldn’t do so.

But I wonder whether there is a danger that the real-world application of these excellent educational innovations will be left far behind the research.

For example, as a tutor, I can see how a short, regular, Audacity-edited podcast on recent global events could add significantly to the International Relations course I teach. The audio could be combined with some animated Powerpoint slides containing website screenshots and URLs to produce a useful Adobe Presentation. A wiki would allow my students to add their own thoughts, or perhaps I could even have them take a small quiz in Blackboard, reinforcing what they have just heard. As a learning technologist, I can do this.

But do I really think an educator – and I’m not trying to be critical here – who indents text on a module reading list by using the Tab key will have (or ever find the time to acquire) the technical ability to do the same?

This is where university administrations have to take up the challenge laid down by research groups such as BDRA, as the potential of what can be done may differ significantly from what is actually offered to the modern (fee-paying and discerning) student. It’s stating the obvious, but this can be achieved only through significant investment in people and training, and an appreciation of the future of HE.

In considering whether universities – and university departments within a university – can afford to be complacent  in giving academics all the help they need in overcoming the gap between research and practice, I turn to the (completely fabricated) words of the Mobbs-ter’s rock mentor: “Hey Keef, man, it sounds better if we all play in the same key, you know?”

As we know, students, the masters of Web 2.0 social networking and inveterate ‘chatters’, have very keen ears.


Learning Technologist

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