Thursday, October 7, 2010

Week 5 - The Impact of Open Source

Select a course from a free Open Course site and write a 1- to 2-page analysis that includes the following:
  • Does the course appear to be carefully pre-planned and designed for a distance learning environment? How so?
  • Does the course follow the recommendations for online instruction as listed in your course textbook?
  • Did the course designer implement course activities that maximize active learning for the students?
The course I selected was one from Open Yale Courses, entitled “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845 – 1877”, located at the following web address:

To begin with, I am thrilled with the idea of open courses. I had no idea such a thing was available and I am excited with the possibility that over time I could “take” some of these courses and expand my knowledge on subjects like civil war history, which back in my undergrad days, I had no interest in learning. Open courses like the one I reviewed definitely have a place in a vast array of learning opportunities, specifically self-directed learning, however when it comes to good instructional design for distance learning, the course I reviewed is definitely lacking . Having said that however, one must keep in mind the intention behind making these courses available. Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to a selection of courses taught by Yale professors. As stated on their website, Open Yale Courses created a project to “expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn”. It is their intention that the “lectures and other course materials on this site will be a resource for critical thinking, creative imagination, and intellectual exploration”. Given these are courses taught at Yale, being made available to the public for free as self-directed learning, many of the distinctions of a well designed distance learning course are missing.

First let me clarify a working definition for distance education directly from our course text, Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2009), “distance education is an institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (p. 7). The course I reviewed does not fall into this definition of distance education because there is no interaction with an instructor or other learners. Education, learning is definitely possible, but the course itself does not appear to be designed inside the parameters of this definition. The course is a face-to-face course that was placed onto the web to give others access to learning about the civil war. For its purpose, a self-directed course on the Civil War, I think it is fabulous. A course syllabus is included so one has direction regarding what will be covered. The course is divided into 27 class sections with videos and transcripts of the lectures, required texts and assigned readings are listed, and films about the war can be viewed. Again, a great self-directed course.

Considering some of the best practices in course design for distance education as outlined in our text, many of these practices are missing in this course. Some of the factors that Simonson, et al. (2009), believe to be important include: student-instructor interaction and student-student interaction perhaps through discussion groups, a variety of teaching and learning strategies and methods that are activity based, opportunities to assess progress through papers, quizzes or exams, and the use of multimedia (print, audio and video). Given this course was designed as a face-to-face course which was then placed on the web, no interaction amongst other learners or instructors is available. Consequently a great way to learn, collaboration with others, is not possible. I do not believe multiple learning strategies were considered. For the most part the course is straight lecture, with incorporated reading assignments. Completing the reading assignments for this course could be quite daunting and expensive given 13 texts and two anthologies of documents are utilized. Although in its origination, papers and a final exam were used to assess progress, this course is self-directed, the learner would have to come up with his/her own way of assessing progress. And finally, multimedia was incorporated into this course, however its primary function was video of the instructor delivering his lectures.

As I stated above, I enjoyed reviewing this course and will likely in the future take the time to go through the different lessons, but it is not a well designed distance learning course. If this course were to be taught inside the definition of a distance education course, it would have to be redesigned, or learners would likely drop out of the course. I do believe it would be quite possible to deliver this course as either a hybrid (face-to-face and online) course or a strictly asynchronous online course, but to be effective an instructional designer would have to redesign it using sound instruction design methodology.

Open Yale Courses(2010) retrieved October 6, 2020 from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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