Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Making Fun of Learning Objects

The good folks at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management (ISKME) just launched what looks to be a powerful teaching and learning network called Open Education Resources (OER) Commons. OER Commons brings social-networking features and open-source technology to educational content. In essence, it combines an open-source style learning object repository with a MySpace-like sharing, rating, and collaborating infrastructure—in other words, small chunks of curricular resources combined with collaboration tools for faculty sharing those chunks. Membership is free, and the potential is huge.

What’s happening here is the free exchange of learning resources, coupled with the ability of faculty nationally and internationally to collaborate, share, and dialogue. Ideas and insights about what’s working, what’s not, and how to best make use of resources are right at your fingertips. Amazon- and YouTube-like rating systems guide you through highest-rated, most-viewed, and new content in a myriad of disciplines. If you buy the premise of Daniel Goldman’s book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, you can see the genius behind OER Commons. It’s a vibrant social network that allows faculty to collectively make meaning, interact, and engage with learning content. It’s not just an electronic file cabinet of modular learning materials, as many learning object repositories become.

OER Commons holds the real potential of making the search for and construction of curriculum and delivery strategies more social and maybe even fun—imagine that! Add to this the idea of bringing interactive gaming technology into this mix, as folks like Chris DeDe from Harvard’s College of Education advocate, and you really ratchet things up. Extending the idea we discussed earlier about gaming in student orientation, imagine teachers choosing from interactive game modules (learning objects) that dynamically teach math concepts, engage students in comparing and contrasting philosophies, or take them deep into historical contexts as participants. It’s a future where teaching and learning becomes literally playful for teacher and learner.

But therein may be a problem. There are some for whom the idea of making learning math, philosophy, history--any "serious" subject for that matter--fun completely misses the mark. To them, learning should be hard, full of unremitting work that leads to painful realization. Play has no part in this mix. Even though the medical industry, the military, and many more have all found the broad value of creating more social and game-centric learning experiences, in their minds we just can’t let that kind of thinking sour thousands of years of educational practice! They are essentially saying, "I had to give blood, sweat, and tears to learn this stuff, and so should you!" These are the same folks who are still getting over the fact that search engines can instantly give you research results, when they had to spend hours in the library searching through the stacks to find the same information.

However, I don’t think this sentiment is shared by most teachers. From work studying thousands of teaching excellence award winners, it’s clear that the best of teachers want to make learning about their disciplines fun, engaging, and even inspiring. Moreover, they want to have fun in the process as well.

So to best meet the learning needs of our communities and our students, let’s make use of tools like OER Commons and strategies from gaming as we engage our neomillennial learners. Let’s be known for making fun of learning objects!

1 comment:

D. Ryan Carstens said...

I believe the online commons for learning objects is just the next significant step in the ongoing transformation of higher education.

I don't know how it will evolve in terms of the infrastructure and economics, but I think colleges will some day be an online broker of faculty just as faculty and colleges are brokers for online learning objects. Colleges will still provide local learning opportunities "on the ground," but their online presence will be a critical component for maintaining quality in their programs through the rating system for faculty and content. The online rating system will also support colleges in maintaining a quality image, thus helping them to keep their local "market share" of enrollments.

Faculty who are free agents will broker themselves to colleges and directly to students. Colleges will broker their "captive" faculty employees just like the OER learning commons brokers learning objects.

A student can potentially purchase faculty facilitators and learning objects, assemble their own course of study, and submit the completed portfolio to an accredited college for verification and awarding of diplomas.

Traditional degree attainment will still exist, although the student's study experience may include more experiences with brokered faculty. Colleges will assemble their "own" local students' portfolios of prior learning (from local and borkered sources of learning objects and faculty), and will certify the aggregate learning porfolio as equivalent to the local curriculum offerings that meet degree requirements.

I am not sure how local faculty at all institutions will be empowered to place themselves onto such an online faculty commons, but it will be in the interest of themselves and their sponsoring institutions to do so. As faculty and learning objects are listed according to rating systems, their positive work will increase their credibility (and the credibility of sponsoring institutions) in the open market for students.

All of these possibilities have profound implications for the accreditation concept and process. How will we credential colleges, faculty, and students?

These trends, like the emerging gaming phenomenon in education, will also force our higher education community to rethink how we define, measure, and evaluate learning and educational achievement.