Teachers are often critical of commercial resources available to them. Be they “old fashioned” textbooks, “new fangled” software packages or, even newer, resource packs for VLEs. This is sometimes because resources, such as books, are written to work generally with a large group of people but may not tailor to exactly what a teacher wants or to what a class needs. A good resource can provide a lesson structure as well as content for both teachers and students to follow. Even with a good resource I find myself dipping in and out of it as suits me and as suits my students. I’m sure in common with all teachers I may use a textbook for some of the lesson but complement it with other resources such as websites, explanations, or other activities that I create or use. I think for ICT based resources, online or otherwise, we have higher expectations. With a textbook I would not expect students to just read through it and follow text, explanations and exercises. With an ICT based resource there is an expectation that content, especially engaging interactive content, will let students learn independently with less direction and less picking and choosing from the teacher. Maybe it’s these high expectations or maybe it’s the often high prices that often lead commercial education packages to disappoint.

With this thought in mind I wondered if I could do better myself? A module on my MA in ICT in education (now complete) gave me the opportunity to develop a web based learning environment. While most people built a website I wanted to see how well I would do at building a self contained learning resource on a topic. Additionally I set myself the challenge of developing a scorm compliant resource. In layman’s terms scorm is a standard for packaging up learning materials (files, quizzes, information etc) into one package (or zipped up file) that can then be loaded up and used in any system or VLE that reads scorm packages (eg moodle). I hope that explanation makes sense, if you want more details you’ll have to ask someone more knowledgeable!

If you want to read my full report on how this development went I’m attaching my full assigment here (all 6000 words of it) below. Be aware this report was written in June 2008. To summarise…

I chose the tricky to teach and I think slightly dry topic of database normalisation for my resource.

I used an online authoring package called myudutu to develop the resource. This was found via Jane’s E-learning Pick of the Day. Although the interface was sometimes a little cumbersome it did have some great features such as build in quiz type activities and a powerpoint importer.

Creating the resource took many hours, many more than I would spend preparing a normal set of lessons on the topic. The end result was far from perfect and far from what I wanted. I wasn’t happy with the navigation, the design of materials, the narration I provided. I am unable to share my materials as I haven’t got copyright for all the content I included.

And my conclusion taken from my document was as follows…

Having seen a number of commercial offerings for content for VLEs I was always left unimpressed. Most were expensive, uninspiring and did not comprehensively cover the topics I needed. Part of the challenge I wanted to take on was to see if I could do better. Though I created a resource that did a good job for me and my class I’m afraid I didn’t do better. The overall quality of my resource was not on par with commercial offerings in terms of layout and design. My content was good but every teacher likes to use resources in a different way and they may not meet the requirements of many teachers. The time taken to create the resources was also prohibitive. I did not tally the exact time spent creating the WBLE but I estimate I spent 6 to 8 hours creating a resource that is far from perfect and that would occupy a student for a maximum of 2 hours. For a software house this may be a good return on investment but for a teacher it is a prohibitive amount of time. One of the problems with getting teachers to use online learning environments is the time it takes them to prepare online resources (Dabbagh, 2002). This project has left me a little downhearted that this is a problem that will be very difficult to overcome for teachers who want to create comprehensive and professional materials. On the other hand, a few years ago I felt I could not create a professional quality website. Now there are online tools that I have mastered that have changed this. I hope in the near future that rich learning creators will be available that produce professional and immersive resources with minimal effort. Until then I shall be leaving any similar projects of this kind to the professionals and concentrating on making use of simpler tools WBLEs have to offer.

Do you have or know of any great content or easy to use content creators? Share it in the comments section, commercial suggestions/adverts are welcome as long as you make it clear who you are and are happy for others to disagree with you or confident they won’t!

Downloads (PDF 333kb)

Designing_a_web_based_learning_environment

For the last two years I’ve been studying for an MA in ICT in Education at Leeds University. The last piece of the puzzle my MA Critical Study (a 15,000 word research project) went in the post last week and the process has come to an end. Looking back the whole MA was proof of the power of online collaboration, from start to finish.

To start the story at the beginning; in 2006 I was looking for an e-learning related MA. I was a regular reader and poster of the forums at the Times Educational Supplement. Another contributor recommended the MA at Leeds that she was taking and one thing led to another. I’ve since recommended another person the same way!

My entire MA was via online distance learning using the First Class learning environment. There were both online and face to face students. Lecture notes and podcasts were posted online. We had a forum to discuss set reading or tasks and we met once a week online for a live discussion on a topic set by our tutor; often and article or an assignment. At the end of each module we wrote a 6000 word assignment to prove that we had learnt something. (Though that sounds a little cynical the assignments really helped me revise much of what I had learned).

One of the problems of being an online learner can be a lack of community. This was certainly hard. Often our discussion forums were quiet and pleas for help in the class discussion forums drew few responses. This is where my other communities came into use especially when it came to my critical study. Being a science (computer science) graduate I had no prior experience of carrying out a research project for my bachelors degree. Back then I wrote a piece of software and wrote about the process and how it worked. For my MA study I wanted to research how my students used VLEs. The whole process was new to me. My first port of call online was a message sent to the Mirandanet discussion list asking for details of any academic research on VLEs in schools. The response was small but gave me some excellent leads. A similar question to my twitter network brought back some other leads and as I delved further and found other links I shared them back to my twitter followers some of whom found the links equally useful.

My next problem was creating a research questionnaire. I put my draft out to twitter as well as to some friends (via e-mail). Two individuals on twitter gave me some superb feedback (David Nobel and Theo Kuchell) on how to improve my quesitonnaire. Help with analysing the data came via e-mail from two other people that I had never met before, one the research methods tutor at Leeds University and the other a friend of a friend in Manchester. When it was all done it was time for the dreaded proof reading. Again twitter proved very fruitful with great comments and extra commas from Lisa Stephens, Mary Cooch, Ian Usher and Dale Jones.

My acknowledgements page was large and proof of the power of online communities. Of the 12 people I mentioned by name I had only met 4 in person.

Now the MA is done I’ll have more time to spend on rebuilding our school VLE from scratch and I’ll keep you updated right here!