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Open_Ed assignments for week 12: Reflecting on Week 11

18 Novembre 2007

When I started to read about learning objects last week I was a little confused and felt rather ignorant about this topic: I had previously tried to learn something about them by myself because in Italian higher education there was a lively debate on them, but my attempts to understand something beyond the various theories and technicisms in books and to use an open source software to check if I could produce something useful for the "Internet community" were both unsatisfactory. After I have read the other participants’ posts I feel better, first of all because I have learnt something more from their articles (some posts are really excellent, it is a pity that only a few people have read them) and because we share some feelings about learning objects and open education.

In general, it seems to me that the community of this Open Ed Course believes that a reflection on the state of the art of LOs can help avoid similar mistakes in the OER movement, even because there is at least a loose relation between them. Most of us point out the importance of a more careful reflection on the social aspects of learning, something that LOs do not consider much, and discuss the problems of adaptability, openness, learners’ facility in use, licensing. However, it is difficult for me to synthesize their thoughts; I prefer to refer to their posts individually even because some contributions are very different from one another. At the moment I am writing this post, I have found the following participants’ contributions, which I present in alphabetical order.

Andreas Formiconi relates the commentary on LOs to his personal experience and points out the difficulty in solving the problems of motivation and the invasion of too many technicisms. He thinks the two ideas of OERs and LOs are pretty in contrast.

Alessandro Giorni puts the emphasis on the importance of the human relations between the actors in the processes of learning, something that LOs do not take into consideration, and talks of the very effective discussion concerning the application of LOs to the ordinary teaching practice in Gianni Marconato’s blog.

Antonio Fini discusses his experience with LOs referring to the book he wrote about the topic and points out the crucial importance of the opportunity of adapting LOs to teaching practice. Another very good point has been made in a commentary to Antonio’s post by Pierfranco about the importance of using open software to edit LOs, otherwise it is impossible to solve the problem of adaptation.

Bobbe Allen does not like the confusion behind the issue of learning objects: "Too many people saw the promise but tried to make it fit their domain to the exclusion of all others". He claims that we are influenced by some cultural stereotypes that can condition the issue of localization heavily: "It seems that it is only the white male that thinks he can localize anything, and that’s because he has dominated for so long that he is blind to ‘others.’ " He is more optimistic in the OER movement than in the LO literature "which is busy creating rules", but he believes that even OER is weighted down with the virus of ‘internet exposure.’ "Too many people see the promise but try to make it fit their domain to the exclusion of all others." He also focus on the importance of the learners:
"How nice it would be if we could, just for a moment, try to engage in a Wikipedia mindset. Let the people build the content. Let the people build the folksonomies. Let the learners find what THEY need. And let the geeks keep working at the ‘other’ way, but keep their mentality away from learning objects (or whatever name they might be given) until they come up with a viable solution."

Catia Harriman  focuses her attention on the issues of adaptability, openness and points out that the problem of copyright in the production of LOs is far to be solved and still gives instructional designers some "big headaches".

Chenyong Zhu reports some difficulty in really understanding the definition of LOs and points out that much should be done to attain the goal of real openness in both OER and LOs. As an example, she writes that "Wiley’s class we are taking now is a good example of open learning object, but it is not 100 percent open yet; because we are still getting the same learning materials, we have to pay the tuition to the school, and we are consuming instead of create our own." She is right, but it is also true that the participants are starting to react to this kind of setting up.

Emanuela Zibordi  reports her experience with "eXe learning", an open source software designed for the production of LOs, and points out the opportunities offered by the traceability of the authors’ contributions in the assessment of the learning process. She also underlines that, as a teacher, she is flexible in her teaching method. I quite agree with her ideas. I generally compare our daily work with the students to a card game. The cards and the rules of the game are always the same, but their combination is so peculiar in every game that it is impossible to use a fixed method to be successful. If you want to win the game and attain your goal, you always have to be creative and "adapt" its rules to this particular game and this particular combination of cards. This is exactly the reason why, as a teacher, I never get bored with my job and why I like it.

Erik Levanger  rejects the Lego metaphor for LOs because he thinks it can be applied to few situations, discusses the definition of LOs pointing out it is still uncertain ("I use the term loosely since there isn’t really a definition") and agrees that open educational resources can "fix" many of the problems caused by learning objects. In the end, he makes an effective comparison between learning objects and shipping boxes with UPS by embedding a funny video where the difficulties of having to deal with UPS employees are described in a funny way by a comedian.

As for the discussion about the end of the learning objects, Greg Francom is convinced that they are not dead, at least what Dr. Wiley and colleagues mean for learning objects, because they have the goal of spreading education through whatever means possible. Instead other people with different goals in creating LOs, with an economical or a precise instructional motivation produced inevitably closed systems that are not going to survive. In his opinion, "open educational resources are the most useful way to go if your goal is to spread education". Then, he writes about David Merril’s theory regarding instruction. I think I am more on Wiley’s side than Merril’s. Think to a geographical map: every culture draws it pretending their own country is at the centre of the world. Compare an American map to a European or an Asian one: they are all different and, at the same time, they have been produced by people who think they are "objective" in their representation of the world. In other words, I think "universal" instructions are an illusion.

In her post for week 11, Jennifer Maddrell has published a clear, precise and exhaustive chart that provides her interpretation of the general characteristics of both Learning Objects and Open Educational Resources. Then she discusses the topics of adaptation, sharing by the learners, the new possibilities offered by the Internet and the importance of sustainability in the future development of  OERs.

Karen Fasimpaur is not at her ease with the problem of defining learning objects and complains that "there is too much focus on structure, technology, and systems and not enough attention on learning, learners, and content." She underlines the importance of the "awareness" of educators in the development of OER movements.

Megan Haggerty points out some structural and infrastructural problems that shouldn’t be forgotten in the OER literature, namely "isolation, access and access class/income" problems. She thinks the experience of the learning object movement can help avoid similar mistakes in the OER movement.

Nuccia Silvana Pirruccello wants to emphasise "the learning part of the object". In a very interesting post she talks of her experience with ScribaLAB and compares it with OER and LO solutions.

Rob Barton writes of his perplexities about learning objects in a frank and direct post. He does not seem to be very optimistic about their future, but he makes important points about sociability and usability of learning objects: "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."  

Stian Haklev discusses  the relation between LOs and LMSs, and points out the necessity of "lowering the barriers to reuse, whether those barriers are intellectual property, or file formats, or lack of easy tools". He underlines the examples of Wikipedia and Connexions to show how the simple wins over the complicated.

Thieme Hennis is very stimulating and interesting in his observations. First of all, he deals with the definition of LOs, then he talks of their problems and perspectives. His insistence on the importance of the social aspect of learning has made me think to the infinite range of possibilities offered to LOs by the web 2.0 tools and social games such as Second Life. If the inhabitants of SL produce and share objects on a more or less free basis, why not to think to the exploitation of the opportunities offered by this game for the production of learning "prims"? (a prim is the single material unit used to build everything in SL).

Last but not least, Yu-Chun Kuo  pays particular attention to the paradox of contextualization on LOs and believes that OERs can solve this problem: "In contrast, OER emphasizes the importance of collaborative learning, and it encourages interactive dialogues among learners." Then, she deals with the issue of copyright for learning objects and points out that LOs will be benefited by the impact of such licenses as CC and GFDL. Antonio has already pointed out in his comments on some of our Open Ed posts that a proprietary economy behind LOs exists, and it is well established. In his comment to my post for last week, he writes: "Since the LO paradigm has been very widely adopted by the industry for large-scale training of workers, there are specialized firms who produce high-quality, complex and… expensive authoring tools for e-learning.
Perhaps we need an OpenOffice-like quality tool for e-learning…"

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