Sharma, R. (2003). Commentary on Katie Livingston-Vale and Philip Long, Models for Open Learning, Chapter 6 of: Reusing Online Resources: A Sustainable Approach to eLearning, (Ed.) Allison Littlejohn. Kogan Page, London. ISBN 0749439491. []. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2003 (1) Special Issue on Reusing Online Resources. ISSN:1365-893X [].

Chapter 6: Models for Open Learning

Katie Livingston-Vale and Philip Long

Commentary by Ramesh C. Sharma

Indira Gandhi National Open University


The Chapter, "Models of Open Learning" details two important projects of MIT focused on how can the re-usable internet based educational materials be assembled, delivered and accessed. This chapter explains the Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) and the Open CourseWare (OCW) project. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been advocating open source software and the authors through this chapter tries to identify the pedagogical requirements to make MIT course materials openly available on the Net for non-commercial purposes. They have discussed various strategies for the development of pedagogical models of open learning towards sharing and reusing learning materials.

Open Source Initiative

Recently the 'Open Source Initiative' (OSI) has gained momentum and many people have found OSI a radical and revolutionary concept. The fast gaining popularity of OSI among millions of internet users has posed a threat to the survival of 'propriety software'. Many people (as individuals and as institution) have welcomed OSI, making its scope, reach and potential very effective. Rather, not only this, there is a fairly good business going around on the front of selling OSI solutions. Governments around the world are opting for OSI products. Educational institutions are also considering and using OSI products in response to the rapidly changing needs of learners, institutions and society at large.

Open Knowledge Initiative

The Open Knowledge initiative was launched by the joint deliberations of MIT and Stanford university towards development of their own Learning Management Systems [LMS] (viz. Stellar at MIT and CourseWork at Stanford) which had to be modular and open sourced. After the initiative received tremendous response from the academics, many other colleges and universities joined and a formal OKI Advisory Board was constituted. The OCW project was initiated to make MIT electronic course material free of cost to the users for non-commercial purposes. Here MIT wanted to develop an electronic publishing model for offering educational material over the Net, (not to launch a credit bearing distance learning programme) and thus Stellar ( a LMS software) was developed. One of the advantages of Stellar is its customization as per needs of the departments or faculty. Stellar served the purpose of a reference architecture framework with the help of which the educational material could be developed, integrated or modified. It had a greater scalability, sustainability, security features, pedagogically more flexibility and open ? being easy for integration with existing other campus systems. To achieve these above stated features, the researchers at MIT conducted conferences, structured interviews and collated responses from a large number of faculty, instructor and educational support personnel. First LMS summit was held in April 2001 and the next one in August 2002. The first summit was designed to identify various principles of teaching and learning pertaining to constructivism; collaboration and community; reusability; individualized/adaptive learning; usability and faculty development; assessment and evaluation; and system design. The second summit was organised with the objective to pragmatically search for potential areas of teaching where OKI services can be utilized and in which areas further development is possible.

After the first LMS summit, a series of use case narratives was developed by staff at both MIT and Stanford, to define ways in which the created model could be used by the instructors and staff. To develop there use-case narratives, faculty interviews were conducted, recorded and subjected to qualitative analysis. From these interviews, the relevant teaching strategies were identified and on the basis of those use-case narratives were written. The interview schedule was focused on the items related to events happened during a week a course is taught, type of documents exchanged, kind of faculty-student and student-student interaction, how the course was prepared, how the group work was assessed, kinds of products developed in student groups, and various kinds of simulation or data visualizations tool in that course. The authors have expressed the limitation of not being clear on upto what extent such narratives could be utilized, nonetheless these have been found to act a blueprint for software developers or what shall be the functions of software and for researchers to understand the needs of the faculty correctly.

Stellar system and pedagogy

Initially the Stellar systems was conceived to act as a basic LMS for MIT's on-campus and distance learning courses for providing support for direct instruction and for constructivist or collaborative work. For direct instruction, a provision of instructor toolset allowed faculty to upload and organize content material and defining how the user will have access to that. Although stellar became a clearinghouse for assignments, recorded lectures, solutions and handouts, it was found that the faculty members from different disciplines used different vocabularies, and thus a feature of customization at the faculty level was added. But the same repetitive nature of content or presentation, tempted the faculty to move away from direct instruction model, and thus to support other teaching models some tools were added to Stellar like providing access to shared file space, for personal or collaborative work, enabling a Java-based threaded discussions board for an asynchronous dialogue between faculty and students, and a FAQ.

Future plans for new models

The authors have indicated that the themes generated from interviews and use-case narratives, will be utilized to developing further models to support inductive thinking, peer review, role play, small-group learning, inquiry learning, constructivism and portfolio creation. Work is already in progress for development of an assignment management system, a suite of reusable "webjects", online quizzing toll and search facility etc.


After reading this chapter I was feeling the need to know more about these two projects in terms of how exactly these two function and how the course material is processed. Not to appear to be too technical, but some details on technical specifications of Stellar software could have given the readers an idea on how this software works. Some brief on what the OKI and OCW website offers would have an added advantage for the readers.

Since the OKI project supports the LOM and Content Packaging Standards, it can be discussed how the educational institutions in other parts of the world especially developing ones, can adopt a learning object approach by having a ready made architecture supported by the relevant software for deploying learning objects. We may also discuss on the mechanisms for generating personalized sequences of learning objects, which are suited to the learners needs.

The two Learning Management Systems Summits came out with relevant issues and workable solutions. The various principles laid down and the pedagogical design suggested for online support of teaching and learning raise very pertinent points to be discussed. It was desired that the learners should be able to create 'knowledge legacies' as part of their learning. The learning styles and abilities of independent students will have its impact for such knowledge mapping processes. For the students to be able to comment on their own and on others' artifacts of learning, there must be adequate critical and reasoning power in them.

Since Stellar provides facility for uploading and organizing course material of any media type through an instructor toolset, whereby the teachers can upload or organize text material, the issues related to the copyright need to be addressed. Who will have control over the content moderation?

The OKI and OCW shall promote and guide other institutions to work on similar lines for designing, developing and sharing their tools and instructional content, its operationabiltiy in the developing countries needs to be addressed carefully where there are many barriers to the use and adoption of ICT in education.

Concluding remarks

The authors have presented a detailed account of the significant work being done at MIT and Stanford for open source software development and on two key products of this category viz OKI and OCW. Such initiatives, although started off as a small and individualized effort, nevertheless, will form a base for other institutions in designing, developing and sharing their instructional content as well as tools with other institutions. Overall this chapter gives an interesting account of what is happening in the educational institutions towards open source software development and how the area of open learning can draw benefits from the models of open source movement.

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