Open and agile: creating IET’s new kid on the block in Open edX

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A sneak preview of Week 2 of H819 The Critical Researcher, viewed in the Open edX studio authoring environment

By Leigh-Anne Perryman, H819 Production Chair

The Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology (IET) is well known for cutting-edge innovations in many fields, including learning design, learning analytics and open research. This year, IET continues to demonstrate its pioneering spirit by designing and authoring its newest module – H819 The Critical Researcher: educational technology in practice – on the Open edX courseware development platform.

Traditionally, The Open University (OU) has authored its modules using a ‘waterfall’ process, whereby individual authors create draft content in Word (or other word processing) documents and then share them with fellow authors and critical readers for comment, before creating a new version based on those comments. This process has worked fairly well but doesn’t allow for authors to see each other’s work ‘as it happens’ and, due to the emailed exchange of word-processed documents, can be quite slow.

Authoring in Open edX is both agile and liberating, allowing authors to imagine and then immediately to create.

I’m currently the module production chair for H819 and have found authoring in Open edX is both agile and liberating, allowing authors to imagine and then immediately to create. In addition, the process saves time compared with traditional module production and allows authors to see each other’s writing in real time. As such, authors can give immediate feedback on their colleagues’ work and very quickly get a clear sense of the overall narrative of a module as it begins to fall into shape. Consequently, we can easily react to developments in the educational technology field, and in the wider world, and update our module content accordingly.

H819 The Critical Researcher focuses both on developing skills in critically interpreting and assessing educational technology-related research, and in designing research studies intended to evaluate teaching and learning strategies. Fellow production chair Liz Fitzgerald (now on maternity leave) and I made the decision to author collaboratively in Open edX based on a shared vision of the benefits of authors being able to see their authored content in the format in which it is likely to be presented to students.

While it took a little time to get used to working in the Open edX environment, it’s really exciting to be able to see the module grow into something like its final shape as we work. It prompts us to try things out, for example innovative ways of setting activities and of presenting multimedia content. Liz and I are convinced we made the right decision in choosing to author collaboratively, and our module team colleagues Ann Jones and Simon Cross are also finding the authoring process much more straightforward and engaging than the traditional alternative.

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Editing H819 content in Open edX

Liz Fitzgerald and I were inspired to use Open edX by Angela Coe, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Science at The Open University. Angela is the module chair for OU module S309 Earth Processes, the first OU module to be authored in Open edX. In a series of interviews (Part 1 and Part 2), Angela discusses ‘how she managed to organise 600 hours worth of content in just a few days’ using the open source platform.

The first block of H819 The Critical Researcher is currently going through a two-stage critical reading process and, once again, the affordances of working in Open edX are clear as critical readers can see the module content in the format in which it will finally be delivered, allowing them to assess the balance between text, images, videos and activities and to evaluate the rhythm of the module from a student’s perspective. As the module grows we will continue to report the story of its creation on this blog.

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