Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Break Project: Digital Learning Object

Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Aglais antiopa), in the woods near campus on Tuesday

This week, with many students and faculty away for spring break, I was hoping to have some uninterrupted time to work on various projects.

One was the creation of a digital learning object for a recurring library-related biology assignment.

I have been worrying about pouring a lot of energy into this and having to realize later that I wasted my time due to technical problems I should have anticipated. Also, the more I think about it, the more complicated it seems to migrate a physical lesson to a virtual platform, and the more sympathy I have for instructors trying to figure out how to teach online. For example:

-To put a lesson into an online learning environment, some technical skills are necessary. Luckily I'm a librarian, but there are plenty of academic disciplines where technical skills are not a requirement. (Topics in technology are treated as academic subjects and assigned to departments at most institutions of higher education, recall.) Plenty of people would not consider teaching a tech-heavy occupation.

-I catch myself constantly assessing whether the resulting product will be durable. A lecture in person, due to being ephemeral, is very easy to revise. In lectures, I am always incorporating new information, responding to feedback, and figuring out clearer ways of communicating. In building this digital learning object, I am planning on being able to make subsequent edits easily, but any editing will not be real-time. Considering all the support for interactivity in learning, this renders the learning object oddly top-down and 'old media'.

-On the other hand, I think focusing on interactivity and learning styles can allow a person to lose sight of the actual lesson to be taught and learned. Effective oration does exist, and it doesn't necessarily require gadgets. (Supporting this point, there was a fascinating Chronicle article a few months ago about how learning style matters less than effective presentation of content.) Newly available tools can also be effective and useful, but not if faculty members regard the accompanying technology with hostility.

I end up concluding that each discipline -- better yet, each lesson -- should be carefully evaluated in terms of whether or not it can be taught effectively online. Such an evaluation process would be complicated to carry out, but ultimately it would be in the best interest of the learners. As far as I know, it is not happening on a large scale at present.

So, maybe what I really need to do is create a set of standards or guidelines to determine whether this biology assignment can be taught online effectively.

Meanwhile, it's the end of spring break week, and my learning object for the biology department is not finished...

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