How to organise effective distance training using e-learning content and the content repository
- The form of didactic materials in the E-archaeology content repository
- SCORM – the technical architecture
- UCTS – didactic interpretation
- Processable Units – managing the content
- Using the content repository
- Browsing and filtering the repository
- Multi-criteria search
- Exploring PU and SCORM structures
- Downloading content
- Building up new training curricula
- Supplementing the content repository with new content
- Integrating e-learning courses with educational process
The didactic content in the field of protection and management of archaeological heritage is available in the form of e-learning modules, which are available in the content repository at www.e-archaeology.org/contentrepository. This content is designed and arranged in a way suitable for the distance education via the Internet. The repository is made of multimedia and interactive electronic books, which are available in the form of the e-learning courses. These courses can be easily downloaded from the content repository and uploaded into any LMS / LCMS system (Learning Management System / Learning Content Management System), and made available to different groups of trainees. The didactic materials provided in the E-archaeology content repository have been developed by experts in the field of protection and management of archaeological heritage. These works were carried out within the framework of two Leonardo da Vinci projects (“E-learning as a tool of knowledge transfer in the field of the protection and management of archaeological heritage” and “Vocational training system in archaeological heritage based upon e-learning resources”).
The content repository is a tool making possible to store the existing e-learning courses as well as build new courses from smaller learning components. These functionalities are available due to the technical structure of e-learning courses (i.e. based on SCO derived from SCORM) and the possibility of collating these components in form of didactically feasible blocks, such as curricula, modules, and units (UCTS categories).
The form of didactic materials in the E-archaeology content repository
Educational content in the content repository is available in the form of e-learning courses. The major characteristics of the repository are that the courses uploaded to the repository and then downloaded from it are not necessarily be the same, as they can be easily modified, expanded, and transformed. The system also makes it possible to extract individual components from the existing e-learning courses.
In order to efficiently use the resources stored in the content repository, one needs to understand the technical architecture of e-learning courses and the logical organisation of the content, as seen from the didactic standpoint.
SCORM – the technical architecture
E-learning course (or the „electronic book”) refers to the way of organising the content in an electronic format that is tailored to the needs of the educational process in the Internet environment. It has the following characteristics:
- contains multimedia and interactive elements which make the delivered content attractive and facilitates the efficiency of the training,
- has a hierarchical structure adapted to the Internet education needs and is composed of independent units of knowledge known as Learning objects,
- can be easily uploaded in the learning management system due to its availability in the form of a popular standard of the didactic content representation, such as SCORM.
Multimedia and interactive elements increase the effectiveness of online learning. They should always be designed to complement and expand the didactic content. In particular, they aimed at visualising dynamic processes or illustrating the relationships between phenomena discussed in the text.
A division of the content into learning objects directly serves the purpose of teaching in the Internet. Trainees are rarely in a position to master all the content of the e-learning course in one session (one attempt). The learning process is inevitably interrupted by different logistical constraints (professional duties, everyday life, time limitations, etc.). If the learning object provides a didactic material that can be mastered in 3-10 minutes, then the work with the entire material will be more effective. A hierarchical structure of learning objects aims to organise the content in a transparent way. The content is usually hierarchically structured on different levels facilitating straightforward navigation through them. This forces the trainees to complete all parts of the material in the order suggested by the author.
The SCORM standard makes it possible to launch e-learning course on multiple platforms for distance education (Blackboard, Edumatic, Moodle, Olat, etc.). It is supported by all major learning management systems. Implementing a course in SCORM guarantees its convenient maintenance, modifications and extensions. In particular, it makes it possible to use the content in a number of different ways. The didactic content in SCORM is composed of the following components:
- Course package – a collection of files (text, layout, images, etc.) that can be launched on LMS; from the technical standpoint, it is a zip file to be downloaded from the content repository and then uploaded to a LMS,
- Activity – a set (block) of learning resources (SCO or Asset) or sub-activities,
- SCO (Sharable Content Object) – a collection of one or more Assets representing a single learning resource launchable in a LMS; SCO is a basic SCORM component,
- Asset – a basic block of the learning resource, an electronic representation of media (text, images, sound, etc).
UCTS – didactic interpretation
The didactic content available in the E-archaeology content repository has been developed in compliance with these requirements. Hence, the courses contain multimedia and interactive elements. They are designed to the non-linear knowledge presentation directed to the trainees and self-test constructions. The content has been divided into small and coherent pieces of didactic material. These have then been saved in an electronic form. E-learning courses have been implemented in SCORM 1.2. Each segment of didactic material has then been saved as SCO. Each SCO contains the material that can be mastered in 3-10 minutes. SCOs stored in the E-archaeology content repository are organised hierarchically. Any e-learning course downloaded from the content repository is given the title of the hierarchically highest block used in the course.
The model makes it possible to arrange the didactic content in the form of learning objects. However, this leaves us with a range of relevant questions. In particular, it is unclear which blocks of the material have didactic value for their own. Equally uncertain is which of them can operate independently, i.e. are available in the substantively consistent and didactically useful format. If the system allows incorporation of any element of the stored content into any course, then the question emerges to what extent is the new course coherent and didactically useful. In practical terms, this refers to the decision whether it is possible to use any single SCO or any set of SCOs in the educational process. In order to avoid technically arbitrary criteria in this process, it is necessary to develop a method aimed at interpreting the didactically useful material by using consistent terminology. This is a particularly relevant issue as SCORM leaves an assessment of the educational value of the didactic content in hands of the content author.
The Universal Curricular Taxonomy System (UCTS) has been used to unambiguously interpret the didactic content available in the E-archaeology content repository. UCTS is a universal tool for interpreting all segments of material, which are consistent and didactically useful. The following components of UCTS can be used in the interpretation of didactic materials:
- Learning unit (or Unit) – a smallest element of didactically useful material,
- Learning module (or Module) – a set of Units,
- Curriculum – a set of Modules.
A Learning unit is the smallest element of educational materials. It usually conveys a coherent message or provides testing materials. It intuitively refers to the smallest piece of didactically useful material available in the form of any medium (e.g. book, script, PowerPoint presentation, etc.). Thus, learning units are made of a set of learning objects covering a specific topic. These refer not only to the didactic content per se but also to exercises and references.
The entire content available in the E-archaeology content repository has been divided into these categories. The authors of its subsequent parts ascribed explicitly selected segments of material into learning units and learning modules. This decision automatically defined which parts of the material can be potentially reused. Hence, the curricula were built to meet the requirements of different target groups.
This table provides examples of e-learning content components interpreted using UCTS categories:
DO KOREKTY – ma być tabela (?) link: http://www.e-archaeology.org/repository/using-cr.html
Processable Units – managing the content
A Processable unit (PU) is an entity in the content repository serving content management. PU can be defined as a didactically useful segment of knowledge. In particular, one can perform the following operations with PU:
- Assign educational interpretation to any SCORM component – Basic PU creation,
- Create an empty PU – System PU creation,
- Place any existing PU in System PU,
- Download PU as SCORM package.
Processable Units may be created in the system by assigning the didactic interpretation to any SCORM component. These PUs are referred to as Basic PUs. The UCTS categories are available in the E-archaeology content repository to ascribe didactic interpretation to the available content. Any user who has been granted access to the repository can therefore ascribe an UCTS didactic interpretation (unit, module, curriculum) to any SCORM component (SCO, activity, course).
The possibility of building up a new blank PU (System PU) and embed in it any other PU from the repository, is an essential tool for constructing new didactic content in the content repository. The system allows the user to incorporate one PU into another PU, if required for the construction of valuable didactic curricula.
The ability to download PU in the form of a SCORM package facilitates the use of all available didactic resources while securing the content consistency and the copyright. However, the tool does not allow new authors to download the content in formats different than specified by the author of this very segment of didactic material. Hence, it is impossible to download a single LO out of PU of which it is a part. Similarly, it is impossible to place such LO in another structure. The construction of a new course is only possible from elements that have been ascribed didactic interpretations, such as unit, module or curriculum. This solution makes it possible for a new author to get appropriate segments of dedicated didactic materials with accompanying exercises for self-testing and references.
Using the content repository
The content repository has a number of functionalities:
- Browsing and filtering,
- Multi-criteria searching,
- Exploring PU and SCORM structures,
- Downloading content as SCORM packages,
- Creating new training curricula from the stored content,
- Supplying the repository with new content.
The E-archaeology content repository is available at www.e-archaeology.org/contentrepository. Each internet user can freely browse, filter and search the repository resources. Logged-in users are allowed to download content, construct new training curricula, and upload new content.
Browsing and filtering the repository
The system lists of all resources stored in the content repository. The user defines conditions for displaying the search results. He or she can also automatically apply different filters.
Presentation of resources
The content repository is set to store the information on the content component attributes in accord with the SCORM standard. While browsing, the user decides which content attributes to be viewed. The display function is available by selecting the Columns option. This facilitates displaying two types of data:
- Repository properties,
- Metadata descriptions.
Repository properties refer to basic information about the content, such as:
- Element title,
- Owner of the element,
- Available didactic categories (e.g. UCTS),
- SCORM type,
- Rights to the displayed element (i.e. downloading rights).
Metadata descriptions refer to metadata defined in the SCORM standard. These are used to describe the content, such as:
- General description,
- Educational difficulty,
- Age range,
- Interactivity level,
- Copyright information.
These descriptions are set to help the user to choose appropriate materials available in the content repository. A simple searching engine makes it possible to select a range of useful information including the element title, SCORM type of element (SCO, block, etc.), or didactic interpretation (curriculum, module, unit).
The filtering mode is set to determine the availability of the content to the user. Basic filters are displayed in the form of the tab Filter. The user can choose the following parameters:
- Content interpretation categories available in the repository (i.e. Curriculum, Module, Unit),
- SCORM types (course, block, SCO, asset, resource, file).
These filters allow the specification of data to be displayed, e.g. at the highest level of complexity (curricula), or the lowest one (units). They also facilitate more complex queries, such as presentation of all Units available in the form of SCORM packages and not SCOs.
Advanced search mode allows the application of the following searching methods:
- Simple search,
- Tag search,
- Metadata search.
Simple search tab
Simple search is a method of searching the content repository resources for a specific word. The word is searched for in the reasonable content attributes i.e. described in natural language. These include, among others:
- Title – the name of the content element, as given by the author,
- File name – the name of the technical file representing the content element,
- Description, Educational description – SCORM metadata summing up the content element,
- Keyword – SCORM metadata semantically describing the content element,
- Author – SCORM metadata containing the author name.
Tags tab are set to search the content using tags applied to describe it. Tags are defined as words from the domain of archaeological heritage protection and management. They have been used to describe all units, modules and curricula in the E-archaeology content repository. All tags used in the content repository originate from the ontology constructed as wordnet-based ontology. The existing ontology consists of approximately 1500 words ascribed to c. 100 categories. The use of wordnet-based ontology made it possible ascribe a semantic field to any given word in the E-archaeology content repository. This solution makes it possible to run a more accurate search.
This tab is used to search SCORM metadata. They refer to ca. 100 metadata attributes used to describe the e-learning content. The system allows searching of all SCORM metadata attributes as well as of all additional attributes ascribed to the content.
Exploring PU and SCORM structures
The system makes it also possible to view the structure of the searched element. This is available in the form of a tree representing the selected item.
Tree tab (Element details tab)
This view is set to analyse the structure of PU or any other content element, which is not PU. It provides information about all components of the selected element (PUs and other SCORM components).
Quick info tab
The quick info tab is set to provide access to the following information:
- Repository properties – content repository attributes describing the content,
- SCORM metadata – metadata used to describe the chosen element.
The logged-in user of the E-archaeology content repository can download stored content in the form of SCORM packages (i.e. as e-learning courses). He or she can download all PUs, assuming access to them has been granted. The system makes it possible to download different categories of material, such as curricula, modules and units, except for single learning objects.
The system makes it possible to specify the structure of packages to be downloaded. It is therefore possible to download a SCORM package with the complete content of any given PU or numerous packages composed of individual elements of different PUs. This functionality of the system is very practical.
The downloaded content is then placed in the LMS, where the training to be run. It is necessary to control the size of the package as it may cause some technical and logistic problems. Packages of excessively large size are difficult to process. For example, it is still difficult to download and manage the package exceeding 100 Mb. A range of logistic factors (e.g. training schedule) may require splitting up the didactic content into smaller packages when the entire content is made available to the trainees at the same time.
Building up new training curricula
The content repository allows the construction of new training curricula from the resources available in the repository. This process can be compared with editorial works. Accordingly, a range of new curricula was prepared in the second Leonardo da Vinci project based upon the content of the “Archaeological heritage in contemporary Europe” materials. These were to meet the needs of different training groups.
The construction of new training curricula involves the following steps:
- Creation of a void System PU,
- Modification of the System PU structure.
Creation of the void System PU
This functionality allows the creation of the void System PU, used to store different PUs available in the system.
Modification of the System PU structure
This functionality allows the addition of any PU available in the system into the existing System PU.
The user can add any PU retrieved from the repository into the existing System PU. He or she has been granted unlimited access to his own didactic materials as well as to any other materials made available by other authors. The transfer of any selected PU into a new System PU is made by drag-and-drop operation.
Supplementing the content repository with new content
Users with appropriate access rights can upload a new content recorded in the SCORM standard (version 1.2 and 2004) into the repository. This functionality is intended for users who have produced e-learning courses themselves, and want to share them with others. Following the uploading of an e-learning course into the system, all course components have to be interpreted in pedagogical terms. As a result, a basic PU is produced. It is also possible to describe the data using metadata, tags, and to specify access rights.
The E-archaeology content repository has been uploaded with all e-learning courses produced during two Leonardo da Vinci projects. Any new courses in the domain of protection and management of archaeological heritage produced in the future can easily be uploaded into the system. It is also possible to expand the E-archaeology content repository by adding the content from other domains.
Integrating e-learning courses with educational process
E-learning courses downloaded from the E-archaeology content repository can be integrated with teaching conducted at a distance, as:
- To constitute basic training materials – an assisted web based training model,
- To complement educational process designed in a different way – a synchronous learning (e.g. videoconferences), traditional teaching.
In the case of the assisted web based training model, e-learning materials be delivered to the trainees according to an explicitly defined timetable. Study of the materials need to be supplemented by a range of collaborative activities, such as discussion forums, wikis, chat, etc. If materials from the content repository are designed to supplement a traditional teaching model, their role may vary depending on the specific training needs.