I've been on vacation all week and haven't really even checked my feeds to see what is going on in the World. I was sort of surprised to see that Apple released a new iPod Shuffle that talks given how hyper-connected I typically am. The thing that prompted me to post this morning has nothing to do with music players however. I came across a post at my new colleague Matt Meyer's blog, Blog Platform: Authoring Tool, where he exposes some thinking about how he is planning to author and deliver the Biology Wet Lab course he is the lead designer on. I really like the thinking and thought I'd share some overall thoughts.
I've written about my struggles with eLearning and eLearning authoring in general lots of times, but after reading Matt's post this morning I jumped into my way back machine (this blog) and found a post from a couple years ago where I asked for some help thinking about this topic.
What I struggle with is the idea of what is a really good eLearning environment these days? In my mind, a handful of pages of content that link and embed objects that drive student and faculty to engage in conversations (on or off line) seems to be the goal. With that said, why not design those content pages in a blog so students and faculty (and maybe people from the outside) can have conversations in context? Why are we still struggling with what the right eLearning tool set looks like when we are sitting in a world with dozens of content creation tools? The model we are trying to avoid consists of tons of static text pages that prompt students to leave the content and jump into a discussion forum to interact — I’ve never liked that, but now the technology supports what I am after … the opportunity for conversation at every level of a course experience.
I've built a couple of examples of blog powered eLearning spaces since then and I'm pretty sure having these examples were helpful in sharing my thoughts with Matt last week. I had written about it back in October as I did a survey of some of the emerging ways our blogging platform has been being used.
Recently I took an old topic from an Online IST course I helped design about seven years ago and republish it via the Blogs at PSU environment. It took only a handful of minutes and produces a portable package that can be customized by an entire team in a collaborative way. And since our platform allows for easy export and import, a faculty member who wants the content can easily download an export file and import it into a new blog space to customize the look, the feel, the content, the activities, or anything else for her own instruction.
When I built the examples I wanted to explore the potential of the platform as an easy to use design and development environment as well as experiment with personalization. I ended up with two versions of the content ... one to be used as a "standard" version and one as a fully customized version. The Master Course provides a baseline version of the content in a central location — perhaps in an Open Courseware model. A faculty member could browse the content and download a simple file. This file contains the entire course and structure. This is ideal because it allows that faculty member to manage and customize the content as their own. This can then be used to create a personal version of the content.
What is great to see from Matt's post is that he gets the notion and he is thinking about how to use the built in communication tools as a way to gather feedback. I can see he and the team he is working with taking advantage of the commenting system to get an idea from students as they work screen by screen what they think of the environment. I am also excited that we are buying into the idea of embedding different kinds of content to make the experience a little more complete -- we all know how easy it is to drop in media from YouTube, but imagine collecting data live via an embedded google spreadsheet form and you can imagine that is when things start to get really interesting.
All of this is important stuff and it puts a new look on some existing and (IMO) outdated and outmoded thinking in the eLearning design world. I am anxious to hear what others are thinking about this and the questions Matt is looking to explore.