Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Open' Content:  How Open are You?
A wide continuum exists for a web-based course such as a NMSU Online Teaching and Learning course, and an ‘open’ content course, such as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).  Yet, both models are changing the definition of a “course” for learners and instructors.  The online Educause article, Through the Open Door: Open Courses as Research, Learning, and Engagement, suggests that the open content model is “not a new way to pass on knowledge from the initiated to the acolyte”.  Instead, the open model inverts the position of “content”: rather than being a prerequisite for a course, curriculum becomes an output of a course. 
What are the considerations of the course designer given the continuum between a content driven and content open course? The Educause article, reminds us that “open courses can leverage communications technologies and open the door to learners to fully engage with the academic process. Open courses offer a new possible future for those of us in higher education — a value choice that promotes collaboration, responsibility, and a commitment to seeing that we can accomplish our goals together.” Since learner engagement is a key goal to an instructor designing a course, what considerations in course design would move busy course designers to see the “value” in promoting collaboration to accomplish learning goals?
Essential Elements (2002), provides realistic clues as to considerations in designing a course given the reality of technology tools available, the readiness of the learners for online collaboration, and the time involved in designing a course that is engaging to learners.  One suggestion is to engage learners of different learning style by including multiple options for activities, such as video and audio.  Another suggestion, plan a learning cycle that is predictable throughout the course: intro, lesson, activity, discussion.  Provide clear directions and eliminate barriers to students by offering checklists and tips to assess readiness for online learning and general knowledge.  Planning a “Getting Started” topic up front will help to get everyone up to speed to work online.  During the “Getting Started” topic make sure that learners realize that while they are all different, the focus will be on how coming together to learn can improve dialogue.  Make online conversations a community expectation, a value perhaps new to learners.  
So where on the continuum between a content driven course and an open course do you see yourself as a course designer?  For me, I like to experiment with small steps but create a framework to add more later. For example, I can start with technical applications that will work for most students to view on desktops or mobile devises.  I just created a video tutorial for my course syllabus in addition to the text version.  I used YouTube to publish since the video will play on mobile devices.  Later, I can add content generation by students in activities scaled to learner ability. 
While the Quality Matters Rubric standards remind us to state prerequisite technical and general knowledge, we are aware that readiness levels will vary so moving to more of an open course will take time for learners and instructors new to online learning.  Face to face technology workshops or other readiness activities may be necessary in moving learners to work online.  The Educause article suggests that “Learners need some sense of what they are choosing to do, a sense of eventedness”.  The article reminds educators to be clear in their description of the challenges faced by learners in the online environment so that learners will understand what it is they need to invest to be successful.  I agree, and I would add that course designers also need to understand the value of investing in designing more of an open course model.  
Dave Cormier, D. & Siemens, G. (2010).  Through the Open Door: Open Courses as Research, Learning, and Engagement. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume45/ThroughtheOpenDoorOpenCoursesa/209320

What is a MOOC? (2010) retrieved from http://youtu.be/eW3gMGqcZQc

Elbaum, B., McIntyre, C. & Smith, A. (2002). Essential Elements: Prepare, Design, and Teach Your Online Course.  Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.

Quality Matters Rubric Standards 2008-2010 edition.  Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/6frvax2