Australian Information and Essay Site

Australian Information and Essay Site

This Australian website is an interesting twist on the concept of plagiarism … this is, among other things, an essay database for “research and learning” rather than for buying and submitting. Note also that it is accessible via SMS rather than via credit card over the web – therefore targetting schoolkids via their preferred mode of communication.

Although it is clearly not the sort of site that I would be comfortable recommending to students, I am struggling to articulate in what respect this site *isn’t* a great resource based on ideas of sharing resources, learning from each other, seeing a range of approaches to a topic. Probably the closest I get is to say that the process of doing research is more critical in building knowledge than the outcome of that research … ie it is more important to search for knowledge than to find answers …

Another way of looking at instructional design

Internet Time Blog: Another way of looking at instructional design

Jay Cross’s article (via Stephen Downes, OLDaily) resonates with my desire to distinguish “training” from “education”. He takes some major events of the past century and suggests how they have shaped our view of learning.

(Critical) history of ICT in education – and where we are heading?


(Critical) history of ICT in education – and where we are heading? – FLOSSE Posse

“Why is the impact of technology on the way we learn so marginal, even though millions of dollars and euros has been spent on to develop educational computer technology? Could it be that there has been some principle conceptual bias and all the minor changes made in to it do not help much, as the principle is wrong?

With an analogy: if you are sailing somewhere in equator and take a course by mistake to south, even that you should go north, it does not help much if you every year fix your course 5 degrees. You will still end-up to Antarctica.”

I particularly like the Analogy 🙂

How To Be Heard via your blog

Stephen’s Web ~ by Stephen Downes ~ How To Be Heard

Much of what I read online comes via Stephen Downes’ OLDaily. His guide, entitled “How To Be Heard” is not about how to market your blog, but is more about how to write your blog (and really is about how to write regularly irrespective of the medium.)

This is a very good resource. (It also recommends a sans serif font – hmmmm maybe I need to review my choice … ???)

WordPress, Feed2JS and Blackboard

I’m playing around with the combination of WordPress, Feed2JS and Blackboard in order to use the corporate LMS, but get around some of the annoyances of Blackboard and some of the difficulties of collaborative content being locked inside a password-controlled environment.

The Announcement Tool in Blackboard is pretty annoying in that you have to go into the Control Panel in order to use it, and you have to have staff level access, and there are some non-intuitive things about the permanent vs non-permanent listing. There is also no capacity to have the Announcements pushed to students rather than making them pull them from Blackboard.

So long as Announcements are not considered “secret” (should not be seen by anybody not enrolled in the subject), they can be posted on a blog and “fed” into a permanent Announcement.

  1. Make a blog, for example at http://www.edublogs.org
  2. Find the RSS feed from the blog (see the button labelled RSS on the left navigation under Meta)
  3. Go to Feed2JS and put the URL into the appropriate text box
    1. In the settings, decide whether you want students to know where the “real site” is – ie whether you want them to find the actual blog to read information directly.
    2. If you don’t link to your blog anywhere in the feed, you may be able to keep it relatively secret
    3. I’m going to play with whether we can restrict a blog to inside UniMelb so that the blog itself would only be viewable from a Unimelb ip, or via Blackboard outside of the Uni
  4. Generate the javascript using the generate button
  5. Use the style preview to apply different CSS styles to the feed
    1. Note that the CSS will apply to all previous announcements too because of the way that the Announcements page is generated
  6. Paste the CSS and javascript into the Announcement, and make the Announcement permanent

Now all you have to do is update the blog site, and the permanent announcement will update itself.

It would also be possible to use WordPress for collaborative work with student groups, who could then publish their work via Blackboard. I’m still trying to work out if this is as much trouble as setting up groupwork within Blackboard itself.

Popular Culture in teaching

Having waxed lyrical about the possibilities afforded by fanfic for encouraging creative writing in school kids, my next foray into harnessing the power of popular culture is to suggest replacing the Problem-Based Learning curriculum in Medicine with a requirement to critique a few episodes of House.

Not only would you get the evidence-based, hypothesis-testing scientific approach to practising medicine, but you would also get to analyse motivations from doctor, nurse, administrator, patient and patient-social-circle context.

And you might even get a good laugh as well …

Fanfic

I have recently been reading many things on blogs, blogging and blogs in education. What has come out most strongly to me is that:

a) blogging *software* provides an easy way to make a website;

b) blogging *as a writing genre* requires that you have something to say;

c) mandated blogging is unlikely, of itself, to inspire people to write if they don’t have any intrinsic desire to express themselves in words, and is unlikely to promote a sense of community because the motivation for participation derives from a requirement to be involved rather than a personal choice.

Yesterday I discovered a writing community / writing genre that had previously entirely escaped my attention but was fascinating to me as a parent and an educator. I realise that not everything that’s new to me is necessarily new to other people (I am not immersed in gaming or popular culture …) but I have not seen “Fanfic” before, and maybe there are other edu-bloggers who haven’t either.

There are fanfic sites for all sorts of things such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek etc – in fact one of my colleagues assures me that “where there are geeks, there is fanfic”. I was directed to a Harry Potter fanfic site to read a story written by a teenager well-known to me. This teenager has consistently failed to submit any written assignments at school in 2 years. Here I found at least 3 chapters of a story amounting to over 3,000 well-crafted words … with reviewers comments to which the author had responded. So not only was this teenager reading extensively and immersing himself in the ideas from the story, but he was (and is) writing creatively himself and opening his work to interactive peer review. He is doing it because he wants to, not for any other purpose, and the main reason he showed his work to his parent(s) was in order to support his claim for a later bedtime because he was “working” rather than gaming.

The potential of these sort of sites to encourage literacy in teenagers is fairly obvious, as is the sense of community and the peer interaction (peer in the sense of shared interests / values rather than the age-group sense) that can happen purely online. I guess I see it as a bit like blogging, except that it is set in a creative framework rather than an “opinion piece”, “serious commentary”, personal monologue framework.

Then again, maybe I’m just impressed at what a teenager can do when they want to and when they do it for themselves rather than when they are told to “be creative” or to do things as “work”.

Responsibility. Judgement and Authority

From Ken Smith: The habits of judgment and authority via Stephen Downes,

“In the context of a discussion of the reliability of Wikipedia, Will Richardson paraphrases a librarian who has struggled to know how to evaluate the content of a web site. She said something like this:

I’ve been a librarian for ten years and I have to tell you, I feel like a fraud. I don’t really know where to start when it comes to figuring out whether a site is believeable or not.

Whether she intended it or not, whether she even knows it or not, she has, I think, put her finger on one of the central failures of our education system. Adults, professionals, people who have completed their formal education and taken on their career roles, should be responsible — it is useful to pull that word apart — should be able to respond to the complexity they face as professionals, as citizens …”

Although I don’t disagree at all with the central tenet re the failure of our education system, I’m not sure it is the librarian education that has failed. Librarians did not make judgements about the disicpline-based content of traditional media – but they made judgements about the source of the content … reputable media outlets would have their own way of ensuring that content is “believable” and librarians would make meta-judgements based on the source and “known reviewers”. When there are no established “gatekeepers” of authorative knowledge, each individual has to make their own judgement from first principles – which highlights the simultaneous strength and weakness of an unlimited information source such as the internet.

Plagiarism detection – is technology the solution?

I went to a lunchtime seminar by John Barrie on Turnitin, the plagiarism detection software from iParadigms. I can see the practical merits of Turnitin and I can see that it is scalable into the near future, but I wonder if we have actually identified the correct problem to solve, and whether the Turnitin approach is scalable or even sensible into the future? The idea of the entire internet being fingerprinted is reminiscent of the scenario of enough monkeys and keyboards to produce Mozart … at what level is anything truly original?

The title of the presentation was “Vetting academic work for originality: Saving the world from unoriginality” – very catchy for sure, but perhaps not particularly interesting or realistic. At an undergraduate level, the content of most submitted work is not primarily focused on originality, but on accuracy. When writing a first year psych lab report on “The Stroop Effect”, perhaps there is a real limit to the number of ways of expressing the content before the information actually becomes incorrect in pursuit of originality. Maybe instead of detecting plagiarism, we should be trying to generate assessment tasks which are not affected by plagiarism – rather than have one academic grade one thousand papers, perhaps we would do better to have one academic produce ten papers of different quality on the one topic and have 1000 students grade those 10 papers.

Alternatively, if university staff / student ratios were appropriate so that proper assessment of individual undergraduate students could take place (eg presenting a paper to a tutorial group and then submitting a written version for marking, and having shared marking across tutorials), there would be a disincentive to cheat. The thing that would alert teaching staff to plagiarism would be a mismatch between the ability to present the content orally and in written form. If end-of-semester assessment was by essay style (hand-marked) exams requiring generative capabilities, there would be more opportunity to match student voice with their written output.

At the undergraduate level, there is a serious question to be asked about whether it is more important to be able to generate an original piece of work than to recognise which piece of work most accurately reflects “the right answer” (assuming there is such a thing)? If we can string together appropriate pieces of information wherever they come from to produce a coherent article (be it a “term paper”, an essay, a lab report, a computer program), we at least are showing that we understand the content area appropriately. I believe this is a necessary but not sufficient precursor to being able to produce something original. I actually have grave doubts as to whether true originality at the undergraduate level would be recognised by the average tutor, let alone encouraged or rewarded. It requires substantial academic expertise to evaluate the quality of original work in a discipline area.

It seems that plagiarism is considered a serious issue because we like to claim that a prime objective in teriary teaching is to instill in our students the concept of academic integrity and of scholarship. However, to my mind, academic integrity (coupled with academic freedom) is associated with a whole moral philosophy regarding knowledge, sharing of knowledge and how academic work contributes to the greater good of human endeavour. Academic values and moral philosophy are taught by example (intellectual and behavioural modelling) rather than by policing. If plagiarism is rampant in the younger generation, we should be looking to the values implicit in our education system rather than to policing strategies to effect cultural change.

If you look at the highly structured curriculum favoured by our secondary education sector and the templated way much of the “knowledge” is presented, it is not surprising that plagiarism is rampant – what is the difference between plagiarising and rote-learning? What is the difference between a “fact” and an “idea” and do facts as well as ideas have citable sources?

In terms of values and behavioural modelling, if you also look at business ethics (or attitudes to speed cameras) in the past 15 years, the emergent theme is that anything that is not expressly forbidden is implicitly allowed. No matter what the written rules say, if it isn’t policed, you’re allowed to do it. And if you’ve got away with doing it for a while, it violates your rights to suddenly start policing it. Steve Vizard and Rene Rivken come to mind on the business front … what did they do that was wrong???

Intellectual property and copyright law seems not to be about integrity and moral philosophy at all, but are much more about how to protect the ability of an individual or institution to make money from creative endeavours rather than to share that creative output with the rest of the community (which in the past funded academic institutions to pursue the creation of new knowledge for the greater good of humanity).

Two other factors which have affected academic integrity in a subtle but seriously insidious way are mentioned in passing below. Both of them affect the behaviour of academics which is then modelled by those who are learning from them creating a different academic culture and set of standards.

1) Measuring research output by number of publications rather than quality of publications (counting is easier than assessing quality) so that there is a strong career incentive to make as much publication mileage as possible out of each random academic idea no matter whether it leads to institutionally-endorsed rampant self-plagiarism, a proliferation of poor-quality journals, and/or a sense of dissatisfaction with the entire peer-review and publishing system.

2) A strong push to “reusable content”, without ever clarifying the difference between acceptable / appropriate reuse and plagiarism – acknowledgement of the source is an obvious difference to a trained academic, but the fine line between paraphrasing and substituting synonyms is a tougher call to make for a layperson. Maybe, in the end, the only difference is the wider vocabulary available to most academics – an academic’s lexicon already contains the synonyms that a layperson searches for in a thesaurus, but the paraphrasing process is still the same – when does restating an idea “in your own words” become stating something original? And do I have to cite that Tom asked this question of me in the corridor tonight or can you believe that I thought of it first? And if I did, have I now “beaten Tom to press” so that he will have to cite me in the future?

Back to reuse of content, consider particularly the concept of reuse and acknowledgement of source in the teaching context (which is often the only context in which students see academics at their work). Clearly the ideas being presented in the classroom are not original because we are teaching people about the current state of agreed-upon knowledege in a field.

Lectures and visual aids associated with lectures provide a context for assigned reading and other research activities. Often, lectures provide a specific context or elaboration on material sourced from “the textbook”. If you now consider how the process of generating lecture resources for a “traditional lecture” has changed during my 20 years as an academic

– (circa 1985) I gathered together a set of slides or overheads illustrating key points, and wrote key points on the blackboard

– (circa 1990) I prepared overhead transparencies with illustrations and key points

– (circa 1995) I prepared Powerpoint presentations which were distributed via an intranet

– (circa 2000) I prepared Powerpoint presentations which were placed on the web

By the early 2000s, in common parlance, the Powerpoint presentation became “The Lecture”, and because it resided in a public place free of the context in which it was presented and the words which were uttered explaining the origin and content of each idea and image, issues of copyright and intellectual property started to arise. The overheads of annotating each idea and image became a disincentive to preparing interesting additional resources for teaching, and the idea that providing enrichment to one group of students but not to all students (where different staff taught different streams) undermined the sense of academic responsibility for teaching material as well as undermining the atmosphere of collegiality.

It seems to me that institutions have only recently become deeply interested in the issue of plagiarism detection in the context of selling curriculum, selling degrees, selling research output and gaining competitive advantage from the intellectual property of their workforce of academics. The sense of academic integrity and moral philosophy associated with being part of an international community of scholars whose combined knowledge belongs to humanity has been seriously eroded by treating academic output as a saleable commodity and applying “business models” to academia using totally inadequate analogies.

I guess one aspect of writing in a blog that is simultaneously a real strength and a serious weakness is about to be demonstrated – I want to post this now because I know I won’t come back to it properly in the next few weeks to fill out the gaping holes in the line of argument. I think I know how to fill them, but I don’t have the time right now. Is it better to put the half baked idea “out there” (even if I’m the only person who goes back to read it) or is it best to let it drown in a sea of other half baked ideas? And furthermore, is this enough to ensure that I at least mark a line in the sand to say “I thought like this on this day, even if I don’t get to rethink it and publish it properly until a lot later on …”

Blogging at work

I have had a few attempts at running a blog “for work” and each time I have hit a bit of a brick wall. There has been a lot written recently on blogging, what it is about, and whether it has an important role in a formal teaching-and-learning context. I have been stimulated to update this blog via a web-forum email asking about blogging at UniMelb …

My current thoughts re blogging as a genre of writing:

1. Blogging software provides an easy information architecture for “episodic writing” … especially of things that are loosely topic based, but become “topical” at a particular time for reasons that are not easily encapsulated, and are likely to be relevant again at a later date

2. Blogging tools are only useful for people who write prolifically, have regular access to the internet, do most of their writing at a computer rather than in a notebook and are comfortable with public scrutiny of their writing.

3. Blogging is essentially personal even when it’s work-related. I write to a blog as a convenient place to store ideas that are forming so that I can edit them from anywhere and I can refer to them easily if the ideas come up in conversation. I write to a publically-accessible blog to challenge myself to write more coherently than I would in a notebook – I operate from the premise that articulating an idea clearly is part of the process of thinking clearly, and that if I can’t express what I mean then I don’t actually know what I’m talking about yet. Feedback is always good when clarifying ideas.

4. Blogging has inherent dangers in the workplace – point 3 identifies that I am blogging ideas that are not necessarily fully formed. So a blog entry is a bit like a draft of an idea, or a “Dear Diary” type letter. There is a reason for drafting things and often it is because partially formed ideas that escape before their possible endpoints have been fully thought through can be dangerous. So I censor much of what I write to a blog. And because I do this, my blog ends up with very few entries and those that are written are not particularly interesting.

5. Blogging as a writing genre relies on students having a desire to write. Use of blogging software has some merit in a range of situations irrespective of whether the genre of writing is “true blogging ” (according to the blogging gurus in favour in any particular week …) My take on this is the most academics I have worked with are only just getting comfortable with discussion forums, and that blogging and RSS is beyond their comfort zone to use and support.

Re blogging software:

1. My first impediment to work-related blogging was lack of infrastructure and lack of server to install blogging software.

2. I tried using Bloki (http://www.bloki.com) for a while and it’s a pretty nice combination of blogs, forums and wiki-like website. I specifically used it to store information about web resources I happened to come across with annotations about what they were and why they looked interesting. My idea was that people with similar research interests would be able to follow what I was looking at on my blog, and might be inspired to make a similar resource available of their own reading so that we could share our research lives more effectively … I ended up becoming a bit wary about committing too much work-related stuff to a random server in a random location over which I have no control. I have to say, the site is still there 2 years later and there has been nothing but good service from the site.

3. I then installed MoveableType, PhpWiki and Moodle on my own personal website (http://wisebytes.net/research/blog/) to try them out and because it was the only place I had access to a shell account on a *nix server along with scritping and database services. I set up a research blog to take over from the Bloki site, but never managed to move my Bloki material to MoveableType. I used the PhpWiki quite a bit and liked it although I’ve never been game enough to leave it open to the world, and I never got around to publishing a read-only version of it either.

4. I finally got access to a server at UniMelb and installed blogging and wiki software. I used WordPress rather than MoveableType because it was just at the time where MoveableType introduced a licence fee which I didn’t want to pay. So I was again in a position of moving all my stuff from Bloki to MoveableType to WordPress. I also had great trouble with the authentication module in PhpWiki so that pages kept locking people out of editing them. I got Moodle working which good, and spent a bit of time playing with that too.

5. Having failed to inspire my academic colleagues to have any interest in starting a blog or using a wiki for drafting research papers or documentation and having spent a lot of time trying to get the infrastructure sorted to support wider spread usage of blogs, I actually ended up losing interest in writing blog content since most of it relates to a) things that none of my colleagues seem to find particularly interesting or b) things that are politically sensitive.

6. I have used BlogLines (http://www.bloglines.com/) as an RSS aggregator until I got swamped by the amount of stuff out in the world. I have ended up taking the lazy option of subscribing to Stephen Downes’ OnLineDaily newsletter as my primary source of keeping up with the world of edublogs. RSS has huge potential in teaching and learning but I’m waiting for other people to sort out the tools etc.

The biggest disincentive to maintaining a work-blog is a subtle shift in academic culture such that I am no longer confident that the university supports freedom of expression over corporate image, or substance over process, or content over style.

The biggest disincentive to supporting blogs in teaching and learning is an apparent lack of in-built passion for writing. Maybe moblogs or vlogs or Flickr will take off instead !!!

Teaching kids

Through my involvement with the USMA Schools Program, I have recently had an opportunity to watch Sabum Cariotis teaching young kids who are completely new to taekwon-do. This has given me cause to consider my own approach to young kids and how this fits with the message that Sabum Cariotis has been expressing lately that “Adults are easy, but until you have taught young children, you cannot call yourself an instructor.”

One thing that has always intrigued me is that in a martial art in which “discipline” is paramount, Sabum Cariotis does not enforce discipline on young kids in the straightforward way that I would approach it. I tend to say “Do this!” and then stay and wait until it is done. I am reasonably good at this form of “crowd control” and have assumed that crowd control is a necessary pre-cursor to “learning readiness”. In other words, I have implicitly been operating from the assumption that before the kids can learn anything, they need to be quiet and listening but I haven’t considered whether it matters at all how they got to be quiet and that once they are quiet, how you actually get them to listen actively rather than passively to what you are saying. Although in my professional role as an educator, I spend a lot of time considering teaching and learning strategies for adults and I have always argued that understanding how to talk to kids is one of the best preparations for teaching adults, I actually haven’t spent much time relating what it is that kids are “listening to” back to the teaching situation – I teach in the tertiary sector, I teach concepts, and I am very much a person of words, so I automatically think of listening as being focussing on what I am saying despite being aware personally and professionally that “active listening” involves a whole lot more than that. I am also aware that younger kids in particular will naturally understand the inflections in speech which carry the emotional content of what is being said irrespective of whether they understand the semantic content (ie the meaning of the words). They read “body language” in its natural form in a way that many adults (sadly) have been taught to filter out.

So although I might think that I succeeded a bit in teaching kids by ensuring that they are under control and doing as I say, what I see Sabum Cariotis doing is capturing his students from the inside out. He captures their attention and motivation from within themselves in contrast to my approach of trapping them in a corner and forcing my will onto them. It occurs to me that the essential difference will be in terms of “ownership” of what the students learning – when I force my will on someone in a teaching situation, they might “learn the basics” much more quickly because of my enforced discipline than if I try to achieve self-motivation for learning first, but I have probably stifled their ownership of learning, their willingness to seek out knowledge on their own and, in the longer term, their creativity. This loss of creativity is hugely important and is something that can’t easily be rectified.

When Sabum Cariotis talks to children (and adults) about taekwon-do, he tells stories and these stories are constructed at multiple levels. He tries to place the taekwon-do story into a context that matches the level at which the students can comprehend. Within a multi-age class, each story has strands that are accessible to each different level and many stories are told simultaneously in choice of words, in emotional tone, in choice of analogy and metaphor, in physical demonstration. Very few instructors have the depth of knowledge combined with passion for the content combined with respect for their students to engage with people in this way. I see many parallels in what Sabum Cariotis does and the way that a passionate academic teaches in their discipline area. What I haven’t really thought through before is the skill involved in inspiring passionate interest in young children for something (eg biology or history or even cooking and gardening) … it is easy to get kids to do activities relating to these things copy-cat style, and it is even straightforward to get them to be excited about bringing their work to you for your praise. But it is a wonderful and entirely different thing to inspire a passion that can feed their creative spirit throughout their lives so that they do things for themselves.

A very common theme for people who excel in a particular area is that a single great teacher stands out as their inspiration. This is unlikely to be the teacher that sat everyone in straight rows and made them follow the lesson plan to the nth degree!! It is far more likely to be the unconventional teacher who reached out to them in their world and built their self-belief and creativity while sharing their own passion for learning in their discipline.

The thing that is emerging for me in writing this is not directly related to taekwon-do, but relates more to the tertiary sector that I work in. In the mid eighties, before the huge and rapid expansion of the university sector, it was considered quite inappropriate to lecture even at first year level in a discipline area in which you were not an active researcher – if a topic was outside your core area of expertise, who were you to think that you could teach in it?! But as student numbers and teaching loads increased (and $$$ became critical), it sounded a bit precious to say you needed to be an expert to teach first year. These days it is unlikely that even at third year level it would be considered necessary to be an active researcher in an area to lecture in it. But what is lost is the depth of knowledge, the multilayered “stories”, and the passion that experts have for their domain. The subtlety of how things are put together to lead into a capacity for creativity in an area is lost if you don’t have the depth of knowledge to understand how an area is structured and how it relates to other areas and other concepts. The subtlety of good teaching is replaced by “process” around things like learning objectives, lesson plans and a need to be very explicit about assessment. With structured lesson plans, people who don’t know the content area think they can teach, and worse still, that they can judge quality of expert teaching even though they are not in a position to judge the actual content … this approach is very misguided and depressing and spiritless, and probably says a lot about our current social, cultural and educational values and the lack of passion and creativity in our lives – and this uplifting thought is probably a good place to stop writing for the moment … it can only go downhill from here !!!

Content management for LMS

(originally composed May 2005 … going through unpublished notes that still seem like current issues …)

The institutional drivers for a content management system associated with an LMS at my university were:

– protection of intellectual property
– managed access to a wide range of resources
– compliance with copyright and other legislation

The further rationale was that academics, especially those already using web-based resources, would want content management.

But what does content management actually mean to an academic in the context of an LMS?

The basic atomic units of an LMS are the course shell and the user: an instance of a course shell for a unit of study links content and tools (unit resources) to a student cohort enrolled in the unit.

Content management issues relate to the fact that unit resources are reused from semester to semester, and a number of units share some or all of their resources. Superficially, it seems like a no-brainer that shared content should be stored once in a managed repository and linked to by the different courses in which it is used.

But let’s look at the academic workflow a little more closely. For example, let’s consider the lecture notes or slides (the “lecture powerpoints” for want of a better term!) in an established unit. Say I taught 6 lectures in Sensation and Perception in Second Year Psychology last semester, and I’m preparing my unit for the upcoming semester. I look at the calendar and notice that one of my lectures falls on a public holiday. So now I have five lectures to cover the same amount of material or I need to adjust the material I cover. So now the lectures are not quite the same as last semester. I start with most of the content prepared, but it will be reorganised such that I will end up with a different version from the previous semester. If I use presentation software (such as Powerpoint) to generate my lecture slides which support a face-to-face lecture, I will probably want to incorporate details of teaching staff, consultation times etc into those notes, and these will change on a semester to semester basis. Maybe I also find that the Introductory Psychology course has changed such that this cohort of students has a different set of assumed knowledge from previous years. How will this affect the structure and emphasis of my presentations?

In fact, even where there are no obvious outside drivers for change, very little in my course site will be exactly the same as the previous semester – the shell is the same, but the materials and student cohort are different. The work of updating the material is actually an integral part of teaching preparation, plays a large role in initiating any reflective practice around teaching, has always been time-consuming and error-prone, and often relies on idiosyncratic “local knowledge” of office staff and individual academics for its accuracy.

The benefits of content management software are not nearly as obvious as they appear to be at first blush, due to the nature of our teaching materials. We would need to change radically the way that we author teaching content. We would need to separate out content and semantic structure from instance-specific organisational / administrative structure, and we would need much finer granularity in content management. Instead of managing content at the level of learning resources such as “powerpoint presentations” which mostly need to be updated each semester, we would need the facility to generate individual slides and individual images which could then be built into presentations within the LMS. In this scenario, he LMS would need to provide the ability to author content. But if I have a presentation generated within the LMS, how do I get to present it to a live audience in a context where I may not have a live internet connection? Rather than the LMS being a repository for content to be placed in, it could also become a tool from which stand-alone presentations could be generated.

So for LMS content management to be useful, the granularity of content management needs to be at the level of presentation components, there needs to be the ability to generate saved presentation and packaging templates, and there needs to be the ability to export presentations and packages for use outside of the LMS. This needs to be outside the level of the course instance to be truly useful in the context of sharing materials.

In the context of course updating, the monumental task of updating important dates within the LMS deserves special consideration. For example, in a twelve week course, date structures might be in the format “WeekDay, Week X” such that Topic Y starts on Tuesday of Week 3 and by entering the date of the starting week, all dates are relativised. The ability to enter exceptions would need to apply (such as public holidays, Easter etc) but an automated tool to check all dates within a course would be of enormous “content management” value. Currently, in many LMS. conditional release of resources and activity by date requires tedious hand-editing via web forms through lack of a course-based relative date format.

Back to the role content management itself, imagine now an extensive repository of potential course content in the LMS. Imagine that this content is not linked to course instances. To go to the next level and make the LMS into an academic tool for course-building, the LMS would need tools for curriculum mapping. Not only do I want the ability to search the content repository for material suitable for my course, but I also want the ability to ask each instance of content where else and how else it has been used. I want the ability to prepare curriculum maps outside of course instances so that my teaching colleagues can see where content and curriculum occurs in an overall program. I want to see what resources other academics are using to elaborate the same themes in their subjects. I want the ability to link topic themes across subjects so that I can highlight themed relationships across for example Psychology and Sociology and Psychology and Physiology. This view of curriculum building envisages topic and resource themes across course instances but with a level of granularity that goes beyond strictly hierarchical aggregation. To be truly useful, these themes need to be visible outside of course enrolments, such that teaching staff can see cross-disciplinary relationships to inform their teaching, and students can see linkages to inform their current study, but also to inform their future enrolment.

And now that we consider LMS tools for building curriculum beyond the level of course instances, we also need to consider the curriculum building workflow.
– Where does “work-in-progress” fit?
– Can there be an optional approval process for content “release”?
– If a version of content is released, can work continue on that content, but not be released?
– Can I link to Version 3, rather than Version 4 Beta and when I link to Version 3, can I opt to accept all the changes, or only update to “released versions”?
– Can I ask to be notified on updates to content I don’t own? Can I ask to take over content I use but don’t own, if at some future point, the owner no longer wants it but I still do?
– Can I force updates to specific content (eg changes to spelling or obvious bugs)?

Requirements for Learning Content System:

1) Content should not be tied to course codes;
2) Need LMS presentation authoring tools with the capability of export;
3) Need flexibility to generate content maps (curriculum mapping) according to a range of schemes: for example into course content, topic content, theme content, discipline area;
4) Need the ability for staff and students to build and save their own curriculum maps of content for study purposes3) Need LMS authoring tools for presentations;
5) Need LMS syntactic authoring tools (saved sub-course templates for aggregating content – eg specific problem-based learning template for medical curriculum).