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Learning to use content standards in the ASPECT Summer School

During the ASPECT Summer School that took place on 8 May 2010 in Estoril, Portugal, over 40 teachers from Belgium, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania came together to discuss the use of online learning resources and learning content repositories in maths and science lessons.

The main aim of the ASPECT Summer School was to explore how learning content standards, such as SCORM and Common Cartridge, can be used by teachers, and how different types of “content packaging” can add value to the learning experience.

ASPECT is a 30-month Best Practice Network supported by the European Commission's eContentplus Programme, involving 22 partners from 15 countries. The aim of ASPECT is to explore how the adoption of learning technology standards and specifications can be improved. The programme will run until March 2011 and is now in its final phase.

The Summer School in Portugal was the third and final session, in which ASPECT obtained feedback from teachers:

First, four national workshops, held in October 2009, focused on how teachers search for and find resources from learning content repositories such as the Learning Resource Exchange (LRE) for Schools.

Following this, an online workshop, held in March 2010, tried to map teachers’ attitudes towards the reusability and sharing of resources, i.e. under what kind of conditions would teachers trust or share resources, in particular when it comes to tags, ratings, authors or content providers, etc.

New possibilities with new technologies

In this third session teachers were asked to create a normal lesson plan using the Moodle learning platform, in a “traditional” way by combining different resources. After this, they were asked to repeat the same task using resources which had been ‘packaged’ by the content developers in ASPECT using both the SCORM and Common Cartridge standards.

According to Kati Clements from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland (part of the ASPECT Consortium) many of the teachers were positively surprised by the possibilities offered by the content packaging. Teachers with regular IT skills could take content that had been packaged using Common Cartridge, download it into Moodle and easily create a lesson plan from the unpackaged material.

The Summer School also addressed the issue of digital credits, i.e. the possibility for teachers to gain credits by rating and uploading materials and then using their credits to download other resources. A key finding here was that, when it comes to buying commercially-produced digital learning resources, teachers felt that they should not be expected to buy these materials themselves but preferred a situation where the school, or even the Ministry of Education, purchased a license for using these resources.

Convincing teachers of the benefits of learning repositories and content standards

Dr.Agueda Gras-Velazquez, from European Schoolnet (part of the ASPECT Consortium) was delighted to see how teachers’ positive attitudes towards and interest in resource repositories, content packaging and, above all, the ASPECT project, had increased drastically since the first workshop.

In the national workshops in October 2009 teachers had been sceptical about the uses and advantages of the LRE and content packaging. However, they left the Estoril Summer School eager to know more about how to include Common Cartridge plugins in their own virtual learning environments (VLE) and were keen to use learning content packaging in the future.

A similar view was expressed by Belgian teacher-coordinator Pascal Craeye from KlasCement, who viewed ASPECT as a difficult and technical project aiming to bring the teachers and content together.

“After the first workshop, the teachers could not yet understand how to use the LRE portal and preferred their own national portal better. Finally, the third workshop managed to convince the teachers of how they can use content by importing it easily into their VLE (e.g. Moodle). Standards did their job very well!”

Accessing learning resources in three clicks

Kati Clements also explained that in their day-to-day work, teachers want resources that are accessible “in three clicks”: accessing a portal, searching appropriate material for five minutes and being able to download the material to their computer, VLE or beamer where the material is ready for editing or use.

She concluded, “There are standards behind many things. When standards are at their best, we can forget that they even exist. This should also be the objective of the learning content standards.”

ASPECT project website: http://aspect-project.net/

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