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Saturday, September 18, 2004

Learning Object Production and Implementation: UT Telecampus

Learning objects produced and implemented for multiple e-learning applications. Jennifer Rees and Michael Anderson of UT (University of Texas) Telecampus discuss an innovative, large-scale project that required the expansion and development of learning objects. Interest and discussion in learning objects has picked up considerable steam in the last year, Jennifer Rees points out, which has resulted in the circulation of multiple definitions of what constitutes a learning object. Jennifer and Michael participated in an online interview with Susan, which was first published in Xplanazine. Susan was thrilled with the thoughtful, detailed, and accessible descriptions of learning objects, their development and implementation, and was delighted to be able to share the interview here.

Most agree that the learning object is a small, digital, accessible, transferable packet of information. From there the definitions vary and may include something as simple as what we call an information object - such as a jpeg or gif - to a learning object as complex as a medical simulation. When the use of learning objects (LO) began in the arena of corporate training it was simpler to define. As it migrated to the arena of higher education's online offerings and was tied to multiple instructional design theories, the complexity of the definition grew.

Michael Anderson, Manager, Course Development and Technology ServicesAnderson leads a team of instructional designers and multi-media programmers. Course developers work with academic and corporate partners to create and oversee innovative online courses. Technology staff administer course hosting, manage technical support services, and design and deliver solutions including a 15-campus student information system.

Jennifer Rees, Manager, Communication ServicesRees leads a team of communication specialists to promote awareness and understanding of the UT TeleCampus and the online programs it supports. Services offered include website design and content management, surveys, market research, graphic design, advertising placement, media relations, publication design and organizational communications.
Overview of the TRACK projectOn February 16, 2004, the University of Texas TeleCampus launched a free (grant funded) web application named TRACK (TAKS Readiness and Core Knowledge). The site is designed to help prepare 11th graders for the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) exit-level test administered throughout Texas beginning spring 2004. Students must pass the 11th grade exit-level TAKS to graduate.

The UT TeleCampus (UTTC) was charged with design and delivery of a dynamic, highly-interactive program that would provide students, teachers, and parents the ability to access informative webpages, sample diagnostic tests, and learning materials in the four subject areas tested under the 11th grade TAKS: algebra and geometry; biology and integrated physics and chemistry; English; and social studies. Ultimately, 230 diagnostic items were selected for use in the site along with more than 340 learning objects, comprising 400 hours of instruction.

The plan's important and noteworthy strategy to take a learning object approach in developing TRACK learning materials represents a departure from the standard approach to Web-based learning materials. Tactically, UTTC needed to distribute the learning object design and development workload to as many authors as possible in order to meet the ambitious schedule. Typically, a large organization might require two years to develop a comparable amount of material. The project was developed in six months and saw more than 50,000 registered high school student users in its first 90 days live on the Web.

--- A Discussion with the UT TeleCampus about Learning Objects -

(Rees)Interest and discussion in learning objects has picked up considerable steam in the last year, resulting in the circulation of multiple definitions of what constitutes a learning object. Most agree that the learning object is a small, digital, accessible, transferable packet of information. From there the definitions vary and may include something as simple as what we call an information object - such as a jpeg or gif - to a learning object as complex as a medical simulation. When the use of learning objects (LO) began in the arena of corporate training it was simpler to define. As it migrated to the arena of higher education's online offerings and was tied to multiple instructional design theories, the complexity of the definition grew.

(Anderson) The definition we've used for learning objects for a while is fairly simple: a digital resource that can be reused and supports learning. But that's just the definition.

More important are the characteristics we've attached: our LOs are:
o encapsulated and discrete: objects are self-contained and do not depend on anything external; they can accept and send data through an interface point, but everything an object can do is represented by its message interface.
o discoverable: objects contain data about themselves so that other objects know how to use and communicate with them. Metadata is the implementation of discoverability.o coherent: objects utilize internal navigation for a consistent UI presentation layer.
o responsive: objects provide a feedback loop to the learner (and perhaps others) for verification of the learning outcome.
o polymorphic: objects have the ability to change at the moment they are called; this ability is represented by accepting messages (such as userIDs) and sending messages (such as assessment results) to provide object individualization.

(Rees)So what this means to our learners, whether they are high school students or graduate students, is the interactive learning content they receive online will support learning and will arrive via a common user interface that doesn't cause users to spend more time on navigation than learning content. What it means to us here is we can efficiently (time and finances) build encapsulated parts that, through good instructional design theory, can be woven together in various (but not unlimited) ways to convey knowledge - a verifiable process from viable student feedback.

(Anderson)With the more than 100 graduate and undergraduate online courses we offer each semester, we typically build rather than encounter LOs. But whether we are creating or viewing LOs, 90 percent of UTTC online course content is built using LOs. Faculty develop self-contained lessons (or modules or topics or sessions--you pick the name) around a learning objective (perhaps several); that objective is taught via content pages (text and images, Flash, audio, JavaScript interactivity, video, Java--you pick the technology) and assessed (self-contained quizzes, external high-stakes tests, uploaded homework documents, mandatory discussion board posts, group design projects presented in a synchronous chat session--you pick the assessment type). More important than where we've used LOs is why we've used them: for the most part, by virtue of the design modularity, we've used LOs to prevent our content from being "locked up" inside an LMS.

(Rees)That's an important point to consider. Since we launched in 1998 we have used three courseware platforms. With the first we had the content locked in each course. When we went to switch vendors it took the better part of the year to convert the courses to the new platform, during which time we were essentially at the mercy of the vendor. When our second LMS was purchased and we needed full-scale course conversion again, the content, which had been packaged in LOs, was converted in one month. Michael's team has built a course in our current LMS detailing our process.

(Anderson)The first conversion was literally one page at a time, copying and pasting the text into Dreamweaver; right-click and save the image; change the image SRC parameter to match the saved file. Once we had pulled all of the assets, we constructed self-contained LOs that were packaged as zipped files and uploaded. It did take a year. For the second conversion, we downloaded the dozen or so package files per course from Prometheus and uploaded those same dozen files to Blackboard. It took a month.

The best explanation of how the objects are built is located in the UTTC Capabilities course, as well as the TRACK project. We acquired hundreds of objects from outside sources for TRACK, but for UTTC courses, the objects are built inside the UT System. The process for identifying and selecting TRACK LOs was iterative and collaborative: teams of teachers and curricula experts surveyed Web and CD resources to identify materials that matched the TAKS objectives; the teams then analyzed, debated, and ultimately scored the materials in online discussion forums; when acceptable LOs were located, we negotiated with the owners for non-exclusive distribution rights. If no objects could be located, or if negotiations failed, LOs had to be produced by the TRACK team.

The priority was to cover every learning objective broadly and add depth as time permitted; the primary goal to launch TRACK with at least one LO for every objective was accomplished. Where LOs had to be built by the TRACK team, this primary goal demanded simultaneous subject development; as a practical result, we set up a Social Science team (90% created by TRACK), an English team (100% created by TRACK), and a Math/Science team. The latter group created relatively few new objects (20%) but integrated assets (information objects) such as video clips, PowerPoint slides, PDF documents, and test item banks into a customized QuickTime player and Flash self-assessment engine.

The TRACK project is an expansive test readiness program. One point of particular interest in TRACK is the use of LOs from multiple sources given a common look and feel. I think it's important to note that because LOs are independent pieces doesn't mean they have to look like it. But, the plan to take a learning object (LO) approach to the development of TRACK learning material represents an innovative departure (NLII, 2003) from the standard "all-encompassing textbook" approach to Web-based learning materials. The plan was predicated on both strategic and tactical goals.

Strategically, we needed to design the learning materials in such a way that they could be easily and constantly (perhaps on a monthly schedule) updated with new materials. Tactically, we needed to distribute the learning object design and development workload to as many authors as possible in order to achieve the ambitious schedule. Typically, a large organization such as the University of Texas Dana Center might require two years to develop an entire 4-subject online curriculum; a commercial developer such as Lightspan might require a $5 million investment. The TRACK project demanded the same breadth and quality of content with 25% of the time and 10% of the budget.

(Rees)Yes, Michael brought in two short-term contract Flash designers and teamed them with his designers. The teams produced an impressive volume of LOs in very short order and with extremely effective results based on pilot study and survey results. It was critically important that we used educators to help gather the initial "seed" content that Michael's team used to create the TRACK LOs.

(Anderson)Fortunately, the extremely granular nature of the TRACK learning content-based as it is on well-defined and specific TAKS (the state mandated test - Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) objectives-lends itself to an LO approach. The acquisition of the learning content was developed by first establishing teams of experienced classroom teachers who surveyed and selected applicable Web resources, including commercial sources of digital content whose assets could be repurposed for Web delivery. The end result from the teacher teams was a series of maps, tables of content of the best the Web has to offer, keyed to the specific TAKS objectives.

(Rees)One of several formidable skills that Michael's group brought to the project was their diligence in creating an elegant, seamless user interface. Students and teachers using TRACK would never know that TRACK's content had been farmed from a multitude of sources because of the interface design.

(Anderson)That was a concern we addressed early in the design process. The potential drawback of the LO approach is cognitive dissonance as students move from a blue Flash animation to a green Java simulation-was addressed in two ways:
(1) a coherent and comprehensive interface menu and navigation was developed aftersurveying the initial collection of objects for the presentation layer of the learning objects;
and (2) the development by the teacher teams of bridge material which would serve to provide a consistent voice and tone and a common structure of:
(a) applicability and contextualization of the object to the TAKS objective;
(b) the object itself; and
(c) a self-assessment, summary, and transition back to the learning objective.

The result is a heterogeneous collection of world-class, multimedia-rich learning materials tied together by a strong narrative thread.

The learning objects are managed as zipped package files. The questions around naming protocols, directory structures, and functions are more applicable to information objects-smaller "chunks" that compose our learning objects. The distinction (for us) is important. For example, for some institutions, a photo is a LO; at UTTC, it is not. We made a decision NOT to catalogue objects at that fine a level (although we sometimes regret that decision when we are hunting for a specific image) because the expense (time) spent describing and then searching exceeded the expense (time) to recreate the information object. Because we manually assemble LOs (as opposed to using a machine to assemble them), we are not as dependent upon the extensive metadata generated in cataloging functions.

(Rees)The metadata tagging Michael has mentioned is a growing topic of concern in the world of LOs. Designed to be efficient and financially viable, a repository of LOs is useless if it's inaccessible by vague or inadequate catalogs. To be a true LO, the object must be discoverable, yet it's equally inefficient if the cataloging itself is so time-consuming that the cost to do so exceeds the value of the content itself, which can happen if you aren't setting some parameters. Michael is intimate with the work of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative for this subject, but chose a different naming convention based on our specific needs.

Since the UT System wasn't planning to individually distribute the LOs external to the System, but did need to access, edit and redistribute the objects, the naming protocol for TRACK was based on the TAKS objective and the accompanying Texas Essential Knowledge (TEKS) expectations. The compilation of these objectives comprises the questions/topics of the TAKS test. LOs are named thusly for quick, efficient reference: Subject Area/TAKS Objective/TEKS Objective/LO Identifier

While we're on the subject of metadata it would be good time to express concerns that we have here at the UT TeleCampus with regard to discussion of metadata being an 'end all' solution where machines simply compile LOs from repositories and create online courses. We disagree with that model for higher education. Using Wiley's (David A. Wiley, II, The Edumetrics Institute, Utah State) metaphor of metadata being like the content and nutritional value labels on cans, we'd like to take that metaphor a step further. Just because you could see a list of contents on a series of cans on a given grocery store shelf does mean pouring them together would make a gourmet meal. Good instructional design and good designers have to be involved in bringing the content together appropriately.

(Anderson)Exactly. Think of the difference too in the way a teenager might prepare a meal with little knowledge of recipes and then think of Julia Childs. This goes beyond tags and content into having deep understanding of how the pieces fit together.

(Rees)Yes, and again as Wiley points, the references in the last few years to LOs being like LEGO blocks is overly simplistic (and maybe even dangerous) for the same reason. We agree with his suggestion the metaphor move to atoms, as LOs are like atoms in structure and scope. They are small objects, but not the smallest, and they can be assembled to create larger objects; however, not every atom can be bonded with every other atom effectively. Just because a LO exists on a given topic does not make it the appropriate choice to package with other LOs in the goal of supporting a specific learning outcome.

One of things I've been thinking about is referential metadata. By adding qualitative statements to the metadata we can know more than say, this LO is a ___ file size, 32 second html doc based on ___ instructional theory covering the 1812 war. We can know, this LO is a 32 K html doc (etc) covering the 1812 war that was effective in raising scores for females in 10 - 12th grade. There's nothing in the object-oriented model that says it can't pass and receive messages. Of course, this is problematic from a variety of privacy points, but it's interesting to explore.
Finally, LOs are intimately related to SCORM, a LO specification that is becoming a de facto standard. For UTTC, LOs must be SCORM-compliant in the use of variable names.

(Rees)The UT TeleCampus partners with more than 100 faculty in a given full semester. It's both impractical and impossible for Michael's team to create the courses completely in-house. His department and our Student and Faculty Services staff work with faculty from course approval through course delivery providing a myriad of training and support services.

(Anderson)Faculty will be the managers of LOs in constructing a course, but (most) faculty will rely on course development teams to build LOs. The message interface aspect of LOs has our attention--and seems to hold the most promise.

Even the "infinite" variety of LOs promised by massive online global repositories comes down to this: some really cool computer-based interaction that eventually gets boring. However, if you concede that LOs include a message component, we can enable LOs to "talk" with other objects: tests can be posted to grade books; RSS feeds can be pulled into pages and pushed into blogs; student interactions can be tracked and guided; teams can explore and learn and solve complex problems together in an immersive, communication-rich online community. In what seems at times a silent digital wilderness, voices can be heard.

(Rees)To see what LOs look like in the real world, feel free to access TRACK. By going to the TRACK website at you can follow the links to the login page. Create an "other" account (please do not create a student account - we want the diagnostics available exclusively to the students using them in Texas) and explore subject areas.

(Anderson)And bear in mind that not all content is appropriate for LOs. The top five considerations:* Is this content valuable enough to build as a LO?* Is the size of the content appropriate for a LO?* Does the content have clear learning objectives?* Can mastery of the content be assessed via feedback?* Do the concepts build in complexity over the LO?

There are many, many people joining the discussion about LOs. A few leaders that come to mind include: Wayne Hodgins for the term and the analogy. David Wiley for the ontology and OSS. David Merrill for making sure "something happens." Ruth Clark for the cognitive theory. Ellen Wagner for application in performance support. Stephen Downes for insisting on RSS. Andrew Gibson for exploring the pedagogy. Chuck Barritt for the RIO/RLO model. Grady Booch for OO-software. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The UT TeleCampus is the centralized support center for online education among the University of Texas System's 15 academic and medical research facilities. To learn more:

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

E-Learning in Less-Developed Nations: A Paradox

Crossing the Rio Savane in Mozambique near the city of Beira, located on the Indian Ocean and long considered the Rio de Janeiro of Africa. Peace and stability after decades of civil war, plus capital flight from neighboring beleaguered Zimbabwe have made Mozambique a likely spot for explosive growth in infrastructure, with corresponding demand for e-products, including but not limited to distributed education (e-learning), training, higher education, video game-based simulation, e-logistics and e-commerce, esp. between commercial partners in Portugal, Goa (India), and South Africa; strategic security partners, and southern and eastern Africa. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Woolly Mammoth? Limping Gazelle? Vulnerable Communities of Practice

Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.
Without good distributed communities of practice, even the best e-learning program can degenerate as ID's, SME's, IT, instructors, and support services speak "at" each other or ignore each other altogether; policies and practices are mired down in the past; and the institution feels itself being chewed upon by the competition. Granted, communities of practice in a distributed environment have a different look and feel than those that are forged in small groups in face-to-face settings. Nevertheless, they are vital if ongoing e-learning products and programs are to be developed, nurtured, and sustained. The main pillars of success -- communication, reasonable and well-coordinated change, relevant tasks and outcomes, shared vision and mission, needs-responsive and ever-evolving instructional and developmental strategies -- will collapse.

While this article focuses primarily on higher education, particularly those upgrading their systems and incorporating new SCORM-compliant learning management systems that integrate with multiple databases and platforms, it can also be applied to military contractors, not-for-profits, and corporations requiring flexibility and rapid responses to quickly changing needs.

Are you doomed to being a Woolly Mammoth in La Brea Tar Pits or a limping gazelle on the Serengeti Plain? Do not be mired in the past or devoured by the competition. Develop functional distributed CoPs.

What does a distributed community of practice look like in e-learning?

As in the case of typical communities of practice (CoP), the group members work together on many projects over time. They may not be on site together. However, they do communicate via e-mail, chat, project management interfaces, and collaboration tools.

Subject Matter Experts: Sometimes institutions use a subject matter expert to develop a single course. This is not always a good idea, particularly if one wishes to have an effective CoP develop over time. Ideally, a core of subject matter experts cooperate over time, and concern themselves with more content-integrative issues such as effective instructional strategy and emerging technologies.

Instructional Designers: Instructional designers are a vital part of the CoP. Their role can be a vexed one, however, if they do not have direct communication with the other members of the team, and do not adhere to a philosophy that encourages constant adaptation and modification to meet changing needs and challenges, they can be perceived as dictatorial, rigid, obstructive, out of date, or simply irrelevant.

Instructional Design Assistants: This is often the most overlooked piece in a CoP. It is important to have long-term, committed assistants who view their work as an apprenticeship and who are committed to keeping up-to-date with new versions of technologies as well as new and evolving approaches, such as video game-based simulation integrated into a conventional e-learning course.

Information Technology Team (includes Learning Object Coordinator): SCORM compliancy is more important vital than ever as learning objects must work across platforms and course management systems. Learning objects must be flexible enough to be shared in multiple applications, and a clear way of organizing access (files, server space, etc.) must be established at the outset and communicated clearly in order to avoid chaos, and to accommodate expansion in the future. Learning objects, properly classified and organized, should migrate easily with expansions and uploads. This may sound trivial, but anyone who has experienced a portal or system upgrade knows that it is not. All the course management system design, portal design, learning object development, etc. are for naught if the objects they employ are scattered randomly through different folders and on different servers.

Project Manager: The project manager should have a clear sense of the big picture as well as the details, and should be able to classify them into hierarchies. Project managers who cannot differentiate forest from trees are not helpful to their team, and will essentially drive a wedge in an emerging CoP. They should be able to guide the group by developing effective project management approaches that mesh with the culture of the organization. For example, a simple GANTT chart or Critical Path can help individuals set milestones and organize work.

Facilitators (Instructors): The instructors are often overlooked in the development of a Community of Practice. Although they should be required to participate in training and to be familiar with instructional Best Practices, as well as cognizant of effective instructional strategies, they are often kept on the periphery, and are marginalized, often for control issues. Their feedback is vital, however, particularly in terms of maintaining an evolutionary stance to instructional strategies, and reporting on the effectiveness of learning objects.


Communication: Good project coordination must occur, not only in developing new courses, but in maintaining and upgrading old ones. Communication flows are most effective when they are linear, but when they are also coordinated by a project manager. E-mail is useful, although a discussion forum and a collaboration space are critical, particularly in sharing the results of evaluations, needs assessments, and making curriculum modifications. It is also important to keep everyone on task with milestones and deadlines. Although software such as Microsoft Project is ideal, it is possible to take a simple approach and use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to show groups and tasks, milestones, target and completion dates, areas of responsibility, etc.

Reasonable and Well-Coordinated Change: Major changes of hardware, software, curriculum, support services, calendars, etc. are potentially catastrophic if not well planned. They MUST INCLUDE CONTINGENCY PLANS AND INCORPORATE REDUNDANCY. I don't like writing in ALL CAPS, but how many times does one have to go through launch melt-downs, where the course management system fails with no back-up, or servers collapse with no plan for load-sharing, or "edge" computing (as offered by Akamai and others). Avoid *clustered change* and move toward a smooth, transitional change, that involves JUST ONE MAJOR CHANGE AT A TIME. (Oops. Looks like my hand slipped and I typed LOUD again.)

Shared and Understood Mission and Vision: Occasional reality checks should be made to make sure that all members of the distributed Community of Practice know the appearance of the animal they are feeding, training, nurturing, or getting bitten by. At least once per year, the individual members in the CoP should write (and share / post) a paragraph or two on "What Our Mission Means to Me" and "How I Envision Our Vision." This is a great way to share ideas, build esprit de corps, and to gently correct misconceptions.

Needs-Adjusted Content and Curriculum: Competition is alive and well, especially now among colleges, universities and not-for-profits. The institution of higher learning that does not adapt will eventually starve to death, or become trapped in old attitudes, technology, and course content. Think of a Woolly Mammoth in La Brea Tarpits. That will be you if you refuse to find out not only what your clients (students) want today, but what they anticipate needing tomorrow. Remember, slow starvation is an ugly way to go.

Evolving Instructional Strategies and Design: Now let's move from the Tar Pit to the Serengeti Plain. You've seen the speedy cheetah catch the limping gazelle or zebra, right? The race goes to the swift, of course. The not-so-swift get eaten. Let's think strategy, too, though. Instructional design is not just about quick evolution, or being the first on the block to have the latest bell or whistle. It's also about being cost-effective, and thinking ahead to likely scenarios that allow you to seize the opportunities as they present themselves.

Last year, I spent 2 weeks in Mozambique. One weekend, we went to a game preserve that had been fairly wiped out by the 30 years of civil war that had raged within the game preserve, which was located near the border of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Now, there were very few animals, but the animals that were left were smart and hungry. Apparently, tourists made an easy meal -- either those foolish enough to stand up on the back of open-air Range Rovers, who were picked off by fast, young lions, or those who camped in flimsy canvas tents far from fires, who were mauled by a lioness who was too old to run and catch a Range Rover (but patient enough to wait for the tourists to climb into their "happy meal" canvas meal-to-go bag!). I like to think of Project Managers as wise lionesses. We observe the behavior of the competition, without running after it and putting ourselves at risk. Then, when the moon is full, and the tourists are zipped up tight in their little microcosmic utopias, we open our jaws, let out our claws, and chomp-chomp, it's all over! (My cats love hearing me tell this tale).

Needs-Responsive Infrastructure and Delivery: Why try to push a delivery system on a public that can't use it? It seems obvious enough that this is patently absurd, but people do it all the time. Blackboard immediately comes to mind. It can't deliver video game-based simulation (which many people want), it can't accommodate a lot of traffic, and it can't be modified. Further, firewalls and security do not allow one to log on, or for all the graphics to load. One would be better off to move to a different platform, or scrap the platform altogether for the delivery of content, and use Blackboard only for its integrated gradebook, e-mail, discussion board, contact info, etc. functions. Nevertheless, rigid and inflexible policies and protocols preclude innovation -- even if it is a dirt-cheap option, and it responds to the real needs of the learners, and reflects real-world conditions.


The following points can assist in creating distributed communities of practice for e-learning programs:

* Control of learning is distributed among the participants (e.g. students and instructors) and does not rest in the hands of a single subject matter expert or instructor.

* Learning activities are flexible, and modifications are encouraged if they suit the needs of the learner and the group as a whole.

*Multiple parties interact and they are united by a shared goal, problem or project, which provides a mission, vision, and focus. Incentives - both intrinsic and extrinsic - are incorporated into the learning environment in order to motivate learners.

*Learners and Facilitators are committed to the sharing of knowledge, and to encouraging the generation of new knowledge.

*Multiple perspectives and alternative explanations are not only encouraged, but required of learners and facilitators.

* Investigations and inquiries cross traditional disciplinary boundaries.

*Conceptual and intellectual risk-taking is encouraged and rewarded.

*Instructors should model intellectual risk-taking and innovative approaches to problem-solving.

*Instructional designers utilize appropriate instructional technology in order to actualize the development of a community of practice. In most instances, the activities will be structured around and within a course management system, which both foments and constricts the construction of a flexible learning space.

Nevertheless, the following strategies should be accommodated (Collins, 1991) and Nardi (1996):

Collaboration and Social Negotiation: Encourage the members to collaborate on projects. The project manager can facilitate this, and determine the most effective approach. Sometimes collaborative software is vital. At other times, simply using a blog can help encourage thinking and responding to ideas.

Exploration: A community of practice that does not encourage exploration -- both of curriculum (content) and new techniques (software and hardware) will quickly find that individuals will lose interest, and the e-learning courses will flounder. A word of caution, though -- one needs to be aware of who and what is driving change. If changes are made by the IT side of things without explaining the benefits to the others, or without getting their buy-in, large-scale failures are likely. Too-frequent change is as demotivating as no change at all.

Problem-Solving: Collaborative problem solving is perhaps one of the most immediate benefits of effective CoPs. Problem-solving can be technically focused, or can revolve around curriculum. For maximum effectiveness, however, it is vital to pay attention to marketing and outreach in order to maintain an awareness of the emerging and evolving needs of students.

Reflective Thinking: If a desired learning outcome includes the development of reflective thinking, then it is important that each member of the CoP contemplate how they can play a role in achieving the goal. For example, facilitators can think of ways to interact with learners to encourage reflective thinking. Instructional designers can think of activities. SMEs can bring new readings and content to bear. Instructional technologists can develop new applications of technologies -- simulations, etc.

The most effective instructional strategies analyze the desired objectives and then frame them in terms of the learning outcomes. Appropriate approaches keep the technology in the background, and foreground the cognitive processes at work.

C. van Winkelen. Inter-Organizational Communities of Practice.

Resources from van Winkelen

1. Hubert, C., B. Newhouse, and W. Vestal, Building and Sustaining Communities of Practice. in Next-Generation Knowledge Management: Enabling Business Processes. 2001. Houston, USA.

2. van Winkelen, C. and P. Ramsell, Building Effective Communities. in Henley Knowledge Management Forum Second Annual Conference. 2002. Henley Management College.

3. Wenger, E. and W. Snyder, Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier. Harvard Business Review, 2000. 78(1): p. 139-145.

4. Gongla, P. and C. Rizzuto, Evolving Communities of Practice: IBM Global Services Experience. IBM Systems Journal, 2001. 40(4): p. 842-862.

5. Wenger, E., R. McDermott, and W. Snyder, Cultivating Communities of Practice. 2002: Harvard Business School Press.

6. Wenger, E., R. McDermott, and W.M. Snyder, Cultivating Communities of Practice. 2002, Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Publishing.

7. Lawrence, T., N. Philips, and C. Hardy, Watching whale watching. Exploring the discursive foundations of collaborative relationships. Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 1999. 35(4): p. 479-502.

8. Miles, R., C. Snow, and G. Miles, The Long Range Planning, 2000. 33(3): p. 300-321.

9. Ashby, W.R., An Introduction to Cybernetics. 1956, London: Chapman and Hall.

10. Park, S.H. and G.T. Ungson, Interfirm rivalry and managerial complexity. Organization Science, 2001. 12(1): p. 37-53.

11. Johnson, G. and K. Scholes, Exploring Corporate Strategy. Sixth Edition. 2002, Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

12. Inkpen, A.C., Learning, knowledge acquisition and strategic alliances. European Management Journal, 1998. 16(2): p. 223-229.

13. LaPorte, B., Knowledge is currency at the World Bank. KM Review, 2002. 5(5): p. 10-13.

14. Skapinker, M., The Change Agenda. 2002, CIPD: London.

15. Boisot, M.H., Knowledge Assets; Securing Competitive Advantage in the Knowledge Economy. 1998, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

16. McKenzie, J. and C. van Winkelen, Understanding the Knowledgeable Organization: Nurturing Knowledge Competence. (Forthcoming). 2003, London: Thomson Learning.

17. Kwiecien, S. and D. Wolford, Gaining real value through best-practice replication. Knowledge Management Review, 2001. 4(1): p. 12-15.

18. Stewart, T.A., Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations. 1997, New York: Doubleday.

19. van Winkelen, C. and P. Ramsell, Aligning value is key to designing communities. Knowledge Management Review, 2003. 5(6): p. 20-23.

20. Owens, D. and E. Thompson, Fusing learning and knowledge at the St. Paul Companies. Knowledge Management Review, 2001. 4(3): p. 24-29.

21. Braun, P., Digital knowledge networks: Linking communities of practice with innovation. Journal of Business Strategies, 2002. 19(1): p. 43-54.

22. Adler, P.S. and S.-W. Kwon, Social Capital; Prospects for a new concept. Academy of Management Review, 2002. 27(1): p. 17-40.

23. Lesser, E. and K. Everest, Using Communities of Practice to Manage Intellectual Capital. Ivey Business Journal, 2001. 65(4): p. 37-41.

24. Botkin, H. and C. Seeley, The Knowledge Management Manifesto: Why KM requires community-building. Knowledge Management Review, 2001. 3(6): p. 16-21.

25. Tosey, P., The peer learning community: a contextual design for learning? Management Decision, 1999. 37(5): p. 403-410.

**** Crag Hill --

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

E-Learning Queen's instructionally designing cats have become temporarily distracted by the bling-bling of simulation (okay, it's cubic zirconia & not Full Spectrum Command), but hey, they're seriously *styling* ... now, if they'd just get back to their workstations (!) Posted by Hello

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Game and Geopolitical Brinksmanship (an Online Course)

Susan Smith Nash

In a move I thought would be evocative of business or industrial engineering courses that use multiplayer games to simulate market and product competition environments, I decided to integrate an Xbox video game, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, into an online International Relations course, "Geopolitical Brinksmanship." It required a shift of instructional strategy, and it became necessary to clearly define various roles. Little did I suspect that the approach have more in common with the way that the military utilizes games such as Full Spectrum Warrior to familiarize individuals with conditions they may face in battle. It also is reminiscent of how such games help individuals begin to be able to envision scenarios, the potential players, and possible lines of action.

In developing an instructional strategy to achieve course objectives, it was necessary to determine whether or not students should engage in Role-play or Goal-Based simulations. Briefly speaking, a Role-play simulation allows students to enact situations in a safe and supportive environment. Goal-based simulations involve role play, but the focus is less on the context, the people, and their highly customizable behaviors and responses, and more on successfully bringing about incidents or activities that lead to desired end. The "end" of a role-play simulation can occur when time is up. There do not have to be winners or losers. The winning is in the depth, breadth, and relevancy of the interactivity. In contrast, in Goal-based simulations, there are clear winners and losers. For example, winners are those who liberate hostages, destroy documents, secure buildings, and bring back money.

Role-Play Simulations: For the purposes of the course, role-play simulations are more relevant than goal-based ones. Although rescuing hostages, securing the embassy, and destroying top-secret documentation helps motivate students and propels the story forward, it is not the ultimate outcome. The goal is to become familiar with a wide range of issues, which involve national security, political action, economic development, natural resources management, international relations, and psychology. The role-splay simulation environment encourages risk-taking and innovation, as well as built-in "rewards" for creatively approaching issues in order to encourage other participants to "stretch" in their roles. Role-Play simulation, as Albert Ip has pointed out, does not require icons or a graphical interface. It can be totally text-based, which offers certain advantages when flexibility is required.

Goal-Based Simulations: Goal-based simulation also rewards creativity and innovative thinking, but in a way that is more action-oriented (toward an object or series of objects) rather than toward people.

The objective of the course is to develop help learners develop creative problem-solving strategies; the tactics involved working through a series of scenarios in an entertaining and relevant context. Although Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is a shooter game, the fact that it is a multi-player as well as a single-player game reinforces the notion "shooting" is part of the game's "grammar." Shooting is a metaphor for communication; it is a way to involve the non-verbal in an environment (online) that tends to be highly restricted in its communication options. The graphics encourage the players to envision themselves in a certain time and place, and the fantasy-building aspect encourages individuals to not think of themselves as limited by real-world constraints. Although there is a definite down-side to fantasy and the attendant problems of invincibility, when one is trying to encourage unlimited "box-less" thinking, the video game can be absolutely liberating.

Integrative Instructional Strategy:
In order for this to be useful for learners, an instructional strategy needed to be implemented, which included the following:

1---Background reading on the geopolitical issues, general international relations and political science theory, new tactics and equipment
2---Clear descriptions of problems to be solved
3---Suggested problem-solving approaches, ideally collaborative, and using a worksheet so that people can compare approaches
4---A discussion board to post ideas and to share approaches
5---Collaborations / team papers; facilitator has to assign roles; each role has a separate task to then bring back to the group.
6---Synthesizing tasks at milestone points. Short papers that reflect upon what has been accomplished, and which report the innovative approaches used in problem-solving are useful.
7---Diagnostic self-assessments. Reflecting upon successes and less that useful strategies is very useful, particularly in scaffolding, and developing approaches to be used to build on previous knowledge.

The Game:The website describes the scenario in this way:
2006: The U.S. installs a temporary military base on East Timor to train the developing defense force of the "world's youngest democracy." Resistance to the U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia is widespread and passionate, but the threat Indonesian militias pose to East Timorese democracy is deemed sufficient justification. At the same time, the U.S. doesn't mind having an excuse to install active military personnel within easy reach of both North Korea and the largest Muslim population in Asia.

Anti-U.S. resentment comes to a head under the leadership of guerrilla militia leader Suhadi Sadono, acting with the unofficial support of major corrupt factions of the Indonesian government. Suhadi's men attack and occupy the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, taking dozens of civilian and military personnel hostage.

You are Sam Fisher. You're sent in, not to rescue the hostages, but to destroy top-secret documentation held in the embassy before Suhadi's men access it.

Keeping Focus: Probably the biggest challenge in this course is keeping the groups' focus on problem-solving and not lapsing into simply playing the game for entertainment. Instructional strategies need to be constantly refined in order to meet needs and challenges, and to accommodate individual differences between groups and cohorts. Overall, the integration of gaming into online course development proved to be successful.

Useful Articles
Interview with James Paul Gee: "The Learning Game - Researchers Study Video Gaming Principles that Apply to Education"

"Educators Turn to Games to Help",2101,59855,00.html

Random Walk in e-Learning

“Why Study Rome When You Can Build It?”

University of Wisconsin Team Creates Learning Games

Video Games Gaining Clout as Military Training Tool (2000)

Prensky, Marc. Selected URLs and other resources for Game-Based Education, e-Learning and Training Game-Based Education Portal

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