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Maximizing Learning Effectiveness via eLearningspace Through the Utilization of Learning Objects May, 2002

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Maximizing Learning Effectiveness via eLearningspace Through the Utilization of Learning Objects
May, 2002

How do learning objects differ from Learning Resources? As explained in the appendix, a true learning object will behave as an interactive entity that says what it can provide when queried and can be extended as it inherits properties by other builders of tools.

And, based on discussions and presentations at the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) International conference in Montreal, in June, 2000, very few educators, using computing and networking, had a firm grasp of how, via the Internet, learning objects could be built and used.
In response to that experience, Educational Products Information Exchange and the Center for Information, Technology & Society conceived of a plan by which the efforts of educators using technology could build on each other’s work  so to avoid as many parallel efforts on the Internet.
Perhaps the clearest way to demonstrate the power of an object oriented approach is by illustrating its use.
In that a learning object has something like handles, one way to illustrate the use of these objects is to imagine them as if jigsaw puzzle pieces.
And, while it is the goal of an end-creator to have an object serve some specific learning need, it is also important to imagine this object, derived from other objects, as returning to the “sea of objects” that are available via the Internet.
To illustrate this, we have taken puzzle pieces and labeled them with a brief sense of their behavior as an object. We show the resulting object within a boxed boundary, with handles or arms both reaching into the sea of other objects and becoming an object used by others.
We have chosen four examples:

  • Teaching Bird Courting Behaviors

  • Teaching How to Perform CPR

  • Teaching How to Tack a Sail Boat

Example #1: Teaching Bird Courting Behaviors

[Notice: Open space is dark blue, puzzle pieces of the currently desired object are in multiple colors, and those puzzle pieces mate with the “sea of puzzle pieces  the sea of objects.”]

In this example we rely heavily on the Nova Series program on “Flying Casanovas.” We

integrated into the learning event three segments from the show, placing them as objects by specifying the elapse time period from the beginning of the program. With the Rachet bird segment we illustrate how birds use plumage. Thi is also illustrated with the Rifle bird. To show more involved behaviors we demonstrate how some birds, the Bower bird, collect objects and arrange them in a pattern to signal a mate.
Other objects provide us with the ability to create a multimedia presentation, to show the lineages of these birds, provide more biological information, and linkages to other resources on Ornithology.

Example #2: Teaching the Computation of Area under a Curve:

In this example the builder needs the ability to provide illustrations of data, the availability of basic concepts, and various multimedia capabilities to tie things together.

Example #3: Teaching How to Perform CPR

In this example we need basic physiological information about the body, we need video film footages to show various parts of the process, and, again, various tools to make a multimedia presentation.
Example #4: Teaching How to Tack a Sail Boat

In this example we need basic physical information about the winds and sails, we need video film footages to show various parts of the process, and, again, various tools to make a multimedia presentation.

During the last year EPIE Institute has been developing a web-based mentoring component for the LINCT-Coalition-sponsored eLearningspace not-for-profit education portal. The portal is about to be piloted in Chicago, Denver, Long Island and New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland and Phoenix. The pedagogical strategy of eLearningspace is to engage teachers, learners, mentors in the development of learning plans that incorporate effective uses of web-accessible learning resources that align as closely as possible to the needs of learners, teachers and mentors. This request for continued support for the development of eLearningspace, takes the eLearningspace pedagogical strategy further in the direction of dealing with the articulation of learning resources as ‘learning objects’. We do this, not only because this meets our own development interests, as well as the interests of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but also because additional funding of our work by CPB may make a useful contribution to the evolution of the concept, process, and use of web-based learning objects.

Teachers have employed tools to maximize their effectiveness for many years. One of the first and most persistent of these tools is the blackboard. Other tools have been the overhead slide projector, the filmstrip projector, and the VCR.
Generally the aim in using these tools is to hand off the teaching process to something more specialized and more capable in providing learning outcomes.
The process by which the teacher identified a filmstrip or a VCR tape that was synchronized with the current learning objectives was difficult. The granularity of the material was large, that is, a one hour video tape on the history of the American Revolution had only minutes or seconds of material that directly related to a specific learning objective. As a result, such materials were best suited as general introductions to a wide variety of content and did not fit into the daily teaching routine.
The slide projector was perhaps the tool providing the smallest level of granularity. A teacher of art history could conduct an entire course (in the dark) by displaying slides taken either of pictures in books or from museums and monuments on the teacher’s travels.
With the advent of the Internet and the Web, learning tools have even smaller levels of granularity and, because of the interactive nature of the environment, the tools can include many forms of presentation. Single images from museums are available via the Net. So are sites that display the mathematics of natural phenomena, such as the exponential growth of yeast, using the “livemath” plug-in to present the equation, permit the learner to adjust constants, and graphically show the learner the results (see
The web-based mentor requires access to these tools for two reasons. The first reason parallels the need of the teacher — there are tools that more precisely and efficiently present content and provide for learner interaction that engages the learner in ways the mentor cannot.
The second reason is a matter of efficiency that is not available to teachers pinned down to a specific room in a school. In handing the mentee off to a learning tool (or object), the mentee is now free to engage with another learner.
We imagine the mentor to be the orchestrator of numerous learning paths, attuned to each mentee’s needs.
But how is the mentor to choose and assure delivery of the web-based learning objects?
Web-based Tools as Learning Objects

Those developing web-based learning tools are often developing such tools in the context of their own teaching needs. As a consequence, the creators have little incentive to create a generalizable learning object.
How does a learning object differ from a learning tool? The ‘tool’ is a often more like a part or component in the teacher’s repertoire. It is a “cog in a machine.” The learning object is more general and extensable. It is more general in that one may ask “what do you do?” And it is more general in that the object has a specific label, and the things that it does can be also labeled.
For example, say a teacher has created a tool that shows the algebra behind differently shaped items such as circles and triangles. As a tool, the ability to evoke the circle part or the triangle part may be to click on a circle or a triangle image on a web page. This extent of labeling suffices for the teacher’s own web page, but it does not serve others who wish to evoke these properties from a different environment.
Notice we have called these ‘properties.’ In an object oriented framework, the “algebra/shape” method has the two properties “circle” and “triangle.”
And now we have labeled the tool in such a way it can be used as a learning object. Specifically, if the tool is turned into an object, I may now invoke one of its properties by specifying the URL/method name followed by the property. It is convention to use a period (with no space) just after the name of the method and just before the property.
So, if Professor Smith of Louisiana State University has developed the above algebra tool, we would wish to invoke it (or instantiate it) as follows: objects/Provide_one?Shapes.Triangle
1. -- the organization providing the learning object

2. Smith -- the person providing the learning object

3. Math objects -- the logical home of the object

4. Provide_one -- the software code that makes the tool become and object

5. ? -- instruction to the web server to pass Shapes.Triangle to Provide_one

6. Shapes -- the method of the object

7. Triangle -- a property of the method
Let’s take the learning object approach a step further. We can sub-divide the types of triangles including the isosceles triangle.
This could be available as a further property of the method as: objects/Provide_one?Shapes.Triangle.Isosceles

Thus far we have discussed how a learning tool might be shared or generalized. We see that we can define a “basket-like” category (the method) which contains “eggs” (the properties). And we can further sub-divide the properties as much as we wish by a series of categories separated by periods.
What we are doing is quite similar to what has already occurred in programming languages. In C++, Java, Visual Basic, etc., the tools originally called functions or sub-routines have now given way to being classified as objects.
Further we have introduced the idea of invoking the object — what is called instantiating the object. We want many people to be able to use the same object at the same time. Some tools were not written to be used by many, at the same time. Using earlier computer terminology, they were not “reentrant” — once one person was using the tool, another process or person could not reenter the same tool. When we instantiate an object, we are asking for a carbon copy of the object that will be “ours” for the entire session during which we use it.
In summary, just as programmers are using library objects in building tools, we now wish to extend that practice to where the tools, themselves, are also objects. Only by doing this can we assure that others will be able to embed the tool qua object in their own needs to apply learning resources for learning outcomes.
It may well be that some tools on the net are already objects. That is, having been coded in the object-oriented paradigm, they can be instantiated by simply providing the Provide_one capability to the existing web site.
The idea of extensability is simply the ability to take an existing learning object and add some other features to it. For example, how might we use extensability to locate a learning object?
We might start with the “Dictionary” that is already being used to organize the knowledge contained in web pages at:
If we “drill down” to high school algebra, we identify 33 web sites:
“Top: Science: Math: Algebra: High School Math (33)” --
One of these sites is:
Algebra Homework Help, Online Solvers --
Now, for the purposes of illustration, we will introduce our Louisiana web site as if it were an entry in this dictionary.

And we now wish to extend the “Dictionary Object” -- ‘dmoz’ to provide us with access to Isosceles triangles.
We take the ‘dmoz’ URL, add to it the Provide_one function, and pass that function the ‘Shapes’ object from Louisiana.
This would look like this (split into two lines for clarity): objects/Provide_one?Shapes.Triangle.Isosceles

What we have done
By making each web site capable of responding as an object, we are now able to extend the methods of one site with the methods of another.
‘Dmoz’‘s method is the display of a dictionary and its properties are the branches of the topics and sub-topics. Louisiana’s method is to elaborate on geometric shapes and its properties include triangles.
By nesting the URL for Louisiana in the ‘dmoz’ URL we have extended the dictionary method to include learning about specific geometric shapes.
It should be said at this point that in the construction of eLearningSpace around specific math and science tools and related web pages that we found the ‘dmoz’ dictionary to be inadequate for the level of refinement needed to organize math and science knowledge, especially at the K-12 level. As a result, eLearningSpace contains many more K-12 relevant links, and we employ a search of the ‘dmoz’ dictionary only as a “fall-back” position for when the eLearningSpace search does not produce ‘hits.’
Tasks for the Learning Object Grant
1. Review and Summary of Current Efforts
At the national level there is a major effort to create learning standards, not the “National” standards nor the state-by-state standards, but a set of technical standards for coordinating the development of learning technology:
And specifically the “P1484.12 Learning Objects Metadata Working Group”
As the URLs show, these efforts are now part of the IEEE standards setting activities.

[We are pleased to say that these technical standards efforts resulted from a workshop that Priest and Komoski conducted in 1996 as part of the MacArthur Foundation supported project “Creating Learning Communities: Practical, Universal Networking for Learning In Schools and Homes” ]
Secondly, in attending the ED-MEDIA 2000 World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (Montreal, June, 2000), we found many educators building tools and a few who were thinking in object-oriented frameworks. For example, at Acadia University, Gary Hepburn presented on “Learning Objects: Communicating the Pedagogical Potential” and Duane Currie presented “Learning Object Containers: A Suggested Method of Transporting Metadata with a Learning Object.”
However, while a presentation by a member of the IEEE standards group (above) described the challenges and advantages of learning tool “reuse” by others, the Acadia group’s use of learning objects did not extend to this objective. This was evident in a lively discussion about the topic where Dr. Priest raised the objectives of the IEEE efforts and asked how they related to the Acadia efforts.
2. Publication of a Review Paper
In that the success of the move towards web-based learning objects depends on the cooperation of ‘tool builders,’ a 10-15 page article will be written and submitted for publication in an appropriate journal.
The article will begin with the material presented here, enhanced by what we learn in Task #1.
3. Identification, Restructuring, and Mentoring Application of Five Web-based Tools
What remains to be uncovered is the process by which web-based tools can be converted to Mentoring Learning Resources.
As part of the constructing of eLearningSpace we already have a large database of web-based tools for math and science. From that pool we will choose five tools that would be very helpful to the mentoring process.
We will contact the authors of those tools, seek their cooperation, and aid in the restructuring of their learning tool into a learning object. If the author of a candidate site/tool doesn’t “get it,” we will substitute another identified tool and author.
Our collaboration during this time may range from consulting with the programmer of the tool, to completely taking over the programming task.

And, as we redevelop those web learning objects, we will also work on the object by which the mentor identifies and employs the learning object as part of the mentor-mentee sessions established in the first phase of this mentoring project. In particular, we need to explore the use of two different and complementary approaches to the structuring of knowledge, and, more specifically, the structuring and identification of learning objects. Approach “A” is the use of a controlled vocabulary / dictionary as employed at ‘dmoz.’ Approach “B” is the use of search engines, using word proximity, which return ‘hits’ based on more casual associations between the “search phrase” and, for example, a web page’s contents.
In the first phase of this project we will have created “web pages” corresponding to the teaching abilities of the online mentors. We will have then taken the web page being viewed by the learner and distilled that page into a “search phrase” of some 20 to 40 key words that is then applied to the “mentor web pages.” The resulting ranked list of mentors will have then been used to select a mentor for the learner.
In that process we have actually combined an ad hoc version of approach “A” -- a reduction of a page to a vocabulary, and then used approach “B” to “find similar” pages, i.e., to find the mentors.
We anticipate that the next phase will also employ both approaches in now matching the mentors’ teaching resource needs with the available learning objects.

dmoz ‘d’ for dictionary, ‘moz’ for mozilla, a dictionary effort by Netscape

and AOL (mozilla was the first name for the Netscape Browser)
Extensable Having the capacity of being easily extended in function and/or form
Extensability The character of being extensable
Granularity How specifically a learning resource is tailored to a specific learning need
Resources of high granularity cover many topics

Resources of low granularity cover the specific topic at hand

Instance A single, isolated formation of an object (see instantiate)
Instantiate To create a single isolated form of an object
Learning Object A learning resource or tool that has the properties of being:

  • Accessible by using method/property labels

  • Capable of being Instantiated

  • Capable of being extensable (also called inheritance)

Metadata Data about data. Often in the form of tag fields

Method The major function or effect that an object performs or creates
Properties The specific functions or effects associated with a method

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