Shichinin Reuse, or the Art of the Remake

There’s something about the notion of reuse that seems to confuse people. They think “reusable resources” like those in an OpenCourseWare collection should “just work out of the box.” We frequently hear about “design tips” for making learning objects more reusable; what we almost never hear about is “design tips” for how to reuse existing materials.

It seems to me that the all-time best example of reuse, the one that all instructional designers should study as a case, and consequently the one about which I am writing a longer piece now, is The Magnificent Seven. This film was, of course, a remake of Kurosawa’s Shichinin no Samurai. Perhaps we (instructional designers) should all be talking about “remaking” learning objects, and not “reusing” them, in order to better communicate the complicated process involved in taking a cultural artifact developed by another person for another audience and trying to make it speak meaningfully to our audience.

As a mental exercise, complete the following statement. Shichinin no Samurai is to The Magnificent Seven as MIT OCW Linear Algebra, Fall 2002 is to _______________.

If you answered either Universia’s Spanish translation or CORE’s Chinese translation, I think that misses the point. Adding English subtitles to Shichinin no Samurai made it slightly more accesible to non-Japanese speakers, but it didn’t make it speak to Americans like The Magnificent Seven did.

It’s surprising how little we instructional designers know about this kind of reuse, what we might call “shichinin reuse” or the art of the remake. It will be very surprising if we don’t figure it out and are still employed in a few years.

5 thoughts on “Shichinin Reuse, or the Art of the Remake”

  1. David, IDs have been re-using content for a long, long, time.

    Certainly the concept of clip-media is not new. Rappers do similar things with music by sampling snippets of existing songs and remixing them.

    Back when I was in grad school we’d take a videodisk and write a new program to use the images on the disk. We called it “repurposing.” One of the basic steps in the development process is to look to see if there is existing content that can be repurposed before creating new content.

    Many of our online instructors use “publisher cartridges” created for Blackboard. Some of them allow the faculty member to alter the content at will; others merely provide links to the publisher’s website.

    I don’t understand what the problem is.



  2. I think Corrie’s point and David’s illustrate very much the same thing. It’s far easier (and more effective) for instructors to reuse or remake course materials than it is for them to make “reusable” materials. The logic of “reusable” learning materials is a supply-side model, with instructors and technolgist trying to predict what materials other instructors will want to use, and then investing time and effort in making the materials more re-usable. I was in this camp myself a few years back when developing distance learning courses.

    If OCW had been concerned with making the materials “reusable” rather than making them available for reuse, the project would have far less material availabe than it currently does. Especially when the materials are going out to a world-wide audience, it would be nearly impossible (and a little presumptious) to predict which materials would be most useful to others, and try to make them somehow culturally, academicly, and technically more “reusable.” The demand-side model, which I think Corrie is illustrating, suggests just getting the materials out there, and allowing educators and instructional designers to take the “raw stuff” and remake/remix it for their own local needs.

  3. Sorry to “barge in”, but I found this link from I am exploring various licenses of the “free culture” and was interested in learning more about the Open Content & Publishing Licenses. They are not linked to from the home page – are they still in use? That said, the OCW appears to be of great interest as well. It certainly would make a good resource for my exploratory paper. Feel free to contact me via e-mail.

  4. At the Open Content meeting of the Hewlett Foundation last fall, John Seely Brown cautioned us to think in terms of minimalization – I believe he meant as distinct from modularizing. I think that in this context, a worthy goal in dealing with a learning object is to design it as a minimal node for any number of possible networks. Thus its potential is reuse as it is connected into different node patterns (of other minimal objects). The network whole gives rise to a different meaning for different patterns. This is a kind of reuse that empowers the object to contribute to a variety of whole meanings (ideas) that are more than the sum of their parts.
    If there is any sense to what I am saying, the goal would be to make the original object as minimal as possible and not expect it to be changed in reuse. The instructional design focus would be not on changing the object internally but in creating different networks where as a node the object contributes to a greater meaning than it does on its own.

  5. And, in much the same way, remaking The Magnificent Seven into A Bug’s Life made it slightly more accessible to an audience who weren’t spoken to by The Magnificent Seven….when we consider past accomplishments the “raw material” from which to work, we can continually rebuild, reuse, remake, and remix….without needing to start over each time. Hollywood’s been doing it for years, so why shouldn’t we?

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