Learning Objects Symposium

Here is a quick recap of the days’ events (EdMedia LO Symposium), with some photos. I won’t provide too detailed a summary; for that, just go read the papers.

Erik Duval welcomes attendees.

Wayne Hodgins moderates the first Socratic panel.

Robby Robson and Tony Koppi during another panel.

Dexter Fletcher, Philip Dodds, and Dan Rehak get ready for another panel.

Folks swarm around the lunch buffet and chatter at their tables.

Brandon Muramatsu looks on as an attendee gives an after-lunch report.

Robby, Philip, and Brandon on the Technology panel after lunch.

Cindy Shyu talks about a concept or topic map-based approach to achieving consensus in sequencing objects.

Me talking on the learning panel.

Keep in mind that this is my take on the day. Biased, unobjective, and heavily slanted. Please add comments below if you feel like it.

The day opened with Erik welcoming everyone and setting a context for the day. He commented a number of times that he’s glad we’re not spending our time trapped in the quagmire of arguments over “what is an LO”. Wayne added that he hopes we don’t get too specific a definition.

Dexter Fletcher talked again today about Personal Learning Associates, which are future devices that will help people learn whatever they need whenever they need… like a PDA massively interconnected to the “global information grid” containing a intelligent tutor that combines resources, provides practice, etc.

Wayne commented later, with interesting commentary from Phillip Dodds, that learning objects are probably the wrong level to be talking about reusing. “I don’t think we can reuse learning objects,” he said. He said he wants learning objects to be so small and context-free that they won’t be useful (or reuseful) individually. However, they would be useful (and reuseful) once combined with several other learning objects. Philip added that we might call this aggregation of learning objects a “sharable courseware object” or SCO. This is, of course, the beginning of SCORM.

I spent a few minutes talking about several things: the reasons educational content ought to be free and why learning objects are the perfect delivery mechanism, how reusable resources (learning objects) can be used together with non-reusable resources (problem or project scenarios) in order to support people collaborating with other people to engage in valuable activity, and discourse objects. From the looks of many people’s faces I’m not sure I did a great job explaining these topics (in the 5 minutes I was alloted!).

Myunghee Kang showed a pretty cool EPSS that helps people bundle up and package content in a “SCORM compliant” manner. You could almost see Dexter and Philip dancing in their seats (since there is no formal compliance test for SCORM 1.3). The tool, other than being in Korean, looks quite interesting. I think we need more systems like this to help people carry out their instructional designs, although this one doesn’t provide quite as much instructional design support as it might.

That’s it for the morning… we’re off to lunch. Thankfully, no one has “discovered” and commented deeply on the well-known croos-domain bug in SCORM which seems to be the current popular cause of the downfall of SCORM.

Lunch was great. Wayne talked some about pre-built compoments in the construction industry. His point was that raw materials (2x4s, etc.) are too small to facilitate rapid building of customized homes, and the modular rooms of the 40’s and 50’s were too large to allow rapid building of customized homes. Very interesting conversation with Brandon, Vijay, Erik, Philip, and Robby at my table.

After lunch, each table (but ours) gave a brief report on what they thought were the three biggest problems and biggest opportunities for learning objects .

Speaking of construction, what the heck is it about conference hotels and scheduling construction projects in the rooms immediately above or adjacent to the rooms in which conference meetings occur? I just don’t get it… Wayne has a conspiracy theory that there’s a construction company somewhere on the planet whose job it is to follow him around and make noises in rooms next to his – Interruptions-R-Us.

In the Technology panel, Robby posed the question “does the technology we’re using really have anything to do with learning objects? Is there anything new here?” Philip asked how many people were interested in branching and remediation; in other words, keeping track of the learning and providing feedback specific to the learner’s current state. Only 1/3 of people raised their hands. Dan asked, “how do the rest of you assign grades at the end of the term? You don’t keep track of what they do? You don’t make decisions based on how they’re doing?” It was quite an eye-popping conversation. Wayne is asking why when we talk about wanting to facilitate learning we immediately switch over to talking about instruction, too. Ah, yes. Perhaps we’ll get back round to using learning objects to support informal learning before the day is over.

Cindy Shyu gave quite an interesting demonstration of an algorithm developed to get to consensus when multiple teachers work together to design a course. The tools takes into account the sequence in which teachers would order individual learning objects, weights they attach to individual sequences, and calculates a “best” sequence through the materials. Some obvious potential problems here, but some great potential as well!

The final panel of the day is a Learning panel, asking the rather popular question “where’s the learning in learning object?” It reminds me of the old song, “how can there be any sin in sincere?” Dan asks, “someone comes up to you and says they want to use learning objects. What do you say in return?” I answered “Why? ” As Gibbons is fond of saying, when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. There was also some discussion of whether or not learning objects need to have a specific pedagogy built into them or not. I argued that “unadulterated resources”, as they are found in the wild, are as reusable as possible. How many people use research articles in their courses every year? Teachers reuse these vanilla resources in many instructional approach – problem-based, didactic, etc.

About learning objects. Content objects are the least interesting of all, and yet these are the ones with which we spend almost all of our time and energy. Strategy objects are much more interesting (representing teaching approaches in software). Discourse objects, I believe, are the most interesting of all. Wayne is arguing that these are all content objects, because they can be expressed and captured in digital form, cataloged with metadata, etc. Yes, I agree that this is true. However, while an algorithm once expressed may technically be considered data, there are some fundamental differences between data structures and algorithms. One acts, the other is acted upon.

Well, that’s it for the day. Look for a special issue of some journal including these papers coming to a mailbox near you in a few years.

1 thought on “Learning Objects Symposium”

  1. Yes, I agree that you are correct that most of our time and energy are spent on content objects – or as I refer to them as static learning objects. However, the learning in this type of learning object involves using these content objects as the basis for discussion and reflection by learners. Strategy objects, or as I call them, interactive learning objects, serve to engage the learner by including them in the learning process by posing questions requiring answers, and so on. It is the highest form of learning object, as you put it, discourse objects, or as I have refered to as dynamic learning objects that inspire learning at the highest level. In fact, my previous work has focused on learner-created learning objects. Quasi-experimental findings (Crow, 2006) indicate that creating/constructing/developing a learning object representative of subject-matter content enables the learner to experience an elaborative instance which results in deeper processing and retention of concepts. But hey ~ this is all new stuff, and the discussion will have to continue until the learning potential(s) involved and related to learning objects have been revealed.

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