Newlsetter - October 2005Welcome to the last edition for 2005. This edition leads us into the annual ascilite conference to be held this year in Brisbane at the Queensland University of Technology, Gardens Point Campus, situated in the heart of the city. Full details of the conference and how to register are available at www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/brisbane05/start.shtml. We look forward to seeing you there!
The lead article, 'From learning objects to learning design', is provided by Professor Allison Littlejohn. Allison is a leading international researcher in reuse of online resources and technology supported learning. She will be delivering the keynote address at the conference on Wednesday 7th December, entitled 'Community Dimensions of Learning Object Repositories' as well as presenting one of the 7 workshops to be held on Sunday 4th December.
Then, in the 'What's interesting elsewhere' section we look at the Blackboard-WebCT merger.
This is the final ascilite newsletter for 2005, with the next due to appear in March 2006. We welcome suggestions for themes and lead articles from our readers at any time. Please send these to any of the editors.
Editor for this edition: Linda Pannan
Editorial team: Meg O'Reilly, Joe Luca, Jeremy Williams, Linda Pannan.
Web Editor: NetSpot
From learning objects to learning design
What's interesting on the ascilite website?
What's interesting elsewhere?
From learning objects to learning designProf. Allison Littlejohn
Institute for Learning Technology, University of Dundee.
Objects are a hot subject. Learning objects, or reusable learning resources, have been the focus of recent debates in the learning technology sphere. Over the past few years the widening of learning opportunities to greater numbers of students has created an enormous need for specially designed course materials. The problem is that creating new materials or repurposing resources requires considerable investment. To address this issue, numerous national and international initiatives have been funded to investigate ways in which digital learning resources, or "learning objects" might be developed, shared and reused by teachers and learners around the world so as to benefit from economies of scale.
Behind these initiatives lies a vision of a future in which the vast range of learning objects that already exist could comprise a new currency of exchange within a learning economy. These could be repurposed by publishers, teachers and support staff and stored in digital repositories, where they could be easily accessed, recombined and reused within online courses. In an ideal world, these resources would be designed so that they could be adapted to fit different educational models, subject disciplines and levels of study. Resources would extend beyond what were originally defined as 'Learning Objects': 'Digital Assets' (such as images) and 'Information Objects' (including text-based resources, animations etc). They would include higher level resources such as 'Reusable Learning Activities' and activity sequences or 'Learning Designs' that could be populated with learning content. It all seems straightforward, but why aren't these ideas being adopted by communities of practitioners? One reason is because practitioners often have a clear idea about the content they want to use, but are less familiar with the notion of reusing learning activities and learning designs. Secondly the available collections of resources are sometimes not based on needs of the communities that might use them. As a result practitioners often find that learning resources, activities and designs are more difficult to source, share and reuse than to reinvent. The literature points to a raft of cultural, pedagogical, organisational, technological, and user literacy issues.
Pedagogical issues focus around the tension between the use of e-tools to support content acquisition and supporting learners' co-creation of knowledge. Recent studies have focussed on the development and reuse of learning objects by teachers. However, an important question is: how do students manage resources during the course of their learning? One of our current projects, DIDET (Developing Innovative Design Education and Teamwork), funded through the JISC/NSF 'Digital Libraries in the Classroom' programme, is investigating how the organization of information and resources in shared workspaces influences design education. For this study an open-source groupware product was configured so that student teams could structure design resources using wiki pages and share them using two search strategies: browsing the wiki pages or using keywords. The results illustrated that teams preferred to search the wiki structures rather than use keywords. This was influenced by poor information literacy skills of students and the teachers supplying the keywords and the project has since developed a range of interventions for supporting information literacy. We are also investigating the benefits and drawbacks to making resources sourced by one set of students available to other groups. We are testing a process for moving student generated information and knowledge structures from an informal groupware environment to a more formal repository. This involves an iterative process of metadata creation and checking by the student, the teacher and an information specialist. While these studies have focused on campus-based students interacting online and face-to-face, we are planning to evaluate student teams comprising two UK and two US-based members. Within these groups student interactions and communications will be fundamentally different.
Another theme we are currently investigating is how students organise concepts and ideas into 'knowledge structures'. During design projects, student teams develop structures for categorizing knowledge using 'wiki pages' or concept maps. The students create or select information resources to place within these structures, demonstrating their understanding of how ideas inter-relate. These processes involve students critically evaluating information, organizing ideas and constructing relations amongst concepts. The generation of 'knowledge structures', at the level of concepts and ideas, is important for learning in two ways. Firstly, the more opportunities students have to actively inter-relate concepts, the deeper their learning is likely to be. Secondly, student generated knowledge structures, rather than those provided by teachers, are important for effective learning. Requiring student groups to make their knowledge structures transparent to other teams is likely to have most benefit for the team creating the structure. While it might be argued that hierarchical folder structures can support resource sharing this might not be the case for 'knowledge structures'. There may be tensions between the knowledge structures created by one team and the structures that are guiding the thinking of a team accessing these resources. A major concern is how this kind of cognitive conflict might be harnessed to stimulate deeper learning.
Future reuse will include a much wider range of resources than is currently available. This is likely to include learning resources and knowledge structures generated by students. It may also feature reusable learning activities that can draw upon a range of web based services. These learning activities bring together resources such as question banks, images and interactive animations as well as 'services' (test engines, discussion forums, etc.). This means that resources and services can be brought together from a variety of origins and it will no longer be necessary to rely on e-tools embedded within Virtual Learning Environments. As part of the JISC funded LADIE project (Learning Activity Design in Education) we are producing use cases of learning activities. These will form the basis of an e-learning reference model that will allow the mapping of web services to activity types.
The project is currently producing a series of use cases of learning activities designed by practitioners from a variety of subject disciplines.
Cultural concerns focus around diversity in expectations of learning and sharing. We need to move away from the current trend of building digital repositories and encouraging practitioners to use them towards better prototyping of collections of resources around the needs of specific communities. One aspect of our current research is exploring the relationship between user communities and repositories. 'Community Dimensions of Learning Object Repositories' has been funded by JISC, the Government body that hosts all academic networks throughout the UK. This project is mapping problems in implementing repositories against a range of 'community dimensions' or ways in which communities can be described. These include geographic range (ie institutional, national, international), who uses the resources (learners, teachers and/or others), the educational sector (eg Higher, Further or School Education), the subject discipline and the resource type (eg image collections, reusable learning activities or learning designs). The aim is to test potential solutions that are meaningful to the user communities.
Organisational problems range from linking strategy with operational management to incentives and rewards for practitioners to share resources. Many institutions aiming to embed e-learning within mainstream teaching and learning processes are facing problems arising from mismatches across three institutional levels: senior management, integration and operational levels. Funded by the Scottish Higher Education Funding council, we are developing a framework that will be used by institutions across Scotland as an auditing and implementation tool for developing flexibility within teaching and learning. The unique aspect of this study is that it addresses issues in implementing e-learning across all three organisational levels.
So - what of the future? There are at least three key messages. We need to review both learning and teaching processes and the ways in which these can be supported by new and emerging e-tools and resources. Students are already creating, sharing and managing a range of learning resources in their social activities. We need to think how these activities might support learning in more formal settings. Secondly, 'e-learning' is multi-disciplinary and requires support from educational developers, information specialists, IT and audio visual staff as well as practitioners. Organisations need to find ways of bringing these 'tribes' together by engaging more fully with issues arising from differences in cultures. Finally, related to this issue, institutions need to review their organisational structures to ensure all staff at all levels of the organisation are working towards a common aim.
Allison Littlejohn is Chair of Learning Technology at the University of Dundee in Scotland. As Director of the Institute for Learning Technology she is leading research in a number of areas including learning technology interoperability, technology supported learning and organisational change. Current projects include 'Learning Activity Design in Education', 'Community Dimensions of Learning Object Repositories' (both funded by the UK government) and 'A Model for Flexible Learning' (funded by the Scottish Quality Assurance Agency). For several years she has been an associate of the UK Higher Education Academy and leads the UK Forum on Supporting Sustainable eLearning. In 2003 Allison edited a major international text on reusable LOs and repositories: Reusing Online Resources (Routledge: London). She is currently editing a new Routledge series entitled 'Designing Blended Learning' due in 2006.
What's interesting on the ascilite website?ascilite Research Grant
The ascilite Research Grant was established in 2005 and the objectives of this grant scheme are to provide opportunities to new or early researchers, as well as support for small projects that could lead to a larger grant proposal. The period for the research grant will be 18 months and funds must be fully expended by 30th June in the second year.
Members of the ascilite community were invited to submit their applications by 30th September. A panel of four reviewers have completed their selection and the winner of the grant, valued at $5000 will be awarded at the conference in December.
Guidelines for the 2006 applications will be posted up later in 2006, but for the meantime, information on the 2005 guidelines can be found here.
What's interesting elsewhere?Blackboard and WebCT merger announced
When the news broke on the merger between Blackboard and WebCT earlier this month, it will no doubt have caused a few jitters in university coffee rooms around the world, particularly in those institutions where there has been a heavy investment in WebCT. However, according to company sources, when Blackboard acquires WebCT the combined company will operate - albeit under the Blackboard name - with the aim of building on complementary strengths and synergies. Blackboard has said that it will enhance and support existing WebCT and Blackboard products and, by providing a joint foundation based on the Blackboard Building Blocks architecture and WebCT's Powerlinks framework, it expects to enhance the interoperability of the two product lines. Over time, the company says, it aims to incorporate the best features of the two product lines into one product set, and possibly providing new opportunities for collaborations on e-learning for those already using one of the products. Time will tell, of course, and it will be interesting to see how e-learning practitioners respond to a company that is now in a position to exercise a deal of monopoly power. Will institutions recoil and opt for open source solutions? Or will they be accepting of the market dominance in the same way they are of Microsoft products?
The merger is expected to be finalised late this year or early in 2006. Further details about the merger may be found on a dedicated new section of Blackboard's website, www.blackboard.com/webct.
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