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DEVELOPING E-LEARNING LESSONS

Pierfranco Ravotto - ITSOS “Marie Curie”

Index
Developing E-learning Lessons..............................................................................................................................1
Pierfranco Ravotto - ITSOS “Marie Curie”..........................................................................................................1
Index.........................................................................................................................................................................1
Towards a Knowledge Society...............................................................................................................................2
Online learning scenarios ......................................................................................................................................3
Two types, four scenarios......................................................................................................................................3
Relations with learning materials and with people in different scenarios ..........................................................3
eLearning and the Internet potential ..................................................................................................................4
Planning eLearning: learning materials and environments ................................................................................4
Materials suitable for eLearning ..........................................................................................................................5
The functions of materials in traditional Distance Learning ..............................................................................5
The functions of materials in vitual class and collaborative learning environments .........................................5
Learning Object and Standards............................................................................................................................5
SCOs and SCORMs..............................................................................................................................................6
Meta Data..............................................................................................................................................................7
Types of Learning Objects.....................................................................................................................................7
Lessons..................................................................................................................................................................7
Interactive lessons.................................................................................................................................................7
Tests and exercises with electronic feedback .......................................................................................................7
Individual work ....................................................................................................................................................8
Project work..........................................................................................................................................................8
Developing materials in the view of Open Source...............................................................................................8
Works Cited...........................................................................................................................................................10
Towards a Knowledge Society
Planning and developing effective eLearning materials is one of the elements that can help achieve one of the
objectives set by the Lisbon European Council, March 2002:“The Union has today set itself a new strategic
goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the
world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.”1.
It is just after that Council that the European Commission launched the eLearning Action Plan in March 2001
where eLearning is defined as “the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality
of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration2.…
The first aim of the eLearning initiative is to accelerate the deployment in the European Union of a high
quality infrastructure at a reasonable cost. With this in mind, it adopts and adds to the objectives of eEurope,
namely:
 to provide all schools with access to the Internet and multimedia resources by the end of 2001, and to
equip all classrooms with a fast Internet connection by the end of 2002;
 to connect all schools to research networks by the end of 2002;
 to achieve a ratio of 5-15 pupils per multimedia computer by 2004;
 to ensure the availability of support services and educational resources on the Internet, together with
online learning platforms for teachers, pupils and parents, by the end of 2002;
 to support the evolution of school curricula with the aim of integrating new learning methods based on
information and communication technologies by the end of 2002.”3

Even if the objectives set for 2002 were probably too ambitious and have not been totally achieved yet, it is
clear that schools and teachers are now required to make a big effort in terms of planning, training and
changing of attitudes in order to be able to manage, at its best, the emerging new learning context.
Elearning is not and cannot be any longer a field of interest only for those who have been involved in Distance
Learning: it is now the time to integrate face-to-face learning and eLearning.

This is the context where the theme of developing e-learning lessons places itself and it is the subject of the
present contribution which originates from the following experiences:
 teaching activities and didactic/pedagogical research carried out by ITSOS “Marie Curie” in Cernusco in
the last 30 years with their 1300 students,
 the delivery of e-learning activities integrating face - to- face dimension implemented by more and more
teachers in the last decade,
 the SiR Net, with 7 nodes and 5000 users, developed, managed and implemented by ITSOS in cooperation
with numerous Milanese schools. Such a net has proved to be a powerful tool for eLearning and
Collaborative Learning for hundreds of teachers,
 the research on ODL and eLearning issues done by ITSOS, as a promoter, in cooperation with numerous
Italian and European partners in the European projects SOFIA, Sofi@net and SOLE within Leonardo da
Vinci Programmme,
 experiences derived from the SiR 2 project, financed by European Social Funds and carried out by ITSOS
within an Italian partnership. On such an occasion 120 teachers have been trained,
 last but not least, the activities performed in the BiTE project where eLearning materials for mathematics
have been developed.

This report is the result of reflections on the experiences carried out and it aims to identify and overcome their
limits and offer useful hints for further projects.

1 Lisbon European Council, 23 and 24 march 2000, Presidency conclusions, <http://europa.eu.int/european_council/conclusions/index_en.htm>

2 eLearning Action Plan, March 2001, eLearning Action Plan.pdf, page 2

3 eLearning Action Plan, March 2001, eLearning Action Plan.pdf, page 3


Online learning scenarios
Learning always occurs in a relational context. The learner establishes relations, as the case may be, with the
learning materials, with the teacher that is delivering the course or with the tutor supporting his/her training,
and finally with the peer group that shares his/her own experience.
ELearning materials require to be suitable for the context where they will be used; such a context can be either
imposed by circumstances or chosen by the training designers.

Two types, four scenarios


As we wrote, at the conclusion of a project which offered an eLearning course to 120 teachers –over 95% of
them successfully completed it after a nine-month activity!!- “ it is possible to identify 2 fundamental types of
eLearning”:

Individual Such a type allows the maximum of opening –up and flexibility, both in terms of
objectives and content, and time ( its beginning and end, its duration).
The path can be tailorised according to the specific trainees’ needs.
Obviously, trainees are “alone” in their learning path as there is no a peer group
they can establish relations with and whom/by whom they can give/receive support.
Two different scenarios can be identified:
 Self-learning: where no tutorship is foreseen or it is limited to guidance aspects
concerning the definition of the course or the use of ICTs; learning materials are
in charge of delivering the content.
 Supported self-learning: where a systematic relation with the tutor occurs and it
also concerns learning contents.

Group One of the big advantages of group learning is represented by the reciprocal support
and incitement that the participants can offer one another.
In order to work in group it is obviously necessary to share objectives and contents as
well as deadlines; the extent of “freedom” is inferior to the one experienced in
individual learning paths.
ELearning provides more flexibility than face-to-face learning that asks for an
identical schedule (only chats or web conferencse require learners to be connected at
the same time).
Nevertheless, it is necessary to share the same phases of work and consequently the
same deadlines.

Also in this case it is possible to identify two scenarios:


 Virtual class: where the peer group follows a path that is somehow pre-defined
and that is based on learning materials prepared in advance, with a tutor whose
role is similar to the one of a teacher in a face-to-face situation.
 Online collaborative learning: where the content to learn is not pre-defined, but
on the contrary the learners themselves share a task to be fullfilled or a result to
be achieved and they organise themselves searching for available information
and learning contents that are being defined step by step and that are relevant to
the goal.
 Here, the tutor plays the role of a consultant or of a “project manager”, just the
same role that he/she would play in a face-to face class involved in a project
work.

Relations with learning materials and with people in different scenarios


In a self-learning scenario learning materials obviously need to be “complete” and “self-consistent”, as they
are required to perform several functions such as:
 to delivery content (possibly in an interactive/dialogue form),
 to provide and support motivation,
 to allow electronic self- check and feedback.
Also in a supported self-learning scenario the learning materials represent the main tool to deliver content,
but the increased tutor presence in the learning path, reduces the need to develop complete and self-consistent
didactic materials also performing functions of support, check and feedback.
This is even more evident in a virtual class scenario
where the presence of a “teacher” is necessarily
predominant and where any trainee can benefit by the
support and the feedback provided by the group.
In a collaborative learning scenario learning materials
mostly consist of mere “proposals of work” and
informative charts that will be enriched, during the
course, with new materials developed by the group of
learners themselves.

The figure points out the loss – from a scenario to another


– of the weight of the learning materials while, on the
contrary, the weight of the relations among the people
increases.

eLearning and the Internet potential


The first two scenarios correspond to traditional Distance Learning for which the Internet represents a priceless
tool, as it allows:
 to “edit” and make learning materials available at the same time, solving the problems connected to their
distribution that previously required face-to –face meetings or the use of traditional mail services.
 an easy communication between the learner and the tutor thanks to e-mailing, chatting and web
conferencing.
The last two scenarios are those that better match the real potential of the Internet. What is the Internet
namely? According to David Weinberger “the net is a social place that we, the human beings, have voluntary
created starting from our own passions in order to show the others how the world appears to each other’s eyes
…In the web there are only passions, words and the presence of the others in an inextricable jumble of
relations continuosly changing.” 4
Passions and relations among people: the ideal scenario for learning. This the reason why the Internet allows a
learning environment the potential of which is more powerful than the one exploited in Distance Learning.
The Internet can help integrate and enrich face-to-fece learning as it allows the increase of relations between
teachers and learners and among learners, and as a consequence, of learning opportunities.

Planning eLearning: learning materials and environments


Elearning paths exploiting the full potential of the Internet require:
 learning materials,
 a learning environment,
 a teacher/tutor that, according to the pedagogical/methodological strategy chosen, interacts with learners.
The people who have been involved in Distance Learning need now to shift their own attention from the
learner-material relation to learner-teacher and learner-learner relations.
On the contrary, the ones who are familiar with a face-to-face dimension need to transfer the didactic
methodologies that proved to be effective in such an environment to a different one, which has its own features.
In any case the main role in eLearning is played by a figure called e-moderator by Gilly Salmon.
Such a role passes over the tutor’s role in traditional distance learning and is more similar to the role played
by a teacher in a face-to-face scenario.
It is the e-moderator that “makes – as Gilly Salmon writes - the online world a creative, happy, productive and
relevant place for successful learning.… Successful online learning depends on teachers and trainers
acquiring new competencies, on their becoming aware of its potential and on their inspiring the learners,
rather than on mastering the technology”5.

4 Weinberger David, Arcipelago WEB, Milano, Sperling & Kupfer Editori, 2002, pages 206 and 212
5 Gilly Salmon, Prefazione al libro E-moderating. The Key to Teaching and Learning Online, http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/extracts.htm
Materials suitable for eLearning
From now on, the present report will only focus on the first of the following three elements: learning
materials, environment, role of the teacher.

The functions of materials in traditional Distance Learning


In traditional distance learning the limited presence of the tutor and the lack of a peer group ask for materials
able to perform a large number of functions:
 delivery of content,
 check on learning,
 correction of mistakes,
 suggestions for in-depth study and modifications of the learning path,
 support to motivation.
Materials need to be exhaustive, clear, motivating, the most attractive and interactive as possible, and they are
generally required to be fully planned and developed before the beginning of the course.
Materials form a complete, organic and highly structured courseware also containing the didactic stragey
chosen and the learning path offered, with a certain extent of flexibility if required.

The functions of materials in vitual class and collaborative learning environments


In a virtual class scenario the large extent of interaction between the learner and the teacher/tutor and among
the learners themselves allows the materials:
 not to make up for functions that can be more effectively performed by relations among people
 to be partially modified or developed during the course in order to make them meet the learners’needs
whenever they arise.
Not only are highly structured materials necessary any longer, but they also could constitute a limit to the
fullfillment of the teacher’s function, that is the one of an e-moderator that chooses, adapts and develops
content and proposals of work according to the course development.
A collection of Learning Objects is much more suitable to the goal. They require to be:
 adaptable,
 re-usable,
 sharable,
 transferable.

All this is even more valid if a collaborative learning scenario is to be chosen.

Learning Object and Standards


The most recent pedagogical research in the e-learning field just
focuses on these learning objects, or “chunks”, namely blocks of
knowledge, or Lego blocks – a terminology used on both sides of the
Atlantic.
With regard to this, we have to cope with the problem of
standardisation.
The Masie Centre, one of the organisations involved in such a theme
writes: “The phrase “learning standards” is one of the most powerful
and most misunderstood aspects of the e-Learning revolution. As
organizations make significant investments in digital learning content,
there is a strong desire to have greater assurances, portability and re-
usability. As organizations focus on providing learners with the “just right” content and activities, there is a
strong desire to have the ability to more easily store, search, index, deploy, assemble and revise content. All of
these hopes are part of the story of “learning standards”6.

6 The Maisie Centre/eLearning Consortium, Making sense of Learning, Specifications and Standards, A decision Maker’s Guide to their Adoption,
March 8 2002, pdf document, pag. 2 (www.masie.com)
“Standards help to ensure the five abilities … and to protect and even nurture e-Learning investments:
1. Interoperability – can the system work with any other system?
2. Re-usability – can courseware (Learning Objects or “chunks”) be re-used?
3. Manageability – can a system track the appropriate information about the learner and the content?
4. Accessibility – can a learner access the appropriate content at the appropriate time?
5. Durability – will the technology evolve with the standards to avoid obsolescence?”7

Researches carried out by centres and universities have met the needs of organisations like the U.S. Defence
Department that, after having purchased courseware from various companies, found out its incompatibility,
swift obsolescence and non re-usability. This lead to the creation of organisations involved in the
standardisation of LOs.8.

SCOs and SCORMs


The ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning) initiative has been promoted by the U.S. Department of Defence
and by partner companies in order to ensure that training technologies and contents could be used, shared and
re-used in the whole aeronautical sector.
ADL, along with other partners, has developed SCORM, SCO Reference Model, which are guidelines for
planning and developing training contents, called SCOs, Sharable Content Objects.)
Such a Reference Model allows contents, technologies and systems to communicate with one another
guaranteeing:
 inter-operability, that is independence from the Learning Management System (LMS) used,
 re-usability,
 user-friendliness.

The ADL model focuses on the concept of Sharable Content Object, SCO.
A Sharable Content Object (SCO) is a Learning Object with the smallest level of granularity of learning
contents that can be tracked (with the double meaning of “traced” and “follow the tracks”) in a Learning
Management System9 (LMS) and developed according to the SCORM indications.

A SCO:
 contains one or more assets (texts, images, sounds, Web pages, assessment tools, or any other information
suitable to be delivered on-line),
 can be described by meta-data (see the following paragraph),
 can be launched by the SCORM run-time environment (see further) in order to communicate with the
Learning Management System,
 cannot, by itself, launch other SCOs.

7 Ibidem, pag. 8
8 These organizations are worth mentioning:

 ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning) iniziative


AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-based Training Committee)

ALIC (Advanced Learning Infrastructure Consortium)

ARIADNE (Alliance of Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe)

CEN/ISS (European Committee for Standadization /Information Society Standardization System)

EdNA (Education Network Australia)

 DCMI (Dublin Core Meta-Data Iniziative
)
GEM (Gateway to Educational Materials)

IEEE – LTSC (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers/Learning Technologies Standards Committe)

IMS (Instructional Management System) Global learning Consortium

ISO (International Organisation for Standardization)

Prometeus (PROmoting Multimedia access to Education and Training in the European Society)

To know more see Progetto SOLE, Guida 4

9 A LMS is a software that automatically manages the learning activities offering lists of courses, registering users and
storing information on their courseware activities.
But, above all, a SCO with such characteristics can be used in different contexts; it can be used repeatedly in
the production of didactic materials.

Meta Data

The exchange and re-utilization of Learning Objects, in terms of integration, are possible not only if the model
in the production phase is accepted but also if they are traceable. They must be properly catalogued into
Databases, in other words they need to be quickly retraceable.
How to achieve such a result? By means of meta-data, namely data related to data providing information on
other data.
Meta-data, in the e-learning field, must describe the Learning Objects effectively in order to find, assemble and
deliver the right contents to the people who require them at the right time. (“the right learning content to the
right person at the right time”).
Meta-data can ideally describe all the different Learning Objects, from the smallest ones, the Assets, to the
SCOs up to Modules, courses, and whole curricula. They can also be used for the trainees (name, address,
learning preferences, skills…)
In order for the meta-data to be used by different people/organisations there must be a standard definition and
there are institutions in charge of this: IMS for specific definitions and IEEE for certification.

Types of Learning Objects


Let’s analyse now what types of Learning Objects we can develop.

Lessons
Both online and in a face-to-face dimension there are precise contents that are to be delivered to the learners:
facts, descriptions, rules, principles, laws, procedures…..
Lessons are to be developed in the form of texts accompanied by images, drawings, sounds and movies.

Interactive lessons
Lessons that simply “explain” are less effective than interactive lessons, where the learners are requested to
“act”. For example, in the BiTE project, we have developed online learning lessons of mathematics using a
software called Cabrì in order to create Web pages where learners can:
 move straight lines or rotate them to find out the relations among the direction coefficients of parallel, or
symmetrical and perpendicular lines,
 change the coordinates of two points on a given straight line to verify that the incremental ratio do not
change,
 move the tangent along a curve to identify the correlation between the sign of the tangent direction
coefficient and the increase or decrease of the function.

More generally speaking, it is possible to draw electrical circuits, to move objects, to order sequences, to link
elements……in order to enrich “illustrative” lessons with applications or to alternate deductive and inductive
appoaches.
As Francesca Berengo has written in an article about BiTE results: “More and more and particularly for
difficult concepts traditional face-to-face lessons are being replaced with lessons suitable to make learners get
involved in an active way. The teacher provides learners with problems and questions, leads them to a
discussion that encourages them to find answers on their own. Once the solutions are found they are
synthetized and systematized. Such guided activities can be implemented as WEB pages that, stimulating
reflections, encourage e learners to search for solutions in an independent way.”10

Tests and exercises with electronic feedback


Still in the view of proposing a non passive learning, there is the possibility to develop self-check tests and
other activities equipped with electronic help and feed-back, scores and evaluation of results.

10 Francesca Berengo, Trasferire in rete le strategie efficaci dell’insegnamento in presenza: Il progetto BiTE, CERFAD
Individual work
The presence of a tutor, able to intervene providing corrections and suggestions, also allows the development of
“open exercises”, for example written exercises in a foreign language, or maths problems, that are to be sent
directly to a tutor, or to a forum if it is required that the “products” are to be seen by the whole class in order to
make corrections useful for many.

Project work
Proposals of work can address a group of learners, or a whole class. They are suitable for encouraging online
discussions. They can be comments on a poem or on a book or the solution of a complex problem provided by
several individual contributions. Such proposals may lead to a research in the Internet, and once the results
have been revised, these can be developed as new online lessons or a WEB site
Project work could also propose a case-study, or the creation of a programme, the planning of an electronic
devise, the setting up of a business plan…

Developing materials in the view of Open Source


A new movement called Open Source has been impetuously establishing itself these years :
“The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the
source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs.
And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development,
seems astonishing.
We in the open source community have learned that this rapid evolutionary process produces better software
than the traditional closed model, in which only a very few programmers can see the source and everybody
else must blindly use an opaque block of bits.

Open source software is an idea whose time has finally come. For twenty years it has been building momentum
in the technical cultures that built the Internet and the World Wide Web. Now it's breaking out into the
commercial world, and that's changing all the rules. Are you ready?”11

The Free Software movement– as some people go on calling it– seemed destined to bring strong but minority
ideas:
 transparence against trade secret,
 copyleft against copyright,
 cooperation against competition,
 emphasis on the idea of community - community of software developers, community of users - against
individualism.
Such a movement, led by Richard Stallman, places itself between the late hippy and the underground
movements; a group of hackers that reject the rules of the establishment and of the market, and share an
unselfish passion for technology, for “pure” research.
This movement, against all expectations, has forcefully entered the market, in fact the software developed in
such a way appers to be the best: Linux is becoming the most widespread operative system, companies
disseminating it are listed at the Stock Exchange, titanic companies like IBM have shifted to open source, the
interest of the European and Chinese market for it is increasing.
A movement with an increasing attraction that places itself as an example to follow.

Well then, why shouldn’t we follow such an example?

We said that eLearning requires a collection of Learning Objects with specific features: they must be adattable,
re-usable, sharable, transferable, in conformity with standards and with the presence of an online teacher/tutor
that is allowed to choose, select, modify and use them according to the objectives, the target, the didactic
strategy chosen and the learners’ response.
But which teacher will ever be able to develop such a collection? Or which school will be able to produce it?
And why on earth will each teacher, each school have to start out again from the very beginning developing
materials that others have already developed employing time, human and financial resources?
The Open Source and Copyleft movement foresees that everybody is free to use and modify software/products
provided that they entitle any other the same right. (Gnu General Public Licence 12).

11 OSI (Open Source Iniziative), http://www.opensource.org/


12 http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html
Here is a possible answer: schools and teachers can cooperate placing the Learning Object developed at the
others’ disposal so that the collection will be likely to boost and develop: people improve it, people adapt it,
people fix bugs.

Why not?

Author
Ing. Pierfranco Ravotto
ITSOS “Marie Curie”
Via Masaccio 4, 20063 Cernusco sul Naviglio (MI) - Italy
pierfranco.ravotto@tes.mi.it
Works Cited
Berengo Francesca , Trasferire in rete le strategie efficaci dell’insegnamento in presenza: Il progetto
BiTE, CERFAD

Bocchetti, Carlo Lucio and Pierfranco Ravotto. “Il Progetto SiR2: Intranet regionale per la didattica e
la formazione in rete - Documento Conclusivo”. Documento_conclusivo.pdf. T&S. ITSOS
Marie Curie. 15 November 2003. <www.tes.mi.it/sir2portale>

eLearning Action Plan, March 2001. eLearning Action Plan.pdf <http://europa.eu.int/eur-


lex/en/com/cnc/ 2001/com2001_0172en01.pdf>, 22 nov 2003

GNU General Public Licence, <www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html>

Lisbon European Council, 23 and 24 march 2000, Presidency conclusions. Europa, The European
Union on-line, 25 November 2003
<europa.eu.int/european_council/conclusions/index_en.htm>

OSI (Open Source Iniziative), <www.opensource.org>, 25 November 2003

Salmon Gilly, Prefazione al libro E-moderating. The Key to Teaching and Learning Online,
<www.atimod.com/e-moderating/extracts.htm>

SOLE Project, Guide 4, Methodologies and Instruments for Planning and Developing Online Learning
Materials. Guide_4_EN.pdf, T&S
< www.tes.mi.it/sole/English/download/download.htm>

The Maisie Centre/eLearning Consortium, Making sense of Learning, Specifications and Standards, A
decision Maker’s Guide to their Adoption, March 8 2002, pdf document, <www.masie.com>, 25
June 2003

Weinberger David, Arcipelago WEB, Milano, Sperling & Kupfer Editori, 2002