Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Open Content –

The podcasting craze has created a renewed interest in open content that supports instruction. While we in the ed tech business probably think about content too much and so spend too much time on how to make good content (my guys have a nice tutorial in making Web based video content that just came out) it is nonetheless intriguing to talk about how content might be shared. Here I’d really like to separate out “readings” that may be from Journal articles or elsewhere from other types of “learning objects” like screencasts and online quizzes.

One question that arises is for faculty who keep their stuff on their own course Web site, without any password protection rather than in the CMS. That content is already open in some sense. But is it findable? I’m guessing that we have a significant amount of content in this category. For example, consider this site for an introductory course on plant pathology. I did a general Google search for the site and incorrectly used the word “pathology” in the search rather than the word “pathogens,” which is in the course title. It didn’t show up on the first Google page. I’m about 50 – 50 on whether I click through to further pages on the Google search. It depends how hard I’m looking and what shows up on the first page. But I would say that as a student searching, this content could easily be missed.

Of course on the campus Google, it comes up immediately as the first item. So if the instructors only care about making the content known to the local community, they are doing fine, but if they would like their stuff to be more broadly used, one might ask whether they could do some things that would aid the Google placement of their site. More broadly, one wonders whether a campus could do things to make content open content of their instructors more findable.

Here’s another example. Purdue is now offering a service to Podcast lectures and knowing that, I can do a Google search on Boilercast and voila the first link is to a site with lots of content. But if I do a more general search on Podcast lectures, that Purdue page doesn’t come up and instead there a several links to Chronicle pages as well as to Publisher sites. Purdue as an institution has more of an incentive to make that content site well known to the outside world than any individual instructor has. Given the enormous effort they’ve already put in to make this service a go, are there incremental things they can do to make the content more visible?

We know MIT got a lot of mileage in that regard with all the pre-announcements of the Open Courseware Initiative and certainly if an institution can get that type of publicity it will attract a lot of eyeballs to the site. In this case, people will know to search on OCW and then find the site straight away. From there on in, these people will browse, not search, and I think that is helpful because it assists in being able to compare materials and also getting a sense of how much is there at the outset. With the pure search approach, one doesn’t get a good sense of how relevant the links are without going through them all.

So to me, this suggests that a registry would be useful for open content. Merlot plays something of this role but for whatever reasons it hasn’t taken off here and so I’m suspicious about whether a registry where instructors need to enter some info for their content to be listed can really work.

Hence I’m thinking about a hybrid of some sort, where first categories are input, say from OCW or Merlot, and then Google searches are returned on each of those categories. The category labels would then be something of a restricted language and the content creators who really cared about getting their content known would compete by trying to achieve high placement of their stuff in those categories. The other creators would simply be involved en passant.

I don’t know if this cans work, but it is intriguing to me and something I’ll be looking into more.

1 comment:

Tom Carey said...

Re your comment that content authors need to enter other information in order to have their content listed in MERLOT:

Not quite the whole story - someone has to enter information about the content, but in most cases it is another instructor who has found the material effective with students. That doesn't avoid the question of motivating that extra effort, but the emphasis is on the community contribution not just the author.