Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Making Fun of Learning Objects

The good folks at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management (ISKME) just launched what looks to be a powerful teaching and learning network called Open Education Resources (OER) Commons. OER Commons brings social-networking features and open-source technology to educational content. In essence, it combines an open-source style learning object repository with a MySpace-like sharing, rating, and collaborating infrastructure—in other words, small chunks of curricular resources combined with collaboration tools for faculty sharing those chunks. Membership is free, and the potential is huge.

What’s happening here is the free exchange of learning resources, coupled with the ability of faculty nationally and internationally to collaborate, share, and dialogue. Ideas and insights about what’s working, what’s not, and how to best make use of resources are right at your fingertips. Amazon- and YouTube-like rating systems guide you through highest-rated, most-viewed, and new content in a myriad of disciplines. If you buy the premise of Daniel Goldman’s book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, you can see the genius behind OER Commons. It’s a vibrant social network that allows faculty to collectively make meaning, interact, and engage with learning content. It’s not just an electronic file cabinet of modular learning materials, as many learning object repositories become.

OER Commons holds the real potential of making the search for and construction of curriculum and delivery strategies more social and maybe even fun—imagine that! Add to this the idea of bringing interactive gaming technology into this mix, as folks like Chris DeDe from Harvard’s College of Education advocate, and you really ratchet things up. Extending the idea we discussed earlier about gaming in student orientation, imagine teachers choosing from interactive game modules (learning objects) that dynamically teach math concepts, engage students in comparing and contrasting philosophies, or take them deep into historical contexts as participants. It’s a future where teaching and learning becomes literally playful for teacher and learner.

But therein may be a problem. There are some for whom the idea of making learning math, philosophy, history--any "serious" subject for that matter--fun completely misses the mark. To them, learning should be hard, full of unremitting work that leads to painful realization. Play has no part in this mix. Even though the medical industry, the military, and many more have all found the broad value of creating more social and game-centric learning experiences, in their minds we just can’t let that kind of thinking sour thousands of years of educational practice! They are essentially saying, "I had to give blood, sweat, and tears to learn this stuff, and so should you!" These are the same folks who are still getting over the fact that search engines can instantly give you research results, when they had to spend hours in the library searching through the stacks to find the same information.

However, I don’t think this sentiment is shared by most teachers. From work studying thousands of teaching excellence award winners, it’s clear that the best of teachers want to make learning about their disciplines fun, engaging, and even inspiring. Moreover, they want to have fun in the process as well.

So to best meet the learning needs of our communities and our students, let’s make use of tools like OER Commons and strategies from gaming as we engage our neomillennial learners. Let’s be known for making fun of learning objects!