Ok .. the ball starts rolling from here.

This is a Wiki about re-programmable learning objects. Permitting the editing of learning objects allows them to become context specific and solves many problems, however for this to happen they must become open content or open source. (ref: Spector Ohrazda Schaack Wiley "Inovations in Instructional Technology" Routledge (2005) p57 )

Some questions

What is a learning object?
Should they be re-programmable? YES!!!!!!!!!
Should their source be open to student manipulation? YES!!
Can they be developed using a grass roots approach in the interactive environment of the web2.0? YES!
What re-programable learning objects should we start with?
Scaffolding classroom practice?
What is the inherent value in the process of reprogramming learning objects?
How can this be identified, monitored and assessed?


What is a learning object? The wikipedia entry is strangely unsatisfying:
  • "Any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education or training"
  • "Any digital resource that can be reused to support learning"
  • "Web-based interactive chunks of e-learning designed to explain a stand-alone learning objective"

"Within CELEBRATE (FAQ 5) we have particularly decided to concentrate on LOs that are small (relative to the size of an entire course) digital instructional resources that can be delivered over the Internet and which can be reused a number of times in different learning contexts."

Do they have to be interactive and where do virtual manipulatives fit in?

What is a model?

Scientific modeling is the process of generating an abstract or conceptual model. This construct should represent something, a set of variables and the logical and quantitative relationships between them. A scientific model may approximate or simplify the complexity of the real world by including some key assumptions. Whilst the details may be false or the details incomplete, we can justify the simplification with the model because the solution is acceptably accurate.

Think of this as objects and interactions that do what they are supposed to do.

ref: Wikipedia Scientific Models

Modeling a complex system

Complex systems are highly interdisciplinary and difficult to describe in detail. Some examples of complex systems quoted by Wikipedia include ant-hills, ants themselves, human economies, nervous systems, cells, living things, modern energy or telecommunication infrastructures.

All these complex systems are networks with similar things in common.
  1. relationships are non-linear (butterfly effect)
  2. relationships contain feedback looks
  3. complex systems are open (not at equilibrium but the pattern can be stable)
  4. complex systems have a memory (hysteresis: prior states have an influence on present states)
  5. complex systems may be nested
  6. boundaries are difficult to determine (the observer ultimately makes this decision)
  7. dynamic network of multiplicity (thus we often employ small-world or scale-free networks)

Ref: Wikipedia complex systems

An Optics Simulation

The study of complex systems in schools has been given serious consideration by the Australian Academy of Science in their latest NOVA topic ‘**A quiet revolution – the science of complex systems**. This is a fascinating way of engaging students with a real world of physics, ecology and climate modeling that I can relate to from my former days working at ICI.

I am currently exploring work on re-programmable learning objects with our first foray into an optics simulation. An attempt to develop a game that models optics will clearly struggle with the paradox of the wave-particle duality. In the real world, photons or light particles will behave as both particles and waves and it is difficult to simulate the behavior of both. This is a good illustration of the strength and weakness of a scientific model.

In 2006, our ASISTM cluster did considerable work on re-programmable learning objects with my first foray into an optics simulator that we worked on after the conference. I guess that I was inspired by Tony's work on this using an ecology food web simulation. There are some good reasons why we are using the GameMaker engine to model a complex system and the value of involving students in this process.

The GameMaker programming engine would be a good tool to start an activity that models a complex system. In many ways, programming a computer game is about a network of objects by adjusting events and actions as they interact and relate. Tony Forster has already successfully demonstated this with a model that simulates an ecological system.

The GameMaker action script language is similar to the code used by Flash There is even some work on a tool called G-Flash that even allow users to convert GM6 scripts to Flash for use online.

Students engaging with the real world

Many important decisions about the future of our world and lives are made on the basis of models of compex systems.

Students may find it easy to relate and engage with the real world of physics, ecology and climate modeling by tinkering with models in the familar environment of a computer game. A clear advantage using a computer game is that they can alter the source code to adjust the relationships, add new objects, experiments or just tweak the variables.

Whilst there is merit in playing with a simulation or scientific model, some powerful learning and higher order thinking can happen when we come to understand and consider its shortcomings to describe outcomes and make predictions.

This is not about working towards replacing the real world of hands on experimenting or field trips with increasingly more accurate simulations. An optics simulation should not be a substitute for some playing with an light source and optics kit of lenses and mirrors.

It is about giving students some experience of the real world of scientific modelling beyond the dull world of graphs and formulas and charts. A chance to lift the bonnet and tinker with the engine of our world. To do this, we need to open them to underlying source code that powers the game.

Playing with learning objects

We should not underestimate the value of students and teachers directly manipulating and modifying learning objects, a spirit of play that goes beyond clicking buttons or solving puzzles. I continue to be impressed by the work of Tony Forster who has made the source code available for all his GameMaker programs and recently, the work by Bill Kerr with his Scratch programs. In a sense, these are reprogrammable learning objects who evolve and change to meet the needs of their users. I think of their objects as flourishing plants that we are free to clip cuttings from and propagate in our gardens .. not highly polished sculptures that are firmly cemented into their copyright footings, rusting away in all their splendor.

A teacher at our sister school in Cambodia is paid as much each year as a $400 eeePC laptop computer. Despite this they can access powerful software in their own language on donated hardware, not because of any corporate philanthropy, software discount scheme or world bank loan .. but due to the efforts of expatriate Khmer programmers that openly share their efforts and the free software movement. Now there is an evolving learning object.

I don't think the answer is to embed complex digital devices and codes to restrict the access and usage of learning objects. I also question how many things in our lives can be broken down into a "learning object" or the strange "cartoon-like" physics used to model events.

Life is a lot more complex than this. Even learning theory evolves.