Tech Talk – Dec 8, 2010
There’s been a lot of talk recently about Open Content, but also a lot of questions. What exactly is it, why should we use it, and how can we implement it? A “Tech Talk” given at UK shed a great deal of light on these topics. Also touched upon was Course Capture, specifically focusing on Echo 360, a capture system which has been recently implemented into the College of Medicine, and soon will be available for all of UK. This blog entry hopes to summarize the myriad interesting points made during the talk, and offer a few suggestions about how we can implement these features at UK, especially in the A&S Online Education department.
So first off, what is Open Content? Wiktionary defines it simply as content which is “freely distributable and/or able to be edited, added to, and/or repaired.” Some of the Open Content on the web is not aimed towards or useful for educational purposes, but there is a great deal which is. Dr. Cable Green, who led the presentation about Open Content, specifically discussed Open Education Resources, which he defined as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.” So why should we be concerned with this form of content?
Dr. Green made several valid points about the benefits of sharing content. First, having content out there in the open allows instructors to have more choices when they are creating their courses, and to be able to implement ideas, texts, and other forms of media in their course which they would not be able to otherwise. A second benefit of Open Content is that it is free, which is very attractive in a time when textbooks average about $100 a piece and students are unable or unwilling to afford them. Self-interest is also a factor, as sharing content can garner you more attention, allowing for grants and other opportunities. Finally, it comes down to social justice; many believe that everyone should have the right to access the knowledge and information which is on the web. In a nutshell, Dr. Green supplied a simple idea: give “public access to publicly funded educational materials.”
These are all good points, but how can a university which is based mostly on textbooks, subscriptions to journals, and other published, paid-for media, transition to using Open Content on a regular basis? Dr. Green supplied the advice to use technology strategically, to use others’ content, and to begin putting your own content out there. But where to even start? To start, it’s best to see what kind of things are even out there, which can seem to be a daunting prospect, considering the huge amount of content out there. It can also be difficult to know whether the source you are using is a reliable, academic resource. A great place to start is the website for Open Educational Resources, which can be found at http://www.oercommons.org/. Another great website is http://www.opencontent.org . The Google suite offers many free tools, such as Gmail, Docs, and Blogger, among many others, and these can be very useful in a course. There is a list of some Open Content Repositories mentioned by Dr. Green at the end of this article. In short, search around on the internet for Open Content and do some research if needed to check the reliability of the source.
The second step is to decide how to implement these sources into your course. Some may choose to still use a published textbook and use the Open Content as supplementary material. Others may choose to do away with textbooks altogether and rely solely on Open Content. This is up to the instructor and how they think the content will best fit their course goals. I think the one important thing to keep in mind is that the quality of the course and its content should not go down by using Open Content. This was a worry of one audience member during the talk, who mentioned that the publishing companies keep standards and quality within texts and that the quality can go down as Open Content becomes more prevalent. I think this could be true, but that it can be avoided if instructors and students make sure they are using legitimate, scholarly sources in their courses and research. I believe it is better to begin implementing Open Content into courses, even in small amounts, as soon as possible, because if we do not change now, it will be that much harder to catch up and understand as Open Content becomes more and more accepted.
The second section of the talk, given by C. Darrell Jennings Jr, MD, the Senior Associate Dean for Medical Ed, focused on the College of Medicine’s implementation of the Echo 360 Lecture Capture system over the past two years. When considering which capture system they would need, they had three main concerns: that the faculty would not need any technical knowledge to operate the system; that students could use whatever platform or device they wanted to access the material (PC, Mac, iPhone, etc.), and that it would be easily integrated with the systems already implemented at UK, such as Blackboard and iTunesU. Echo360 fulfilled all of these criteria, and with its success in the College of Med, it is being extended to the rest of campus starting next semester (Spring ’11).
There were two things which really stood out to me from this section of the talk. The first was how successful this actually was with students. Over 90% of the students surveyed agreed that having the lecture captures available to them outside of class helped them in their studies. Even more surprising was the reaction of the students when the Echo 360 system temporarily crashed, leaving the videos inaccessible right before a big exam. Hundreds of emails were sent to the technical staff, asking not only if the videos would be back up soon, but if the exams would be pushed back because the videos were inaccessible! I think this really shows how well the students took to using the videos, and how invaluable the videos really were to the students.
Now, this may lead some to believe that the reason this videos were so important was because the students were not coming to class and needed to watch the videos to see what they had missed. This, in fact, was not the case, which leads me to the second thing which surprised me from this talk. The College of Med has not seen a trend of students skipping class! They noticed that while classes did not have perfect turnout the people that were missing were those that would have missed before anyway… and they did better in the course than if the videos were not available. According to the survey given to the students, the top four uses were as a study supplement (either reviewing or clarifying topics), while the fifth was as a substitute to coming to class. I feel that this is not a bad reason to watch the videos, however. Things come up in students’ lives which cause them to miss class, and being able to catch up and still learn the material (which should be the goal of the course, anyway) is a great thing.
This talk also pointed out a few useful “Lessons Learned” while using Echo 360. The first was that the demand exceeded their expectations, and it grew faster than the technical capabilities could handle. Also, there were few policies and procedures, so it was hard to know how to handle a situation; for example, the students asking if the exams would be postponed because the videos were down. Another issue was the rapid assimilation into routine process and daily expectations of performance. Others were soon wanting this same treatment, and even alumni or other members of the UK community who are not students began wanting to have access to the content. While making all of the content open could solve this problem, the University has to decide if they are able to or even want to do this. All of these things should be considered when implementing Echo 360, but I hope more instructors will begin to use the lecture capture software in their courses, as I think it will help foster an even better learning environment.
Finally, the last section of the Tech Talk was given by Chris Huff, a representative from Echo 360. He presented material from a case study of the San Francisco State University as they used Echo 360. SFSU had many pressures upon them, including shrinking budgets, growing enrollments, and a desire to increase the rate of student graduation. Their solution was to offer “Hyflex” courses, which were both hybrid (online and face to face) and flexible (students can decide how they want to attend class). The four criteria which they wanted the classes to have were: learner choice, so that the students could choose how they wanted to attend (online or face to face); equivalency, so that the course provided equivalent learning activities for all students; reusability, so that they could preserve and utilize artifacts; and accessibility, so that students had the skills and ability to succeed. The most interesting thing to me about these courses was that within the Moodle shell (Moodle is another Learning Management System, like Blackboard), there were three sections for students. The first was for those students who were going to attend class, the second was a section for those who were going to “attend” class online, and the third was information pertaining to both. This way, students could choose how they wanted to attend class all semester, or just for a particular day. This flexibility is great for students who work or have families, and I like that you don’t have to choose whether you want a class which is completely online or completely face to face.
Again, the issue comes up about whether students are actually attending classes. This case study shows that their students’ attendance actually increased, primarily because they felt more prepared for class and didn’t fall behind to the point that they felt they could never catch up. They did notice that the people who were going to skip anyway, still skipped, but they still did better than they would have in a traditional class. I think this idea of a Hyflex course is great, and I would love to see if it could be implemented here at UK.
Overall, the “Tech Talk” offered a great deal of useful information about Open Content and Lecture Capture. I hope that UK can embrace these features and use them to get us even closer to our Top 20 goals, and more importantly, to continue to be a great learning environment.
To watch Dr. Green’s presentation, go to this site:
For more information, see these sites:
Some Open Content Repositories:
Open Learn (United Kingdom)
Connexions – Lenses
MIT Open Course Ware (can be sucked into Bb)
Open University (United Kingdom)