Indira Gandhi National Open
The main concern of this chapter is to discuss the sharing and re-use of various types of learning resources. The authors describe the CANDLE project where an academic community from 12 universities and colleges from seven countries collaborated in order to identify various issues on re-use of learning resources. Another focus of this chapter is to examine the pedagogical methodology, re-engineering the course material and different technological support tools engaged in the process.
Learning Object (LO) Technology
Downes (2001) reported significant cost implications for re-use of learning objects and cited a study (Bates, 2000) where the cost for developing an on-line course and the time were significantly reduced by assembling the course out of pre-existing components or learning objects. The authors of this chapter have laid greater stress on the need for interoperability and re-use of course materials, as it not only leads to greater efficiency, but also an improvement in the quality of learning. To examine the issues on implementing an exchange of learning resources, the CANDLE project was conceived in 1999 by the EUNICE network. There was a felt need to have an information brokerage system to support exchange of course materials across an international network of institutions selected from Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, Norway, Spain and Italy. They also wanted to develop a set of re-usable resources and to evaluate the re-usability of such resources within those countries. One more objective of the CANDLE project was to come out with a methodology by which the instructors could improve the re-usability of their own learning resources.
The authors have highlighted main issues pertaining to pedagogy, collaboration and re-engineering associated with CANDLE project. Through pedagogical issues, an understanding was made on how the sharing and re-use of learning content was integrated into the teaching and learning process. Factors related to collaboration were concerned on how course writers, learners and instructors joined together in material exchange; while how this material was re-structured and re-styled for improving quality and re-usability was analysed under re-engineering.
Activity theory was the base for the pedagogical model of the CANDLE project, adopted to benchmark relationships between learning materials, agents who will use those materials and the activities to be undertaken through that material. Effective collaboration was achieved by defining common parameters by EUNICE network like a common organizational structure, common tools developed through CANDLE and common goals (e.g. improving the quality of learning materials and enhanced level of exchange of materials by instructors and learners).
Re-engineering depicted restructuring the course material into learning objects of different granularity and then integrating them with other learning resources, student activities and merging it in the overall course structure. The course content was disintegrated into smaller components like modules. A module comprised of c-atoms and particles (further fragments of course material), was the lowest level of granularity.
The authors have reported some difficulties faced by them during CANDLE project. One was related to granularisation and pertained to selecting an appropriate standard for resource metadata. They preferred to adopt version 6.1 of LOM with some adoption (reason being following Activity Theory Model for pedagogy), out of Instructional Management System or Learning Object Metadata (LOM) by IEEE. Another difficulty experienced by them was in the selection of metadata fields for Activity Theory Model. This was due to the reason that such fields were not comprehensively covered in original LOM for this theory. Here they opted for closed fields, being easy to tag. To overcome the difficulty in supporting the users in tagging learning resources with metadata, a 'tagging tool' was integrated into the course authoring toolset.
To accomplish the goals of CANDLE project, an open and distributed architecture was followed to support collaborative courseware lifecycle management, information brokering and content delivery. Adequate attention was paid to develop Course Authoring Tools so that they can assist in creation of a course structure, adding or updating extra learning objects, tagging such learning objects with metadata and uploading or storing courses/resources in the information broker system.
Evaluation of CANDLE project
The authors plan to assess the effectiveness of this project by analyzing the experiences gained by instructors and learners in re-using learning resources. Such an assessment shall be focused, based on the features of re-usability of course materials (and to see that how it improves the effectiveness and efficiency of learning materials), accessibility to these re-usable resources, collaboration between different agents involved in implementing the project, cost-effectiveness as a result of increased re-usability and collaboration, and to see improvement in the quality of teaching supported by ICT. Three evaluation trials have been planned. One trail has been scheduled at the University College London and Suffolk College, of United Kingdom. The former is engaged in developing and delivering a course targeted for the corporate sector, while the latter has medium sized enterprises as its target clients. The next trial has been planned for the University of Karlsruhe to evaluate courses with their own students, while the third trial on similar lines will be undertaken at the Norwegian University of Technology, University of Twente and Universidad Polytechnica de Catalunya, Spain. These three trials shall be completed in two stages. First, the existing courses and course components will be granularised (through CREEM methodology) and then in the second stage, the resources developed shall be shared and re-used.
The authors point out some hindrances in resource sharing due to diversity of courses across institutions. These courses have a broad spectrum of topics, different subject vocabularies, instructional strategies, credit systems and expertise level of instructors and students. The authors hope to overcome such hindrances through the use of relevant metadata fields. Cultural issues also seem to affect the successful implementation of the project instead of technological design or development. Non-sharing of their course material by instructors to others, and the resistance in using the materials developed by other instructors were observed. A greater degree of flexibility in sharing and re-use strategy is considered to overcome this resistance.
There are a number of issues to raise for further discussion:
- There are various stakeholders in the CANDLE Project: further details on the analysis of the needs of such stakeholders (as done by employing Scenario based Needs Assessment Method, SUNA) could be provided to clarify the context for the CANDLE project. In the light of knowing how the project has developed, how effective do the authors feel SUNA was in highlighting what turned out to be the most important requirements? For instance, would they recommend it to others embarking on similar projects?
- This project also draws on re-engineering course materials through several layers of granularisation (by the Courseware REEngineering Methodology: CREEM). I was interested in knowing more details on CREEM. Given their experience, can the authors characterise the circumstances where this methodology can be adopted -- or point to existing sources?
- The authors highlight the importance of flexibility and active student engagement in the pedagogical model for this project. What are the authors' reflections on how well the individual differences of the learners were met by the elements in this project based on Activity Theory?
- There are tools which allow standardized metadata searches for learning resources, where the instructor can indicate which types of learning resources will be suitable for a course or instructional situation. The Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) project [www.oki.mit.edu] designed and developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides an architectural model to facilitate sharing of learning content between educational institutions. As the authors discuss how such learning resources can be created and packaged so that they maybe re-used in a reliable mode, it is important to identify how the metadata can help learners to facilitate the reuse of learning materials on the Web. What are the mechanisms to allow learners to identify standardized information on various modules or atoms or particles? How will the employment of metadata extend help to course authors, instructors and students in managing and exchanging relevant information? There is a need for further research into seeking how the adaptability of metadata fields will resolve the problems arising in resource sharing for a variety of courses, instructional strategies and student and instructor's expertise.
Overall the CANDLE project is an important milestone towards sharing and re-using of learning resources. The project has a large magnitude, covering many educational institutions across several nations of Europe. It should help in establishing a trans-national learning object economy by providing a set of exemplar courses and resources, designing and developing an information broker system and devising a methodology on sharing and re-using of learning materials. I personally feel the project is very important for developing counties where e-learning is gaining importance and many private and governmental ventures have taken off. Online learning in the South Asian region is gaining momentum and new LMS software is being developed and adopted to make e-learning more effective. The traditional, and open and distance universities in this part of world, are making initiatives towards resource sharing. The setting up of www.cmcvarsity.com by CMC, www.netvarsity.com by NIIT, zeelearn.com by Zee Learning, zeeeducation.com/online by Zee TV's online training, learnatsatyam.com, virtual campus initiative of ignou.ac.in, tamil virtual university, and www.gurukulonline.co.in by Gururkulonline Learning Solutions etc are some of the prominent examples indicating the preparedness by the Indian universities and IT industries to meet the growing demand, and in that context we look forward to hear more on the successful outcome of this project.
Bates, A. W. (2000) Managing Technological Change, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Downes, S. (2001) Learning Objects: resources for Distance Education Worldwide. IRRODL, 2(1), http://www.irrodl.org/content/v2.1/downes.pdf
Li-ping, Shen & Rui-min, Shen (2003) eLearning Content Management Based on Learning Objects, paper prepared for ICALT 2003 conference
Li, James Z. & Close, Richard, (2000) The Promise of eLearning and the Practice of Knowledge System Design, http://www.leadingway.com/pdf/eLearning.pdf