CAREO (Campus Alberta Repository of Educational Objects) is a project supported by Alberta Learning and CANARIE that has its primary goal the creation of a searchable, Web-based collection of multidisciplinary teaching materials for educators across the province and beyond.
Campus Alberta’s vision is to enable Albertans to “take courses from any college or university in the province, either on-site, on-line from their homes, or on the job.” CAREO’s contribution will be to provide educators with the digital teaching content to make this flexible learning a reality. We will accomplish this not only by providing a location to share and find resources, but also by fostering an online community of educators whose digital materials, expertise, and experience will be exchanged. Although the collected teaching materials will be available to all, those who register as members in this community can contribute their own materials, review existing resources, and contact other members with similar interests.
CAREO has developed through four closely-related principles:
- The reuse of modularized educational resources or learning objects.
- The organization of these resources through standardized metadata.
- The provision of single-click access to these resources through a distributed repository architecture.
- The continued development and enhancement of these resources through quality control, peer review, reward and support practices.
Together, these four principles together provide some radically new solutions to a number of problems –some of them quite old– in the area of course development and delivery:
- The high cost and low returns involved in the development of large, inflexible courses or courseware.
- Professional recognition for teaching staff engaged in the development or delivery of educational resources.
- The maximization of investments in staff and course development.
- The achievement of effective quality control for learning content used in teaching.
CAREO and Learning Objects
A definition of the term “learning object” providing these benefits might be formulated as follows: A Learning object is any digital resource with a demonstrated pedagogical value, which can be used, re-used or referenced to support learning”. Learning objects can thus be a Java Applet, a Flash animation, an online quiz or a QuickTime movie, but it can also be a PowerPoint presentation or PDF file, an image, or a Web page or site. The key is that, in each case, the resource has a clear pedagogical purpose –some sort of educational “contextualization” or “wrap around” that indicates how it can be used in the classroom or by an individual student.
CAREO and Metadata
The purpose of metadata is to facilitate the easy discovery and use of high quality resources. The problem that it addresses is plain to anyone who has searched the Web, and sifted through the thousands of results of questionable value that one typically retrieves. The cause of this problem is that the data being searched is neither structured nor labeled consistently. The result is a form of “information blindness”, where educators and other users are not able to find the desired resources simply because of the sheer quantity of undifferentiated data available.
Metadata promises to solve this problem by describing this data in a structured and controlled way. CAREO will be using the CanCore protocol, a new metadata specification that has been developed for the simplified implementation of a number of national repository projects in Canada. (For more about CanCore, see: http://www.cancore.ca.)
CAREO and Repositories
A “repository” or “portal” is first and foremost a centralized collection of metadata records. The educational resources this metadata describes can either be distributed across the Web or collected together in a centralized location. The metadata available in a particular repository can also describe and point to resources available in other repositories and collections. Since Alberta educators will share access rights to a common set of databases, this single-click access will be important. When a user searches the central metadata store, she is able to get single click access to resources that are otherwise scattered across the Web, in proprietary and public databases that may have a wide variety of access protocols and paths. The relationship between the user, metadata and educational objects can be visualized as follows:
CAREO and Peer Review, Reward and Support
Essential to the success of any technology or innovation is its widespread integration into patterns and communities of practice. Any learning object portal should complement and add value in as many ways as possible to the ways that faculty and instructors currently work, and leverage the collective resources of broader educational and commercial communities as fully as possible. One way of doing this is through by application the peer review process used in research practice to the assessment of teaching materials or educational objects. Such a review would include assessments of the scholarly, technological and pedagogical aspects of the educational object. The goal of this review process would be two-fold:
- To exercise control over the quality of the objects collected in the repository.
- To encourage the participation of community members and the submission of educational materials through a formalized review and reward process.
GOAL 1: a functioning online object repository
Measure: 5000 Canadian visitors in 1 month; 200 objects added by Alberta users.
GOAL 2: Creation of user group / support community around repository
Measure: 150 personal members from Alberta; 25 institutional memberships from Alberta.
GOAL 3: Involvement of faculty members from U of A and U of C in the development and implementation of peer review processes
Measure: Securing commitments from a total of 8 faculty.
GOAL 4: Collaboration with existing/emerging efforts
Measure: Membership in other repository organizations; interoperability with other repositories.
GOAL 5: Research and dissemination of findings Measure: 3 Peer-reviewed publications.
GOAL 6: Promotion of use of ed. Objects among instructors
Measure: See measures for first 2 goals. Integration of training and support for the use of educational objects with existing support efforts of ATL and the Learning Commons.
GOAL 7: Development of a business/sustainability plan
Measure: Secured funding and/or action plan