“Preparation is everything”

I came across this article/post more or less at random the other week. I don’t know anything about the author, Kevin Boone, but the sections on “teaching” and “preperation is everything”, while nothing new, got me thinking. They relate something I think is important when we consider what learning materials are worth sharing and/or preserving, that is the quality of resources available to learners and the role of repositories in improving this.

The jist of Kevin’s argument is that in the private IT training sector he works in a team which spends approx. 60 hours preparing each hour of teaching; he contrasts this to his experience when working in a University:

Universities don’t work like this. Usually a single lecturer will prepare and deliver each course. There is little teamwork or interchange of content between lecturers, and almost none between institutions. Each lecturer ‘owns’ his course materials, and guards them jealously. This means that the university simply can’t afford to pay the cost of developing first-class teaching materials.

I’m pleased he wrote that last sentence so that I don’t have to. The TrustDR project alluded to similar issues:

The primary change that we have identified and targeted in our work is the move from the current pedagogic and organisational model that is dominated by individuals, teaching in relative isolation from each other, towards a team-teaching model. This change to the way teaching is conducted is required both to make the best use of technology and to manage IPR in e-learning in our tertiary institutions.
(TrustDR Development Pack, p.13)

Contrast this with some VLEs: I was recently told of one in which the only way for a lecturer to see what resources her colleagues are using is for her to enroll as student on her colleagues’ courses.

So if, when asking what resources lecturers have that are worth sharing or preserving, we are told that there isn’t very much, then perhaps this is because much of what they use isn’t very good. If we simply try to gather learning material from VLEs and put it into repositories or link to it for sharing, perhaps we oughtn’t be surprised if much of what we find isn’t very useful to other people.

One response to this is the assertion that the content isn’t where the value is: the value is in how it the content is used, in the activities student undertake and their interactions with other students and their teachers. I agree with the basis of this statement, but I don’t think that it justifies using poor quality resources: wouldn’t the learning experience be better if supported by good quality resources? Rather than trying to justify how we can get by with second rate resources wouldn’t it be better to try to find ways to identify what is good, get it used by more people and create more of it? Identifying the good would suggest a greater role for quality assurance in repositories of learning materials than I have seen up to now. I would suggest that shared development for shared use, spreading the cost, the effort and the benefit of developing high quality learning materials, is a better approach to creating new materials than trying to trawl the mass of material created by individuals for their own use in the hope of dredging up some gem of more general value. It would also be good to know more about the provenance of a resource when you find it: has it been developed by an individual for their own use? or by a team for a common purpose? has it been quality assured? if so by whom and against what criteria? To me all this would suggest a more managed approach to sharing than simply making a resource available on a website: I don’t think it is hard to imagine repositories having a role in this managed approach to sharing.