Will it help, really?
So I’ll try to make this as much question as opinion, but I do love to hear my own thoughts… There’s been this consistent drumbeat for more integration between LMS and OCW environments, the argument being that you can move a lot of the open publishing work upstream and have the content entered into the system as instructors are creating their content, rather than collecting it after the fact and publishing it in a different system. Makes sense, but I’m having some misgivings. The two areas that seem to hold the most promise for reduction of effort are content entry and metadata entry. Both are relatively labor-intensive, and a big part of most opencourseware publishing efforts, and both seem to have issues in this integrated model.
Content entry first: I’d challenge the notion that you’d end up with a lot more information in the system (at least in formats like HTML and XML) than with current approaches, because LMS’s are such lousy authoring environments. When I’ve used LMS’s, I’ve put the bare minimum actually into the HTML templates of the system, and attached the rest as documents. For the distance learning course that became tOFP, I hand-coded the content in HTML outside of the school’s BlackBoard system expressly because I couldn’t bear to manage it within the web interface of the LMS. Until someone creates an LMS that is truly an authoring environment–one that doesn’t use a web interface–I doubt you’ll find educators entering a whole lot of information into HTML templates.
And metadata: When I taught my first class, I got the assignment the Friday before the semester’s start the following Monday, and so had three days to develop the materials. When I created the distance learning course, I was writing the text and doing the coding as the course progressed. I typically worked from about ten PM ’till one or two in the morning three or four nights a week. I bring this up not because I think it’s extraordinary, but because I think it is completely ordinary. These are the circumstances under which educational materials get created. Metadata is just not something I think most educators will want to address at two in the morning. Unless they are looking for a way to fall asleep.
So here’s the question: There are undoubtedly some efficiencies to be had in more integrated systems, but is it really the holy grail? Are there tools right around the corner that will allow educators to create content in HTML and XML as seamlessly as in Word or PowerPoint? Can we automate metadata collection to the point where metadata is no longer an extra thing that never gets done? Or should we be looking for efficiencies under the assumption that educational materials will always emerge from heterogeneous technology environments?