Opinion – Where are the good open courses? #OER #OCW

2607

The most popular post recently has been the notification that with user submitted sites we’ve “identified” over 930 courses created in Moodle that are available for download.  They include content Spanish, German, Catalan and other languages, cover a host of subjects from primary to post-secondary school and are made available by a diverse mix of organizations and individuals and businesses.

Post Pages - Post Inline - WIRIS

One anonymous commenter asks and important question though:

where are the GOOD open courses?

If I’ve learned anything about Moodle, it’s that course quality is in the eye of the beholder.  Or rather to put it more accurately: quality learning outcomes are in the hands of the teacher.

I’m a firm believer that the availability of open course ware, already contextualized in Moodle will be a boon for the LMS.  A collection of open content, like a public library, becomes a destination for browsing, learning, and informal learning for teachers and students.  Except that the content can be revised, remixed and mashed up to create new learning objects.  Identifying these courses, regardless of quality, is the first important step in creating the easiest entry point for teachers on the fence about using Moodle.

Certainly the quality of all courses is not based solely on the quality of the content (as made available through a Moodle backup file).  Good courses are the aggregate of student experience, learning outcomes, facilitation, support, etc.

That being said, if the first step is identifying open courses, the second step will be to index and rate them in terms of quality.  What exists now is more of a rummage sale of open course ware.  What we need is a well organized library.

16 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great point and well worth debating. I’m going to make a very contentious comment next… so I’m prepared to hide under my desk immediately after I hit the “Submit Comment” button 🙂

    You’re not going to get resources that have had a lot of time and effort expended on them – i.e. high value (read “cost”) – unless someone is willing to pay for it.

    Two examples of this come to mind. It’s worth noting that the bulk (just over half) of the 1000 free resources listed on this site come from the UK’s Open University (“OU”) Open Learn project. If memory serves (and I’m willing for someone from the OU to correct me) those resources are converted from the OU’s “standard” distance learning materials and that was paid for by the Hewlett Foundation.

    Also in the UK we have access to the National Learning Network http://nln.ac.uk. These are what were commercially available resources made available (originally for the over 16s) to UK teachers but all paid for by the UK government’s Skills Funding Agency.

    In fact in the UK we are relatively well off for “GOOD open courses” to get us all started in Moodle. Obviously I am very keen to know if there are similar offerings elsewhere in the world.

    Am now going to hide under my desk 🙂

  2. Ian, an excellent point. In the US (and elsewhere since they are on the internet) the OCW content from MIT and others all is “good content” in my book, it’s just not in Moodle.

    I’m not sure the right questions in efforts to improve education (which is a much broader, grander issue) but my gut says that the availability of “good” content and the responsible use of technology are both part of that conversation.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. I am the anonymous poster who asked where the good courses are. Allow me to clarify.

    Many of the “courses” in the list seemed to be more like course outlines to me. Admittedly, some are worse than others.

    Maybe a better question is: of the 900-ish courses listed, which ones are the best, and why? Which courses best showcase what moodle (or any other digital) courses can do?

    I am particularly interested in courses that don’t rely on a “teacher” or “facilitator” for the instruction.

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    One problem you might face is that a lot of the good courses I’ve seen are good not because of the content and structure, but because of the student interactions which have happened within them. This has in the past made sharing different due to student privacy issues. I know this was one of the drivers that led Tomaz Lasic to set up the Water course on moodle.org and get volunteers to add content as students, to be able to show not just the tools, but the context and the content of a course.

    Your last comment makes a big difference too. You’re now talking about Moodle being used as an online system for self-directed learning without any instructor involvement at all – quite a different kettle of fish from what many Moodle courses are intended for.

    Best of luck,

    Mark.

  5. Hmm, your last comment really does put perspective on where you are coming from.

    From the commercial standpoint this is what usually ends up as prepackaged training in scorm objects. As Marks says, I think this is not what most Moodle courses that I have seen are for.

    Most courses i see fall into one of 4 categories.

    1. e-training (self directed train & self-certify)
    2. supporting face to face
    3. facilitated e-learning
    4. online – realtime collaboration

    The first type is simple quite rare as it is very specific, and limited in its audience. The type of course one MAY see this in, is in compliance, or inhouse training.

    The second type, is what you probably see in most schools, colleges, universities, where the course works within the context of the lectures, workshops, exams, etc that happen in the “real world”.

    The 3rd type is what i see with most online courses now, distance learning where the SME provides the valuable context, experience and knowledge to go with the information and helps guide the learner through the journey.

    The 4th type is really the 2nd type but where the face to face is replaced with web conferencing , or chat, or skype etc. Pure online but more synchronous.

    The 2nd,3rd, and 4th type being open, benefits the teacher who wants to teach that course. Making these open makes sense and this is where the teacher/trainer will not feel challenged that you taking away his business. the “extra” they provide is what makes the materials work that is their service.

    I think the first type being “open” is free training (free beer), not free courseware.

  6. @Gavin,

    SCORM is a weak standard, which is why it is typically only used for “training”, as you mentioned.

    In the case of the second type you mentioned, why can’t the lectures, workshops, and exams be in the course? What does the “real world” have to do with any of that? (ESPECIALLY the lectures)

    I don’t care about taking away the business of teachers who offer nothing more than lectures that could simply be posted online. I would like to hear about how they typically justify their “extra”, as you put it. We all know that in higher education, TAs grade their papers and help their students, so why not just pay them to record their lectures (if they are worth recording), and let them get some other research job?

    Note: I would still like to know which of these courses is the best, by any criteria.

  7. @Mark

    Your points are well taken, but I still think that courses should “stand on their own” more, even in instructor-led environments.

  8. In regards to the “stand on their own” piece…there’s a lot of money in that. There are a few efforts to create content like that (where students can either take them collaboratively sans facilitator or individually just learning along the same path prior learners took), p2pu.org is one example I can think of. But additionally, book publishers and others are taking steps to create self-directed courses. At the lowest level, it’s the Video Professor (he’ll teach you ebay!); but at the highest level I think there are more than a few college courses that can be distilled to be offered as self/student directed learning.

    The content needs to be robust though (incredibly so) in order to engage students fully. And that’s not to even mention how you assess learning in the fashion. The best going this route are still opting for MC exams (minimum), live proctored examinations and human-graded writing assignments (which cost $).

    Check out McGraw Hill and Pearson they’ve both got a lot of these cartridges available for fees, but I think that’s more the level that you’re looking for. It’d be a great model to look at though on how exactly to structure one of these courses (and would lend a lot to the larger discussion of “what makes a good course”).

    I am really enjoying this discussion…makes posting here all the more worthwhile. Cheers!

  9. @Joseph

    P2PU.org seems interesting at first glance, but when I looked at what I thought would be an interesting course (Music Theory), I found that none of the videos are available, which seems to have been the entire course.

    Do you have any favorite college courses that you believe would support self-directed learning well?

    I agree about the robust requirement. I also agree that assessment can be problematic. However, I find it very fascinating that “typical” courses (even those with proctored finals) regularly use MC exams to avoid requiring too much time from the teacher anyway. Why have a teacher if they can’t spend time with you one-on-one anyway?

    I have seen the cartridges from McGraw-Hill and Pearson, and I think they are very sub-par. They develop their courses with the idea in mind that a teacher will actually be doing all of the value-add and differentiation from other offerings.

  10. So, it seems that readers here believe that Moodle courses are really just places for teachers to park their syllabus?

    Is anyone willing to say which of these courses they believe is actually instructional, unique, interesting, and worthwhile? Most of what I see are short mini-courses on topics of limited interest.

  11. I don’t believe readers of Moodlenews believe that Moodle is good place to park a syllabus. While short courses of limited interest might appear useless, that same content might provide inspiration or a foundation for an interactive/engaging course within a broader course.

    There are great examples of online courses being conducted/demonstrated (Water, by Tomaz Lasic comes to mind) where the content might be considered “of limited interest”. But as many participants saw, as Tomaz conducted “Water” he showcased proper use of Moodle tools; those activities are what made the course “instructional, unique, interesting and worthwhile”.

  12. It looks like Tomaz did a fine job of showing what activities are available in a standard Moodle, but if a Moodle course about how to use Moodle represents the best of what is available in the “free” collection, I think you just proved my point.

    I’m still wondering where the actual courses are. Not 5 links on a topic of interest. Not a tutorial of how to use a discussion forum.

  13. The example I used was a course that I had actually taken, I saw the course in context of active users. It’s hard to judge any set of course materials without seeing it “in action” (as in the opportunity Tomaz provided).

    I’m not sure what you’re looking for. What’s listed is a collection of course materials (some basic, some more advanced) that have been integrated into Moodle shells/courses. At best their a foundation for teachers to take and use for ideas.

    Aren’t ALL Moodle courses just basic collections of materials when that’s all you can see? The very best examples of Moodle courses are those that can be seen with the student information/activities/interactions included (something most, if not all, schools will never provide freely).

  14. From what I have seen, the lesson module is the most under-used and under-appreciated of all modules.

    Collecting materials is great, but organizing them into conceptual pieces and building each one on the ones before and asking questions (and giving specific feedback for each answer – right or wrong) and providing practice or simulations would actually be worthy electronic instruction.

    If you aren’t going to provide any guided practice or assessments with feedback, then just buy books (paper or electronic) and learn to use Wikipedia.

  15. Wow, looks like this one is catching fire.

    Thanks Joe for posting and to the people contributing to this conversation.

    I have just posted a comment on Mark Drechsler’s blog (see link right above my comment) on this topic and thought I’d cheat by copy/pasting bits from it…

    How to spot a good Moodle course?

    Ah,the word ‘good’ …

    Teaching and using technology are two incredibly protean (‘can be used in many ways’) tasks and finding ‘the magic pudding’ is highly contextual. As Mark (and many others!) rightly say – it depends on what the teacher is trying to achieve (I’d like to think that it’s not only teacher’s goals we are looking at either but those of other members of the course, more on that teacher-centredness some other time perhaps).

    For my 2c, every time I look at a number of Moodle courses from around the place I try to imagine the story behind it, what happened (is happening), find the heart and soul of the course.

    Sometimes, the perfect adequacy of having a couple of files at people’s fingertips is enough for an expert teacher using some other tool or process (in other words ‘technology’ because both of these are technology) to teach beautifully but is of course unseen by an outsider. Heart and soul unseen.

    Sometimes, a messy looking course obscures, distracts, even prevents us from seeing or that heart and soul again or mistaking style for substance (from personal experience, I’ve had some shockers in the past but we all knew where to go, what to do, how and why beautifully…).

    Sometimes, the content is so deep or simply obscure to a non-member, making it hard to see the beauty and perhaps the perfect adequacy of a course for people participating in it. Ever tried to scan a course on advanced crystallography or postructuralist semiotics? Huh, could be a beauty but you would not have a clue (apologies if I am presuming here 😉 …) Heart and soul not understood.

    Sometimes, …

    Joe’s remark that the quality of these could be somehow indexed is an interesting, almost seductive but a tenuous proposition. Community Hubs (Moodle 2.0) will have the ratings and comments enabled indeed so the most popular courses may emerge, with community participation, of course.

    It will no doubt help sorting the chaff from the wheat … but of course, if chaff is what I am looking for. I digress to rehash the point about the contextual importance and use of a course (something Mark does nicely in the slides, do check his post!)

    These are kinda the reasons why I have been trying to drum up moodlers from around the world to design a course or two in the field they are familiar, comfortable with, in a demo format for our Moodle Demo School. Qualities of such a ‘demo format’ course :

    – variety of tools used (a healthy mix, not forum x 7, assignment x 5 and that’s it)
    – not long, overly complex, overly customised (basically, “not showing off”)
    – simple content, understood (preferrably) cross-culturally as much as possible,
    – contextual explanation of each activity (an ‘over the shoulder’ chat with a viewer why this and what to look for in a particular activity)
    – filled with sample data (people should be able to ‘see themselves’, their class, their colleagues using it)

    ‘Water’ was our first such dip (pun alert!) in such ‘demo courses’, learnt a lot from it.

    The aim of such demo courses is lofty but singular: Make it easier for educators to make the cognitive leap from seeing Moodle as a piece of software to a piece of meta-thinking about teaching and learning.

    Now that School Demo, my beloved bashing pinata on Moodle 2.0 testing at HQ, is nearing completion of Stage 1 (sitewide stuff), we’ll be cranking up the push for Stage 2 – great demo courses.

    And what am I going to say to people when they ask me ‘what does a good Moodle course look like’? (should have written this right at start and spare the ranty parts, huh 😀 )

    It has at least one, best if all these three key things:
    – great use of technology (range of Moodle tools, not just file upload and a forum …)
    – great pedagogy (evidence of scaffolding, progress, feedback, participation, engagement … and yes, you may need student data for that, often impossible)
    – great content (quality, not quantity – resources used are timely, credible, engaging, relevant …)

    Not all these may be obvious, you may only get one of them or some odd combo. But if they are there, learn and borrow from them to invest YOUR Moodle course with heart and soul that only you (say, the educator) and those working with you (students, colleagues, parents, administrators…) can in the place(s) you learn form and with each other.

    Thanks Joseph for raising an important question but to which there is no one clear, definitive answer that would please all. And that’s OK … with me at least.

    @Anonymous You make some very salient points! This is why I would love to move away from demo courses that show how Moodle works to demo courses that show how people work with Moodle.

    @IanWild Hello old friend, good point too. I’m going to throw in a free Moodle mug for you for a great demo course in maths 😉

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.