An Experiment on the Reuse of Learning Objects

I've been ranting for ages about the horrors of Learning Objects to anyone who would stand still long enough and listen to me. I had written a paper with a friend about the eLearning module that I produced and which we both have used, and we did not use the term because we both think this is hogwash and concentrated on collaboration.

The referees complained: we had not referenced state-of-the-art literature and we should have made proper learning objects. I went off like a rocket and started madly collecting published stuff on the dangers of learning objects. There is not much, but some at least. When I calmed down I managed to put together a pretty nice explaination, I thought, of why I find it rubbish, in a rather scientific manner.

The referee found it better that I said something, but continued on that Meta Data were the basis for reuse, etc. I immediately conducted a reuse experiment with the repository in question (which shall be nameless, this is not the point of my argument to discredit their particular repository, but to question the entire religion of learning objects).

The reviewer writes: "Metadata, if filled in properly, can be very beneficial for finding suitable material."

I responded: "I would love to see a paper on this - I have asked at every presentation I have ever attended that was given on the topic of learning objects if they are aware of any research into the actual reusability of metadata decorated objects. I always get a no for an answer. Any system presentation that I have visited and wanted to actually look for something using meta data has not actually had the searching implemented "yet". I strongly beleive that meta data is great - if done right, the way that libraries have been doing meta data for over 400 years now. That might be another paper to write....

I will be at the Metadata session in Rostock (GMW) with the expressed purpose of shaking a real example of reuse out of someone - or I will really have to write something about it! "

I had criticized the repository as only containing 23 objects, anyway.

The reviewer commented: "The numbers given for the XXX project are not correct. The repository actually contains a much larger number of learning objects than only 23. "

Okay, time to fight back. I now added up the numbers in parenthesis behind the 23 objects, assuming that this is the number of subobjects. I now get 57, which is still not a lot to crow about. I have changed the wording to be "less than 100".

Since I am teaching SE this semester, I decided that I would test the search capabilities on the meta data for the objects in the repository. Let's see, I need something nice about life-cycles for the first lecture. The search form offers me all sorts of fields (in German) that make no real sense to me. I don't know what they mean or how they were filled out. The first search should be over all fields, not just inside one particular field, this is something we learned in library OPACs long ago (I spent 4 years of my life developing software for libraries).

Bezeichner: Life cycle? 0 hits. Maybe German? Lebenszyklus? 0
Titel: ditto
Beschreibung: ditto
Klassifizierung: hmm, no life cycle. There's an entry on "Software Engineering General" that at least brings up a few entries, so the search really does find something occasionally. The names are not really promising, but "Introduction to SE" looks good - oh, just some Powerpoint slides. Somehow, I have never seen a Powerpoint slide as a learning object, but more of a reminder slip as to what was said in the lecture (or written in the book).

The download is a Zip file with a Powerpoints in a file name containing Umlauts that have now been mangled, an XML Manifest and a license. The manifest tells me a lot I don't want to know, and that this is an introduction. But it does not tell me if the introduction contains a life cycle model....

Hmm, the XML lists Mr. E as the author. But the slides say: Dr. W. / University of B. The properties in Powerpoint have a nickname / University of P. Oh oh, the slides contain a Dilbert cartoon that expressly states: "Redistribution in whole or part prohibited". If you purchase a Dilbert it will state so. So now, not only have I not found anything, I have just uncovered a copyright problem that needs fixing. But who do I inform? Oh, and no slides on life cycles in here.

Going through the learning objects (there aren't really that many) I find "LE 3.1 Prozessqualität" which actually has the V-model. That's something I might find useful. This was only findable because there
are not many learning objects in the repository.

See what I mean? Despite all of the meta data that has been assessed, I still can't find stuff that is actually there, because the classification by metadata does not use a thesaurus and a category hierarchy.



The King is *definately* naked!

Teemu Leinonen notes in his blog that Learning objects are rather naked kings. Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Learning objects have been grating on my nerves for quite some time now. I replied to him:

Amen! I heartily agree! I was at a seminar given by Cecile Crutzen whereby she explained why I feel so ill when I hear the term "learning object". (I was trained a software engineer and now develop e-learning materials, among other duties as a professor). The whole idea of the "learning" him or herself being an object that consumes "learning objects" to attain wisdom is seriously flawed for a number of reasons.

1) Learning is not about consuming knowledge nuggets. It is about discourse on and reflection about topics. Informal learning the new buzz word, anyway, may it completely override "LOB". Collaboration is king in learning, not a bunch of objects.

2) Learning materials have to be orchestrated or designed so that they are coherent, otherwise they make no sense. Not everyone uses the same notation and definitions, the same style of writing. So stringing objects together makes no sense.

3) The *subject*, the learner, has been compelety dropped from the discussion! This pseudo-objectivity (pun intended) means that we completely ignore the person who is to learn something, which should be the starting point of any instruction!

and on and on.

I have made it a point at every conference and presentation where someone rabbits on about learning objects and metadata to ask a pointed question: Do you have any data on the reuse factor of your learning objects. Not one single person, from the big-shots on down, has been able to answer anything but "no" to my question. Just recently I suffered an afternoon of a system presentation where you elaborately entered in metadata, but when you wanted to reuse something, you needed to have a good file name and a good file structure to find the stuff because the meta data was NOT searchable! In addition, the pictures KEPT their numbers, if they even bothered to have them ("Figure 2"), there was no way to renumber them.

Naked. And freezing.
Since his blog somehow does not post my wise words, I repeat them here. Any references to criticisms of learning objects are heartily welcomed.


The Virtual Conference - Wikimania

The Wikimania Conference 2005 was held in Frankfurt this past weekend. Unfortunately, I could not be physically present in Frankfurt. Fortunately, the folks at freematrix had set up an Internet Radio feed so that those of us who at least had an Internet connection could listen in to some of the talks.

Friday was extremely interesting because I had the radio feed running and mIRC open to #de.wikipedia and spent the time discussing what was being said during the talks with some folks that were on the channel. There was a bit of a cognitive dissonance associated with listening in English and writing in German, but it was a very interesting experience. I even was able to post a question by proxy (Thanks, Appleboy!), someone physically in the room and on IRC at the same time!

But of course, you missed the chatting during the coffee breaks. I was especially irritated at a questioner at the end of the third round stated that he thought the fine-grained censorship exercised now in China was "good" because it let so much other "good stuff" get through the filters instead of blocking the Wikipedia completely. WHAT? There is no such thing as "just a little bit of censorship". Either there is censorship or there is none. What if the little bit that got caught in the filters was everything he ever wrote? If they pretended he did not exist? Is he still happy? I would have loved to a) know who this was and b) give him a piece of my mind on the topic of censorship. But as it was, I just bleated on the chat.

Saturday was flakey - I had the choice of mIRC or freematrix. The folks on IRC noted that mIRC was a piece of §$%& and suggested many alternatives, none which I felt like installing at the spur of the moment, in addition to which I paid the fee for mIRC so I will use it, darn it! So I decided to stick with freematrix. They had a chat page connected to their IRC forum, this was great for letting the operators of freematrix know that a feed had died and one of them would willingly go kickstart a server which had gone to sleep or defaulted to off.

I got to hear three keynotes:
* Ross Mayfield explaining to me why I was drowning in email and that I really need a Wiki (he's right!)
* Ward Cunningham musing on the history of Wikis. I especially liked hearing the stories and how HyperCard fit into all of this - I teach HyperCard as an oddity precursor to the WWW in my Hypermedia course, lovely to have a nice story about how it was useful for the creation of Wikis!
* Richard M. Stallmann - what shall I say, if I could have made it to Frankfurt, I would have gone just to hear RMS, seeing as how I spent 7 years of my life living in EMACS, programming in a LISP-like language. His thoughts on intellectual property are, of course, radical. It was great that his talk was so nicely structured (he must have held it a million times already) that I could easily follow, even without the slides. I don't agree with everything he says, but I think I understand his reasoning a lot more now.

At the final session the Global Voices Session, there were many interesting tidbits to be heard. It was funny that this session seemed just as important to me as Stallmann's - but one of the people asking a question noted that it was a shame that there were so few people in the room. It was interesting that my perception of the talk was not colored by the fact of me choosing a not-so-popular topic or some such, but I just chose on interest.

Anyway, thanks to the freematrix team, that was lovely! You don't have a donations possibility on your pages, that needs fixing.... And the discussions in #de.wikipedia during or after the talks were so enjoyable, I felt that I had really attended a conference, even if it was only a virtual one and I don't have a name tag for my collection...


A Fishy Summer

Gosh, school summer vacation is already over, time sure flies! I spent a good portion of vacation with my husband and teen-age son and a good friend and his three teen-age sons. Just like at work, me and a bunch of boys...

The guys took a bicycle trip from Berlin to Sweden (470 km!), I played team support for the last part of the trip, driving around a car full of tents, sleeping bags, food, and wet clothes. It was actually kind of fun, the very best picnic being the one I set up in V. Sallerup, halfway between Trelleborg and Ystad. We had just picked the place on the map on account of it being half-way and there was a church there, which is easy to find. There was a lovely lawn just outside of the church with a Viking stone engraving set up, so I put out the red checkered tablecloth, loaded it up with food, put out a blanket and sat down to "enjoy" the emails I had just downloaded from an open hotspot in Trelleborg. You have 312 emails!

The sun was shining a gentle breeze was blowing, and the guys really tucked into the food when they arrived. Riding a bike along the seaside seems to make them hungrier than they normally are!

By the time we got to our cabin the weather had turned to cloudy and rainy. To stave off the screams of boredom our friend bravely volunteered to accompany the boys to go fishing. They biked to a store, bought 2 fishing poles, purchased a weekly fishing permit for the Kvesarumsjön, and off they went! Peace. Quiet. Able to read.

They were gone for almost 8 hours! When they came home, they had a bucket filled with little roach fish! And they were so excited and wanted to eat the fish, but were squeamish about fixing them. But that's what we have a Mom for, so she got our her knives, chipped off the scales, and cleaned 20 little fish. Just a little strip of fish from each side of the fish, really.

They wanted fish fingers, so we breaded up the bits, fried them (had to use cornmeal because there wer no bread crumbs to be had in the house!), and they enjoyed it!

The next day, they went out again, and came back again with a mess of fish. Mom insisted on help this time, so it was a communal thing. Not that it was fun or anything, but at least it wasn't all my work. Note the oldest teenager "working" in the background learning to play Kubb.....

No one wanted to eat fish again, so I put the filets on a cookie sheet and shoved them in the freezer.

The next day, they went fishing AGAIN. And caught a bucket full of fish AGAIN. And came home just as a thunderstorm descended on the village, dumping 62 mm of water per square meter in just a few hours. No, Mom did not want to clean fish in a thunderstorm, and not in her kitchen either. So the bucket stayed outside. During the night I heard strange noises - the village cats had found the bucket and were doing a lot of fishing.... we found cat vomit the next morning with lots of fins and fish eyes and stuff in it.... So the fishing dad got assigned burial duty, he went off to the forest and buried the mess.

You would think that this was enough fish, but no, the last day at the cabin was sunny and warm for a change. We decided to fire up the grill. My husband and I went into town to see if we could scare up some grilling meat and some charcol, and the guys said they would get "some fish". Yeah, sure, but be back in 2 hours.

We were working on fanning the fire when the hoarde returned - yep, with a bucket of fish. 13 (count 'em) roach (mört) and 4 carp bream (braxen). And of course, they want the bream grilled. At least that seemed like a good sized fish!

But oh, trying to clean those fish was terrible - hard to cut, millions of bones, and I sure didn't get all of them. In the middle of cleaning the fish the skies darkened and it began to pour. As long as there wasn't lightening and since I was dirty anyway, I just sat outside and cleaned fish in the rain while my husband practiced underwater grilling (a roof on the grill works wonders). We grilled the fish, which fell apart into a million pieces on attempting to remove from the pan. Oh well, it was delicious! The bream was plenty, so I froze the rest of the roach, we have more than enough for a fish dinner some day. Hope the electricity holds up, or we will be having one smelly cabin...

I don't think that I want to have any fish for the next few weeks....