Open Ed Spottings Week 11

I probably didn’t get everyone following the course, but thanks to the holiday here in the States I was able to read much more than usual. Oh how I love this class!

We start off with Greg this week, and his post Learning Objects are not Dead, You Just Didn’t Understand Them. After that title, he has no fear jumping in and saying that some learning objects deserve to die (and I couldn’t agree more):

I think when people say that learning objects are dead they are not talking about the Wiley definition of learning objects. If the definition of learning objects is, “A digital resource that can be reused to mediate learning,” then learning objects are certainly still alive and well. If we define learning objects as digital resources that reside in a closed system and are only available for out of context and non-adaptable learning experiences, then they should be dead.

He then takes me to task:

Something that I heard in David Wiley’s Presentation troubled me. He said that it is not possible to make a piece of instruction more effective for everyone in every culture and this is why localization is so important. Yet there are those in the field who would say that instruction is a science and you can do certain things that will improve instruction universally. M. David Merrill would be one of these people, his First Principles of Instruction is a work that attempts to combine prominent instructional theory into a universal whole.

I have a whole post on localization coming… More of that later.

Erik’s discussion of
Open Education and Learning Objects includes a hilarious analogy of traditional learning objects and UPS shipping boxes that you should check out. He also nicely summarizes one of the primary problems with fully copyrighted learning objects:

Learning objects have to be broken down to a very basic form in order to be adaptable since they have to be used in full, and not modified. Due to this breakdown, by the time a learning object (and I use the term loosely since there isn’t really a definition) is to a point that it could be used as a whole there isn’t much educational value left.

Jessie sums up the way we all feel about learning objects with this confession:

I found in this week’s reading there are lots of new vocabularies for me; so I need to look up the dictionary all the time. I even can’t find the exact translation for the term learning objects, the English definition help me understand this term. I am still not 100 percent sure about the exact definition since there are a few similar but different definitions for it. It hasn’t been found the definition what learning objects are.

But she deals with her confusion admirably, and throws this new assertion back at us:

I do agree that localization is very important, but I think it is possible to make a piece of instruction effective in every culture because the world is getting flatter.

I must admit I never thought of this perspective before. Our personal biases affect each of us, and I believe this is one case in which I’ve been blinded. In truth, I don’t want to believe that this is possible – that the world could become so culturally homogenized that the same instruction would be effective for all people from all countries and all cultures. Hmmm…

Jennifer has another great visualization for us, in which she compares learning objects and open educational resources side-by-side. It reminds me of some of the tables from my dissertation, but in a good way. =)

Yu-Chun suggests that:

Learning objects are designed for learners in independent use or learning. Little chance of communication or interaction is delivered. Learners are just like passive receivers of a large amount of information or knowledge, but don’t know how to grasp them efficiently or effectively. No worldview can be observed in this kind of the isolated learning processes which preclude learners from other learners. In contrast, OER emphasize the importance of collaborative learning, and it encourages interactive dialogues among learners.

I’ve heard this before, and wonder where this notion comes from. Why is it that if you take a learning object, and change it’s license from (c) to (CC-By) it suddenly becomes collaborative? I don’t understand this assertion. Perhaps someone will explain it to me. It’s still the same resource… It’s pedagogy hasn’t changed at all. Emanuela also has some thoughts along these lines, talking about LOs being more appropriate for didactic uses.

Rob follows the “simple wins” philosophy with this statement:

Since much of the work with implementing learning objects, defined by some as reusable (purpose) resources, was done by software engineers (people), who wanted to ensure that content systems were technically interoperable (policy). How usable are the software and standards we ended up with? Well to give you a hint, people don’t use them. They use tagging and RSS, which are simple and friendly for all the non-engineers that are actually trying to develop and share content for teaching, rather than IEEE’s LOM and other complex metadata implementations that the software engineering community designed. With two distinct communities, it is no wonder that tools developed by one were not usable for the other.

In Jon’s Learning Objects and Broken Metaphors he takes my brick and mortar metaphor to task. He begins:

Being familiar somewhat with the brick laying profession I know how a brick is modified to fit into a particular position, such as a corner. The brick layer will cut the piece to the appropriate dimensions, sometimes using a saw to make a very precise cut, and other times using a trowel to strike the brick at the right spot, making a rougher cut. These “alterations” to the brick relate to changes that could be made to content that was open. The changes made to the content might be very precise, requiring a trained instructional designer. Or they might be rougher, requiring less expertise. In either case the ability to change the brick to fit a desired context allows the brick to be used for multiple purposes; i.e. the brick can be used for both a side wall and a corner.

He goes on to break down and build up the metaphor further, as only an insider can. Absolutely worth reading.

Silvana asks What if we emphasize the “Learning” part of the Object? “Shall we ever have LOs which activate our students learning process to reach volcanic explosions? A sort of Lava of imagination which prevents an earthquake? I don’t think this will happen until the term ‘reuse’ is interpreted as ‘technical interoperability only’ without any implication with pedagogy or contextual dimensions.” This wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all.

Stian says Just put it out there, we’ll have to refashion it anyway:

I think that the current model of saying that “as long as the code is available, and it renders in a standard web browser”, it is reusable, is realistic. Just plugging in quizzes and sections into your course is unlikely to generate a course that is very pedagogical or interesting, it will take reworking and refashioning either way – and the important part is lowering the barriers to reuse, whether those barriers are intellectual property, or file formats, or lack of easy tools. It would also be good to make it easy for refashioned objects to link back to where they came from, so that people can “follow their trajectory” around the world.

He also argues for a small pieces loosely joined approach, pointing to sites like Wikipedia and Connexions as good examples.

Thieme’s Open Education & Learning Objects includes an excellent bulleted list of problems with learning objects, and then goes on to present a table in which he discusses how OERs might address each of these problems.

I agree with almost everything Antonio says about learning objects in this post:

I guess one reason for this difficulty is because we are pursuing an almost impossible goal: an easy, automatic, complete, reuse of content. If we ask to any experienced teacher, he/she could says us that this “total reuse” is a chimera. Yes, of course, previous year materials could be reused, but near certainly they have to be adapted. For me, this is the key: adaptation, not reuse! … It is necessary to abandon the idea of the LEGO metaphor: it’s definitely not working!

Megan voiced some of the frustration many people felt when reading about learning objects, but then had the Mr. Miyagi Moment:

I was trying to figure out why I needed to learn about a technology that already seems to be dying, when I don’t know enough about the new up-coming stuff like Open Education Resources (OERs). Until I hit David Wiley’s lecture comparing the two – and then it became perfectly clear. We learn about Learning Objects (LOs) because they show us the mistakes to avoid and the path to take for OERs.

Is it just me, or is the Mr. Miyagi Moment one of the most under-appreciated phenomena in education? Of course, it only occurs when you blatantly refuse to establish relevance to the learner up front…

Bryan hits on another one of the beauties of adaptable resources, aka OERs:

Another nice facet of OER is that there doesn’t need to be an argument over taxonomy. The nature of OER is that someone would take the resource and then repurpose it and configure it to fit with what they are teaching. In the process of doing this they would reconfigure the content’s terminology to better align with the one they are looking to use for when they deploy the material. Too often when attempting to categorize every little detail about a page of content you end up using terms that others don’t understand to have the same meaning. In our departments’ discussions of this we came upon one term that no one could agree on in our college: “Design”.

Karen echoes a sentiment Derek Keats and I formalized a few months ago: “My primary thought after doing this reading is that if all the time spent discussing arcane definitions of learning objects and complex formulations of common sense observations was instead spent developing some useful educational resources, the world would be a better place. But then I never was much for academia.” (Derek and I agreed that every time we were tempted to descend into the meaningless free versus open debate, instead of wasting half a day on a pithy email we would spend our time creating OERs.)

Lastly, Catia calls for visionaries, explaining, “to me the assumption that open educational resources are the solution to achieve the democratizion of education is still the stronger one. Maybe this sounds visionary and idealistic but, well, the world does not progress without those elements.” And Eliza encourages us all to keep hoping and striving toward our goals of open education: “It is a hard work, almost a ‘war’, but it can be done. Never give up.”