Executing Learning Objects, Resurrecting Sharing and Reuse


I was fortunate to instigate a workshop last week as part of the BC Educational Technology Users Group spring workshops in Merritt, B.C. The workshop was on “Practical Tips for Reusability and Interoperability.” In keeping with themes I laid out earlier on this weblog, I began the session with a formal execution of the term “learning object” which you can see at the link above (feel free to reuse this – maybe if it’s played enough times the term will finally die off). (more…)
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FLOSSE Posse – Is the “Learning Objects” King Naked?


<rant> Over on on the Flosse Posse weblog, Teemu Leinonen has posted a bit of a rant on the term “learning object.” I’m glad someone stepped up and said it. I agree, let’s kill off the word “learning object” and while we are at it, let’s throw “learning object repository” on the funeral pyre too. Both of these terms have led us thoroughly astray. “Learning Object” for their implication of some magical plug-and-play learnability that we’re discovering is mostly folly, and “learning object repositories” for the mistaken emphasis of the word “repository” on the container at the sake of the users and re-users and re-use, ultimately what I thought the motivation behind the whole idea was.

But my small fear is that in throwing out these terms, we’ll also throw out many of the problems they were supposed to be trying to solve – namely enabling learning content to be shared and found through means that were otherwise unavailable (e.g. searching on pedagogically useful terms that were either not directly part of the resources themselves, or else for resources that weren’t served well by conventional web search engines), and having formats for learning content that allowed it to be reused by as many systems as possible without major alterations (there are many more problems they were supposed to address, I know, but let’s leave it at that for now). I absolutely agree that the terms have gotten in the way, and have led us to propose solutions which seem to have forgotten some of the initial problems they were supposed to be solving. Actually, in the case of both “learning objects” and “LORs,” part of the issue for higher ed has been IMO in higher ed’s appropriation of the terms; we’ve assumed the terminology, but we’ve tried to change the underlying problems they were originally intended to address to suit the needs and culture of higher ed, and we haven’t done enough critical examination of the baggage underpinning the terms and original ideas to understand why this isn’t working).

So, firing squad, guillotine, maybe lethal injection as we’re now so civilized; I don’t care, but let’s move on from these terms and the 5 years (at least) of false starts that are associated with them. We likely couldn’t be moving on without having made these mistakes, but once made, repeating them over and over doesn’t suddenly make them right. </rant> – SWL

Developing a university course for on-line delivery based on learning objects: From ideals to compromises


I’ve been searching for this paper without being sure it existed – “Two course developers … investigated and described from their personal points of view the complex and immediate challenges they faced as they designed an online university course based on learning objects.”

Somewhat disappointingly, they ultimately “acquired a ‘ready-made’ commercial website featuring learning objects and electronic material embedded in a comprehensive course website.” Still, this paper lays out the details of what appears to be quite a straightforward attempt to create a new online course by finding and assembling resources. The authors are clearly not evangelists for the LO approach, and make clear a number of its current shortcomings and difficulties.

We desperately need more stories like these, as well as far more serious work on what a real ‘learning object design approach’ to create new curriculum out of existing materials might look like (instead of more pie in the sky ‘automated assembly of instructional materials’ scenarios, please!). One of a number of interesting papers from Athabasca University that resulted from their participation in the SchoolNet Project ‘Learning Objects in a Box’ – SWL

Reusable Learning site from NSDL/Eduworks


Based on a reference in a recent intro to learning objects I went back to a site I thought I new, but instead found this newly developed resource that the Eduworks folks produced for the NSDL. It is really worth spending some time on, for both newbies and old hands alike. The section on “Fostering Reusability in the NSDL” is very helpful, and the Reusability Framework is, I think, top notch and I would be surprised if I didn’t start to see it show up more as a canonical reference. – SWL

Training and Resources for Assembling Interactive Learning Systems


This NSF-funded project in the States just makes so much sense – have the univeristy students currently studying to be educational designers and developers work on actual learning content for the K-12 system. As the site says, “Through these courses TRAILS intends to have three major effects: to better prepare tomorrow’s designers of educational tools, to better prepare the teachers who will use such tools, and—by publishing select course projects— to generate new tools for K-12 education.” Obvious? Maybe. Innovative. Seems to me, definitely! – SWL

Finding Learning Objects – Walking the Talk

Can our intrepid search find a learning object in time to figure out how to calculate ‘Z-scores’? Tune in and find out!

Today (like many days) I was faced with a task I was not 100% sure how to do. I had a set of ratings for different evaluators, and had been told by someone who knew better than I that I should be trying to calculate their ‘z-scores’ in order to standardize the numbers.

As I was about to enter a handy-dandy Google search, I thought – “no wait! Why don’t you see if there are any ‘learning objects’ out there that could teach you what a Z-score is, and how to calculate it.” So I set out in search of my closest learning object repository to see what I could find.
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CMU LSAL Paper on “LO-Tec” Tools (and Toys) for Creating Learning Objects


This paper, from Dan Rehak and others at the renowned Learning Systems Architecture Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University (which now has a new RSS feed), asks how authors actually create learning objects, and whether the current tools are supporting these actual processes or instead getting in the way. To investigate this they take the sensible step back from the technology and look at a number of low or no tech paper-based techniques for developing learning objects, with the “objective [is] to help create learning, and hide technology and standards” and thus “understand how learning technology standards can be applied in the creation of learning objects and content.”

You can draw your own conclusions – I think the process they outline is a useful one for tool builders to go through if they want to build tools that support the way people actually work. But my cursory reading didn’t reveal any huge lessons learnt from the paper-based modelling and many of the criticisms levelled at the one example tool (ReLoad) they cite could seemingly be levelled at the paper-based model as well (e.g. use of jargon for one). – SWL

Professional Development Model & Resource Re-Use Scenarios from Flexible E-Content Project


For people either building new repository software or even figuring out what they need in implementing existing software, this might be of interest. Not quite a set of use cases, but maybe close – a set of scenarios which “attempt … to map the process that an educator might walk through to implement digital resources in classroom or online environments….
While the exemplars focus on K-12 learning, the Model and Workshop could apply to post-secondary instructors and designers as well. Developers may find the Case Examples informative in the development of flexible content tools.” – SWL

A Short Course on Structured Course Development, Learning Objects, and E-Learning Standards


From Gerry Paille and his team (a partnership of BC School District #60, Open School BC and the Open Learning Agency/BC Open Univeristy to develop a ‘CANCORE-compliant’ resource network that will house materials from some of their older resource collections) comes this useful 3 module course on “using a structured language such as Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) or eXtensible Markup Language (XML) as a basis for producing a learning design and describing course content, activities, and assignments.”

Gerry has also gone to the effort of packaging the course as an IMS 1.1.3 Content Package. Gerry notes on the project blog that the course has yet to receive a ‘technical review’ but is still quite worthwhile. One neat feature of how they implemented this is the ‘Module Resources’ links in each of the modules, which seem to be keyword searches to the backend CAREO database to provide related supplementary resources for each module. – SWL

MERLOT’s Development Process Documents and other background tech information


I don’t know if I could tell you exactly *why* MERLOT published all of this – possibly for the greater public good or possibly to maintain a fairly high degree of transparency and formality given so many stakeholders in their development process. In any case, they have shared the policies shaping their development framework as well as a number of other technical background documents, all of which should prove of some use to people developing their own repositories or even just deciding on what strategy to take in implementing one. – SWL