EC SIG meeting on open content

I gave a presentation at the recent Educational Content SIG meeting on open content, trying to expand on some ideas about the type content that I think would be most useful and how it might be developed.

John Casey set the background for me very well in discussing the JORUM by putting content in context in terms of Ramsden’s three requirements for higher education teaching. He identified these as content, student activities and reflective practitioners, with content as being very valuable, but only when used (like money or petrol). I think that conveys one of the messages I wanted to get across, that content matters (which was the title I gave my presentation). A similar way of looking at why content matters is David Wiley’s content as infrastructure and the discussion it generated last year.

Another point I wanted to get across was that good content is hard to create, and for reasons I tried to explain in an earlier post, we might not find much of it in institutional VLEs. I think it requires a shared effort to create good content, which I think sits well with the open content paradigm that was the theme of the day. By the way, I do think teachers mostly want resources that are of a higher quality than they themselves can produce, and they won’t make much use of repositories that don’t provide them with it.

I also tried (and I think probably failed) to illustrate that really useful content is subject specific. So, for example, there are some concepts in physical science that simulations help explain really well but I wouldn’t expect teachers of other subjects to understand why (and vice versa: physicists aren’t well place to understand why other subjects are taught the way they are). Perhaps I should have used something on astronomy instead, illustrating simulations are really good at supporting some activities in physical sciences at undergraduate level. I could then have shown some virtual astronomy exercises, for example CLEA or VLA. But while that is easier to understand, to me it is less compelling. Anyway, the point I wanted to make was really about Shulman’s “pedagogical content knowledge”, that knowledge that good teachers (those reflective practitioners John mentioned) have about what students find difficult to learn in their subject and how best to help overcome these difficulties.

Finally I hoped to get across my desire that computer-based content actually exploits the possibilities offered by computers rather than just be used as an efficient (is it?) means of delivering the same type of material that can exist on paper.

My conclusion was that I would like to see cross-institutional, discipline specific projects to develop content that teachers in the relevant disciplines agree to be worthwhile in terms of using computers to explain their subject. Just knowing what they agree is worthwhile would be useful, but not as useful to them and their students as providing it. I can imagine these projects being something like an editorial board looking for existing content that can be disseminated either as-is or after a bit of polishing to bring it up to scratch, but I think the projects should also be identifying gaps in provision and commissioning content to fill those gaps. This would of course require funding, and there hasn’t been much funding of new content for elearning recently.

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