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
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 (www.merlot.org) 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 (http://iccel.wfu.edu/gallery), which is
designed for professors to quickly "publish" information about their courses and
read about what other professors in their discipline are doing.
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
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. firstname.lastname@example.org