2 Learning Objects – Martin Bazley

I think at the moment from a school teacher’s point of view finding enough resources on a given topic is not really a problem. If I’m a teacher wanting to do World War 2 and I want to find a photo of children being evacuated I can find it in 2 or 3 minutes. I think a lot of the emphasis, from what I’ve picked up on in your discussions, is going into this idea of making a richer, more comprehensive, searchable, region of stuff out there for teachers to draw on and I just wonder whether that is actually a problem that needs solving. Very rarely do you hear a teacher say,

I cant really find anything on World War 2, or even the use of bobbins in the 1930’s’.

Mike Lowndes: The raw materials are easy to gather but there is no standard for how those are built so surely one of the things that we have to aim towards is what is the minimal set of standardized metadata that would allow teachers to search this space, and find something with a little more added value?

On one level, what the teacher would like is that photo of the children on the platform but as you say that’s not a learning object and we are hoping that we can provide more than that. Actually providing more examples is not a problem that needs solving, actually what they need in addition to that is key questions to ask with their children, and that may be all they need. I’ve been doing a lot of classroom based research at the moment, this is a white board and the teacher has pulled out some text and put it on there and this boy here is using one of these things to vote so they can record all their responses to that. Its very simple, low level stuff and I think that there is a misconception that now there are all these fantastic e-learning resources around that if you go into any classroom with a whiteboard you will see all these spinning colourful things bouncing off the walls and actually most of what goes on, is actually, because of the way children learn, quite mundane and the interesting bit is going on in the dialogue.

That’s the big problem when you try and define what a learning object is, when you try and capture that and put it online. The learning actually has to happen in the classroom and in our minds. So I think the key focus should be on the effect is has on teachers and pupils using these resources, its easy to become seduced by the technical possibilities and also by the barriers.


What makes something a learning object? Is it that it was written by an educator or is it that people learn with it? I would argue the latter, but the problem with that is that then becomes a definition that you cant apply to the object itself you can only apply it to an object being used in a classroom. Its not a practical definition because you cant label it one way or the other.

In the Digicult report there was a nice example by John Berger, Norway’s MLA equivalent, and he was citing the gap between cultural and pedagogic thinking. Digitisation based on curators needs rather than on those of education and he recalled that they thought they had fantastic digitized material in online catalogues but the museum discovered that the answers to the publics questions were only in the heads of the curators and not in the records.

The Norwegian folk museum has 1,650 mangle boards which are devises to press clothes. The curators knew that they had a film and an excellent article about those boards but you wont find anything on how to use them in any of those 1,650 records. So, for the education sector its very important to merge these different types of records and then you need a standard on how to find it.

Jon Pratty: Its about the terms, its about the findability and its about multiplicity of different types of objects.

Jeremy Ottevanger: In my definition of a learning object It isn’t a learning object unless it has metadata and it also has got to be able to be reused. As you were saying a photo on its own is just a photo and it’s when it has metadata that describes at least one context of its use that it becomes a learning object.

Jon Pratty: We don’t have any common language that actually sets out terminology structure.

And I think that’s because, in just the same way as we are having difficulty defining how the hard semantic web should work and this idea seems very attractive of letting social software, social collaboration, guide us towards defining that sort of thing I think that should apply to learning objects and that’s hopefully what I’m going to argue.

The key task in this lesson involved finding stuff online and it would have been great if they didn’t have to resort to using Google. It’s a very high level skill for children that age to do research, to form the questions and do the work. It seems to me the solution to that would be to have a little potted summary of data on sports but what other people might propose would be to have a live feed coming into that area of the website, a continuously growing, harvested feed of stuff on sports and you could have it tagged by reading level. Would that be a better solution? I guess I’m saying I don’t think it would.

What you actually need to do in this case is think specifically in the context of this class and choose some. The problem with this is that it won’t evolve over time. But realistically its going to be like that, because the educators have to produce something that works in that context but in a year or two someone will have to do the same thing again. I know we’re trying to avoid that re-inventing of the wheel – we need to find some way of automatically updating, pulling resources together, but my strong feeling is that learning only ever works when a bunch of people get together and create something. So, the idea of a learning object as something reuseable is highly desirable but, for this kind of age range, in my view, problematic to achieve.

Jon Pratty: It would be really interesting in your learning object if you did want to have a web quest, is it something that you choose, find some links that you like and put them at the end of your learning object and leave them there set in stone, but if you had some terms, some tags and some key words that had some meaning could actually be live tags, some microformats, you could have some continuously replenishing tags or terms or links that would maintain the currency of the object as they would be working automatically or semantically. That really would give them something semantic and that what were here to talk about.

Over the last five to ten years the development of online learning resources has been characterized by a lack of consultation with users with predictably unfortunate results. Teachers are delighted when asked for their views and input and I reckon that’s where the money should be spent, in doing consultation to ensure the thing works in practice. The only way you can practice is to get it right online is to get real world iterative feedback. Becta had an early attempt to do this with the learning resource called the Teacher Resource Exchange, where teachers uploaded their lesson plans onto the web and others could comment on it and append it. It’s a bit cluncky, pre web 2.0 and teachers weren’t use to contributing online but it was a great idea. In terms of this refining iterative feedback idea, curators aren’t always best placed to be able to do that, you need feedback from a wider cross section. Think about Wikipedia, its obvious but wouldn’t it be great if that sort of collaborative work could be harnessed to refine learning objects. All kinds of rights issues there and it would need some sort of central moderation over a sustained period.

One of the key points is that learning objects should be editable, within the classroom, commentable, appendable, so that there’s some sort of ongoing refinement. It would be useful if the standards are themselves subjected to iterative testing instead of having one or two look at them and say that’s what looks like what happens in the classroom. Real world data gathering would be useful. And above all to think about teachers and their pupils want and need from us, the culture sector.

Most teachers don’t want detailed lesson plans they inevitably need to change it as every situation is different.

Flash interactives can be engaging but the content is usually very locked down so its hard for them to amend in the classroom so they are often not used. They also tend to have very closed interactions built into them. Quite a behavioristic model of learning, i.e. drag the soldier onto the correct historical period, you can do it by accident and often there is no way for them to find out when they are doing it so they inevitably end up doing it through trial and error.

Video and photographs are particularly powerful to support learning. There is a great resonance for the pupils, the sense that they are looking at something special.

Mostly what teachers want is information, images, original sources etc. but collated, gathered together according to specific learning outcomes or KS 2, Victorians. They want it pulled together in a meaningful packages, annotated with key questions, linked to other resources, above all it must be customisable, in other words editable for their own purposes; refineable through iterative collective feedback. How should the cultural sector set about doing that? No immediate answers but some concerns. The current approach may create a surplus in certain areas and we must start from what users want.

 

Examples

Mike Lowndes: NHM Teacher’s Resource

Mike Lowndes: Exhibit (SIMILIE)

Dan Zambonini: Eduteller

 

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