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Remixing Creativity in Learning and Learning of Creativity: A Case Study of Audio Remix Practice with Undergraduate Students

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Testing creativity in tertiary learning activities is a young field of research, and current assessment methods are difficult to apply within the diverse context of media production education, where disciplines range from journalism through to video game production. However, the concept of remix is common across this wide range of media, and offers practitioners ‘endless hybridizations in language, genre, content, technique and the like’ (Knobel & Lankshear, 2008, p. 22). The conceptual commonality of remix indicates that the study conclusions will have useful implications across a range of media production disciplines. This study aims to consider new methods for testing creativity in media production learning activities and to provide better assessments for learning design. This study focused upon a learner cohort of music technology students that were undertaking a work-integrated learning programme with a record label. To make the students more work-ready and inspire greater creativity, they remixed tracks recorded by professional music artists as part of a unit assessment. Subsequent self-report surveys (N = 29) found that the process of creating a ‘remix’ enhanced their creativity and provided suggested improvements to the design of the learning experience. Importantly, we found no relationship between the survey responses and objective assessments, indicating that the self-reported improvements in creativity were not simply a measure of how well the students performed the formally assessed tasks. Although more research is needed to establish effective measures of creativity, these findings demonstrate that self-report survey tools can be a powerful tool for measuring creativity and supporting improved iterative learning design.
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Article
Remixing Creativity in
Learning and Learning
of Creativity: A Case
Study of Audio
Remix Practice with
Undergraduate Students
Simon Order1
Leo Murray1
Jon Prince1
Julia Hobson1
Sara de Freitas1
Abstract
Testing creativity in tertiary learning activities is a young field of research, and
current assessment methods are difficult to apply within the diverse context of
media production education, where disciplines range from journalism through
to video game production. However, the concept of remix is common across
this wide range of media, and offers practitioners ‘endless hybridizations in
language, genre, content, technique and the like’ (Knobel & Lankshear, 2008,
p. 22). The conceptual commonality of remix indicates that the study conclusions
will have useful implications across a range of media production disciplines.
This study aims to consider new methods for testing creativity in media produc-
tion learning activities and to provide better assessments for learning design.
This study focused upon a learner cohort of music technology students that
were undertaking a work-integrated learning programme with a record label.
To make the students more work-ready and inspire greater creativity, they
remixed tracks recorded by professional music artists as part of a unit assessment.
Subsequent self-report surveys (N = 29) found that the process of creating a
‘remix’ enhanced their creativity and provided suggested improvements to
1 Murdoch University, Western Australia, Australia.
Corresponding author:
Simon Order, Murdoch University, 90 South St, Murdoch, Western Australia 6150, Australia.
E-mail: s.order@murdoch.edu.au
Asia Pacific Media Educator
27(2) 1–13
© 2017 University of
Wollongong, Australia
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/1326365X17728827
http://ame.sagepub.com
2 Asia Pacific Media Educator 27(2)
the design of the learning experience. Importantly, we found no relationship
between the survey responses and objective assessments, indicating that the
self-reported improvements in creativity were not simply a measure of how well
the students performed the formally assessed tasks. Although more research is
needed to establish effective measures of creativity, these findings demonstrate
that self-report survey tools can be a powerful tool for measuring creativity and
supporting improved iterative learning design.
Keywords
Creativity, learning design, music technology, remix, produsage
Introduction
Transformative learning is a creative experience, and facilitating such a learning
moment takes creativity. Remixing loops of learning and teaching experience
between a number of disciplinary experts, this article explores the concept of
‘remix’ as both a methodology to measure creativity and a teaching tool for
creativity. This study suggests a new mixed methodology approach for the testing
of creativity in learning activities, and it is also a collaborative effort between
experts in music technology, psychology, creativity and education to remix
approaches to learning. We argue that whilst creativity is domain-specific, re-mix
as a creative technique crosses domains and disciplines. We situate this work as
part of a collaborative effort to engage in a form of distributed remix which
engages with the issue of how to design, assess and incorporate professional skills
and creativity into higher education courses. In this respect, we are both exploring
the practice of content creation via the remix and mashup produsage by students
in a music technology unit and performing a mashup produsage as academics
from diverse research areas. A conventional creative practice is described as a
‘production process that is orchestrated and coordinated from a central office and
proceeds in a more or less orderly fashion to its intended conclusion (the completion
of a finished product)’ (Bruns, 2010, p. 26). Produsage involves projects that
harness the creativity of a large range of participants to build on and extend an
existing pool of artistic materials (Bruns, 2010). The distributed nature of these
projects means they are predicated on unique creative principles which are largely
alien to conventional music production practice—and we would add to conven-
tional research into the processes and practices of learning and teaching.
Research literature on creativity varies widely across disciplinary approaches
such as social psychology (Amabile, 1996; Sternberg & Lubart, 1995), educa-
tional science (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014, pp. 47–61; Csikszentmihalyi & Wolfe,
2014) and creative arts perspectives (McIntosh & Warren, 2013; Weisberg, 2006).
Integrating these perspectives can increase the capacity to understand how to
teach creativity in higher education. Research literature on creativity is well
Order et al. 3
established in both education (e.g. Bonk & Smith, 1998; Craft, 2003; Jeffrey,
2006; Lytton, 2012; Parnes, 1970) and psychology (e.g. Deci et al., 1999; Feist,
1998; LeBoutillier & Marks, 2003); these inform the development of our method-
ology. In addition, the meta-review by Scott, Leritz and Mumford (2004) supports
our approach with respect to how creativity could be used to support learning.
However, we also acknowledge that the notion of measuring creativity—
particularly musical creativity—is inherently fraught with problems associated
with defining and measuring creativity (McLennnon, 2002, p. 35). Music technol-
ogy students were chosen as music composition is the archetype of creative
behaviour; it is, therefore, an ideal candidate for inclusion in improving and
assessing creativity.
Why Remix?
The process of remix offers students the chance to act ‘simultaneously as readers
and writers, consumers and producers, a stance many media scholars say is indic-
ative of today’s new media environments’ (Burwell, 2014). Re-contextualizing
existing content potentially creates new meaning. The action can empower
students creatively when they realize that their remix action can have powerful
meaning. It may be considered an affirmation of personal creative worth. By a
similar token, the crafting of digital media can also bring some sense of personal
social empowerment from the activity of creating meaning. The development of
digital cultural capital (Buckingham, 2003) is an attractive participatory proposi-
tion, especially when the outcomes are so easily distributed across networks.
Remix is a powerful tool for both creative development (e.g. Knobel &
Lankshear, 2008; Navas, 2012) and having educational purposes. Lessig (2008)
has referred to the significance of remix as an educational paradigm. ‘Members of
a [remix] community create in part for one another. They are showing one another
how they can create’ (Lessig, 2008, p. 77). Notably, it is the showing that is often
the most valuable learning experience and not necessarily the resulting content.
Indeed, Watson (2011) suggests that the creative skills developed in composition
of music are the same skills used to problem solve in everyday life. When a com-
poser accepts a commission, there are structural parameters that must be included
within the work, such as musician costs, musical style, duration, possible picture
synchronization, mood and likely destination. The needs of a composition brief
outline these issue/s which then must be solved with an aesthetically pleasing
artefact (Watson, 2011). There is also a strong self-development value for students
from music composition. For example, Kaschub and Smith contend that ‘creating
music where none previously existed is a powerful act of self’ (Kaschub & Smith,
2009, p. 105). Students can gain comfort and confidence in organizing notes,
rhythms and melodic phrases, strengthening their sense of self and often powering
their new found musical talents and creativity to greater sophistication.
4 Asia Pacific Media Educator 27(2)
We acknowledge that the process of remix itself does not itself create great
artefacts—there is bad remix and good remix as in all creative endeavours—but ‘it
is one way to learn’ (Lessig, 2008, p. 82). The remix exercise of the music techno-
logy education paradigm immerses students in digital audio, provoking creativity
and learning. The initial intent of using audio remixing as a learning activity was
to explore student creativity and investigate its potential for developing, enhancing
and evaluating creativity. Whilst many of the learning activities focused on skills
acquisition, the secondary outcomes of individual creativity and empowerment
were also important. In part, the learning loops we want to remix from our own
disciplinary expertise is to be creative about ways that learning technology—which
provides accessibility to low-cost software tools—might be used for innovative
learning designs in all disciplines. If we give students appropriate technological
tools that allow them more opportunities to be creative, how far along their own
learning journey can they self-design? Similar to Watson’s observation that ‘non-
traditional music1 (NTM) students thrive in elective music courses that emphasize
creativity and technology’ (Watson, 2011, p. 983), other higher education students
may flourish if given sufficient ‘learning loops’ to remix.
The ability to generate alternatives or to see things uniquely does not occur by
chance; it is linked to other more fundamental qualities of thinking, such as flex-
ibility, tolerance of ambiguity or unpredictability, and the enjoyment of things
heretofore unknown (Franken, 1994, p. 394).
Method
Undergraduate students (N = 29) studying a music technology unit at Murdoch
University were given the opportunity to collaborate with the record label Hidden
Shoal2 for their final major assignment. Five of the label’s existing artists offered
one of their previously released songs to the students as source files to craft a new
remix. As an incentive, students were advised that particularly good remixes
would be considered for release by Hidden Shoal.3
In designing our methodology, we drew on Cropley (2010, p. 72) who offers a
summary of approaches to measuring creativity: he identifies 255 types of data
collection methods which he divides into ‘creative products’, ‘creative processes’
and ‘creative persons’. Our methodology sought to combine measurements
around ‘creative persons’ and ‘creative products’. We chose to focus on creative
persons’ because, as student-centred researchers, we wanted to explore students’
perceptions of personal creativity and how that influenced their development of
‘self’. We brought an assumption—from music technology—that students
strengthen and develop their sense of self through the creation of music (Kaschub
& Smith, 2009, p. 105), and in doing so, they are practicing ‘the most complex
cognitive process’ and the development of higher order thinking skills. We used
Cropley’s sub-categories of ‘special personal properties’ and ‘procedures based
on [an] adjective checklist’ (2010, pp. 75–76), which focus on self-rating tests to
Order et al. 5
survey students who did the audio remix process as to whether they felt specific
attributes of creativity had occurred for them or been enhanced by the activity.
A questionnaire was developed which drew on: the Creativity Checklist (Johnson,
1979), Creative Behaviour Inventory (Kirschenbaum, 1989), Group Inventory for
Finding Creative Talent (Rimm & Davis, 1980), Creative Styles Questionnaire
(Kumar, Kemmler & Holman, 1997), Abedi-Schumacher Creativity Test (O’Neil,
Abedi & Spielberger, 1994), Villa and the Auzmendi Creativity Test (O’Neil,
Abedi & Spielberger, 1994) and the Creatrix Inventory (Sweeney, 1968). These
approaches converge around the practice of asking the study respondents to self-
rate aspects of their perceived creative practice. For example, concepts such as
idea production, imagination, ingenuity, innovation, positive self-referencing and
originality (Cropley, 2010, pp. 74–76) were drawn from these studies. Those con-
cepts were used to write statements–in the audio remix context–against which
students rated their agreement on a five-point Likert scale. (See Table 1 for the full
statement list.)
As a further data point, the study drew on the remix product assessment data
that students had received from their expert tutors. Expert assessment of finished
creative outcomes is the most obvious starting point for evaluations in industries
that involve some form of consensual assessment (Hennessey, 1994). The assess-
ment criteria focused on (a) Project layout, structure and labelling, (b) Quality
samples and/or sample/loop editing, (c) Use of industry stems, (d) Mix balance
and (e) Creativity/originality. These assessment criteria resemble the Creative
Product Semantic scale (Besemer & O’Quin, 1999) commonly used to assess the
creativity of design.
There was a further analysis of the relationship between the self-report data
and objective expert measures of performance of the assessment task. Students
completed the survey after the release of assessment results. There was a possibil-
ity that students who had received higher marks in the expert assessment would
self-rate highly on their perceived creativity in the survey, so we tested for any
such relationship using correlation analysis.
In summary, the analysis of the data from the student self-rating survey and the
expert assessment sought to, first, identify what students perceived about their
improvements in creativity after conducting an audio remix, second, validate the
internal consistency of the survey data and, third, identify any correlations
between the self-rating survey and the expert assessment.
Results
There were 29 survey respondents, and the summary data (averaged across
respondent) are shown in Table 1.
The survey displayed strong internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.88),
indicating that the survey is a reliable psychometric test. The only exception
was Question 6, which correlated with the other questions at r = 0.26 (the other
6 Asia Pacific Media Educator 27(2)
Table 1. Survey Responses Averaged Across Respondents (N = 29)
Question Score St. Dev. Question Wording
1 1.79 0.68 The project encouraged the development of novel or
original audio content
2 1.86 0.74 This assignment helped me access my musical ideas
3 1.90 0.86 I became more open to new audio perspectives or
production strategies
4 2.31 0.97 This project made me feel good about my abilities as
a music producer
5 1.97 0.87 This assignment generated a large number of creative
ideas
6 2.03 0.68 This project developed my problem solving skills
7 2.03 0.68 This project helped to stretch my musical or creative
boundaries
8 2.07 0.84 This remix project has provoked my audio imagination
9 1.90 0.67 This assignment has enhanced my ingenuity when
working with sound and technology
Source: Authors’ own.
Note: responses were on a Likert scale of 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree).
questions intercorrelated at an average of r = 0.48, SD = 0.10). Note that Question
6 is the only one to mention ‘skills’ specifically.
The respondents broadly agreed to the statements/questions with the exception
of Question 4, which is slightly different in that the focus is on whether the respon-
dent is happy with their abilities. It could simply be the case that the other ques-
tions having been exposed to the range of possibilities there is acknowledgement
that skills and abilities have been improved, but Question 4 highlights the respon-
dents’ realization of the amount still to learn.
To test if the questions aligned with different underlying themes, the data were
submitted to a principal components analysis that explained 68 per cent of the
variance with two components (eigenvalues 4.8 and 1.3, explaining 53% and 15%
of the variance respectively). The component matrix (Table 2) shows that most
questions loaded well onto the first component, and only Question 6 loaded
strongly on the second component. This suggests that the second component can
be interpreted as representing improvement in skills. The questions that loaded
best (i.e., positively and selectively) on the first component were Questions 2, 5
and 7, all of which specifically mention ‘ideas’ and/or ‘creative’, suggesting that
the first component most likely corresponds to improvements in creativity.
Comparison of Self-perception with Formal Assessment
Of the 29 respondents, 20 agreed to a post-hoc linking of their assessment marks
and questionnaire responses (with the approval of the Human Research Ethics
Order et al. 7
Table 2. Loadings of Survey Questions to Extracted Components
Question
Component 1
(Creativity Improvement)
Component 2
(Skills Improvement)
1 0.683 0.386
2 0.877 0.008
3 0.560 –0.568
4 0.882 0.178
5 0.926 –0.049
6 0.441 0.615
7 0.802 –0.024
8 0.638 –0.643
9 0.619 0.153
Source: Authors’ own.
Committee of Murdoch University). This allowed additional analyses to inspect
the relationship between the self-report survey data and objective measures of
performance in the assessment task. The students’ work was assessed on five
criteria: (a) Project layout, structure and labelling, (b) Quality samples and/or
sample/loop editing, (c) Use of industry stems, (d) Mix balance and (e) Creativity/
originality. An initial bivariate correlation analysis tested for relationships between
the nine survey questions and the five assessment criteria.
Only one correlation was significant, namely, that the students who agreed more
with the statement ‘This assignment has enhanced my ingenuity when working
with sound and technology’ scored higher on the second assessment item ‘Quality
samples and/or sample/loop editing’ (r(18) = 0.57, p = 0.009). However, caution
must be taken interpreting this finding as it was only one of 45 correlation values,
and it would not be significant with a Bonferroni correction to the p values for
multiple comparisons (α/45 = 0.001 as threshold for significance). Furthermore,
using the extracted components of ‘creativity’ and ‘skills’ showed no significant
relation between any assessment item, as shown in Table 3 (all p values >0.1).
The lack of a significant relationship between survey responses and assess-
ment criteria indicates that the improvements that students self-reported in
creativity and skills were not confounded with their overall performance. In other
words, the survey was not simply a measure of how well the students did as
assessed by others, but how much they felt they learned.
Table 3. Correlation Coefficients Between Survey Components and Assessment Criteria
Assessment Criterion
Assessment components a1 a2 a3 a4 a5
Creativity Improvement –0.145 –0.334 –0.361 –0.106 –0.070
Skills Improvement 0.177 0.236 –0.143 –0.009 –0.179
Source: Authors’ own.
8 Asia Pacific Media Educator 27(2)
Discussion
The respondents agreed that the process of creating a remix enhanced their
creativity. The lack of a significant relationship between the survey responses and
objective assessments indicates that the self-reported improvements were not
simply a measure of how well the students performed the formally assessed tasks.
Indeed, the process of taking part in the course itself, rather than completing the
formal assessment components, may contribute significantly to the self-perception
of an improvement in creativity or other aspects of music production.
Twenty respondents agreed to a post-hoc linking of their own self-perception
with the score received as part of their assessment. The assignment was assessed
using five criteria which were designed independent of the needs of the creativity
survey. Only one of the assessment criteria specifically relates to the area under
research (Component 5: creativity/originality). Although the results are indica-
tive, a more in-depth survey with before and after testing points is an important
next step in determining whether any causal relationship exists between the remix
activity, formal assessment of creativity or learning experiences, and the self-
perception of creativity.
It should be noted that the assessment task itself may partially conflict with the
desired aim of an improvement in creativity, and/or in the self-perception of an
improvement. By providing a large range of materials with which to work, the
scale of the task may have been so overwhelming that it may initially have
impeded progress in making creative work, simply due to the wealth of materials
from which to choose. Students may have encountered ‘options anxiety’ and the
paradox of choice. The survey included space for qualitative comments and there
were indications that for a couple of participants the scale of the task was indeed
daunting. One student stated: ‘I have self-confidence issues… This assignment
didn’t help’. Five different song tracks were supplied for the assessment task, with
each track being supplied in component form meaning the individual instruments
were supplied as separate items. So, a single song of three minutes may typically
be comprised of 20 separate component tracks—60 minutes of raw material per
song. Students had five songs with which to work and so had approximately five
hours of raw material available. Even listening to each of the available elements
in turn might be so time-consuming as to act as a brake to a creative impulse.
Whether this ‘paradox of choice’ occurs or not is dependent partly on the indi-
vidual’s ability to discount certain options as they narrow down their choice to a
few promising pathways (Reed, Kaplan & Brewer, 2012). Strategies for develop-
ing techniques to use when presented with large sets of options would perhaps
alleviate some of the potential problems in this case in future assessment tasks.
For most remix processes, loops are an essential starting point as they enable a
fast and effective way to start re-contextualizing thinking and learning. Educators
vouch that young students are often intimately immersed in their own rich musical
and sound cultures (Ruthman, 2007). In remixing, students can choose musical
loop elements associated with their own musical world, and they can begin
Order et al. 9
composing without prior traditional musical experience. Just as the skills required
to compose music are sophisticated, so the skills to learn how to learn in higher
education have been set within a traditional educational style. Drawing on the
challenge faced by music educators to engage NTM students on their own musical
terms—which began with offering respect and understanding of student’s musical
lives (Sloboda, 2001, p. 243)—it may be that by allowing students to remix their
own ‘learning loops’ educators will better engage with non-traditional students
across the university. Perhaps if students were offered ‘learning loops’ to link and
to play with, they may find creative and alternative perspectives on learning how
to learn.
Crow (2006) argues that organizing and choosing loop elements is ideal for
engaging students with rhythmic structures, sound timbres, the roles of instru-
ments within ensembles, the emotive qualities of sound and its arrangement.
Rather than traditional composing, loop-based activities can be defined as ‘organ-
ising sound musicality for personal expression’ (Ruthman, 2007, p. 40). Similarly,
all learning in higher education involves organizing and arranging categories of
concepts; the challenge is to create this into a meaningful learning experience for
non-traditional students.
Conclusions and Future Research
Participants’ ratings indicated that the remix activity enhanced their creativity.
There was no relationship between the measures of objective expert assessment
and students self-reported creativity. This indicates that students were not simply
reporting how they had been assessed by academic staff but their sincere percep-
tions of improved creativity. Additionally, the psychometric validation of the
survey questions demonstrates that the survey has promise for further research in
creativity assessment and improvement.
By building upon notions of creativity in the literature and bringing together
researchers from psychology, media and education, we were able to develop a
mixed methodology approach to analysis of creativity in learning activities,
providing an important contribution to learning design with remix focused activi-
ties. Important methodological considerations for the future were also brought
into focus.
The survey questions could be improved with the addition of inversely-worded
questions, negative questions and the randomization of the question order, all
of which would increase the ability to ensure internal validity of the survey.
The questions themselves could also be improved to increase both the range of
components being targeted alongside creativity and skills improvement. Areas of
interest include correlating self-perceived creativity and skills with problem-
solving techniques, familiarity with audio technologies and dealing with a large
number of audio options. Care should also be taken to ensure that the number of
audio track options provided to complete the task does not act as an unintended
impediment to exploration.
10 Asia Pacific Media Educator 27(2)
Surveys and assessment tasks could also be conducted at the beginning and
conclusion of the course to enable both pre- and post-data points. This would
enable an analysis to better explore the effect of the course on both the objective/
expert assessment and the student self-perception of the different components
under investigation. In this survey the questions relate directly to the classes and
learning tasks of completing the course. A modification to the questions/state-
ments to make them less specific to the remix course would allow the potential
inclusion of a control group who do not take the course.
Aside from the methodological considerations for further research, there is
another research question that future studies should consider. This study is
confined to the activity of remix within a music technology unit, but there is no
reason why testing this methodology (and refined future methods) cannot be applied
to an array of media production learning activities. When remix is a conceptual
approach and production activity common to a range of cultural forms, this study
has wider implications across other media production disciplines. Media produc-
tion educators may wish to follow the creativity testing methodology or pursue
the remix activity as a way to enhance creativity in learning for all students.
Acknowledgements
Thanks to Tom Scott-Clark for help with data collection.
Notes
1. NTM students refers to those students not educated via the classical cannon of music.
2. See http://www.hiddenshoal.com/
3. Hidden Shoal was instrumental in choosing students that were possible candidates. The
label also acted as an expert industry assessor in part towards student’s overall remix
grades.
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Authors’ bio-sketch
Simon Order is a Senior Lecturer in Sound and Radio at Murdoch University,
focusing on music technology, audio production and community radio research.
Simon continues his practice as a composer and has received much acclaim as a
producer of Australian “electronica”. He has pioneered the practise of audio remix
in tertiary music production classrooms and is known for his creative approaches
to audio education. His professional background includes audio production roles
in the UK television and music industry, radio station manager and professional
photographer.
E-mail: s.order@murdoch.edu.au
Leo Murray is a lecturer in sound at Murdoch University, Australia. Leo has worked
in audio for 25 years including nine years as an engineer with BBC Radio in London.
Currently he teaches in sound design, sound studies and popular music. His research
interests include sound for lm and television, audio technology, sound design and
forensic audio.
Jon Prince is a psychologist specialising in music cognition, a research area
concerned with the mental mechanisms that enable us to understand music. He
has a BA in Brain and Cognitive Science from the University of Rochester, and
both an MA and PhD in Psychology from the University of Toronto. He completed
a postdoctoral research associateship at the University at Buffalo before taking a
position at Murdoch University in 2010, where he is now a Senior Lecturer.
Order et al. 13
Julia Hobson is a Senior Lecturer, Centre for University Teaching & Learning,
Murdoch University where she specializes in supporting students’ critical thinking
skills. She has published in the areas of assessment and evaluation in higher
education and subject centred learning. Currently she is researching into the
phenomenon that she has noticed over the years that sometimes thinking arrives
in the room as an active presence. When thinking does arrive in the room – often
sitting quietly in a corner- everybody in that room whether they are talking or
listening or writing or reading, perks up a little. There is a general rise in the level
of intelligence and it is a collective rise, like catching a wave and all are carried
along to a greater height.
Sara de Freitas is a world renowned digital learning. For more than 10 years, Sara
has directed her research in areas of educational technology including scientic
studies that prove the efcacy of educational games in digital learning. Her
research interests are focused in learning analytics, technology enhanced learning,
higher education policy and leadership and advanced educational games research
and development.
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