This recent Guardian, article takes a close look at the forthcoming National Digital Resource Bank (NDRB), one of number of initiatives such as this and this, designed to make digital resources readily accessible to teachers and students. Even better news that the NDRB resources are being made available under a Creative Commons licence. This will allow teachers and
students to remix and share these assets using any of the easy to use desktop and online tools at their disposal, and it is a great leap forward. All credit to Gary Clawson, CE at the North West Learning Grid and Fiona Iglesias, NDRB's project manager
for getting the project underway and hosting it on an open
source content platform. This is a good vantage point from which to look at the issues related to educational digital content.
Digital resources can, and should, play a significant part in contemporary learning. In order to take full advantage of their opportunities, we need to think beyond the hole filling, swap-shop, or easy life scenarios alluded to. As Noel Jenkins, rightly suggests in the article, digital content should be used to develop critical thinking in students. This is best facilitated when students are engaged, remixing, adapting, commenting and building on the resources.
My involvement, in recent years, with numerous projects centered around digital resources, has enabled me to come up with a list of considerations which might be helpful to anyone considering similar projects, using or managing digital content in education.
- One Stop Shop
- Hidden away
1. The One Stop Shop
Digital content is growing exponentially, a broad river of information fed by numerous sources, an unstoppable flow of resources from content holders. Therefore portals and content providers should not assume their content will be the definitive site, a one stop shop that meets everyone’s needs. It doesn't matter how it is promoted, the connective and networked affordances of the Internet will guarantee folk will get the resources they want from many different sources.
So the overarching question must be; why just use one source, when we can build on, and combine resources from NDRB, Flickr Commons The Internet Archive. Casseopiea, ArtBabble to name but a few? What is becoming very clear is that digital content, and the way we are able to manage it with technology will continue to improve, in terms of quality, accessibility and usability.
2. Quality Control, and approval
One of the the biggest obstacles to making resources readily available is individuals or committees trying to define 'quality assured' content, This can lead to bureaucracy and bottlenecks slowing up the release of resources. It is also possible those vetting, are not necessarily practitioners or experts in an appropriate field, or have a full understanding of the potential of a resource. It is much easier, more efficient and cost effective to moderate content using a simple alert/reporting system. This will ensure resources get out into schools, in an accessible form and let teachers and students engage with them in order to:
- rate, recommend and review
- edit and remix
User rating seems to be as good a way as any to identify content that is useful' for others, it works well for YouTube and other community social networking sites. I do have sympathy with the need to check for copyright infringement case. However if this is done in isolation it won't help teachers or students come to grips with this essential element of digital literacy. Copyright and IP should be central to digital literacy. In order to make best use of CC licensed material, the first thing to do is learn about the licences and use them appropriately. (See training, 6, and thumbnail credits, below). These diagnostic tools from JISC should also prove invaluable here.
3 Hidden Away
Many digital resources are freely accessible online, once downloaded they should be just as easy to find and ready to use intuitively. There is always a danger they may be hidden away, either by accident or design; in a repository, a VLE, used primarily for low level multiple choice quizzes, or just become shovelware with no guarantee they will ever be used.
Perhaps we should be giving much more mileage to the idea of Bricolage. Let's promote and distribute digital resources using social software tools such as Delicious. Perhaps we should be developing tools that work for content, the way Spotify does for music.
Interestingly enough, there is no mention in the Guardian article
of mobile learning, or gaming although it is now becoming evident that these are the emergent technologies likely to have profound implications for learning. Smart phones, mobile projectors and augmented reality are already here, ignoring them is missing a trick. For a simple example you need look no further than this free iPhone app featuring works from the National Gallery. Becoming familiar with QR codes and folksonomies is likely to be much more beneficial than worrying about SCORM compliancy.
It is still common practice for most educational digital resources to be targeted to age, subjects keystages etc. Whilst this may be a perfectly logical approach for a narrow prescriptive curriculum, and can add some good illustrative material, it does not tap into the real learning potential of digital content. In the light of connected data and personalised learning it seems clearly nonsensical to tie down a resource to a very predetermined and narrow focus. We have tools and networks at our disposal to do much more with rich content than shoehorn it into outdated practices.
Historically the business model of content providers has been to charge for exclusive access to content, either on a subscription, or a one off basis. This may have been fine before web 2.0 as value was determined by scarcity. Times have changed, as the news industry is finding to its cost.
Whilst the stated value of the content might be, (xnumber of thousands), such figures are more likely to be a reflection of the digitisation / development / management cost, rather than the intrinsic value of the asset. A good example of this occurred a few days ago; when looking for video on outer space and earth; I managed to located two, (both high quality production), collections of video clips. The only difference being; one was free, whilst the other cost a three figure sum for a, (restrictive), license that prohibited remixing or online use. In the context of this post, relatively worthless.
The article states; "teachers will barely need any training to use the new resource" is a highly debatable point. I would agree that training is the wrong term here. It's not about a set of ICT skills, (although these are essential for working with and managing content which would be (7) if the list were continued). Primarily it is about exploring the pedagogical potential for using the content that goes beyond merely illustrating a subject. It is about developing and understanding of how objects can be used across a wide range of disciplines and how they can help us understand diverse cultures and derive new meanings. These were some of the considerations, we addressed when developing the Newsfilm Online support materials (beta site here). My view is that teachers should be encouraged to collaboratively engage and play with content in informal and collaborative workshops. This process was very effective for the Newsfilm Online workshops we, (The University of Hull), ran throughout the UK during 2007/08.