This study tracks the uptake of online role play in Australia from 1990 to 2006 and the affordances to its uptake. It examines reusability, as one affordance to uptake, from the perspective of two often polarized constructs: learning object and learning design. The study treats “reuse” in two ways: reuse of an existing online role play and reuse of an online role play as the model for another role play. The first type of reuse implies the online role play is a learning object and the second type implies the online role play derives from a learning design. Online role play consists of a scenario and a set of roles that students adopt in order to collaboratively solve a problem, create something, or explore an issue via e-mail or a combination of e-mail and Web-based threaded discussion forum. Thirty-six role plays of this type were identified in Australian universities of which 80% were reuse of a learning design. Only three examples of role play as a learning object were found, suggesting that learning design is a useful concept for understanding how to support reusability in universities. Other affordances to uptake of role play were also tracked. This indicated that the contribution of educational developers far outweighed that of academic colleagues, conferences, journals, and engines. The results have implications for the work practices of educational developers and for managers of learning object repositories.
It is not yet clear whether the learning designs movement will take off with the same momentum as the learning objects industry. This chapter compares the two by focusing on online role play as the example of courseware. Role play is deliberately chosen because it is a learning design that does not have its pedagogical basis in a content transmission model of teaching. Instead it presents a constructivist learning environment, and as such it may better challenge the current conceptualisation of learning objects. By discussing learning objects and reusability in the concrete teaching and learning context of online role play, it is anticipated that recommendations might be more meaningful to teachers than theoretical papers on computer science aspects of learning objects.
This chapter describes a study conducted by the authors which tracked the uptake of online role play in Australian higher education from 1990 to 2006 and investigated the affordances to uptake. Our use of the word “uptake” overlaps with other terms like “reuse,” “adoption,” “adaptation,” “modification,” and “dissemination” (McKenzie, Alexander, Harper, & Anderson, 2005). Online role play is an area of teaching activity in Australian universities that is small enough that it can be investigated in detail via interview and case study rather than broad-brush survey methods. This case study approach to research provides richer and more appropriate detailed data as well as information on individual differences which could be lost in surveys.
The study treats “reuse” in two ways: reuse of an existing online role play and reuse of an online role play as the model for another role play. In the context of this book, the first type of reuse implies the online role play is used as a learning object and the second type implies the online role play derives from a learning design.
It is usually assumed that learning objects are small, having a low level of granularity that means they are easy to reuse and easy to customise to individual needs. However it is also possible to aggregate learning objects into a larger learning object (Duncan, 2003) such as a whole online role play. Whether larger learning objects hinder reuse is an interesting question but it was not one specifically addressed by this study, which focused instead on university teachers who have chosen to reuse rather than looking at why teachers chose not to reuse. The second question on obstacles to uptake has been covered by other studies (McKenzie et al., 2005; McNaught, 2003).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Object: “Any digital resource that can be reused to support learning” (Wiley, 2000).
Reuse: Overlaps with other terms like “uptake,” “adoption,” “adaptation,” “modification,” and “dissemination.”
Educational Developer: Academic developer, instructional designer, or learning designer in a university education centre that supports and develops university teachers.
Online Role Play: A scenario and a set of roles that students adopt in order to collaboratively solve a problem, create something, or explore an issue via e-mail or a combination of e-mail and Web-based threaded discussion forum.
Learning Design: Generalisable template for a learning activity describing the sequence, tasks, resources, and supports.
Repository: An indexed collection of learning objects supported by a Content Management System.
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