Collections, Convections, and Confections
Every once in a while a faculty
member discovers the perfect fit—an instructional module on the Web that fulfills
the teaching or learning needs that inspired the search. These matches are like
getting just the kind of confection you wanted from a new box of chocolates.
The experience of these occasional successes raises expectations about the
Web. But searching alone is more like playing a well-programmed slot machine
than working your way through the box of chocolates—even if you’re allowed to
touch them and put back the ones you don’t want. Slot machines are purposely
rigged in favor of the house. The Web is a different kind of challenge.
The Heat is On
Perhaps a few years ago we could believe that information about the "really
good stuff" on the Web would be passed along effectively and naturally the way
heat from a burner evenly fills an oven. When there were only a few educators
using the Internet, the number of resources and volume of e-mail were small
enough to rely on a kind of convection process. However, now we don’t have the
luxury of simplicity—there are too many choices and too much information. We
can’t keep the oven closed—we can’t even control the heat.
As a result, many bright people and respected organizations are trying to bring
order to this chaos. They are developing well-organized sets of learning objects,
systems of categorizing instructional modules, and ways of applying processes
like peer review to provide better evaluative information. These emerging collections
help, but alone cannot solve the underlying problems.
The underlying problems may even be getting worse. Expectations continue to
rise for what can be done to engage faculty and students in using information
technology to improve teaching and learning. Also, resources available to support
this kind of change are being reduced as many colleges and universities are
pressed to cut budgets more painfully than any time in the 1990s.
Most educators are now recognizing a growing flood of new instructional options
based on using computers and the Internet. These options include not only changes
in the underlying content for courses, but also new ways of finding, organizing,
presenting, accessing, comparing, and exchanging information.
New Kinds, Change of Pace
Faculty and academic support professionals have been badly prepared for the
rising expectations and proliferating options they now face. Educators have
had decades to adjust to accelerating change in many academic fields while instructional
changes proceed at a glacial pace. Changes in subject matter have happened much
more rapidly, frequently, and widely than changes in the processes of teaching
and learning—until the 1990s.
Most faculty in higher education have been well-prepared to deal with new ideas
about organizing subject matter—integrating new approaches about a subject or
re-organizing content based on new educational goals. However, most faculty
have been prepared for few, if any, different ways of teaching and learning.
And that is what they now are urged to embrace in a confusing array of poorly
organized new choices.
Playing Catch Up
Many educators would like to halt the development of instructional resources,
or at least hold back information about new instructional options while they
catch up with what is already available. But the impact of rapid technology
obsolescence and the all-too-human desire to discover new tools ensures a continuous
stream of new instructional options. What’s more, competition among publishers
and academics eliminates the possibility of a moratorium on new instructional
materials, making it almost impossible to develop standards for building these
In fact, efforts to develop standards (e.g., metatext) for instructional objects
can be helpful both to resource developers and users. However, the process of
developing standards is so much slower than the current pace of innovation that
such standards may function more realistically as a set of guidelines. In addition,
because most higher education faculty have no formal training in pedagogy or
instructional design, it is doubly difficult to provide a taxonomy of instructional
resources that can be directly useful to faculty and most academic support professionals.
Unfortunately, none of the new collections can yet operate with the ease of,
say, a self-service gas pump. Even the best instructional resource collections
are not devices that can be learned in a few minutes. They are also not devices
that provide a simple, faster direct replacement for a well-defined service
that its users were already accustomed to depending on.
No matter how hard the builders of the collections work, only a small minority
of faculty are likely to be able to use these resources without assistance.
As budgets get squeezed, more faculty members and academic support professionals
bear increased responsibility and often accountability. Their discretionary
time is reduced and more precious. Only 10 percent or 15 percent of the faculty
who are deeply committed to instructional innovation are likely to take the
time to learn how to use these collections effectively. And most faculty aren’t
really sure what they might find will be directly useful to them, or that they
will have the time, self-confidence, and skills to master new ways of teaching
How can the connections between individual faculty members and the right "confections"
be made more easily, cost-effectively, and frequently? By improving every part
of the currently messy and primitive structure. Better collections; more widely
understandable and useable taxonomies of instructional options; improved ability
to assemble and distribute customized sub-collections; better support services;
better training and professional development for everyone.
But perhaps most important is the recognition that the idea of "lifelong learning"
is for everyone. The structural implications are profound.
Selected Collections, Repositories, and Related Resources
Collections and Repositories
Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC)
largest education database in the world—containing more than
one million records of journal articles, research reports, curriculum
and teaching guides, conference papers, and books."
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for International Education
A collection of links to "learning objects collections," related organizations,
a bibliography, etc.
National Science Digital Library
"The comprehensive source for science, technology, engineering
and mathematics education. Funded by the National Science Foundation."
Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL)
an informal national alliance working to build strong learning
environments for undergraduate students in mathematics, engineering
and the various fields of science."
Resources for Chemistry Educators
"This site provides annotated Web links to instructional materials and
other resources of interest to Chemistry teachers and course designers
Special emphasis is placed on CAI lessons, digital text, Web-based
tutorials and similar materials that can serve as alternatives to traditional
methods of instruction."
A free and open resource designed primarily for faculty and students
of higher education.
A project supported by Alberta Learning and CANARIE that has as its
primary goal the creation of a searchable, Web-based collection of multidisciplinary
teaching materials for educators across the province and beyond.
Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction
Lots of resources organized for (but not limited to) faculty and students
of Maricopa Community Colleges.
EDUCUASE offers a set of items from its publications and other sources
on the subject of "learning objects."
The digital and print publishing services for faculty—in fact, a collection
of publications intended to be used as part of digital coursepacks.
Offers an introductory selection of many links to "Open Source" or "Open
Course" collections of instruction-related resources.