Making an effective presentation of the scientific activity that took place in the context of the E-Learning Expo, through a significant analysis, is a welcome but complex task. The E-Learning EXPO is an experience that has occupied CARID (University Centre for Research, Teaching Innovation and Distance Learning) University of Ferrara, Italy for the last two years in the creation of an environment in which demand and supply, theory and practice of e-learning could successfully meet up (Frignani, Galliani, Giacomantonio, 2005; Poletti, 2006). The intention of CARID, as creator and scientific director of the event, was not merely to provide a showcase, but an event packed with conferences and debates aiming at taking stock of the state of the art, not only as regards methodological reflection on elearning, but also as regards the application of e-learning as a method to be used in a variety of public and private sectors, ranging from school and university to professional and corporate training, from enterprises to banks, from environment to education, from the health service to public administration, as far as e-government and e-democracy.
Themes And Contexts
The EXPO experience has undoubtedly brought to the fore an interesting point which appears to be the key element of experiences of this type, that is, beyond the specific fields of application which have with e-learning overlapping areas involving greater or lesser shared areas, the main characteristics of which were highlighted at this conference, general attention seems to be focused on the method and consequent impact produced by e-learning—both from an organizational and from cultural standpoint—to a degree which is directly proportional to the extent to which this phenomenon has gained ground within the teaching systems.
In this sense, the words with which Professor Fredric Michael Litto, President of the Brazilian Association for Distance Learning opened his presentation on the 2005 edition of the event—“students and the discovery of knowledge”—are paradigmatic (Litto, 2005). He pointed out how technology and e-learning are the precursors of a “totally new reality” which cannot be divorced from technology, virtual communities and multimedia knowledge, but must be considered in an intercultural approach.
A concept, this, which is not applicable exclusively to the world of education and student training but has the potential to become a new way of structuring and sharing knowledge and the culture from which such knowledge derives.
The presentation given by Jeffrey Merriman of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Project Manager of OKI (Open Knowledge Initiative) was along the same lines. In a similar context he proposed a paper with a title which highlights the perspective that this experience was intended to offer: “Open Source or Vendor Driver Solutions? Integrating the best of breed of both worlds via Standards based Open Service Architectures.”
Key Terms in this Chapter
Interoperability: This term derives from the field of engineering and refers to the capacity of a technology or a tool to work in synergy with other technological systems, thereby obtaining additional services and possibilities. The various methods by means of which access may be gained to the Internet (from cell phone to computer) are examples of interoperability, fruit of the tendency to concentrate onto extremely advanced technologies a wide range of services and tools. The term interoperability has recently characterised the debate on Learning Objects (LO) where interoperability becomes the point of focus so that LOs created in different contexts can be re-used in a variety of ways and allow tracking of the student’s learning path. Interoperability is linked to the use of protocols, one of the most important being SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model), a dossier of technical specifications which enable, among other things, the exchange of e-learning contents independently of the platform.
E-Government: Term which derives from the contraction of the two terms electronic and government; this term generally indicates the use of ICT (information and communication technologies). Despite the fact that this term was coined only recently, the meaning of e-government has precise limits and refers to the computerization of public administration bodies. This computerization, which is accompanied, in most cases, by organizational changes uses ICT for the digital processing of documents. Also linked to the concept of e-government are the hopes and perspectives of simplification and interoperability of administrative procedures through the Internet.
E-Learning Platform: In general, a platform is a basic technology, on which other technologies are developed and if these technologies are equipped with tools that enable the creation of virtual learning environments, we can speak of e-learning platforms, inside of which the issuing of learning modules as well as the management and monitoring of skills. In this context we can speak of LMS (learning management systems) as application platforms that enable the provision of e-learning courses and LCMS (learning content management systems), platforms that directly manage the contents.
Lifelong Learning: A system based, of necessity, on Internet technologies and on the sharing of information with the aim of adjusting and improving professional skills. In particular, lifelong learning identifies a system that guarantees people a good level of adaptability to technological and organizational change. In general, lifelong learning is designed for those who having a working career that also involves professional refresher courses.
E-Democracy: Term which derives from the contraction of the two terms Electronic and Democracy; this term generally indicates the use of ICT (information and communication technologies) in the development of democratic processes. Due to the relatively brief history of the term (it was coined in the mid-1990s) and due to the environment to which it refers, a great deal of controversy still exists regarding its interpretation. In fact, it can mean the simple use of communication tools in democratic processes, the influence of the media in political life, or the tools that permit dialogue and participation in political life. In the http://e-democracy.org/ site, which was set up in 1994, we find the slogan “E-Democracy.Org—Building online public space in the heart of real democracy and community since 1994,” which clearly demonstrates the meaning of this term.
Learning Objects (LO): This is undoubtedly one of the terms most widely used but one of the vaguest. There is a great deal of literature and agreement on the meaning of LOs but this agreement is accompanied by a great deal of shades of meaning. One of the most common definitions is that of David A. Wiley: “An LO is any digital resource that can be re-used to support learning.” In general, it may be said that LOs are learning resources characterised by the fact that they are available (as metadata) through semantic research, reusable in various learning contexts, interoperable and modular, being aggregatable to form new LOs.