You can call me Al
A colleague asked me recently why I didn’t describe tOFP as an “opencourseware,” which is a good question. I certainly think of (at least) the courseware site as being an opencourseware. This blog and the wiki aren’t opencoursewares as I think of them, but the coursework is material that was created for a specific instance of instruction that is now being shared openly on the web. (Complete disclosure: I obviously did a little scrubbing and reformatting to generalize the materials somewhat, in part because I was putting the materials up independent of Emerson, where the course had been taught, so I removed the course number and other related information.)
This, though, points to one of the distinctions I make in my mind between opencourseware content and learning objects. I tend to think of opencourseware content as being learning artifacts rather than the traditional idea of learning objects. Some in the opencourseware community believe this makes the content sound out-of-date, but I do think it points to one of the key reasons opencoursewares will be scalable. Opencourseware materials represent the digital tools created for a learning experience, but don’t explicitly attempt to recreate that learning experience online. They are the digital tracks of the machine, rather than the machine itself.
Of course, the idea is that a substantially complete set of opencourseware materials will provide educators and learners a set of blueprints with which to build their own very similar machine, suited to their particular needs and environment. But the machine itself isn’t built to operate under a wide range of conditions. As I’ve argued before, going the extra mile to create the generalized machine exacts a heavy toll on scalability and sustainability. It’s a heck of a lot easier and cheaper to publish materials as the artifacts they were when originally created than to generalize everything into learning objects, and I’ve yet to see a compelling case for the increased usefulness of the extra effort.
Anyway, back to the “What’s in a name?” question. I was really jazzed to come across the K12EdCom site, which describes itself as an “Educational Commons for OpenCourseWare” serving K-12 educators and students. It’s fantastic to see a formal open sharing project addressing to K-12 education (realizing that there has long been an informal amount of sharing at this level), and it’s fantastic to see the term “OpenCourseWare” moving out into the educational community as a recognized term.
I do worry somewhat, though, about the dilution of the idea of opencourseware as interpreted by increasingly diverse projects. I see much of the power of the opencourseware model as related to the organization as courses, and to the wide curricular coverage afforded by publishing “artifacts” rather than “objects.” K12EdCom seems to lean a little toward the object end of the spectrum, and it includes mixed sets of content, not all of which is organized as courses. All of this content is great, especially in that it is being openly shared. As opencourseware matures as a component of the larger open educational resources movement, though, I think there is value for educators and learners using the sites in having a clear and consistent approach. To be clear, I’m feeling that the community ought to be discussing best practices, not that there’s anything wrong with K12EdCom using the term. Plus they have really interesting stuff.