Take your teaching online
Take your teaching online

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4 Learning objects

Digital networks and tools support sharing and replication of content with little effort. Unlike a physical object such as a printed book, a digital object can be copied, shared, edited, and re-shared without any impact on the original object. Many educators have explored how we might be supported to create and use digital objects in different ways to those physical objects. Over time, this has led to the development of several concepts which we start to introduce here, and return to in more depth in later stages of the course.

The concept of a learning object suggests that small, self-contained digital units of learning can be created that can then be combined, reused or adapted for repeat usage. When these started to emerge, the term Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) was used to describe them. This was because it was argued that when a learning object was shared, it should be created in such a way that it helps another educator or learner to make use of it themselves.

Recently, you are more likely to see the term Open Educational Resources (OERs) used to describe content that is shared by educators. OER has become a more popular and widely understood concept amongst educators across the world than RLO. OER is in part an evolution of the idea of a RLO, however, the two terms are not completely interchangeable. Firstly, RLOs are, by definition, designed to be shareable, whereas OERs may be teaching materials that have been deemed shareable by the author but which have not followed a specific approach that supports other educators to reuse them. What OERs do provide, by definition, is a licence that makes it clear that there is legal provision for reuse by others according to certain rules. RLOs do not necessarily have these licenses, although to be truly reusable, they should.

Learning objects can vary in nature from multimedia packages with audio and/or video elements, to single tasks presented in text or slideshow documents, with myriad variations and varieties in between. The role of the online teacher may be to create or feed into the creation of learning objects, or it may be to use learning objects produced by other teams within the institution to deliver an online learning experience, by means of asynchronous and synchronous activities. Repositories of RLOs exist on the internet, meaning that adventurous learners may discover them and use them to enhance their learning outside of the given course materials. Examples of these repositories include Wisc-Online [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , and MERLOT, whose RLO contents are also OERs.

Activity 3 Learning objects and your own teaching

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch this video ‘Learning Objects’, and then identify and note down three potential learning objects that could be created from the materials that you have used in your own teaching or learning. Consider whether these might be successfully reused by others online, and what additions or modification, if any, they would need to be useful learning objects.

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This activity should help you to start thinking about resources you already use, and how they might work in online teaching. If you completed this exercise quickly, you might find it helpful to go on to perform a brief audit of all of the learning objects that you currently use, so that you could consider repurposing any or all of them in your future online teaching.

Churchill (2007) proposed a typology that may be useful when thinking about the variety of learning objects and their purposes:

  • Presentation object: Direct instruction resources to transmit specific subject matter.
  • Practice object: Repeat practice with feedback, educational game or representation that allows practice and learning of procedures.
  • Simulation object: Representation of some real life system or process.
  • Conceptual model: Representation of a key concept or related concepts of subject matter.
  • Information object: Display of information organised and displayed with modalities.
  • Contextual representation: Data displayed as it emerges from represented authentic scenario.

Now is a good time for you to develop your own plans for taking your teaching online. Each week you will build further upon these notes until you have a comprehensive plan of action.

Activity 4 Building learning objects into your plans for teaching online

Timing: Allow about 60 minutes
  1. Last week in Activity 4 you were asked what teaching you might want to deliver online, who you would deliver it to, and what materials you might repurpose. Revisit your notes about what you want to deliver online. If you typed your notes into the box in Week 1, they will automatically appear below this list.
  2. Now return to this week’s learning. Which types of learning object might you develop or reuse in order to deliver the objectives you have?
  3. Next, revisiting Section 1 of this week, consider how you might build or integrate your learning objects in a way that takes into account the ‘principles of effective online teaching’.
  4. Finally, consider which tools you might need in order to create an effective learning experience using these objects. At the moment, you might not know the names of all the relevant tools, and that’s fine – simply write something like ‘a tool that will allow me to…’ and continue the sentence with a specific action such as ‘combine video with passages of text’ or ‘give my learners a multiple choice quiz’.
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As with Activity 4 from Week 1, keep your responses in a safe place, as you will build upon them later in the course.

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Here you are building on your responses from last week, to move your plan for online teaching another step forward. It is important that you consider not only the learning objects you may wish to reuse, but also how you might use them, both pedagogically (part 3 of the activity) and in terms of how the technology might help you to deliver them (part 4).

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