Carey, T. and Harrigan, K. (2003). Commentary on Mary Thorpe, Chris Kubiak and Keir Thorpe, Designing for Reuse and Versioning, Chapter 9 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 9: Designing for Reuse and Versioning

Mary Thorpe, Chris Kubiak and Keir Thorpe

Tom Carey1 and Kevin Harrigan2

1 Professor of Management Sciences
University of Waterloo

2 University of Waterloo & CLOE Project

This chapter presents some elegant ideas about how an individual institution can manage its online content to promote repurposing and re-use. The cases illustrate the benefits and issues involved in making this work. Since the OU process and its instructional approach are already well-managed, the adaptation of the process to allow versioning can be accommodated naturally. The module size for re-use appears to be larger than many of the units on offer from learning object repositories. This is particularly evident in the section on Teaching and structuring the learning process, where the tactics suggested for linking together the chunks are suitable for bridging between self-contained units of study but are less appropriate for integrating smaller learning objects into a coherent unit on its own. A better approach for that purpose is the goal-based design in chapter 8. Even for the integration of larger modules, the terms in this section do not seem to convey the stated need for a cohere program of study -- labels such as tagged on and bolted on do not do justice to the thoughtful insight required.

For institutions with the scale of the UK Open University the focus on internal re-use is natural. However, for many institutions the greater need will be to develop and manage content which can be re-used by other institutions, as in the CANDLE project described in chapter 15.

Our situation is that we have 15 universities in our system. Each university is interested in both submitting and re-using Learning Objects in our repository, called CLOE ( To date the Learning Objects submitted and re-used have been of the granularity that they can be used by the learners in one sitting. Examples include a high quality three-dimensional animation of muscle contraction and a Learning Object that allows the learner to do hands-on experimentation with the Stroop Effect in Psychology.

Instructors appreciate the ability to incorporate these Learning Objects into a week of their course without doing any major course redesign. The fact that the Learning Objects in the repository tend to all have a different look-and-feel does not tend to be an issue for the instructor as they only want to incorporate one or two in their course and the learners clearly know that they are using a learning Object that was created by a different expert in the field. Given this, they seem to think that it is reasonable that each object has its own look-and-feel. Trainers who are creating a course by aggregating Learning Objects may find that the different look-and-feel to the Learning Objects is constantly an issue for the learners but with limited use of Learning Objects in a course our experience is that this seems to be a non-issue.

In most cases, our instructors create their own course. Usually someone has taught the course before and they inherit all associated material. They then modify the course as they wish. There is typically no 'team' involved in the course creation as was described in this chapter. Rather the course is created by one instructor with perhaps some assistance from others such as a central 'Teaching and Learning' centre. In this situation, it seems that Learning Objects that are of the appropriate granularity to address one instructional bottleneck are what fit easily into the model of course creation that has traditionally been used. The exact granularity of the re-used Learning Objects can and does vary but in our experience to date it is always been something that the learning would be expected to use use for roughly 1-3 hours.

An initiative that we are actively involved with in CLOE is the co-design and co-development of Learning Objects across multiple institutions. Essentially, our idea is that if the Learning Object was initially designed and used by two or more instructors that immediately upon completion of the Learning Object it would be used by the two or more instructors who were involved in creating it. There is an underlying assumption in this chapter that we should design for our own student first with a view towards how the Learning Object might be re-used. The idea behind this initiative of ours is that by targeting initial students in more than one institutional context we get a long way toward reusability with little additional effort [and with a much stronger community to support instructors].

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