F6-O/LT4-2 - Reusable Learning Objects: An Agile Approach

1. Innovative Practice Full Paper
R. Pito Salas1
1 Brandeis University

Abstract—This “Innovative Practice” full paper discusses Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) and to what extent they have lived up to the promise, particularly of reusability. Reusable Learning Objects have actually been discussed in the literature for the last 20 years and yet true large scale sharing of learning and teaching materials remains relatively rare and challenging. This paper argues that part of the reason is that the granularity of the learning objects that are in use today is not conducive to true reuse. Certainly whole PowerPoint slide decks and word documents are kept in individuals’ folders; perhaps bits are cut and pasted and emailed around; but providence, permissions, tracking and tracing are ad-hoc and styling, formatting, tem- plates, slide layouts need to be tended to repeatedly. It is not an ideal situation. As a result, educators, teachers, course designers, are constantly reinventing the wheel, or searching for where that one excellent assignment, explanation, definition was last seen so it can be copied forward.

This paper argues that to achieve effective reuse of Learning Objects, the following are required: smaller, more granular (“micro”) learning objects; means to combine them into larger presentation products; and modern revision and version control. The paper proposes applying approaches originating in the software engineering community, such as agile methodology, version control and management, markup languages, and ag- ile publishing, which together form the “Agile Approach” of the title of the paper. With that foundation laid, the paper examines “CourseGen”, an open source software platform de- signed for creating, sharing, reusing and publishing reusable course content. CourseGen uses a modified markdown format augmented by CourseGen specific directives, such as $link to and$include topic. The CourseGen compiler converts a collection of CourseGen files into the final format such as a web site or a PowerPoint. CourseGen was designed, used and refined over the last three years in several Computer Science Courses at Brandeis University.

Index Terms—computer science education, course design, projects, teams, robotics