Archive for the 'Mosaic' Category

Licensing academic content

Monday, March 30th, 2009

One of the clearest lessons from Mosaic is how much content which may be used for learning exists on the open web through university domains, either in the websites of specific projects, individual academic initiative or other models.  However what is noticeable is that the vast majority of this material has no obvious licence or copyright statement attached to it.  It is a reasonable assumption that when academics put content on the open web, they think that they have shared it and made it open, and in reality for most use they have.  However attaching a licence such as Creative commons  allows for easier uptake. While in some cases this may be a deliberate omission, in most it is probably because they are unaware of these licences and what they mean, or they are aware of them, but don’t feel that they understand them well enough to implement them, or that they suspect using them may contravene IPR held by their university, and don’t know how to find out, so dodge the issue by not engaging with it.

It seems many of the barriers to reuse would be reduced if universities developed clear policies on licensing their exsiting web based outputs and applied it as broadly as possible across all their activities. This is happening already in certain domains – OERs and research outputs from an ever growing list of funders, but especially where universities are publicly funded, surely open licensing should be the default not the exception.

What is learning content?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

One of our key findings from Mosaic is that almost anything can be learning content. Yes learning objects are great if they exist, but  in many subjects they don’t, or if they do in about the right quantities to make up about 30 mins of learning.  For our Ancestral Voices course we used about 3 items that the creators would have classified as learning objects, but managed to create a 100 study hours course out of approximately 200 items of pre-existing high quality content from a variety of sources including:

  • Academic articles
  • Media articles (BBC etc)
  • Pod casts
  • Fully online courses
  • Online textbooks
  • Assets – Images/diagrams/maps etc
  • Databases (especially archaeological ones)
  • Sites developed by enthusiasts
  • Academic sites (departmental and individual)
  • Academic project sites
  • Museum sites
  • Blogs

These were not in repositories, usually had no special meta data, but they were discoverable through informed browsing and Google searches. While some of these map very closely onto the sort of content used in teaching and learning for decades, whether online or face to face, many do not.  However what is clear is that, if correctly scaffolded by the course, any content can be learning content.  Many of the discussions currently underway on developing repositories and standards, or more generally on approaches to sharing OERs in the future, work on the assumptions that learning content needs separate considerations , extra metadata and unique locations, something our experience contradicts (see previous posts about this).

Work on discovering, representing and sharing learning designs in particular suggests this is a complex field, and also a very personal one – there is no metadata schema, or standard or representation which can encapsulate the particular value of a particular learning design or item of content to all comers.  Where the value of these lies is individually derived and context specific (See the Mod4L report  for a discussion of this space in relation to learning design in particular).  Thus while improvements to standards and metadata, and development of specialised repositories are not in themselves negative, it seems likely that any benefit accrued by these undertakings is outweighed by the barriers to sharing and discoverability imposed by the extra complexity.  Note that it has been frequently observed that one of the main barriers to academics sharing is not intent (in theory they are happy to do so) but rather the complexity of the actual practice (they are not sure how to, where, don’t have time to consider metadata).  Materials openly available on the web are already found and used (legitimately or not) all the time, tapping into these existing locations and networks, seems more likely to lead to success then additional infrastructure.

Reuse and digital literacies

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

As we have been writing our final reports for the Mosaic project it has become clear that our recommendations around reuse come in two main areas, those for people thinking of making materials available for reuse and those for people who are doing the reusing.  In the case of the latter it is becoming increasingly clear that both students and academics need  skills that they currently do not necessarily have, to engage with reused and repurposed materials, and that these skills are part of the broader subset that might be called digital literacies.Through our critical friend discussions it became clear that developing courses with significant use of external content had the potential to change the pedagogy of many existing courses.  It suggested a movement towards the development of online learning experiences that facilitate student interactions with existing content, their tutor and peers, rather than developing the ultimate content that will help your student learn.

A real skill for effective reuse, both for academics and students, is assessing digital information, and while these requirements have been brought to prominence by the growth of the web, much of the skill set involved in judging the value of sources has nothing to do with whether they are online or not.  We would aspire that all sources presented to our students should be critically assessed by them in the course of their study.  Thus, as part of the academic experience we want to build, not all content in the course is necessarily presented as perfect or right, but as something which gives a useful perspective on the topic being studied, in the context of a series of activities that scaffold them in making their own judgment about the materials presented.

There is more to digital literacy than just this, and I am following with interest the work of the LLiDA project which is looking at learning literacies in UK HE and FE, which they define as “the range of practices that underpin effective learning in a digital age”.  However it seems clear that for learning experiences made of existing content to really work, these skills need to be consciously addressed.

Course author diary: reflections on Ancestral Voices as it runs

Monday, February 9th, 2009

January 2009

The taught version of the course is underway. In spite of the recession, a respectable number of people signed up for it, some of whom have taken courses with us before (I confess to  posting shameless plugs in the forums of other online courses during Michaelmas), and some for whom it will be a first foray into online  study. I lurked for most of the day on which the course was launched, feeling both delighted that Ancestral Voices was going out into the world, but also unwilling to let it go. In my capacity as academic director of the online courses, I do look in and sample posts frequently, to make sure that there is consistency of amount and kind of tutor response, and that things are running smoothly, and to try to anticipate and help with potential problems. I should also admit that I’m tending to spend more time on Ancestral Voices than with other courses, whether I was their author or not, and much more time than is strictly necessary. This is partly because of the volume of posts and partly because of their quality. The course and its tutor seem to be generating exactly the kind of student response one hopes for in an online course. That is, not of the post-and-run kind, but conversations and discussions involving several students at once, with engaged and reasoned responses.

I think Nicolay, the tutor, knows when to hold back rather than leap in, to allow space for this to happen. To an extent, the course is running itself, with Nicolay on hand to add further information and clarification as required. This makes me wonder whether an asynchronous forum or forums could work with the freely accessible and downloadable version. Some teachers will download the course and use it alongside their own forum, of course, which will be fine, but I wonder whether a general public version could work with discussion forums – if the department could resolve any legal and support issues to its satisfaction? People would arrive at different times, and be way in front of or behind others, but if there were enough people involved at any one time, that would not matter, just as many forums (for hobbies and special interests, for example) have topics with posts going back a long way in time that still attract new messages.

I particularly like the way in which the present students are not just opining but are putting forward reasoned arguments and responding to others’ posts with reasoned arguments. I hope that continues. As I follow them through the course, I feel that I am learning with them.

Launching Ancestral voices: the earliest English literature

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

After months of work we are finally launching our Ancestral voices: the earliest English literature course today with actual students!  This course has been developed using almost entirely existing content as part of the Mosaic project funded by JISC.  The course as a whole learning experience with tutor will be running for the next 10 weeks, and hopefully for many terms to come.  However as part of the Mosaic project, all the course materials will be made available more widely in the near future as well – more information about that to come.

Eddie Izzard brings Old English to life

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Just two days before we launch  our Ancestral voices: the earliest English literature course as part of the Mosaic project, we are still finding excellent content we want to use.  As our author Sandie Byrne said, “I wish I had found this before”

Because of the specific approach we have taken to licensing and incorporating content into the course for JISC we are not going to be able to use this for this run, but next time we’ll do what we can.

Misconceptions about reuse

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Over the last week I have been participating in a critical friends exercise as part of the Mosaic project with our partners from the RECITE and REGEN-1 projects. It has been interesting to start to see consensus about the realities of reuse, how it actually works in practice and what the opportunities and constraints really are.  As our final reporting for JISC is due soon I will be writing a lot more about this in the next couple of months.  In the meantime it is interesting to see Juliette Culver, who I know from her excellent work on Cloudworks give her take on it all here.

Mosaic Author Diary

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Here are some more reflections on the Mosaic  project from the course “author” Sandie Byrne:

12 August 2008
Marion and I spent some time looking through an online archive of images from the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon holdings, looking for illustrations for the course material. We selected some reliquaries, jewellery and weapons, but the archive didn’t include the really spectacular artefacts I would like participants to be able to see, so we shall have to widen the net. I hope that the British Library will grant permission for us to include links to its holdings.

30 September 2008
TALL have been busy with the development of other projects, and the obtaining of permissions is turning out to be a mammoth task, so the course isn’t built yet.

15 November 2008
I’m so pleased that Nicolay Yakolev has agreed to be the tutor for the taught version of the course. His doctorate was in Old English, and he has published a lot of interesting work on the subject, but more importantly, I think he will be friendly and accessible, understanding of the way some people feel intimidated by Old English, and sensitive to the needs and learning methods of different students. I think he will appreciate the course, and I hope will enjoy teaching it.

20 December 2008
Sarah Mann has sent me a link to the course on DevMoodle, so at last I shall be able to see how ‘Ancestral Voices: The Earliest English Literature’ looks on screen. The web content has not been embedded yet, so will appear as links, and there will be instructions and reminders for TALL on the course build, so I won’t quite be seeing the final form – the way users will see it – but I should be able to get a good idea. The Oxford, taught version of the course launches on 14 January, Sarah is away until 5 January, and other courses launch that week, so she and other TALL colleagues are going to have a busy 9 days.

26 December 2008
The course is looking good, with a very few minor errors that can easily be rectified. With the online material linked rather than embedded, it’s hard to imagine the effect that will be created by, for example, the full-page illustrations of Saxon homes and dress, or artefacts such as weapons, and the amazing gold- and other metal-work. Having those on the pages of the units that users first come to will, I think, make such a dramatic impact, and bring home the point that Anglo-Saxon culture was much more rich, diverse, and sophisticated than we might think.
The audio files in the course will, I think, make a big difference. I remember how difficult it was to get a sense of Old English from books alone, and poetry should always be heard as well as read. The inclusion of Stuart Lee’s film is a bonus, too. In a sense, the more media the merrier, in the cause of making Old English literature accessible.

Exclude teaching and learning materials from the open access repositories debate. Discuss.

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

I have just read Lorna Campbell’s post of the titled “Exclude teaching and learning materials from the open access repositories debate. Discuss.” which was really interesting to me, as a “repository” perspective on something which I am preoccupied about from the teaching and learning end.  As Lorna suggested I have a lot of instinctive agreement that lumping in teaching and learning content with the broader concerns of the repository world (and as an ex- librarian I find it far too easy to take that perspective) does produce tensions, and she identifies a lot of the right questions:

What to teachers actually do with their materials? Where do they currently store them? How do they manage them? How do they use them? Are there things teachers can’t do now that they would like to? How do learners interact with teaching materials? Are there personnal, domain and institutional perspectives to consider? And how do they relate to each other?

But I would say that a lot of these are  already being asked, and in many cases by projects under the  e-learning strand of JISC  (Design 4 learning, User Experience and Reproduce strands immediately occur to me and I am sure there are more) – perhaps the worlds of e-learning and repositories need to get better at communicating?

However I also think it is worth making the point that all repository content (from scholarly communication to a learning object) is potentially teaching and learning content and we should be able to create solutions that can cope with both.

Cascade – Curriculum delivery project

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Cascade of Maqui

We have recently heard from JISC that we have funding for the Cascade project as part of their Curriculum Delivery call.  This is really exciting news as it gives us a chance to properly explore implementing the technologies that can transform a learning experience across the whole of the Department for Continuing Education.For the Department as a whole it will provide us a chance to really explore how technology can be used effectively as we confront the challenges we face due to the ELQ policy (which removes HEFCE funding for students studying an equivalent of lower qualification and for TALL it will give us a chance to build on the work we have been doing in the last few years, both in research and in course development.

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