Open University, UK
The visions on every page in this book tap into our espoused missions to work more successfully together, within and across every sector of education, in the service of learning. I'm excited and challenged by the notion of a new economy in educational provision, as the vehicle for successful collaboration and with learning objects as the currency (step aside the Euro!)
Well, at first glance it seems that understanding and implementing the new technologies are our major challenges, but if you've read so far in this book, you'll know they're merely the tip of a huge great iceberg! Instead we see that digitalized learning resources could be a way for harnessing technology in the service of our educational objectives. But if technology is to become our servant, who or what is our master? I'll hold on the answer to that for a moment and invite you to a take a reflective look at this final part of the book. By the way, leave aside the thorny issues of standards for the technology for the moment and enjoy the feel of real paper in your hands.
In the Open University Business School, I have responsibility for chairing a large modular, distance and online Professional Certificate in Management. The Certificate in Management was one of the first in the Open University to move towards short online courses. From this experience I know that granularity, flexibility and choice for learners come at a high price for the institution. The students get on really well with the process, but the staff, while committed to the programme's success, are bending under its demands. Allison Littlejohn's chapter, 'An incremental approach to staff development in the reuse of learning resources' in this part, details many of the issues we face. She also offers a focus for staff development efforts, underpinned by building confidence and motivation.
So, how can we reduce costs, increase student numbers, work harder and smarter and yet provide learners with highly customized and personalized learning, without becoming another e-casualty? If those are the questions, reusability, in all its glory, looks like an answer to me. We would be crazy to turn aside from the opportunity. As my daughter would say, 'It's just so what we want!' Why, oh why, can we not 'just do it'? Perhaps because everyone who works in today's demanding educational environments knows that our organizations function and change through the millions of thoughts and actions of individual people. It's reach-out not RAM that's the issue!
From my research, I know there a number of key issues that distinguish changing teaching and learning practice. Many of these are special to educational provision and occurred even before we began to see the importance of our championship of knowledge economies. First, we are professionals and have strong tendencies towards independence and autonomy. We're used to taking responsibility for ourselves and view imposed 'solutions' with much suspicion. However Rachel Harris and Carol Higgison's e-workshop chapter, 'Reuse of resources within communities of practice' provides a wonderful example of how staff can be engaged in exploring new ways of working in the comfort of liked-minded others. Their approach leads to gradual apprenticeship into workable ways of thinking and doing for new entrants as well as the critically important activity of sharing and development for those of us who've been on the scene a little longer. In particular they demonstrate the importance of common frameworks to provide the building blocks of necessary changes in practice.
Second, we are fully immersed in our own disciplines. Through perhaps many years of studying and teaching, the traditions of the 'way we do things' are embedded deep into our practice. Disciplines strongly influence our professional identities and what information and knowledge we consider important, even what's acceptable. We give up our content and method-led approaches most reluctantly since they feel like a blow to the centre of our hearts! You might like to read the comparative chapter by Littlejohn, Jung and Broumley with these ideas in mind. They conclude that 'guidance and support' is the way forward.
How do we progress and use digital opportunities happily and successfully? There simply is not just one way. Carmel McNaught's chapter, 'Identifying the complexity of factors in the sharing and reuse of resources' offers us a series of models. No, not of instructional design, but of organizational change. We're invited to explore polarity theory, scholarship principles, integrated, parallel and distributed approaches to the use of IT and the ever-present see-saw between teaching and research pressures. She again mentions the importance of disciplines in teaching.
So who's in charge of this train to the future? Your view of the speed of the train may be that it is an express or a slow, regional stopping train, depending on your tolerance and position on the innovative-to-reluctant users scale. This part of the book suggests that new forms of communities of practice in teaching provide us with the engine of the train.