Workgroup:Learning design/Reusability paradox and iDevices
The reusability challenge
Educationally speaking, reuse means placing an OER into a different learning context from that for which it was originally designed and developed. Meaningful learning is closely related to the learner's context. For instance, an OER Physics lesson dealing with Newton's second law of motion based on an activity using the example of a London bus will have little meaning or context for learners in rural Uganda who have never seen a London bus. While this OER example may be pedagogically effective for children in the United Kingdom, it has significantly less reuse potential for children in Africa. Consequently, there is an inverse relationship between pedagogical effectiveness of OERs and their potential for reuse -- hence the reusability paradox (Wiley 2004: online)
Effective OER reuse of necessity requires recontextualisation of the resource. The example of the Physics lesson above is used to illustrate that educational elements embedded within OER can restrict reuse, but this example is understandably an oversimplification of the pedagogical challenges associated with remixing. It is therefore imperative that we empower educators as “intelligent agents” within self-organising systems to recontextualise OER by:
- building capacity and skills to remix OER in conjunction with
- the development of technologies which make it easier to do this.
The value proposition for OER reuse is based on a cost-benefit decision by the educator:
The cost of recontextualisation, that is, the time required to re-purpose an OER for a different educational context, should conceptually be less than the perceived benefits of developing a new OER from scratch. Improving reusability is simultaneously a technical and a pedagogical challenge:
- Technically: OER should ideally be developed and stored in editable formats using open standards and open file formats thus enabling educators to easily adapt and modify materials with the tools of their choice. Both Connexions and WikiEducator develop and store OER in formats which are easily editable by users hence these respective platforms are ideally positioned to reduce the reusability paradox. Moreover, the Mediawiki software engine has an collection extension which enables users to produce customised pdf versions and the option to download these customisations in open document format for off line editing.
- Pedagogically: The ability to identify the educational elements embedded in the content as discrete components within OER would increase the value proposition for reuse. This would enable educators to save time in recontextualising the pedagogy for different learning situations. For example, exporting the content of the OER Physics lesson on Newton's second law of motion (above) with the option of excluding context specific activities. This would contribute to the reducing the cost of recontextualisation in terms of the time required to re-purpose and OER.
The concept of iDevices and reusability
With reference to the OER sustainability challenge, Atkins, Brown and Hammond (2007:25) recommend the adoption of "a voluntary (or mix of voluntary and paid) wiki-like model, in which OER is the object of micro-contributions from many". Educational elements like: learning outcomes, pre-knowledge reflections, case studies, interactive questions with feedback, supporting resources and other learning activities constitute the micro-elements of OER learning materials. The learning design approach of breaking down educational materials into its constituent pedagogical elements is well researched within the distance education literature.
This approach is being used by a growing number of OER projects. Consider, for example:
- the design template used for authoring OER materials in the Teacher Education for Sub-Saharan Africa project;
- the instructional design template developed by the Commonwealth of Learning which incorporates distance education, instructional design elements and techniques into the learning texts;
- the deployment of similar techniques called instructional devices (iDevices)by the eLearning XHTML Editor (eXe) – a popular open source software authoring tool designed for use by teachers; and
- WikiEducator's deployment of the equivalent approach in a wiki environment called pedagogical templates.
Without discounting the complexity associated with questions of pedagogical design, diverse cultural learning contexts, psychological “ownership” of externally generated teaching materials, personal teaching styles etc, it is a plausible contention that making it easier to edit and re-purpose sub-elements of OER learning materials with greater flexibility to manage and manipulate output formats will contribute to a reduction in the “transaction cost” associated with reconfiguring an OER resource for different contexts.
The following use case illustrates salient features of an OER remix scenario.
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