The Texas Center for Digital Knowledge (TxCDK)
at the University of North Texas has received more than $375,000
in grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating
Board to build an online digital repository to store and
provide access to newly created and designed undergraduate courses.
Educators at public universities and colleges across Texas can
freely access and use these course materials in developing and
enhancing undergraduate classes that blend traditional teaching
methods with technology.
The newest $257,603 grant was awarded in addition to an original
$120,000 research and development grant to TxCDK, a research center
housed in UNT's School of Library and Information Sciences.
The grants support the design of a learning object repository,
an online database that can store and make course materials accessible
to faculty at public universities and colleges across the state.
Course content housed in the repository is being developed as part
of the Coordinating Board's Texas Course Redesign Project.
TxCDK researchers used the initial grant to design and demonstrate
the potential effectiveness of a learning object repository. The
current stage of research and development will bring the learning
object repository prototype to a near-production-level system.
"The idea behind the learning object repository is to store course
materials in small pieces so they can be used," said William
Moen, TxCDK director and principal investigator on both
grants. "Our sense is that they may be used all together as part
of a single course, but the individual pieces also are valuable
in that they may be used as learning materials in other disciplines
not initially intended. The repository can benefit educators with
different needs and should be a good way to locate content that
can be reused."
The repository prototype Moen and his team have designed includes
the course content of a U.S. history course that had been redesigned
with funding from the Coordinating Board in UNT's Next
Generation Course Redesign Project, an initiative to transform
large enrollment undergraduate courses by engaging and enabling
faculty members to design, apply and assess innovative instructional
techniques. Now stored in the repository, the course's contents
are searchable by unit, lesson or topic. A visitor to the repository
could even search for a particular object – an audio or graphic
supplement to the content.
When complete, the repository would allow educators at public
universities and colleges across Texas to submit their own content
and download and use other educators' course content. For example,
a history instructor might go to the repository to find materials
on a particular topic, such as America before the time of Christopher
Columbus. On the other hand, someone from a different discipline,
such as sociology, might search the repository for a lesson about
North American Indians. Both educators would be able to use the
same content for different purposes. "They both should be able
to search and determine what learning objects best suit their needs
for a lesson," Moen said.
In the first stage, conducted in the summer of 2007, Moen and
his research team developed a prototype of the repository to demonstrate
the opportunities for storing and accessing course content. They
decomposed the contents of the redesigned history course by organizing
the discrete learning objects under categories – course, unit,
lesson, topic and object – that make searching the repository more
user friendly. The categories, referred to as levels of granularity,
allow an individual to use a broadly defined search to find a particular
course or a particular unit from that course and a more narrowly
defined search to find information about a particular topic, such
as the American Revolution.
The researchers designed and implemented the repository prototype
using DSpace, an open source digital repository application, and
then tested the repository's usability and functions with a set
of users. Users were asked to search for specific information located
in the repository and carry out other tasks. The users successfully
performed the searches without difficulty, Moen said. "The test
helped demonstrate that the repository concept is a success," he
Moen and his staff will now refine the design and functionality
of the repository using a DSpace extension called Manakin for interface
customization. The repository will also be expanded to include
the content of other courses being redesigned with funding from
the Coordinating Board. Policy and licensing considerations, such
as copyright issues, are also being examined in the second stage.
The researchers are also developing a training program for educators
submitting course materials, along with a manual to help users
search and download repository contents.
"I am excited by this project because UNT is already known for
its innovations in distributed learning," Moen said. "This project
is another way for UNT's Texas Center for Digital Knowledge to
shine and contribute to a statewide initiative."
UNT News Service press release
Mark Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.