Master Clusters: Savvy Web Searches?
The number and variety of digital collections of instructional resources on
the Web is growing rapidly, but not nearly as rapidly as the number of individual
links to instructional resources. It is still too difficult, by far, for a typical
individual faculty member to find just what he or she requires to meet an instructional
need. It is still too difficult for such faculty members to be very confident
about whether or not there is "anything out there" that might fit. And it is
still unlikely that most faculty members will even be very confident of whether
or not they have articulated their needs or formulated their searches effectively.
In my experience, the most completely satisfying and rapidly effective option
is to work closely with a professional reference librarian who is already well
trained in using online and more-conventional resources. Unfortunately, this
privilege is not often available to most of us.
One idealistic alternative is to have someone build a Web repository of instructional
resources that is comprehensive, controlled, and highly organized for intuitive
searching. Of course, we want this wonderful system to be easily accessible
from anywhere we wish and to be rapidly and completely responsive.
Unfortunately, we may not achieve such a system in the foreseeable future.
It is a considerable challenge—intellectually, technologically, and in many
other ways. Not the least of which is that most faculty have very little preparation
for understanding and expressing their own instructional needs. We cannot wait
until some organization or genius figures out how to create "The Ultimate Technical
Solution" to this set of problems. At the same time, I'm quite skeptical that
such an answer is realistically achievable in the next decade.
Today it is still likely that a search of one of these collections will produce
either a list that is too long and contains too many items that are inappropriate;
or a list that contains only a few items, none of which match the needs of the
searcher. In both cases, the faculty searcher may worry rightly that there were
a few items in the collection that would be much better than the matches he
found but that he did not know how to search properly so that they would emerge.
Even Merlot, probably one of the largest, best organized, and most reviewed
of these collections, is still rather daunting for a faculty member who might
be working alone and looking for a quick resource.
So, what is the solution? My "modest proposal" is that we encourage more academic
support professionals to develop small "clusters" or highly organized, highly
focused sets of Web links to a number of selected resources. I urge these professionals
(librarians and specialists in faculty development, technology support, instructional
design, etc.) to develop these clusters with the needs of specific faculty with
whom they work clearly in mind. I then urge them to develop these clusters without
worrying much about performing a comprehensive search or including all relevant
options. It's much more important that they become comfortable in exercising
their own judgment or relying on the expertise and wisdom of a few of their
colleagues. As the richness and complexity of the Web keep growing, judgment,
selectivity, perspective, and even wisdom are becoming more valuable. I hope
we will soon be able to acknowledge and make use of these qualities, which have
been long available among the faculty and professionals in higher education.
At the local level, folks can be helped by local experts. To make these efforts
more effective, it would also be nice if there were mechanisms for those who
build these clusters to tell others about them, making them accessible for further
improvement. It would also be helpful if there were only a small number of more
comprehensive, well-organized, searchable, and updated collections.
Some of the tools developed by the open source software community might be
helpful in moving closer to some of these goals and, especially, in sharing
the workload, expertise, and wisdom. Another tool that provides an attractive
model is the XanEdu system. It enables faculty members to build "digital CoursePacks."
The XanEdu system facilitates the finding and assembling of previously printed
articles, book chapters, etc. XanEdu has also commissioned some subject-area
experts and faculty members to develop specific CoursePacks within this system
based on their own insights, preferences, and teaching experience. These "Master
CoursePacks" are then made easily accessible to other faculty members who have
interests in teaching similar courses. The XanEdu system makes it easy for other
faculty members to modify the Master CoursePacks and to share their own preferences
This is a good model for what could also be done in assembling collections
of instructional resources that are not limited only to print-published materials.
I would be delighted to see someone integrate a tool like the XanEdu system
with a valuable and growing collection of Web-based instructional resources
like Merlot. Too bad the dotcom economy isn't available to provide lavish start-up
funding to those who would take up this challenge!
Web Repositories and Collections
A free and open resource designed primarily for faculty and students
of higher education. Links to online learning materials are collected
here along with annotations such as peer reviews and assignments.
A project supported by Alberta Learning and CANARIE (Canadian Network
for the Advancement of Research in Industry and Education). Its primary
goal is the creation of a searchable, Web-based collection of multidisciplinary
teaching materials for educators across the province and beyond. CAREO
(Campus Alberta Repository of Educational Objects) is being undertaken
jointly by the Universities of Alberta and Calgary in cooperation with
BELLE (Broadband Enabled Lifelong Learning Environment), CANARIE, the
University of Calgary Health Education Cluster project, and as a part
of the Campus Alberta initiative.
UWM Center for International Education www.uwm.edu/dept/cie/aop/lo_collections.html
The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Center for International Education
has a collection of links to "learning objects collections," related organizations,
a bibliography, etc.
Educause offers a set of items from its publications and other sources
on the subject of "learning objects."
The XanEdu digital and print publishing services for faculty.
TLT Group www.tltgroup.org/opensource/base.htm
The TLT Group offers an introductory selection of MANY links to "Open
Source" or "Open Course" collections of instruction-related resources.