Reuse situations for education

Human and Technical aspects

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Abstract

The reusability problem can be addressed from a number of perspectives. Technology barriers and awareness barriers are less-severe problems than they were in the 1980s given the World Wide Web and Web technologies. However, fit with the language and situation of the local user remains an issue as does fit with the instructional practices of the instructor.

[1]The reusability problem can be addressed from a number of perspectives. Technology barriers and awareness barriers are less-severe problems than they were in the 1980s given the World Wide Web and Web technologies. However, fit with the language and situation of the local user remains an issue as does fit with the instructional practices of the instructor. Fit has to do with the size and scope of a digital learning object. The more-extensive the size and scope of the object, the more likely that some aspect of it will be inappropriate for the particular local learning situation. Solutions often relate to reducing the size and scope of a potentially reusable object perhaps a whole course cannot be reused, but a module or some learning materials within it could be useful in a broader context? This relates to the granularity of the object. Another solution is to provide the instructor with tools to adapt objects to his or her own setting. However, there has been little success with bringing instructors too close to an actual authoring process: instructors do not have the time, interest, or skills (Moonen, 1989[2]). Responses to this are on one hand, to increase the ease-of-use of tools for the instructor, and on the other hand, to remove the instructor from the process altogether. Reuse situations and the associated technologies related to granularity and the role of the instructor can be represented as shown in Table 1.

 

Table 1 Reuse situations and associated technologies, related to granularity and instructor dimensions. (From Collis & Strijker, 2003)

   Granularity: Small learning objects  Granularity: Course-level objects
 No instructor  1. E-learning; Technologies: Learning management systems (LMS), learning content management systems (LCMS)  2. E-learning; Technologies: Portals to WBT (Web-based training) or CBT (computer-based training)
 Instructor  3. Blended learning; Technologies: Course- Management Systems (CMS)  4. Collaborative projects among institutions; Technologies: Web or CD-ROM access to original courses

 

 
There is currently much attention in the business world focused on the re-use of learning objects (Chapman, 2003[3]) Frequently this occurs in the context of the introduction of “elearning” as an alternative to “classroom courses”. E-learning is typically seen as being instructor-free or instructor-neutral, in order to capitalize on an “any time, anywhere” motivation and thus relates to Cells 1 and 2 in Table 1. Complex systems, called learning management systems (LMSs) and learning content management systems (LCMSs), are proliferating, generally based on the underlying assumption that the system itself will select and deliver the learning experience, based on some level of user modelling. LMSs are defined as systems “to manage learners, keeping track of their progress and performance across all types of learning activities” while LCMSs manage content or learning objects to “serve up to the right learner at the right time” (Chapman & Hall, 2001, p. 11[4]). The metaphor underlying LCMSs is that of “beads on a string” (Stephenson, 2000[5]); small learning objects can be chosen from many different origins and combined together to form a “necklace” appropriate to the individual. LCMSs typically include content-development tools to produce these “beads”, intended generally for professional developers rather than a classroom instructor. “Content assembly” and “publish learning” into different “output formats” are key tasks of LCMSs (Chapman & Hall, p. 16). The granularity of the objects can range from single-topic e-modules to entire courses. WBT, or Web-based training, is a term sometimes used when network delivery of courses is involved. However, courses can also be available via non-Web technology, disseminated via CD-ROM or local-area networks. In these cases, the more-traditional term CBT (computerbased training) is applicable. Portals (Cell 2 of Table 1) may be integrated with an underlying LMS or LCMS or may make use of their own object-management technology. Via a portal, a large number of services and selections are typically offered to user-clients (Barron, 2000). In universities, portals typically involve integration with student-administration systems and libraries as well as other services such as counselling. In companies, portals run as in-house intranets often linked to knowledge-management systems based on competency profiles. Access to entire courses via the portal can sometimes directly occur. The courses may be objects in a local database or the access may be via links to external systems. In both Cells 1 and 2 of Table 1, the use of standards-based metadata is critical, “…the linchpin that enables interoperability” (Singh, 2000[6]). Meanwhile at the same time as commercial LCMSs and LMSs are being taken up for “elearning” in company training settings, the use of Web-based course-management systems, also called online educational delivery systems (see http://www.edutools.info/course/index.jsp) continues to grow in importance in universities particularly in support of instructor-led courses with or without a classroom component (Cell 3 of Table 1). Course-management systems (CMSs, not to be confused with contentmanagement systems, also sometimes called CMSs) integrate content delivery, communication, learner activities, collaborative work support, feedback, testing, portfolio development, groupware tools, and administrative tools for the instructor. Selection and management of content objects is only part of the use of an online educational delivery system, and in some cases a minor or non-existent part. Cell 4 from Table 1 situations occur when an instructor elects to make use of an entire set of electronic course materials produced elsewhere. The role of the instructor then may be organizing the local support and assessment practices to accompany the use of the externally produced course. In the school context, models based on this approach are beginning to emerge, based on the idea that speciality subjects may be beyond the range of local teachers but instead could be offered by expert teachers via the Web, but with the local teachers continuing to play an important role in terms of providing on-site motivation and monitoring (see http://www.fhs.net). In the company context, such a model usually involves outsourcing, where the local trainer may be involved in various ways with the delivery of the out-sourced course. In all four of the cells of Table 1, the institution needs to make a substantial investment in the underlying technology and in sustaining the relationships needed for portal access to external courses or out-sourcing. Within Cell 3, however, there is an interesting opportunity for the instructor to make individual decisions about the use and re-use of individual learning objects, as resources within an institutionally supported CMS. The instructor can remain in control of the tailoring of his or her course to local conditions, and within this choose to reuse a learning object, as an example, as a supplement, or as a complement to other aspects of instruction. However, because this possibility exists does not mean that instructors are taking advantage of it. In The Netherlands, where all universities are supporting the use of coursemanagement systems, a recent study has shown that few instructors integrate re-used objects within them, preferring to use the course environments supported by these systems primarily for dissemination of information about courses (Lubberman & Klein, 2001[7]). Clearly technology and human aspects are intermingled when learning objects and their use and reuse are the focus. Differences in organisational settings are also key in this reuse process. For this reason the research focuses on three different types of organisations and reuse processes. The three different types of organisations, corporate, military and university, are compared to each other. The three contexts can be compared because the architecture shown in Figure 1 can be applied to the three different organisations. Figure 1 shows the architecture that is researched in this dissertation.
 
Figure 1 Integrated architecture
 
Technology focuses
 
The technology involving learning objects can be considered at four levels: the technology of the objects themselves, including the reference model used for labelling, or metatagging, of the object; technology related to the repository in which the objects are collected, including database technology and/or learning content management technology (Chapman & Hall, 2001); technology for services related to the use of the repositories, such as search, browse, preview, and download tools; and technology to support the sharing or interoperability of learning objects between systems and repositories. All of these focuses are discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. All of these technology components are increasing in complexity due to the continued integration of systems on the market, for example the now-familiar course management systems with systems such as learning management systems (LMSs) and LCMSs (Chapman, 2003). 1.1.3

 

Human focuses

As complex as the technical focuses of the research are, human factors involved with the use and re-use of learning objects are even less easy to deal with than technical issues. One major barrier has been the instructor’s perception that material created elsewhere does not fit well enough with the situation in his own instructional setting (Collis & Pals, 2000). While this human factor directly relates to Cells 3 and 4 of Table 1, it also indirectly affects Cells 1 and 2; the learning objects made available must be seen by the learner and those responsible for the quality control of learning as appropriate to the particular organisational context. It has also been shown that some discipline settings are more successful than others in terms of reusability; factors to do with the subject area and instructional approach and the instructional style of the instructor are among the major variables that can make a difference in reuse The Learning Object in Context: Introduction to the Research – 5 – potential (Collis, 1995). Hershfield, as early as 1987, identified the impact of culture on the use of learning objects. This impact is still the subject of research (Marcus & Gould, 2001; Ogunbase, 2003; Seufert, 2002). A way to deal with the lack-of-fit problem is to reduce the granularity of the potential reuse object, and also to make it instructionally neutral, so that the instructor can embed it as he likes in his own learning setting (Schatz, 2000). Such issues relate to pedagogy, which will be one of the human focuses in this research and further described in Chapter 2. ADL SCORM™ There are other human aspects that influence the (re)usability of learning objects: Not only must they be available and findable, but in situations relating to Cell 3 and Cell 4 of Table 1 the instructor must be motivated to look for them, supported in making decisions about how to not only find them but more importantly integrate them into the rest of his course and instructional planning, and then must have easy-to-use tools that help him make this integration. Instructors will vary in terms of how much support and guidance they will need. Based on their own levels of experience and also on key pedagogical dimensions relating to their courses, different forms of support and guidance will be needed. Appropriate tools will need to be available to the instructor to allow him to do this embedding and tailoring with as low a threshold as possible in terms of his time and effort investments. If the instructor does not perceive the return for his time and effort investment investments, he will not bother. If an instructor is not involved (Cells 1 and 2 of Table 1), someone the learner himself or a training manager must be motivated to turn to the learning objects and make use of them. These likelihood-of-use issues are human factors and involve the integration of many different issues relating to the person or persons making a choice about using electronic learning objects or not. A conceptual model to express this integration is the 4-E Model (Collis & Pals, 2000; Collis, Peters, & Pals, 2001; Collis & Moonen, 2001). This model predicts the likelihood of an individual’s use of a technical innovation in his instructional practice as the interaction among four sets of variables: Educational effectiveness, Ease of Use, Personal Engagement, and Environment Conditions. In the 4-E Model, vectors represent the first three of these sets of variables whose sum has a certain height. The Environment vector in turn has the function of determining the height of a “likelihood of use” threshold. According to the 4-E Model, if the vector sum of Effectiveness, Ease of Use, and Engagement reaches the level of the threshold determined by the Environment vector, then uptake of the innovation is likely to occur. If the sum is not high enough, then voluntary use is not likely to occur. Figure 2 shows the 4-E Model with two different environment vectors. In the first case, uptake is likely to occur, in the second case, not. It is a basic premise of this research that the (re)use of learning objects should not to be assumed as automatic if technical issues such as standards and metadata aspects are solved. The decision maker, designer, instructor or learner needs to feel that the balance the many factors involved must be “positive enough” to justify the efforts. Figure 2 The 4E-Model, indicating factors that influence the uptake of a technical innovation in a learning setting (Collis & Moonen, 2001) In Figure 2, two different threshold lines are shown. The one lower to the baseline represents a context where use of learning objects is positively supported; the individual does not need as strong a combination of the more-personal Es effectiveness, ease of use, and engagement- -to reach the likelihood of use level as is the case for the higher threshold line, representing a less-favourable organisational context. In this research, the differences in three major contexts for use of learning objects universities, corporate-learning contexts, and military training will be a major focus.