The primary aim of Wikieducator is to promote the freedom of educators to teach using open education resources (OERs). We believe that the potential success of an open education resource (OER) project will be enhanced by:
- faciliting reusability through recontextualisation of educational content for local contexts based on the requirements of good teaching (well-founded pedagogy);
- lowering both technical and legal barriers that constrain the freedoms of educators to teach using OERs.
Reusability in education
Attaining the benefits of reusable digital content cannot be divorced from the requirements of good teaching and the rapid advances in the implementation of open interoperability specifications. Therefore, it is important to reflect on this relationship focusing on practical ways in which Wikieducator can leverage advances in technology for the benefit of education for all.
The majority of Learning Management Systems (both open and closed source systems) have implemented interoperability specifications (for example IMS and SCORM). Therefore, packaging instructional materials using these interoperability specifications will -- at a technical level -- facilitate wider reuse of OERs. The eXe is an open source authoring tool that can export instructional materials as IMS/SCORM content packages. Combining this with the power of collaborative authoring of open content using wiki technology, it is possible to use eXe for recontextualising digital learning content for your own learning situation.
While technology does enable change, ultimately the quality of learning must be driven by educational foundations. The Wikieducator initiative is underpinned by educational best practice utilising the enabling potential of evolving technologies.
Distinguishing between interoperability and reusability
Interoperability is a technical challenge concerning how digital content developed in one environment or system can easily be transported or used in another system or environment. On the other hand, reusability is an education challenge, refering to how learning resources developed for a particular learning situation can be reused in another learning situation.
The reusability dilemma
Educators add value to learning content through the design of meaningful learning activities to facilitate the learner's understanding of different learning tasks. Moreover, a meaningful education experience requires quality interations among students and teachers which are difficult to encapsulate in standardised content. Reusability in education necessitates a well-found understanding of learner needs and different learning contexts.
With regards to digital resources, regrettably there is an inverse relationship between reusability and the educational design of teaching resources. Learning is always contextual, because the demands of the learning tasks may change and the characteristics of individual student groups are usually very different. Good teaching requires careful refinements and adaptations according to student needs in different learning situations.
Consider, for instance, a raw digital object such as a photograph. On its own, the photograph has little educational value until it is incorporated into an educational activity, and customised for use based on the student audience and the demands of the learning task. While a raw digital object does not have significant educational value, it can easily be reused in a variety of different contexts, for example the same X-Ray image can be used for teaching a first-year class of student nurses as well as a post-graduate course for inservice doctors. On the other hand, however, a compiled learning sequence adopting a problem-based learning approach comprising a range of activities exploring the relationships between supply and demand for a second year Economics class will have higher educational value, but is certainly not as reusable as the raw digital object example above. Consequently, the more educational design that is embedded in digital learning resources, the less reusable they become for different situations.
Educational content is characterised by a number of form elements that represent the design of a particular learning sequence, for example: articulating the intended learning outcomes, incorporating a number of interactions for learners to engage with the learning task or opportunities for learners to assess their progress. In eXe, we call these form elements instructional devices (or iDevices).
Using eXe's wiki import feature, it now becomes easier for educators to add their own iDevices and package the resultant materials for delivery in the LMS of their choice. In this way the Wikieducator initiative has the potential to improve both the educational value and reusablity of OERs.
Lowering the barriers
In the past, the publishing of professional-looking web content was not easily accessible to the general public. This has changed with the arrival of wiki technology. Wikis use a simple syntax to format text for the Web, and it's a relatively simple process to publish content and immediately view the results of your work on the Internet. In addition to the ease of publishing content on the Web, wiki software is capable of managing and tracking different versions of the text, thus making it possible for thousands of people from different corners of the world to work collaboratively on the same content.
In order to utilize this content effectively in the classroom, it will be necessary for teachers to refine and customize content. Unfortunately very few educators have detailed knowledge of HTML/XHTML markup or the time to develop these skills. In response to this challenge, eXe was developed as an open source technology to enable teachers to author professional looking web content without the need to become proficient in HTML or XHTML. In eXe, it is easy to import wiki articles for recontextualisation and packaging for delivery either using your local LMS or as a self-contained web content. eXe is particularly useful in developing society contexts where connectivity may be a problem, because you can author content offline as well as package the resources for offline delivery.
These two technologies have significantly lowered the technical barriers for educators to utilize the power of web content in their teaching. Moreover, opening content through the use of a copyleft or a Creative Commons license will radically improve access to content resources in education. In this way, Wikieducator is striving to provide greater freedom for educators around the world to tackle the educational challenges of our time.