SOLR:Content Strategies Notes

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Learning Content Strategies

Notes from "Learning Content Strategies" gathering

taken by Sylvia Currie

October 24, 2008

Introduction

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!

Opening Discussion

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.

Morning Presentations - LMS-Oriented Solutions

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:

  1. Learning & Teaching Centre (Support for faculty who teach on campus. This unit is not involved in content development.)

  2. [
http://www.distance.uvic.ca/ Distance Education Services] (This unit provides comprehensive development support.)
  3. [
http://elearning.uvic.ca/ UVic Online Learning Systems]
  4. 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)
  • Blackboard
  • D2L
  • Moodle
  • Webboard
  • list servs
  • wikis
  • blogs

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.

Problems/Needs Identified

  • 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!


Enid McCauley: Curriculum Development at Thompson Rivers University

(PowerPoint slides 1 MB)

Enid is the Director of Instructional Development and Research in the Open Learning Division at TRU. In that the division there are no faculty so all courses need to be developed to the point that tutors can run with it.

There are 6 groups involved in course development and implementation:

  1. Instructional Design
  2. Production
  3. Educational Applied Research
  4. Media
  5. Training
  6. Intellectual Property Office

Overview

  • The development of content is team-based. A lot of the work is done on a contract basis, i.e. course writers.
  • There is a separate IP office
  • The curriculum approval process is quite rigorous. There are several quality checks, and each division is involved Programs and courses all go through a series of program review and approval committees.
  • After the courses/programs are approved the development begins.
  • Each summer the Tech It Up conference is held at TRU as part of the professional development for tutors.
  • Logistics around course delivery is a handled by a different unit
  • Tutors are distributed province-wide (approximately 150)

Production

  • Use XML
  • Content in stored in a database and can be output in various ways, for example to the TRU website for course descriptions, information packages for students, etc.
  • The database is proprietary software. The company is Vancouver-based and the software is not too expensive.
  • Over next few months the plan to set up a shared repository for faculty to find content that they can use in their own courses
  • 3rd party copyright clearance is all done centrally. A database is maintained for OL and TRU.
  • Some tools/content developed for use in a number of different courses. For example, the microscope application demonstrated is distributed through the bookstore on CD.

Course Models

  • There is not very much interactivity in the courses -- very much an "educational publisher" model.
  • Model produces high quality content but courses are designed to accommodate the tutor model.
  • One barrier for flexibility and change is the faculty agreement.
  • They are looking to reduce text and increase use of media.
  • There is a very clear separation between content production and teaching.

Quality Control

  • Feedback from students: They respond to questions part way through course then at end of course. This is managed by Banner student record system.
  • Feedback from tutors: Informally receive feedback on an ongoing basis.

Future

  • Before only had tutors. Now have faculty. Need to evolve
  • It is necessary to get TRU faculty involved.

Course Delivery

  • Teams of people are involved in delivery.
  • All courses are on a development server. There are series of forms to get courses moved to the production server and put into the registration system. Delivery division handles registration, tutor hiring, exchange of contracts and support materials, and they mail out course packages, etc.

Robert Peregoodof: VIU Online presentation (Power Point slides 328 KB)

Content Development

  • Adobe Contribute web content management software is used for all online courses
  • Faculty can edit content on the Contribute server
  • Once edits are completed, a read-it tool downloads to scorm, then it can be used in Moodle or WebCT
  • The plan to eliminate export-to-scorm part of the process. The content is handled too much.

Course Management Systems

  • There are many instances of Moodle used at VIU
  • Plans are to decomission WebCT. Currently they are paying for a full license but only have 300 students.

These are the main themes and comments that emerged through the discussion following a short presentation:

Indicators of success

  • Robert discussed the underuse of activity data (how often students log in, how much time they spend, which files they access, etc). He sees that data as and important component when looking at key indicators for successful implementation. There was a comment that some faculty do not want staff or others who are not part fo the course to have access to these data.

Faculty resistance to sharing

  • One instructor told a story about her earlier years of teaching. She was surprised at lack fo sharing. Now she is in a position where new instructors are approaching her for resources and content and she is able to relate to the resistance she experienced when she began teaching.
  • Another instructor shared a story about some last minute changes to course assignments. She handed her materials to the new instructor hired to teach the course and he was so grateful (and shocked!).
  • The medium makes it very easy to share. It's a discussion among colleagues that's important. It's also about more than just content. Conversations about teaching styles and comparing notes are also important. * It is important to distinguish between course content and teaching. The course is one thing, but what is happening inside those courses is something else altogether. Unfortunately, people consider writing content as the equivalent to teaching. That is their job security. They think if soemone gets their content then they are out of a job.
  • There is a lot of history and a lot of dynamics around sharing. There needs to be general recognition that change is going to happen. And this change is not going to happen if groups of people continue to work in their distinct silos.
  • There is a demographic shift in the faculty. Are they becoming more accustomed to sharing? Unfortunately, younger faculty tend to be more economically vulnerable. Older faculty tend to ses it as a legacy issue.

Current practices and observations

  • Faculty agreements have clear information about classroom-based materials and print-based distance education but there is nothing dealing with online content.
  • One institution has a memorandum of understanding regarding content. Essentially the position is that all work is collaborative and is created as part work load. If you are sitting at home and write something completely original with a pencil then bring that written piece to work then perhaps that is your stuff. But in almost all situations there are many departments involved teaching (support desk, etc) This should all be taken into consideration.

How do we facilitate change? How can we address these issues at our own institutions? What are the structural changes that would help with this process?

  • There is no recognition for sharing and exchange. It needs to be built into the structure.
  • Make the content part easy so we can do more important things
  • Hug your faculty :-)
  • Move to a pyramid model of support instead of central support system where all queries to to selected support staff.

Afternoon Presentations - Open Content and other more Loosely Coupled Approaches

SFU Richard Smith: Loosely Coupled Instruction

(slides online)

Richard presented an instructor's version of "hybrid" teaching. He teaches communication f2f at SFU and is constantly experimenting with technologies that will help him to reach out to his students, increase interaction, and improve access (time, place, and space) to course content and activities. Richard calls this a "loosely coupled" approach, stressing that the tools are there if instructors want to use them.

During the presentation itself Richard demonstrated how he might accomplish hybrid teaching in the classroom. The presentation was created using Skyrocket, a tool he was using for the first time. Skyrocket allows you to create your presentation and make it immediately available online. Richard used a number of different Skyrocket features to demonstrate the tool while using it. He also set up his laptop with a built in webcam to record the presentation using uStream. Some participants logged in to watch on their laptops. Also, other participants were invited via Twitter to participate. This spontaneous sequence of events using various tools nicely illustrated what is possible in the classroom!

Some examples of what Richard does:

  • Uses uStream to schedule office hours
  • Uses SFU's ePresence services to live stream lectures and interactions in the classroom so students can participate from home, in groups at other campuses, or at a different time for review or to catch up on sessions missed.
  • Overbooks his courses because he knows there will be enough seats in the physical classroom. He creates "shadow sections" and runs at about 120% capacity.
  • Encourages backchannel discussions (using text chat)
  • Creates archives of course activities
  • Makes content available through iTunesU
  • Creates screencasts using Screen Flow for Mac and various other screencasting tools.
  • Uses Profcast to create podcasts.
  • Incorporates a number of different social tools for authoring and sharing (wikis, blogs, delicious.com, etc)
  • Doesn't necessarily get "approval" to use anything :-)

Richard also noted that easy copy-paste of course materials is not always an advantage. It is a useful exercise to review course materials carefully and pay attention to what you are including in a course.

(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:

Institutional Level

  • 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.

Copyright

  • 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.

Biggest Takeaway

  • 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

Announcements

  • 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

Web version: http://www.wikieducator.org/OER_Handbook/educator Purchase or download PDF http://www.lulu.com/content/3597933

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.