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OU (UK) Open Content Learning Support Tools

April 18th, 2006 · No Comments · Eduspaces

The OU Open Content initiative could be one of the most exciting things to happen in education for a very long time. The full description of the project is at http://oci.open.ac.uk/info.html. Of particular interest is Appendix K: Learning Support Tools for the Supported Open Content Environment.

The supported open content environment will be Moodle. It will be the same as the one available to registered OU students from May 2006 but without the management information relevant to their taught modules. Users of the open content repository will be able to create both personal and community areas and resources. The purpose of the support environment is to “actively support individual learners and educators and the self-organising communities which we anticipate will emerge”.

The tools available to users will be in two broad groups, those to find and organise resources and those to enable community and collaborative activities. With these tools users will be able to search for content, create meaningful structures, engage with other users and create communities. These tools will also enable the importing and organising of resources from outside the OU open content repository. Organisations that use Moodle will be able to import OU OC materials into their systems.

For community building, communication  and collaboration the tools available will be forums, chat tools, wikis, weblogs (I don’t think Moodle has weblogs but it is being integrated with Elgg), and Moodle’s workshop tools (apparently a ‘workshop’ is, amongst other things, a structured framework within which a student can submit work for peer review).

Collectively the the tools will provide the means, individually or collaboratively, to locate and organise resources, to map knowledge and to engage in what the OU calls ‘sensemaking activities’ which I think is close to knowledge construction activity. They will also enable the development of ‘social presence’ and ‘learning identities’. This goes someway beyond the usual profile information as (depending upon what access and privacy measure you invoke) it includes a developing summary of your activity, the resources you are working with and, intriguingly, a measure of ‘reputation’ (like on e-bay perhaps!). The system allows you to find (if they don’t mind being found) peers with the interests and expertises that match yours.  But who can you trust? How do individuals gain reputation? The mechanisms by which this happens within fairly specialised areas of the blogosphere, e.g. educational blogs, is fairly well known, as is and e-bay’s system, but how does this develop in on-line learning communities? According the the  OU “Reputation is increasingly critical in everyday experiences of on-line resource gathering: who do you trust?”.

The OC initiative is closely coupled to a number of action research projects to explore and develop the use of all these technologies. A key objective is to explore and develop new pedagogies. Usefully each aspect of the OC intitiative has a clear pedagogical rationale. As the document says “Learning to think critically, argue in a scholarly manner, and collaborate to make sense of problems, are amongst the highest order skills that we we seek to instil in learners”.

This will of course another massive publicity coupe for Moodle. The OC project is not entirely supported by Moodle as the intention is to integrate and use other Web 2.0 applications, particularly for reflective learning and community building, as appropriate. The OU is piloting the use of Elgg with its tutors and perhaps may consder Elgg as one of the emerging tools they will consider for their OC project. It will be interesting to see how the OC support environment develops over the next year or so.


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