Addressing the Reusability Paradox?

David Wiley talks about something called the “Reusability Paradox” of learning objects. It’s one of the fundamental issues in dealing with learning objects, and basically boils down to this (grossly oversimplified Coles Notes version of Wiley’s paper):

“If a learning object is useful in a particular context, by definition it is not reusable in a different context. If a learning object is reusable in many contexts, it isn’t particularly useful in any.”

Not rocket surgery, but it’s a tough problem to solve. The exciting thing (for me, anyway) about some of the projects we’re getting involved with at the Learning Commons, is that we’re finally starting to attempt to address this fundamental paradox. How can you have learning objects that are usable and reusable? We’re looking at ways to assemble content from lesser bits, building context along the way. We’re looking at dynamic assemblies of learning objects with varying degrees of contextualization, where the assembly itself provides the context to make it usable in a particular setting, while letting the lesser components of the thing remain reusable in other contexts…

Stay tuned, folks. This is going to be a fun ride!

Technorati Bookmarklet

I just whipped up a brain-dead simple bookmarklet to check Technorati’s link cosmos for the currently viewed web page. Just drag the link below into your bookmarks or toolbar or whatever, and whenever you click it, you should get the Technorati report on who’s linking to that page.

Technorati This

No warrantee, express nor implied. Use at your own risk. If it nukes your system, you should be using a better OS, and it’s not my fault… 😉

UPDATE: It turns out that RTFM applies to me as well… Technorati already offers a version of a bookmarklet that does the exact same thing… Doh. Oh, well… My intension was good, even if I apparently can’t read… Here’s the official script.

Looking for an RSS reader?

Well, you’re probably not, but if you know someone who is, they might be thankful for this page, containing what appears to be a pretty comprehensive list of RSS readers for a whole lotta platforms.

Gathering Requirements: The Crux of the Matter

From the Intranet Journal: a handy tip list for how/who to best generate and manage a requirements specification for a project.

Perhaps the most important piece of any application development project is requirements gathering. After all, if you’re not clear on where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? So why do most intranet teams spend so little time focusing on developing the skills necessary to do this piece well?

Teaching Reflections 2003 Conference

Just a reminder to anyone who is interested in teaching/learning in a higher-ed setting, that the Teaching Reflections 2003 Conference is taking place August 20-21 here at the University of Calgary (conducted by the Learning Commons, no less!)

More info here and no, I did not design those web pages.

DEVONthink: Outboard Brain

I’ve been using MacJournal for some time now, and have been quite happy using it as my outboard brain (for accounts, registrations, code snippets…) but it started barfing on me over the last couple of weeks – new entries not saved, etc… I know… MacJournal is open source (well, the source is available, anyway), so why don’t I just fix it myself? I’ve got enough of my own code to manage without taking on an unrelated project. That, and I’m getting lazy in my approaching middle age.

As a result, I’ve been looking for another solution to hold any kind of data that may not belong in a weblog (which acts as my online brain). Enter DEVONthink Personal Edition. I’m trying it out, and it seems quite cool. The only real improvement I can think of would be concept mapping to show the relations between items in the database.

It does have a cool “similar items” thingy that seems to do a decent job of finding items somewhat related to the currently selected item. Could be cool. I’ll update if anything exciting happens with DEVONthink.

UPDATE: Got my registration for DEVONthink today. Rock on. Also talked to their feedback/support folks. Apparently they are aware that concept mapping of items in the database would be cool, but it’s lower on the list. If that’s important, send them some feedback…

Merlot Presentation Feedback

We’ve been getting some awesome feedback from those who attended the Syndicating Learning Objects with RSS and Trackback presentation at Merlot2003.

I’ve been told by several people now that it was one of the best presentations of the whole conference (which I find more than a little hard to believe). The audience did seem to perk up to the concepts we were demonstrating, and I think the whole RSS-syndication-of-learning-objects meme is getting some decent traction now.

That’s pretty cool, especially since it was kind of a stealth project in the beginning – it just happened – but that makes it even better…

One thing that pops into my head in response to that thought: what else might be coming up in stealth mode? Stuff that isn’t planned is hard to plan for, so to speak…

Merlot session notes: Federated Search

Notes from the Federated Search session.

  • Merlot Federated Search
    • Martin Koning Bastiaan
    • Sam Shamseldin
    • Alyssa Lalanne
    • http://fedsearch.merlot.org
    • Why?
      • original problem: hard to find/evaluate learning materials
      • emergent problem: number of collections/repositories/communities
      • various ways of addressing the emergent problem – they chose federated search over harvesting
        • 2 issues with harvesting
          • lots of authors – how to get info together?
          • if lots of collections, we could create one "union catalog" with all collections harvested in it, BUT that removes the value added by the individual collections
            • Harvesting would "take away the life" of the communities and collections that are harvested
      • 2 parts
        • services
          • expose partner resources
        • clients
          • connect to partner resources
      • Federated search = cross collection client
      • Simultaneous search of all partners, collecting results into integrated hitlist
      • Limit number of results, to prevent harvesting (can't get more than 25 results at a time)
      • use Long Response Page to show progress bar during search (like WOLongResponse)
      • Built in JSP
      • Ranking weighs title over description, etc…
      • How are controlled vocabularies managed?
        • not at all. vocabulary agnostic
    • Demo
      • Merlot
      • EdNA
      • SMETE
      • Relevancy ranking applied at the fed. search client level (not in sources)
  • Can you run a federated search against Merlot? What API?
    • based on Google WebService API
    • A tweaked version used by Merlot and its partners (DN: CAREO should probably support this)
    • search is open to partners only (both ways) – not open to the The World
  • No RSS feed or bookmarkable URL for searches
  • Federated Search Collections
    • Current partners: MERLOT, EdNA, SMETE
    • additional partners needed
      • general collections
      • discipline-specific collections
  • Fed. Search Architecture
    • proxies
    • service dispatch mechanism
    • result handlers
    • user interface customization
    • future requirements
  • Discussing putting their implementation into Open Source, or Shared Source with their partners
  • Federated search community
    • can't solve these problems individually:
      • search syntax – what is the query?
      • results requirements – what info is returned?
      • sharing knowledge and solutions
    • Community charter: develop simple standards for searching multiple collections and a federated search framework as an implementation of those standards
      • RE-USE EXISTING SIMPLE STANDARDS
        • eg. used Google as model, not Lucene.
  • What about network latencies?
    • different services respond at different speeds
    • use timeout – if no result after so long, disregard source.
    • use intermediary page before results to show status of search (progress bar)
    • EdNA is in australia, and are one of the faster responses – latency not really an issue.
  • Cacheing?
  • How to handle scalability?
    • searches run simultaneously (in parallel) so they all happen at the same time
    • no real cost for increased sources – the entire search is only as slow as the single slowest source
    • have a resultlistener that gets callbacks from each source query, aggregates and ranks all results together.
    • assume that the individual sources are giving their results with the "best" first, since we use only the first X records…
    • Aggregated results from all sources are then sorted together for overall relevancy at the fed. search client level
    • If there are missing fields, they just aren't displayed (if there is no author returned, it's not put as part of the result display item)
  • Built it to grow easily
    • just add 2 classes to the server to manage fed. queries on new source
      • source and listener?

Merlot notes: Hybrid Courses & Collaboration

Merlot session notes: Hybrid Courses and Collaboration

  • Hybrid Course
    • Cathy Simpson – http://tac.nvcc.edu
    • Laura Franklin – http://www.nvcc.edu/home/lfranklin
    • Northern Virginia Community College
    • Powerpoint online at nvcc
    • a course where a significant portion of the learning activities are moved online, in addition to f2f learning
    • Blended learning
    • advantages
      • integrate out-of-class and in-class activitites
      • promotes self-directed learning
      • presents learning materials in a range of formats (for various learning styles)
      • promotes greater student involvement and engagement
      • flexibility
      • maximize physical resources
    • types of hybrids
      • synchronous f2f with asynchronous online
      • synchronous online (centra) with asynch. online
      • highest mix for a "hybrid" course is 50/60
    • types of activities during course time
      • didactic – lecture
      • discursive – exploration
      • ….
    • F2F and online are "symbiotic"
      • each feed each other
      • classroom time acts as ice-breaker, enhancing online
      • F2F –> online –> F2F coaching –> online –> F2F performance and feedback –> online feedback
      • online bits could be learning objects
      • online != "homework"
    • Challenges?
      • Time invested in course redesign
      • integrating online activities with F2F meetings
      • designing online activities to meet objectives
      • course management
      • developing new teaching strategies
      • ensuring appropriate course load (don't turn it into a course-and-a-half)
    • Buffet vs. meal
      • let users pick the bits that are best for them
      • "you can serve the best roast beef, but a vegetarian won't have a good meal"
      • buffet metaphor allowed by hybrid course gets around this. Veggies get veggie. etc…
    • "Hands-on is needed for Minds-on"
    • Match Merlot sites to learning styles
      • use LSQs
        • felder/solaman …
        • VARK
      • helps student select LOs that may be best suited for their needs
    • Use personal collections in Merlot to present sets of LOs
    • Activity
      • students find 3 LOs, and share with group in F2F
      • students find a variety of resources and modalities, share with group
      • use the Merlot Editor's Choices as starting point
    • Focussing on the social aspect rather than the technological
  • CamerONline
    • Karen Hardin
    • www.cameron.edu
    • blackboard.cameron.edu
    • studied standards used
    • interoperability of courses, but easier for students who can move from course to course…
    • faculty are trained in use of blackboard (using Bb courses, some created by faculty)
      • tutorials on Bb, Windows, Netscape, IE, … basics needed to get up and running
    • Communication in courses
      • email
        • only for personal questions
        • if it's anything else, it goes into discussion board to share with class/group
        • filter with subject (course number) to group messages for instructor
        • appropriate communication rules
          • outlined in prep. course
          • attempt to manage effects of perceived anonymity from the "chat generation"
          • punctuation, grammar, speling are important.
          • professional conduct
          • don't forward jokes…
      • Discussion board
        • student questions board
          • used for questions on course content
          • students responsible for all content in this forum (must read it all)
        • introduction board
          • fosters learning community – able to "meet" other learners in the class
          • good to have a back-room channel
          • becomes a "coffee house"
        • require participation
          • not passive recipients…
          • receive credit for participation in forum
        • Discussion administrators for group discussions
          • "list mom" – moderator
          • provides summary to other groups, so all students in class know what other groups are doing
        • Devil's advocate – have people take alternate viewpoints in discussions
        • Archive old discussions – available after "class"
          • also works to clean out old topics so students can focus on "current" topics and discussions
      • Chat
        • can't require it, due to time zone variations
        • optional tool for collaborations
        • optional material reviews
          • synchronous, scheduled "events" where students "meet" to review content
          • lecture notes…
        • rules of conduct during chat.
        • chat archived and stored afterwards

Merlot Notes: Tools for transforming curriculum

Notes from Merlot session: Tools for transforming curriculum

  • Laurie Harrison – adaptive technology resource centre, U of T
    • Supporting learner-centric transformation of content
    • needs to personalize:
      • accessibility (disabilities)
        • lack of access to
          • printed material
          • speech or audio
          • visual material
          • note taking
          • class dicsussions
        • Use of adaptive technologies
          • screen readers, magnification, keyboards, voice recognition, text-to-speech
        • Different technologies/clients
          • pda
          • wireless
          • google…
      • background knowledge
      • learning preferences
      • pace and path
    • TILE Project
      • The Inclusive Learning Exchange (TILE)
      • http://www.barrierfree.ca/tile
      • goals
        • reusing and repurposing learning objects
        • customization by educators
        • use of IMS Learner Information Profile to accomodate individual learner preferences
          • preferences in profile used to set content and system display
    • Strategies
      • Independence of content and structure from presentation to accomodate learner preferences
        • flexible display
        • flexible content aggregation
        • set profile to determine preferences for transformations
        • content separate from preferences
        • examples
          • change css types of things
            • colours (background and text) to make it more readable for visually impaired users
            • navigation and content affected by change to stylesheet selection
            • Q: How to enforce use of CSS in content?
          • Aggregation details
            • flat (simple) vs. details
              • allows "beginner" and "expert" views of a content aggregation
      • Independence of function from control
        • flexible input
          • onscreen keyboards instead of regular keyboard
        • flexible navigation
          • flatten hierarchy (one level at a time) or deep hierarchy (whole tree)
      • Increased granularity of learning objects to allow presentation of alternative formats and modalities
        • captioning
        • ASL
        • described video
        • range of modalities supported by same content (text tracks in video…)
        • graphic and textual presentations of same content (image vs text intensive presentations)
        • video with optional closed captioning and sign language translation, or audio description
      • Session-specific preferences
        • learner outcome goals
        • topic exclusion
        • placeholders/bookmarks
        • review vs. self test …
      • Implementation of accessibility guidelines and interoperability specifications
        • access system friendly interfaces
        • every learner with a disability is potentially a different external "system" that needs to inter-operate
          • use IMS specs to interoperate with people as well as software systems
    • Guildelines and specs
      • W3C web accessibility – WAI/GL
      • W3C Accessible Authoring Tools – WAI/AU
      • IMS
        • implementing IMS specs as they are being developed to provide feedback on accessibility needs
        • Accessibilityy extensions to the LIP (ACCLIB) – encodes learner preferences
        • Metadata – develop extensions to allow identification of resources that meet the criteria indicated in the learner's prefs.
          • "is screenreader friendly"
          • "has closed captioning"
        • Content Packaging – packaging content into modules. Identification of alternate resources
          • package text-oriented vs. image-oriented depending on learner's prefs
          • will in in next CP spec
        • ACCLIP
          • accessForAll element
            • <accessforall>
              • display
                • screenreader
                • screenEnhance
              • control
                • keyboardenhanced
                • onscreenkeyboard
              • content
                • alternativesToVisual
                • alternativesToText
          • Interoperability with IMS
      • Dynamic retrieval and transformation of stuff to hide complexity from users
    • Demo
      • Preferences
        • I would like…
          • text on screen easier to see
          • preferred language
          • navigation options (depth vs breadth first)
          • alternatives to audio
            • captions (incl language)
            • sign language…
        • Define bits of style sheet (font, size, colours)
      • Whole point of LIP is that the profile is interoperable – can be shared with other systems
  • James McClellan – automated creation of resources for HTML based Concept Maps
    • Introductory engineering course that links resources together via concept maps
    • hundreds of LOs
    • students need to know where the LOs are, and how should they use them
    • students need to know that a LO belongs to a particular part of a course
      • adding context to help them know what/when to study
      • develop LESSONS that use the LOs as part of the lab
    • "If you build it, they will come" DOESN'T WORK! They need guidance on what/when to use LOs
    • Hierarchy of organizing information (read from bottom to top)
      • Courses
        • books
          • units
            • chapters
              • lessons
                • labs
                  • learning objects
    • How does this relate to concept maps?
      • task of processing incoming info is made easier if info is presented in visual formats
      • concept maps present relationships in graphical form and allow us to understand complex info.
      • show items (LOs) with relationships indicated
      • concept maps used to structure information in academic courses (other uses, but this is the context here)
      • software at
        • http://cmap.coginst.uwf.edu/info/
        • java app
        • allows the user to add resources
          • web pages, videos, pdf docs, etc…
          • they add the items, and describe the relationships
        • IHMC CMAP Software
        • looking at automation to link resources
          • linking database of all 12 chapters of the textbook into the map
          • concept map –> template HTML for concept map –> HTML concept map with resources
        • create a basic concept map template
          • perl scripts used to convert the template html file to a concept map html file with more resources and resource types
        • HTML map runs only in IE/Win (DOH!) he's a mozilla freak, so that will likely change
        • Working on dynamic creation of concept maps using PHP and database, rather than pre-canned, massaged maps from the perl pre-processing technique
    • GUI Movie Making
      • 3 movies are create for each GUI
        • tutorial – how to use
        • theory – explains theory and its applications
        • lab – examplifies problem solving techniques using GUIs
      • Use Camtasia Studio and SnagIt software –> 10 MB AVI movie files (WTF?)
        • can export to better formats
      • Camtasia does screen capture with narration
      • Talks a LOT about Camtasia – not sure how that relates so tightly with concept mapping…
      • Uses its own codec – looks like windows only?
      • Used as media-rich instruction manual for how to learn individual learning objects as part of a lab