Adopting learning objects - case studies

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Learning objects, personal learning environments and study guides - these have taken on new importance in the online teaching and learning discussions. In particular, open education and open educational resources (OER) are receiving considerable attention in the press. There has been financial support for creating and distributing these learning resources. However, little has been said about adopting them in teaching and learning from them.

To demonstrate the adoption process, here are two separate cases where learning objects have been incorporated into actual course delivery in higher education - a Remix using individual open objects, and a full course OER Adoption.

Remix using individual open objects

Locating and adopting OER content for a faculty development workshop Technology Supported Learning

The workshop, Technology Supported Learning is a professional development workshop for educators and trainers. Based on the Chickering and Gamson Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, each workshop topic corresponds to one of the Principles. Each topic includes readings, references to additional web resources, discussion topics and activities. Activities are outlined for exploring, applying and assessing the Principles and technologies applicable to supporting learning.

This course development example provides a step-by-step overview of the process of locating and adopting OER content. The online workshop introduces faculty to using technology to enhance instruction. The focus is student-centric using technology for supporting learning. There were no complete courses that met our needs. We selected content from a number of sources that provided the topics and activities that we wanted to incorporate. The resulting workshop is now delivered 2-3 times each school year.

In the Planning phase, the course design was developed and the main themes and requirements for learning objectives were defined. Possible sources of content were identified and the criteria for determining the learning objects for inclusion were discussed.

Technology Supported Learning (TSL) is offered as a facilitated online course, but the materials can be used by faculty for self-directed learning. The course is expected to take participants approximately 40 hours to complete over a 10-week period. However, realistically, faculty participants often reviewed the lesson outline and commented in the discussion forums without doing all the suggested activities. Those seeking credit (about 10% of participants) were required to complete the activities.

If a complete course had been available, it would have been considered for adoption. A review of the OER Commons and other repositories suggested that even individual topics would be difficult to find. The selection criteria have to be flexible when there is little content in the area of interest.

The Search and selection phase built on the course plan and instructional design. There were several areas of search for resources. Although we started with the idea that we would adopt a partial course or full course if one were located, it became clear that this would not be an option. We redirected our search to locating component learning objects.

OER Commons was the main source of higher education and faculty professional development content. Listings include content from all the major repositories. Educational Resources could be viewed by grade-level, resource type, subject, rating and source. While it is desirable to consult trusted sources and recommendations, the number of entries that had been reviewed and/or rated was limited. It will take time before there are enough reviews to be particularly helpful in locating high quality learning objects. Several advocates of the use of learning foresee groups of subject matter experts providing lists of learning objects that relate to their area of interest along with reviews and ratings. We are still waiting for these to appear in any numbers.

Once we had found a number of suitable learning objects, we moved to the Development phase. In fact, the process was iterative, as we worked through the development of the lessons, we continued searching for learning objects to address specific needs in the course design. In some cases, the course design was altered to incorporate great learning object discoveries. The development generally followed a conventional course development process.

Activities were structured to encourage participants to explore and develop learning resources for their own courses. Many of the activities were open-ended to provide flexibility for participants with differing needs and interests. Some learning objects did not exactly fit so existing ones were modified and others had to be created to fill the needs of the course objectives.

Throughout development, the course underwent quality reviews. There are a number of standards for course quality. The one we selected was this Course Evaluation Checklist

Because the course was composed of a broad spectrum of learning objects from a number of sources in a variety of media, the Delivery phase was a learning experience for all. We encouraged faculty participants to use the framework we created for the course and build lessons for their own course topics as their assignments.

For online workshops, the facilitator takes the role of "guide on the side" with the participants directing their own learning through activities such as readings, media viewing, discussions, research, and reflective writing writing assignments.

"Learning about learning objects" is included as a theme within the framework. Participants appreciate the diversity and range of material available. Through research assignments, participants are encouraged to locate and review learning objects in their subject area.

We encourage feedback and critique. As the workshop progresses and the learning objects are accessed within the workshop, participants must complete review activities that asked for feedback on the learning objects. Responses include suggestions for improvements, additions and deletions. Based on these suggestions, the workshop has been changed, or even removed from the workshop if it does not add significant value.

The final (and ongoing) phase is Knowledge building and sharing where we work with sponsors, technical support, pedagogical specialists and participants to review the process and the practices. This leads to some good thoughtful discussions and analysis.

  • worth the effort? - Would it be simpler just to build a course or lesson from scratch? It depends on a number of factors - subject matter expertise, time available for development. In some situations, there will be lots of content "on the shelf" available for adoption and use with little additional development required. Finding and customizing learning objects may be an expeditious solution. Plan to include some personalization or localization to fit the learners' needs. As a body of excellent learning objects is expanded, it will be come increasingly desirable to adopt existing learning objects.
  • integration issues - "fit" with learning objectives and other course related materials - We set up the workshop with a Notes (or lecture) page for each of the Seven Principles topics, and a list of activities for each. The learning objects are linked as activities with instructions. There was no requirement to have a consistent "look and feel" to all the course materials. There was no requirement to keep the participants within a "walled garden" of the workshop, although we use the Moodle course management system. There is the potential for navigation problems, but participants have not cited this as a concern. It is clear to the participants that these are external resources. This fits well with the overall theme of using technology.

It was essential to keep track of the learning accessed that might be useful for supplementing the learning objects selected or to use as part of an assembly or resource. We found that as the development of the course progressed, some of the needs changed and learning objects were added later to provide additional support or better explain some of the material. This is consistent with traditional measures of good practice.

Adopting an existing full course

Locating and adopting a full course as learning objects: Creative Typography

You want to teach a hands-on course about Typography for the Art department. You don't have a lot of time to develop the course, so you would like to use an existing full course if one exists. Searching through the OER Commons listings, there 1356 Arts subject area entries. By filtering for Full courses and Post-secondary, there are 179 entries. Searching for Typography, there are 4 entries. Of those listed, the following looks promising.

Creative Typography of January 2008

Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Course Related Materials
Grade Level: Post-secondary
Author: Carolyn Brown
Subject: Arts
Institution Name: Foothill College
Collection Name: Sofia - Foothill De Anza College

Abstract: Exploration and experimentation with letter forms and page layout for expressive communication. Fundamental typographic principles, font recognition, and analysis of both historical and post modern design theory. Emphasis on content, form, and technique for effective use of typography in ads, posters, newsletters and other visual communications.

Course Type: Full Course
Material Types: Syllabi, Homework and Assignments, Assessments, Discussion Forums, Activities and Labs
Media Formats: Text/HTML, Graphics/Photos
Language: English

Conditions of Use: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.5

Sofia Open Content Initiative
Creative Typography

Locating and adopting a full course learning object

Listed below are some of the issues for considered when selecting and adopting the Creative Typography course.

  • learning objectives - Appropriate coverage of the subject and level of detail including topics: explore letter forms and page layouts, fundamental typography principles, font design analysis, hands-on experience with effective use in visual communications
  • course outline - 12 week quarter course with reading, assignments, projects
  • content requirements - All selection criteria were met, included all course materials with links to web resources, attractive presentation, instructor's notes
  • trusted sources, recommendations - published as part of the Hewlett Foundation funded Sofia Project that selected community college courses.

The Sophia Project courses were evaluated for selection and edited for inclusion in the course gallery. The course was informally reviewed against the course evaluation checklist - comprehensive list of questions to guide review to assess the quality of the course pedagogy, curriculum design, materials and learning activities. Also used to plan additions and modifications for local teaching requirements.

Selecting a full course will save time and effort. The background work has already been completed - course outline, design, text, activities, projects, quizzes. However becoming familiar with the content takes time. Understanding the thinking behind some of the information presented may require research. Resolving conflicts and adding personalization or localization requires additional work. The course is composed of 10 lessons with related projects and activities. An Instructor's guide is provided.

Usually, there will be some development as most instructors will personalize the course materials. Integrating the content into Moodle, the college's learning management system will require some planning. Because these pages are attractive HTML pages, they can be added to the course as web resources and can be displayed in a new window or as a frame within the Moodle course. This is a matter of personal preference as either works fine.

Will there be direct student to access the content where it is or must you copy the content to some course specific location? How will assignments be submitted and displayed for peer review? Quizzes must be transferred into the Moodle question database and quiz function.

Review the entire course looking for opportunities to include new material, delete extraneous information, and provide any instructions deemed to be missing for the specific learners. While the course is fine the way it is "out of the box", can you resist the urge to add your own elements of style and pedagogical signature?

There are lots of checklist to ensure quality, each with their own priorities and requirements. This Course Evaluation Checklist is extensive and helpful for guiding development as well as ensure a quality product.

The course is ready for delivery. The course has been taught on-campus and as a fully online course. The material is complete enough that a knowledgeable instructor / facilitator can provide the necessary learning guidance and support for delivering the course in a classroom, as distance learning or as a hybrid with on-campus and online components. The feedback from adopters has been positive. Students taking the course online have really enjoyed the flexibility and creative incentive of displaying their work electronically even if it is limited to class participants.

An important hallmark of open education is the commitment to knowledge building and sharing to promote accessibility to education for all. The course materials are all available. In some other learning object publishing systems, there is considerable camaraderie among adopters who share teaching tips, localization suggestions and student work as annotations to the learning object in the repository. No provision was made for revising or enhancing the course. However, the content is "evergreen" - while there are advances being made in typography, at the level of the course, the resources and lessons are relatively stable, not needing regular updates.