Activity 8: Where art thou, OER?

Reflections on designing an OER course on digital skills

Having recuperated from activity 7, I got around to activity 8 and quickly put together topics for the 5-week course on digital skills. And then the work started. I had the funny experience initially, though, that as I was trying to find contents for week 1, fairly ok resources for week 3 dropped into my lap. I was happy to see that the problem, I experienced, wasn’t really one of finding resources on the topics, I had selected. Rather the problem centered on finding the most suitable one in the list of resources that came up in my searches.

Here’s my course plan. The target group is new teachers at university:

digitalskills02

What’s your angle?

At the start of my search for OER, I kept on track with the topics in my course plan, but I found that the OER I located would take a different approach to the topic than I would. Ragan, e.g. has produced an OER collection called ‘Best Practices in Online Teaching’ (Ragan, 2007). This collection covers a wide range of aspects from preparation to delivery to evaluation. Ragan has a very practical approach and includes lots of examples. His OER also contain a feature called ‘Voice of experience’ which are interviews with experienced teachers. This will carry a lot of weight with faculty (it is only audio files, though). I find this very valuable and exactly what teachers ask for according to my experience. However, Ragan also has an instructional approach, posing questions and giving ‘fixed’ answers to these. I had to pause here to consider whether this approach could be combined with my own approach which is based on constructivism and situated learning. I came to the conclusion that Ragan’s OER collection is a very good start and that it can be combined with blogging and other network activities where teachers will have a chance to reflect on their learning and relate to their own, specific context. Most teachers are very new to the idea of e-learning both the pedagogies and the tools, so a more ‘rigid’ scaffolding will be helpful initially.

I did experience a bit of a problem trying to select the most suitable of Ragan’s OER and fitting these into weeks 1 and 2 respectively. I was tempted to rewrite the topics of these two weeks slightly to better fit the topics dealt with by Ragan.

I was surprised to find OER on the specific subject of week 3 ‘Blackboard, the e-learning platform: how do you design an inviting and easy to navigate virtual learning environment?’ The OER by Bartoletti (2008) are very useful, but contain context-specific links to ‘resources found in TWU ID, a set of resources for TWU distance educators’. This detracts from the value. Apart from the context-related links, Bartoletti also includes other ‘context-neutral’ links to additional resources. Can’t quite figure out if this is good or bad. It might be more helpful if all resources were collected in one place, instead of the user being redirected to other websites. However, I also like the idea of providing a first overview in a learning object and then pointing to additional resources that can be employed by those users who have the time and interest to dig deeper into the topic.

I spent some time browsing Connexions (http://cnx.org/) and found their ‘reuse’ feature very helpful. The feature provides you with a list of differently formatted references to the particular source, so referencing becomes very easy.reuse02

For week 4, I turned to MIT OpenCourseWare (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm) and located some introductory slides on both blogs and wikis. The slides were only text though and therefore somewhat dull. However, they did contain helpful explanations, examples and tips concerning how to get started. Ideas for use were also presented, but the target group of these were clearly students, so this is off the mark. I was quite tempted to include a couple of Youtube videos that in a very simple but catchy way explain blogs and wikis:

I turned to Jorum (http://www.jorum.ac.uk/) to locate OER for week 5 and was quite amazed to find a very specific OER ‘Blackboard 6 – tests and surveys’ (Florczak, 2004). This OER is really helpful in that it thoroughly explains all the different types of questions, you can work with in the test tool in Blackboard. I never, myself, found the time to produce something like this. Unfortunately, the learning object is somewhat outdated already, since it is from 2004 and several changes have been made to the test tool. However, the basics remain the same, so it gives a great overview.

Time saving

If you do your course planning in an open and iterative way, the integration will not mean an extra workload for you as a teacher. The main benefit would be that learners can study topics online independently before any live online or face-to-face sessions. The teacher would then have time available to engage students in discussion and dialogue and active learning in different shapes. Be it case or project work etc. I feel that OER cannot stand alone, but should be combined with forms of active learning that also require teacher participation. However, it will be worthwhile to further explore what role peer assessment can play. It is sometimes difficult in formal education to get both teaches and students to ‘trust’ and give credit to peer assessment. But today, faculty spend too much time preparing and giving lectures that don’t promote active and in-dept learning, so let’s try new approaches!

References

Bartoletti, R. (2008, July 25). Using text and layout to enhance the readability of your content. Retrieved from the Connexions Web site: http://cnx.org/content/m17297/1.5/

Florczak, K. (2004). Blackboard 6 – tests and surveys. Jorum. http://resources.jorum.ac.uk:80/xmlui/handle/123456789/13062

Ragan, L. (2007, August 28). Best Practices in Online Teaching. Retrieved from the Connexions Web site: http://cnx.org/content/col10453/1.2/