Staffordshire University, UK
In my own work on VLE development, pedagogy and standards I have 'banged on' at length about how 'it's all about people and how they learn and not about just giving people resources', or if you prefer, the thing that matters is the design of the experience we intend our learners to have. In the sections on 'vision' and 'design' this emphasis has been reassuringly present (alongside some practical issues such 'why and how reuse resources?'). Asked to review the contributions in this part of the book, I was interested to see if the same healthy view would be maintained or if we would slip back into 'delivery' mode.
In Chapter 11, 'Digital libraries and repositories', Charles Duncan and Cuna Ekmekcioglu have kept the 'learning' emphasis but also recognize the many barriers and cultural issues to be overcome. The effective reuse of content depends on educators being able to find items of content, ascertain their quality and availability and then repurpose these things to contribute to enabling their learners to meet the goals the educator wishes to set them. Many of these issues are the traditional preserve of the library and the librarian and this chapter explores the issues around cataloguing, distribution of resources versus centralization, and the diversity of artefacts that form 'resources'. The thorny issues of quality and intellectual property are raised and these inevitably bring us to the need for cooperation, communication and cultural change involving all of the ever-changing roles that this 'new world' implies.
These issues highlighted by Charles and Cuna neatly lead into Oleg Liber and Bill Olivier's chapter on 'Learning technology interoperability standards'. Oleg, Bill and I, along with many others, share the view that learning is not merely about content but about what people do to learn. In this chapter, the current state of specifications and models is discussed in a way that explains their relationship to each other, and their importance in (hooray!) an educational, rather than technical, context. The vital importance of the development of a specification that enables the learning process itself to be described and defined is covered 'straight from the horse's mouth', as Bill Olivier is probably the major contributor to the development of the IMS Learning Design specification. I have argued myself that specifications were needed that supported an holistic approach to both pedagogy and mode of delivery, especially in the context of a world populated by 'e-learning systems' that focus in the main on content delivery, and here Oleg and Bill show us the way forward.
The first chapter in this part raised the issues of diversity of resources and Grainne Connole, Jill Evans and Ellen Sims expand on this in 'Use and reuse of digital images in teaching and learning'. While a picture may well be worth a thousand words, how such a burst of information is best used when building a learning experience is quite a another matter and also, as the chapter points out, the word 'image' covers a lot of ground! 'Small' things like an image are highly contextual in the meaning they convey and their selection and reuse poses a range of problems that are only beginning to be explored. Grainne, Jill and Ellen review the current state of research and highlight issues such as the description of such resources in terms of both what they are and how they might be useful. This is hard -- a resource that is useful, for example, in Media Studies, might be useful in Engineering in a completely different context. Furthermore, the pedagogic implications will vary with context -- the chapter highlights the importance of what an 'image' communicates in the context of recognition of the social nature of learning. (Another 'hooray' from me for this!) Of course the spectre of IPR and copyright raises its head again.
So far the authors have looked at resources and reuse in context of enabling learning. In 'Assessing question banks', Joanna Bull and James Daziel move on to considering how we will know learning has been successful. Like many practitioners, I am somewhat sceptical of the ability of computer-aided assessment (CAA) to assess the full range of outcomes I desire to identify, largely due to the focus on the use of multiple-choice questions. This chapter recognizes such concerns and discusses the extended range that CAA now encompasses. Assessment is probably the major area of stress for teaching staff in the era of widening participation and mass further and higher education. Joanna and James address the vital issues of achieving efficiency gains while maintaining quality. The issues of copyright appear again and are addressed alongside the need for specifications and the requirements expected of systems delivering CAA. While I am still unconvinced of how some things (such as synthesis) can be assessed by computer, I will certainly look at extending my activities in this area!
This part of the book concludes with a look at the international dimension. In 'Sharing and reuse of learning resources across a transnational network', Joachim Wetterling and Betty Collis give us a fascinating look at a European project. I have become very aware of the pedagogic and cultural differences in education when viewed across national boundaries, and have recently commented on the problems raised. In this chapter the authors discuss the issues of reuse in this problematic context, concentrating on pedagogy, collaboration and the re-engineering of courses. Yet again I'm delighted that this has been done in the context of what people do with content. The project described is as yet at an early stage, but is focused on issues of standards, and I look forward to the contribution it will undoubtedly make.
So much for the 'resource' perspective -- but how will we make all this happen across the sectors and in our institutions? Gilly Salmon introduces this in the next part of this book.