SOLR:Content Strategies Notes
Learning Content Strategies
Notes from our full day gathering
October 24, 2008
Scott opened the day with an overview of content strategies and expectations for our gathering. While there is a lot of information about learning content and open educational resources and new tools and trends, Scott stressed that we need to put it all into the context of specific issues WE are facing at our own institutions. By hearing from a cross section of institutions and sharing our experiences we can identify some common issues and needs (goal #1) and demonstrate possible solutions -- within a LMS and also outside a LMS (goal #2). Together we can look for different ways to get around various problems.
Scott asked that throughout the day think about the closing session and how it best works for us. Format can change!
Using clickers the participants responded to 12 questions aimed to get a sense of where institutions are with some of the issues. Several questions prompted an open discussion. The clicker responses and discussion notes have been summarized here.
UVic - Katy Chan (slides 412 KB)
The first presenter was Katy Chan from University of Victoria. Katy presented a very decentralized model of learning content development and support at UVic. There are 4 different units that provide services:
- Learning & Teaching Centre (Support for faculty who teach on campus. This unit is not involved in content development.)
- [ http://www.distance.uvic.ca/ Distance Education Services] (This unit provides comprehensive development support.)
- [ http://elearning.uvic.ca/ UVic Online Learning Systems]
- Humanities Computing and Media Centre (This unit is concerned only with faculty members within Humanities.)
At UVic several LMSs and communication technologies are supported:
- WebCT (several versions)
- list servs
There is essentially no learning content management strategy. The DE Services unit works with faculty and sessionals to put content online. In some cases faculty are unable to do this work themselves (time, skill, etc) so it is done by staff in the centre.
Katy provided a history of the development and support process in 3 stages:
1. The Beginning ~1996 All content developed as word processed files. Some static HTML pages were then created. This was a useful model because the content could easily be reused and repurposed. Print material was provided in addition to the online content. Discussion tools were used for interaction.
2. Middle Ages 2000- 2003 During this time there were many conversations about what they should we be doing. Some faculty were not happy with WebCT so D2L was introduced. Discussion tools, chat, desktop video conferencing and a homegrown activity tool were also used.
3. Present Faculty are free to choose a platform. Staff work with individuals to make it work for them. There are more linkages to LMSs. For example, HTML content is copied or linked to an LMS, the homegrown tools are used for activities and this is linked to an LMS, and audio and video teaching content is linked to an LMS. Because instructors frequently change platforms there is an ongoing process of copying content from one LMS to another.
- Content is developed first and then used by sessionals. They don't feel ownership of the courses.
- Constantly migraing content from one LMS to another.
- Because instructors have so much flexibility there is a need to develop content in a way that can be moved aroudn easily.
- It is difficult to track changes and keep content current.
- Constant redevelopment comes at a cost.
- Supporing 240 courses, and only 6 people in (DE) unit.
Some Current Practices:
- Started having sessions with instructors who want to add to the static content.
- Creating learning objects (in SOL*R) as standalone. These are then used in a number of courses.
- Some instructors create their own HTML pages. It is the instructor's choice.
- Templates are created in Dreamweaver for each program area.
There were several questions from the participants:
How do learners feel about consistency?
Students are asked that question in the course evaluations. They don't seem to have issues with using a variety of LMSs. There is a well supported help desk that uses an efficient ticket system. Also there are comprehensive start up kits for students. How do students authenticate?
UVic uses U-Portal and there is a centralized authentication system for all of the major LMSs that are in use. However, this took approximately 10 years to get fully functional. There is a problems with Banner (student record system) not accounting for people outside of the system. Because of this Continuing Education runs a separate registration system to handle certain transactions that are not supported by Banner.
How do you keep LMS independent?
In the DE division HTML copies of all content are organized outside of the LMSs. Media and images files are kept separately. Changes to HTML files can be across all courses. The LMS is pointing to HTML files. A homegrown tool is used to create exercises, quizzes, etc. It generates independent URLs for these activities so it is easy to link to them from within the LMS. Students responses are stored in a database; this is not associated with the LMS gradebooks.
Is it desirable to expose learners to a proliferation of technologies and support them?
On response is that it becomes part of the students' core learning experiences in terms of becoming digital citizens. It may be easy for students to just use one system but is this a valid reason for not exposing them to a variety of options for learning and communication?
How is it possible to support all of this?
CE runs 35 servers related to DE courses. This is much easier than trying to organize hosting and server support through a central location in the university. Essentially the support unit is maxed out. There are licensing fees for all LMSs to consider. But does allowing choices for instructors lead to a problem with support? Trying to get everybody on board with one LMS can also be difficult and require a lot of support. By allowing instructors to try out different tools the process of experimentation and innovation is supported and there is less attention to organized group training.
What are the key indicators that you watch for to learn if a particular approach is working?
There are no major research projects underway but but each course has a formative an summative evaluation process. There are questions related t the tools students are using. So far there hasn't been feedback from students to indicate that they are not happy with having to use so many tools.
With the variety of tools including the homegrown solution, quiz tool, etc are LMSs used primarily for organizing the content and activities?
There are several different combinations. For example some instructors may choose to use the quiz tool that is part of the LMS. Very flexible!
TRU - Enid McCauley (slides 1 MB)
(Notes from each presentation will be inserted here)
Final Discussions, Wrap Up, and Next Steps
It was decided by the participants to continue with a full group discussion rather than form round table discussion groups as originally proposed. Scott facilitated the session.
Specific issues and many ideas were raised throughout the day. It was suggested that we need to think about how to take further action. Here are the main topics and comments by participants:
- Some institutions have a more challenging starting point. There are many missing services, such single sign on. (It was noted that in some cases this is not a bad thing; there are new technologies to help us. And we don't all need to start from scratch.)
- There are assumptions that we have buy in from our institutions to move forward.
- Often there is not a clear mandate from senior administration.
- At some institutions the IT department is resistant to IT work being done by other departments. Historically when those departments were established we needed them to do even the most basic tasks, like putting up a web page. Now for $7/month we can host unlimited domains elsewhere. There are certainly skill sets involved but soemtimes having to deal with a separate IT department slows progress.
Single Sign On What are we trying to protect?
- There was a conversation around the merits of single sign on. One institution reported that 50% of calls to help desk were related to sign on! Open ID was discussed as an option. It isn't necessarily recommended for course registration, but it may be perfectly appropriate to use for discussion forums, etc. The advantage of Open ID is that it isn't education specific. It becomes part of student's life outside of the institutions.
Open Education and the Future Where do we see education 2-4 years from now? Are we heading toward open content?
- A few people have been involved in open content at their campuses. Examples: opening up lectures, opening up a few courses, etc.
- What are the reasons for not doing it? There is a precedence set by faculty members don't want to share. There is concern that people will be critical of the work. It is one thing to put up content for students, but another to show it to colleagues. Also, there are issues around time, lack of skills, and the fact that so much of the content used in a course is from textbooks.
- We wish we could be more assertive in making the case for open education. What are some approaches?
- We need to become accustomed to having our work analyzed by others. This is the only way to advance our work.
- Outside of education open sharing seems to be a viable marketing option. For example authors who wish to promote themselves will share some work.
- There are complications and confusion around digital copyright
- Bill C-61 makes it legal to use 3rd party copyright online. However it is completely counter to open education because the use is time limited (i.e. after 2 months needs to be taken down).
- It does take time to go through the process of requesting copyright permission. However, it is rare that the permission is denied.
- If we encourage the use of open resources at institutions we avoid high costs and uncertainty. Wikieducator is an example. See what's available for free. Incorporate these resources into our courses.
- We need to push the boundaries in education. Strict copyright laws should not apply to education.
- Freelearning website http://freelearning.bccampus.ca/
- Learning about a modularity option - don't have to think in terms of an entire course
- Educational culture - how much we have moved away from sage on the stage
- There are many new tools to explore
What could have been done to improve the day?
- A description that better reflects the purpose for the gathering
- More breathing room to ask questions and digest
What would you like to see happen next?
- Smaller and more targeted conversations about selected topics
- A longer session -- perhaps several days
- A traveling road show to institutions to meet with faculty unions and other groups
- Develop a way to show administration that this is normal stuff
- Bring in experts
- Hear from those who are already using open education practices in their institutions
- August 12-14 the Open Education 2009 conference will be held in Vancouver at the UBC downtown campus (Robson Square). This is the annual meeting for open courseware consortium.
- This book is highly recommended: Open Educational Resources (OER): Educator Handbook
It was noted that the real benefit of the gathering was to be able to meeting with colleagues and to discuss important issues. This is the first time since the early conversations about metadata that representatives from BC post-secondary institutions have gotten together to talk about open content.