OER is a social problem, not a technical one. Oops. That’s what I said at the recent CETIS conference when I made a bit of a plea for accessibility-friendly approaches to the adoption of the Learning Registry. Ok, so its an oversimplification but the gains to OER need the busy non-techie to be able to engage with the technology to share and trade better content. When Google does what appears to be enough, why struggle with repository interfaces that still return mismatched results, with no better apparent risk about the IPR? It does not seem that there is any extra credit for utilising repositories effectively to find better content over ‘Googling’ – the student feedback scores would probably be the only external measurable difference and that may be small: the time spent mining these repositories and networks could be put into writing the courses better albeit with slightly weaker materials. How do busy programme managers know how well their academics tend to this craft anyway, unless they are teaching it to each other to find better content?
But what if all courses were written to the same logical schema, and we had tools to mine them? Tony Hirst has blogged on some of the work he has recently carried out with Open University courses which sensibly have XML at the base. He illustrates how different views or ‘secondary products’ can be generated if the course has an XML structure underneath.
If all the courses were structured similarly then searching and isolating all their components for new purposes would be a doddle (with the right tools). This would be an ideal way to collaborate and share the workload in specific disciplines across multiple institutions. Imagine being able to scan all the course materials for courses no longer current i.e. out of IPR and publically archived, that were produced to the same structure (schema), and browsing the images, graphics, videos across a discipline across institutions. So, work on this beyond the confines of my old alma-mater, the OU, must exist somewhere but all I could find initially was the XCRI projects to share course metadata.
It appears there are pedagogical mark-up standards available (LD, PCML, e-LML) but I am not familiar with them, or familiar with participants in the disciplines or communities I have worked in. I do not hear any discussion about the benefits of using them in OER circles – is it too complex?
Which comes first, the tools to simplify the markup for editing, or the demand from the community who need to discover/combine materials to encourage the standard to be created. However, it could come about if suitable plug-ins were available to simplify markup in an organisation collaborating with another in the same discipline. The mark-up would enable the routing of content independent of provider.
Lovers of MS-Word could use a common template for course metadata admin and one for the course itself (both have potential XML capable outputs) so the institution would soon generate an archive of its courses. This would be attractive to staff to take with them and very attractive to users with disabilities to obtain seperate views and routes of the materials. Each time the course gets refreshed the old one could be released into a public archive to attract the next influx of students.
If you know of an instutution undertaking this type of initiative, especially for accessibility advantages, please let me know. If you are already doing it and want some resources/tools to improve the accessibility of your materials then please comment or contact me.