Trip Report: EDUCAUSE Webinar on Widgets

Yesterday I attended a webinar hosted by EDUCAUSE titled Widgets: The Slicing and Dicing (and Splicing) of Sharable Learning Content. The speakers were Mark C. Marino, Assistant Professor (Teaching) of Writing Program, and Susan E. Metros, Associate Vice Provost and Deputy CIO, both of USC.
Susan Metros began with slides displaying the evolution of models of educational materials and practices, including:
Modularizing Education: curriculum: programs: courses: modules: topics
Modularizing Content: textbook: section: chapter
Modularizing Digital Content (mid-90s): Learning Object Repository: Subject: Asset (similar in structure to paper-based content, but at least it is searchable. Also, once you have them they can be recombined, at least that was the hope.)
She went on to say that LOs never got much traction – too hard to define – who would build, tag, track? How would they interact or be shared? Early efforts have focused on making big collections of LOs: MERLOT etc., or Europe: Open Education Resources (OER) Commons.
The back channel quickly picked up, discussing freeform folksonomy-type tagging vs. traditional library practice of standardized taxonomies and controlled vocabularies, as well as centralized collections vs. “findable” collections spread across the web. I was struck by how familiar this conversation was. It has been going on from the earliest days of the web and seems to be applied to each new technology, gadget, or model that appears.
According to Marino and Metros, LOs and Widgets have quite a bit in common, only widgets are easy to combine and use. And, to reiterate, they have much in common with any kind of digital collections in terms of building, maintaining, collecting, collating, etc.
Marino picked up the thread by introducing the actual widgets they have been working with, especially the writing widget built for his sophomore level Advanced Writing with Technoloy course: Topoi.
After that the front and back channel again passed to territory that is familiar to anyone who has considered digital collections or technologies and their role in teaching and learning:

  • short-term use vs. long-term sharing,
  • faculty building vs. institutional building,
  • finding the balance between doing “your subject” and doing the “tech stuff (and where this fits into promotion and tenure)
  • who will tag or archive
  • can standards make things more sharable? Who’s standards?
  • How do you, as an instructor, pull together all the disparate pieces to actually use with a class?
  • How will you know they are helping students learn (what kinds of rubrics)?

Other widget builders mentioned:
yourminis,
springwidgets,
widgetbox
google gadgets
Other widgets mentioned by audience: box.net, ustream.tv, dligo.com
One of the reasons LOs fell apart: what do you do with them once you have them: in web page, in ppt, – need easy way to glue these together. On horizin: pacyderm, USC/Melon: SOPHIE (super book),

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