Chickens and eggs in online resource development

What’s that HAL? You can’t lip-read because I’ve covered up my webcam?

As the token European in the ALPSblog team, I guess I should make some passing reference to the football [sic] World Cup, but given my abject disregard for the game, this isn’t going to happen. I’ll leave it at pointing you to others who do want to link it in.

Instead, I want to consider a new challenge I’m grappling with this summer: building properly online interactive resources.

This is for a project I’ve mentioned before, a resource for Oxford University Press to frame their online materials in and around EU politics, produced by a team of colleagues here at Surrey (when they’re not watching the football). With a mix of text, audio and activities, we want to try and make the most of the online-ness of it all.

The issue has been to know quite what that might actually mean.

Very helpful was a recent conference call with their tech people, who basically told us that we can propose whatever we like. That might sound banal, but their view was very much that they’d rather rein us back in than have us stick to a list of prescribed formats. In essence, they’d tell us if we’ve gone too wild in our thinking.

That’s been really positive for letting let go of the brakes on this one. Having tinkered with thinking about moving class exercises online, I’m now mapping out some very different kinds of activity that I’ve not even begun to consider for my classroom.

This is the inverse of most of our (yours and mine) experience: usually we work within the constraints we operate in, bouncing off those limits to develop practice. Certainly, being told I have to fit my hours into some new configuration, or having double the number of students from last year, has proved a useful – if not painless – stimulus to doing new things.

Here, we’re being given a free rein. Not only are the publishers happy for us to try new things, it’s also new for them so there isn’t much in the way of role-models to draw upon.

Of course, the danger here is that we’ll do it wrong. Certainly, one of the larger parts of the conversation to get to this point was centred on “what if no-one uses it, or uses it only once?”

With this in mind, we’re taking things in a somewhat graduated fashion. That means focusing on getting the core material together and starting to explore interactivity, and then building up more of that latter part as we progress.

That means we all get to learn what’s possible for us and what’s popular with users. (As a side note, that also means the more users we can get to try stuff out, the better for everyone, so do sign your students up when it’s online next summer).

Just as active learning in general remains a site of great creativity and variety, so too do we want to make our resource similarly varied. The subject material is going to help, by providing lots of cases to explore, just as having multiple authors will bring more ideas to the table.

We’re always looking for ideas, so if there’s something you’d like to see, then drop me a line and we’ll see what can be worked up.

Just nothing involving football.

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