Searching for Chunks

I'm a believer in computer-enhanced learning. Yet, my days aren't long enough. For 30-plus class sessions, I don't have time to author multimedia clips, devise interactive exercises, monitor hyperlinks, nurture adjunct instructors, follow electronic discussions, and converse with each of my students.
Shortcuts must be found. Electronic textbooks and resource CDs frustrate me. I might like an exercise on cost/benefit analysis but find a videotape on supply and demand to be too shallow. There is so much out there. I want the freedom to choose the best for each course segment.
I've decided to stop looking for the perfect textbook and start trading "chunks" of course content with other economics professors. With this approach, I can spend two days developing an interactive exercise on scarcity and trade it for another professor's presentation on the Lorenz curve. Call it collaborative teaching. Label it a flashback to the era of reserve reading rooms in college libraries. What I need is to find chunks of electronic materials that fit my subject matter and teaching style.
MERLOT ( is a marvelous resource. Hundreds of professors have made available their chunks of material, which are indexed and searchable. To quote from the home page: "MERLOT is a free and open resource designed primarily for faculty and students of higher education." With a growing collection of online learning materials, peer reviews, and assignments, MERLOT is designed to help faculty members improve instruction. At MERLOT, one can pick up chunks and also share one's own chunks with others. Readers are encouraged to go here searching for material.
I am the editor in chief of another site, the Gallery of Courses Taught With Technology (, which is designed for professors to quickly "publish" information about their courses and read about what other professors in their discipline are doing.
The Textbook Era, dominant in most disciplines for nearly half a century, is over. We're entering the Era of Chunks. Now the role of the professor is to search out the best chunks of materials that match the aspirations and capacities of individual students. Publishers would be wise to abandon their attempts to reproduce textbooks in electronic form. Their emerging role is as brokers of chunks. Until publishers adjust their thinking, professors will create their own active exchanges.
I've heard that a group of 13 communications professors from 13 universities split up the task of creating new materials for a master's course on the impact of technology on communication. Each professor took responsibility for one week's material. Then, each of the other 12 professors could decide what from the new material they would use in their own courses. This is truly collaborative teaching.
At most national meetings, professors can now show their course chunks during special tracks. Many associations are developing their own data banks of effective chunks. Sharing is the ethic.
It may be time, at least among experienced users of technology, to soften the mandate against starting with technology—and starting course redesign with subject matter. Great opportunities develop from searching for chunks of particularly effective material, then deciding on which pieces will strengthen a particular course. Start with neither technology nor subject matter. Start with chunks!

David G. Brown is vice president and dean of the International Center for Computer Enhanced Learning. He has served as president of Transylvania University, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and chair of several national groups, including the American Association for Higher Education and the Higher Education Colloquium. As provost of Wake Forest University, he founded the Annual Conference of Ubiquitous Computing Colleges and Universities, and founded the Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning.

comments powered by Disqus