Not quite a learning objects presentation...

(In which our hero walks through the valley of the shadow of doubt, and comes out smiling.)

Brian Lamb
Project Coordinator
Office of Learning Technology
University of British Columbia

Our impending ordeal:

1) A brief and ill-tempered history of learning objects
2) Traditional approaches and their discontents
3) Emergent alternatives - it's storytime!

Birth of a notion...

The euphoria: Wayne Hodgins is blamed for inventing the term "learning objects", and he also proposed a disturbingly prevalent metaphor:

"All LEGO blocks adhere to one absolute standard for pin size. Every LEGO piece, no matter what shape, color, size, age, or purpose can always be snapped together with any others piece because of their uniformly shaped pins. This allows children of all ages to create, deconstruct, and reconstruct LEGO structures easily and into most any form they can imagine.

"If we map this to the world of learning content, we start to see the opportunities that would result if we were able to have the same standards and capabilities to reuse and assemble or disassemble content drawn from any source at any time."

The product:

A brief digression concerning the term "learning objects"...

1) A contradiction in terms
2) Object-oriented misdirection
3) Loaded down with negative baggage
4) Utterly lacking communicative force and poetry
5) Fundamentally at odds with the art and reality of teaching

Centralized Strategies, or "the mainstream learning object movement"

* The "library", the "archive", the "catalogue" are transformed in the online medium to the "repository and metadata paradigm".

* Objective is to collect LOs in a shared central repository, catalogued by a widely adopted metadata standard.



* If properly executed, repositories are clearly the simplest environment for the novice searcher.

* Peer reviewed repositories promise quality control of resources.

* Media finds a safe, enduring, well-organized home.

* Repositories offer enhanced functionality: security, user-control, defined working groups, descriptive metadata, visual presentation.


* Virtually impossible to implement a system that meets everybody's needs.

* Workload: who does what? How do we ensure necessary quality requirements are met?

* No such thing as cheap metadata.

* Big -- can be better, can also be clumsier, more complex, more expensive.

* No guarantees on long-term stability.

3) Has the bold talk of the learning object prophets approached reality? Are we on the right path? Do we have an appropriate objective? Do I have a right to exist?

(And how is the community responding?)

Euphoria was fleeting...

A serious commitment to LOs seems to demand radical change across the institution: new ways of approaching curriculum and instructional design; an understanding of the myriad complications attached to "sharing"; and a fundamental reworking of the relationships between pedagogues, subject matter, and students.

(Is it worth all the hassle?)

Initial planning concentrated almost exclusively on technical matters, and there has been progress and convergence on technical and metadata standards. Other considerations were an afterthought, and their neglect has contributed to the disappointing levels of participation that most LO projects have encountered.

UBC's Process

* Reuse of digital resources emerged as a pressing issue among diverse constituencies.

* "Learning Objects" served as conceptual axis that pulled together common interests.

* Collaborative funding application process forced closer cooperation.

Distance Education & Technology Workshop on Reusable Media

University of British Columbia
May 15th, 2003

The participants: faculty, instructional designers, media developers, program administrators

The objective: "Identify the key issues surrounding learning object use and management... assess UBC's LO strategy"

The vibe: constructive skepticism

Participants' contribution: formed working groups on how reusable media strategies might incorporate concerns about pedagogy and academic culture.

* Environmental scan of institutional context.

* Assessment of strengths and weaknesses.

* Recommendations.

Assessment of teaching at UBC

* "Nobody has time."

* "Biggest teaching issue is lack of time to commit to teaching."

* "Some faculty are teaching interested in teaching but others are not interested -- majority have never learned how to plan a course or how to teach."

* Massive commitment to online learning: (28,000 enrolled in at least one WebCT course, 101,000 virtual seats filled).

Positives for LO adoption

* Work required draws on existing community and expertise.

* Dialogue around digital resources brings teaching to the table, increases the profile of teaching among faculty.

* Opportunity to create and foster communities of practice

* Widens the teaching community beyond just instructors.


* Time.

* Unclear present, uncertain future.

* Changes may be more profound than widely understood.

* Much confusion around intellectual property: ie what's permitted.


* Don't allow the technology to dictate practice.

* Embed instructional strategies within LOs.

* Move work forward built on instructional theory that is working (eg how could reusable media enhance the PBL approach?).

* Avoid "contentitis" like the plague.

* Stress that pedagogy is more than deploying resources.

* Create process templates and tools as well as content learning objects.

* Create structures for interaction (eg FLE3).

Implications for Academic Culture

* Much confusion and rancour over intellectual property: ie who owns what? what rights will the university assert?

* Misconceptions around monetary value of online content.

* Moving from "intra-institutional to multi-institutional" sharing.

* Fear of giving away "holy grail"... might someone else use it for a competitive program?

* Is the transaction of sharing two-way?

* "Faculty is most interested in 'property protection' -- motive is usually less finances than the assurance of attribution and recognition."

* Does work have the same value without personal investment?

* Team course development:

* Technology creates interdependence (Library/IS units/IT services/DE&T), which forces thinking about broader questions issues. A lot of innovation not shared amongst partners (competitive funding, different cultures and expertise).

* "The reality is that we don't have an egalitarian team structure." (Faculty reigns supreme.)

* Who owns the product: the team, or content expert?

* Culture of faculty not interested in instructional design team, building objects.

* Do Faculty get rewarded for their teaching?

* Gap between institutional vision statements & tenure process & reward.

* F2F efforts more likely to be rewarded.

Decentralized strategies, or "the emergent networked approach"

Loosely- (or self-) organized online communities apply personal publishing and communication tools and protocols (weblogs, RSS, TrackBack) to share resources and expertise in an unstructured, often chaotic, yet surprisingly effective manner.

How might it work?

A scenario of two teachers...

"Explaining RSS is like explaining sex. You just don't get it until you do it." -- George Siemens, elearnspace

With gratitude to my virtual collaborators, Alan Levine and D'Arcy Norman.)

Meet Lora, Geology faculty

Her favorite place to teach is in the field...

But she believes in the power of multimedia to teach difficult concepts

Lora starts to find learning objects by searching CAREO

* CAREO repository

Nigel & Linda, tech-savvy students, help locate educational technology sites with RSS feeds

RSS? Simplest of Meta-Data

* What is RSS?

* RSS for non-techie librarians

A desktop RSS aggregator brings many sources to Lora

* RSS Readers

Nigel helps Lora create a weblog for learning objects in Geology

* What's in a weblog?

* Lora's weblog - geology objects

A great oracle shines the light on RSS and learning objects

* Stephen Downes, "RSS for Educators"

Linda helps Lora add RSS feeds from LO sites to weblog

* RSS Feeds from LO Repositories - Known Examples

Armed with RSS, Lora adds feeds to her WebCT course material

* How to get a news feed into your WebCT course

Meanwhile, just across campus, another faculty member is interested in using learning objects...

Meet Boris, Humanities Professor...

On the Humanities-L listserv, Boris reads about learning objects...

Tina, his technologist, helps him understand RSS and Learning Objects

At his desktop, Boris gets RSS feeds from collections with content in the humanities

Boris creates a weblog on learning objects in the humanities

* Boris' weblog - Object Human

Lora needs a tool for explaining correlation in sedimentology lab, discovers a useful correlation tool in the MLX

* Maricopa Learning eXchange (MLX)

Lora downloads the object and uses it in her own lesson

Lora's blog describes context for her use of this object, sends Trackback to MLX

* A beginners guide to TrackBack

* TrackBack: Where Blogs Learn Their Places

Boris ponders how he can help students understand correlation coefficient in research journals

Boris discovers the same MLX object that Lora has found

Object is used in new context

With blog tools he writes about the found object (MT pings the MLX)

* About the MLX TrackBack

The object can TrackBack to different contexts

* MLX TrackBack demo

(The events and characters depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. No faculty members were harmed in the production of this presentation.)


* Simple, cheap (often free) tools for users, rapidly gaining popularity... part of a broader trend of 'mass amateurization', allowing individuals to perform tasks once reserved for specialists

* Programming built on simple, versatile protocols

* Can foster profound level of social engagement, resource discovery built on foundation of collaborative filtering

* Individuals and groups preserve unique presence, contribute to diverse communities

* Can be the source of some big-time online fun


* Not really easier for a technophobe to manage the tools

* Rapid information flow favours info-junkies... not for all temperaments

* RSS, like many distributed models, can tend toward anarchy... current outputs are imprecise, lack permanence

* Effective "aggregation", caching and management strategies only beginning to develop

* RSS not a stable protocol - multiple standards, unclear etiquette

* Are weblogs this year's online equivalent of the pet rock?

Is there really a conflict here?

Thorough metatagging, secure storage, and controlled access makes sense with expensive multimedia, rigorously designed resources, and when privacy is a concern.

Weblogs work beautifully with less tangibly valuable content, such as raw assets, lesson plans, instruction strategies and templates. The value of sharing these materials tends to be in the subsequent interaction.

The spheres are converging: CAREO, MLX, MERLOT now each support RSS feeds. Efforts to elaborate specs of weblog/RSS outputs to more effectively align with metadata standards are ongoing.

Weblogs of interest...

* Librarian Avengers
* Ongoing
* Library Stuff
* Extra net
* The Shifted Librarian
* Rogue Librarian
* -=(In Between)=-
* Catalogablog
* Scholarly Electronic Publishing Weblog
* Open Access News
* Information Research Weblog * Overdue Media
ISSN's for weblogs?

my email:

my weblog: Object Learning

my presentation: