Monday, August 4, 2014

The Impact of Open Source

Open source courses are becoming more popular amongst distance learners. The idea of accessing and sharing free content is what appeals to learners. “More than half the course management systems currently available are open source or otherwise made available to educational institutions without charge” (Simonson, 2012, p. 142).  This concept is still new to me so I chose to explore some of the open course sites available. As a distant learner, I am amazed at the number of free courses with a variety of topics.

My first experience with a few of the open courses was not a good one. I am in the financial services industry so I chose to explore a couple of Financial Planning & Money Management courses from the Open Culture site. I came to a string of courses instructed by Frank Paiano from Southwestern College. I started with a course on the Financial Aspects of Career Planning, which was basically a recorded PowerPoint presentation of the instructor. I can say that the course was designed for a distant learner because it was easily accessible; however, for a collegiate level course, I can’t say that there was a lot of planning involved in creating it. I say this because the visual cues in the PowerPoint were not pleasing to the eye. There were slides with too much content on them, no animation, and most of the content were just quotes from other authors or educators. Although there were no objectives, the content in the course did not match up with the title leaving me clueless about the subject matter.

In addition, the Instructors tone and inflection was not helpful. He was overly animated, which made it difficult for me to stay engaged in the presentation. “Teaching with technology to learners who are not physically located in the same site where instruction is taking place requires a different set of skills and competencies than traditional education” (Simonson, p. 142). This presentation seemed to be more of a chapter summary than a course. To add value, I would recommend designing each presentation to be independent of the book. The benefit of this design allows any individual, even those who have not read the book, to learn from the content.

After completing this course, I moved on to another topic within the series, An Introduction to Financial Planning. Again, the content left me questioning the title because there were no key concepts of financial planning covered. The beneficial aspect is the asynchronous nature of the course; however, the dynamics of the course content and facilitator enhance the learning experience. This was not the case here. There was a point in the recording where the Instructor started hacking and coughing in the middle of his thought. In a recorded online presentation, I felt that this was unprofessional and I was unable to stay engaged at that point.

Although my first open course experience was not optimal, I have a few takeaways. As an ID, it is extremely important to design content that caters to a variety of learning styles. An audio/visual presentation does not have to be boring. There are a variety of ways to implement interactivity and visual cues to engage the learner. “Teaching at a distance eliminates many of these cues. Alternative approaches to ongoing evaluation of instruction must be incorporated. Students may feel alienated and will begin to tune out the instructor” (Simonson, p. 154).  Also, the title and/or objectives need to reflect what is in the content. If there is a gap in the two, it will be difficult to evaluate the quality of the course and learner comprehension. Designing, teaching, and learning at a distance is not an easy task, but implementing these key practices will add context and enhance the learning experience.

Paiano, F. (2014). Financial planning & money management. Retrieved August 2, 2014, from Southwestern Community College iTunes U Website

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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