Archive for the 'reuse' Category

Really reusing and learning design

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Although we are only really halfway through the Mosaic project it is providing some real food for thought about how reuse actually works in practice and what it means for a lot of the assumptions underpinning other work we are part of through projects such as the LDSE and Phoebe in the area of learning design.

There is no question that engaging in reuse in earnest has clarified my thinking about the ways it really happens – we have always reused content up to a point but a commitment to producing a course which is made up of over 85% existing materials really focuses the mind.

Obviously at his stage  if the project all our findings about reuse are only from one course, but from what we have experienced so far I really believe that really reusing involves:

  1. Using content found through Google overwhelmingly more than that found in repositories
  2. Using anything that might enhance teaching, text, images, videos, databases, simulations, learning designs and very occasionally “learning objects”
  3. Using things that  may be large- a course, or small- an image, but the larger they are, the more likely they will be changed.
  4. Getting the materials into your course which ever way makes your life easiest, linking to the things you want to use or if you are really cutting edge bringing them into your space through mashups etc
  5. Working alone or collaboratively but more often in ad hoc rather than formal ways

I am sure none of this seems particularly radical, especially in the blogosphere, but what it does do is undercut certain assumptions which are in play in a lot of educational technology research and development projects.

  • Learning content is exceptional
  • It lives in repositories
  • It requires specialized metadata
  • It will be delivered to students through a course in a VLE

I think it can be all to easy to design tools for how you think the world should work, rather than how it is. It is too late to make learning content work this way – and thinking about how our field has changed in the last decade would you even want to?

Open source textbooks

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

The Commonwealth of Virginia is getting into open textbooks (with a Creative Commons license).

Course Writing Diary

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

We are still having problems with Sandie’s access to post to this blog, so here is her dairy for the last few months

2 April 2008

Searching for useful Anglo-Saxon and Old English websites to use for the MOSAIC project has been illuminating. As well as the better-known academic sites and databases, I’ve come across a number of sites produced by people not affiliated to an educational institution or publisher or such. Some of these are large, complex, and beautifully illustrated, clearly the work of dedication and devotion. I’m including a number of these in the course, and listing others for further exploration, because the enthusiasm is infectious and I hope that in looking at them participants will see that learning about the Anglo-Saxon world can be a great pleasure, and fun. One site contains photographs of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ villagers going about daily tasks, and includes detailed descriptions of the villagers and their respective occupations. That should be very useful for participants writing the diary’ of Anglo-Saxon life activity I hope to include.

10 April 2008

I’ve amassed a huge collection of possible existing online material on Anglo-Saxon history and Old English literature to use for the MOSAIC project. The problem will be in making a selection so that the course is not dauntingly huge, and the amount of required reading is of a practical length. Also, there is quite a lot of overlap between some sites. I might want to include one section of one site but to leave out others because they contain the same sort of material as another. I hope that when we start to contact the site owners and to clear copyright that they will allow partial as well as complete use of their respective sites.

20 April 2008

The units are coming together and I’ve managed to prune each one so that the required reading and other activities are comparable in amount (words) and duration (i.e. total study and participation time) to the other courses we run at this level. There is a difference between the structure of this course and the other (literature) courses I’ve written. The writing of the literature courses always comes before the production of the live online course, and follows a structure that I am familiar with and a set order. For this course, writing and production are chicken and egg. In the literature courses, participants read course materials I have written, follow links to external materials, and read textbooks. Activities might be reading, discussing, or writing criticism. In this course, there will be no textbook and in a sense all the activities are reading – reading online material. As I don’t know which sites will be embedded in the course so that they follow my introductions and links seamlessly, which will open in new windows, and which will be accessed by participants clicking on links, I don’t know where reading the course ends and reading as an activity begins. Also, of course, I’m still writing under the assumption that we shall be given permission to use the sites I’ve chosen, and that may not be the case. The thing to do will be to stay flexible and regard what I’ve written as a succession of drafts – starting points from which we can work but which will change and develop over time.

1 May 2008

Tact will have to be employed in the negotiations with copyright holders. Some of the websites that I’ve included in the units have minor mistakes of spelling, punctuation and grammar which I’d like to correct before they appear in our course, but I’d hate to give offense. I hope that the copyright holders will regard this as just another stage in production – an extra copy-edit – since we all make mistakes, and typos are hard to spot in one’s own writing.

10 May 2008

I think that the ten units now comprise a coherent course. It moves from introducing the Anglo-Saxon peoples at the points of their various arrivals in the British Isles, to their culture, their language, their literature, their dominance over the country and its establishment as England, and finally the loss of that dominance. I would have liked to have set the scene more, with information about post-Roman Britain and the Romano-British, but there isn’t space. I have included some resources on the Vikings and Normans, and I hope that participants will be inspired to work both backwards and forwards from the period covered by the course. The other thing I must do is make sure that my introductory and linking text has some good illustrations, copyright permitting. Working with lavishly illustrated websites, it’s easy to forget that some will open separately, and I don’t want my words to look like the boring grey bits that people will skip!

5 June 2008

Meeting with Marion and Tom in the TALL office. Marion has brilliant ideas for the design of the course and the different ways in which the external materials will work. Most can be incorporated or open in new windows, and we shall be asking for permission to set up some mirror sites. It will be important to have the larger database-type sites (lexicons, dictionaries, lists) available to participants but not fixed in position so that they have to be navigated before the participant can move on, so those will open out of the introductory and link material. Tom is working on obtaining permissions, and has already produced a list of my suggested external sources and their respective owners. It’s huge!

Learning designs, representation and reuse (1)

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

As part of the Phoebe project we have been doing a lot of thinking about how to represent learning designs, and certainly the outputs of the Mod4L project in the D4L programme, did a lot to unpack how complicated this can be. There is no question to that we are a lot clearer about the challenges in this area than we were before the D4L work started, and some interesting ways of thinking about the problem have emerged. In particular the distinction between designs for inspiration versus designs for implementation, or anything else, which seems obvious now, certainly helped me think about this all a lot more clearly. Also I think we are better able to articulate the levels of granularity at which design operates and are starting to explore what is the same and what is different when thinking about design at the level of a course, module, unit, or activity.

Taking a step back from considering this in theory I am also interested in this on a more practical note for the Mosaic project. The main requirement for this project is to reuse as much as possible to create a course. As a committed D4L alumni I really want to see if we can reuse learning designs as well as content, but what does this really mean in practice?

Ignoring for now the possibility of reusing external designs I want to try and work out how we can reuse what we have internally. We now have about 50 online courses and 8 in English literature alone – clearly in all of this there are some learning designs that we could reuse, but how to get at them? All our courses have specifications which act as one sort of learning design at the course level – and there is no question that our authors look at existing specs and get inspiration for their course, I don’t think this is perfect but at this level I think reuse at an inspirational level is working quite well. However there are also other levels where this sort of design inspiration would be valuable, where the way forward is a lot less straight forward. In our case I think design has a part to play most importantly at unit level (1 weeks online study) and activity level.

In the case of unit level design along the way we have actually developed a very clear model across all our English literature courses – much more so here than in any of the other disciplines. However this is not encapsulated anywhere in an easy digestible format – essentially each new author has looked at previous courses and thought, hmm I think I’ll do my course a bit like that. This works up to a point but is actually becoming less scalable the more courses we have.

To take a step sideways I have tried to put the structure with the content stripped out in a word document – perhaps with the idea of using it as a unit template for authors, but I am not sure that it makes sense anymore – partly because it is too abstract but also perhaps because as soon as you start to think of it as a template for a unit you want to start thinking about the next level of design mentioned above, the activities – and that is a whole additional level of multiplying possibilities.

And of course if we have done our job right with Phoebe, anything I am trying here should be possible to model in Phoebe. I have done this with the course spec level already, and there is a sharable template for anyone who is interested (note you will need a login to Phoebe for this link to work). I think I am going to have to think harder before coming up with a unit level template, but it should be do-able. At an activity level I am not sure we if we are entering the place where Phoebe stops being the right tool for the job – although in theory it could work?

Well that is where I have got to today. Clearly I need to explore this more but I am going to put this out there anyway as if I don’t do this now it will remain in my drafts folder for ever more.

So more thinking to be done – better representation for unit level design – how to capture activity level design and how to do any of this in tools like Phoebe.

Where to look for reusable content?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

As we kick off the Mosaic project (trying to develop a short course in early English literature using at a majority of preexisting content) I am trying to develop a list of places to start looking for this content that we want to re-use. I know that Sandie (our subject matter expert) has already identified lots of excellent resources using her knowledge of the discipline, but with the growth of OERs (Open Educational Resources) and portals and repositories to access them, I should hopefully not just be able to identify some likely looking content, but also content that will be easy for us to reuse – in terms of permission and copyright.

I have been clipping this area for about 3 years so had a list of about 65 things tagged free content and about 75 tagged OERs. A lot of these were the same thing tagged in different contexts or commentaries on the phenomenon more generally, rather than links to specific content, this got rid of a lot of links. A lot were very specifically K12 or focussed on a specific discipline that was not our course (at the moment it seems to me there is a lot more on the sciences and social sciences than on the humanities). There seemed to be a lot of initiatives that had a very impressive front page but very little behind it, or ones that did have a lot of content but clearly even I (as a non subject specialist) could tell there would be nothing appropriate for our course.

So now I have a list of things I want Sandie to check out and … consists of 12 things…..

To be fair some of these are VERY big portals to a lot of other content, but I am kind of disappointed. Also having had a quick search around I am already almost totally certain that it is sites that are not as explicitly focussed on reusable learning content that are going to be the most useful. Sandie will be doing more digging on this in the next few weeks, and will let us know what she finds. In the meantime here are the links i think it is worth Sandie following up:


  1. Intute –
  2. The OU –
  3. Jorum –
  4. Merlot –
  5. Rice Connexions –
  6. MIT OCW –
  7. Open courseware consortium –
  8. OER Commons –
  9. Jisc Collections –
  10. Directory of Open Access Journals –
  11. UNESCO List of Open Educational Resources –
  12. Google OCW search –

So if you know somewhere else we should be looking let us know.