OER Rant 2.0 (Angry teacher and student)

Well, Tim Martin of SCORM.COM made a couple of cool comments on my last post and then made his own post. I think that we very much are in agreement (and both of us agree with Michael Feldstein on this as well) – so don’t read this next rant as any evidence of strong disagreement or hostility between Tim and me. It is more entertainment – like what CNN does with a pro and con expert on some inane topic in the news in a split screen on TV. The two people don’t dislike each other – they probably have beers together after the show. The purpose is mostly entertainment plus a touch of education as the expert commentators make points and counter points while the CNN host interrupts them to show how clever and insightful the host is.

Since Tim and I will never end up debating this on CNN, we have to do this on dueling blog posts – hopefully it is a bit entertaining :) And if you want calm, reasoned logic – see Michael’s post above. SO with no further ado, I present:

RANT 2.0 :)

Tim, this is a great discussion. I look at this issue with a lot of different hats on. First as part of the Sakai project and now participating in the development of systems like Moodle, D2L, ATutor, OLAT, and Blackboard, I am a technology builder, hoping to help the whole market better meet the needs of its customers. As a technology builder – the more standards these tools support – the better – period. Second, I am an IMS staff member helping build up our portfolio of standards with the goal of a more efficient marketplace. When I went into my rant about the demand that OER come out as SCORM, neither of these hats got flustered. Frankly, IMS and SCORM are talking and working and there are lots of win-win situations all around.

The thing that gets me steamed about “must produce SCORM” is when I put on my teacher or student hat.

I have had a situation where I was forced to take some required SCORM training as a student – by the time it as over, I almost hung myself with my mouse cord. The pro-SCORM folks will say “bad designers” – but there are some SCORM elements that instructional designers insist on using use because they work: (a) Lots of next buttons, (b) a left navigation menu with little checkboxes that appear as you progress through the material, (c) lots of questions where the content really does not care nor track your answers – they are just more screens that if you press Submit long enough – the software will let you get past the questions, and (d) the only permanent record of my training is that I found my way to some well-hidden trip-wire page where the lesson was marked “complete”. It was frustrating to be at 98% complete for two days because I could not find that last secret page no matter how hard I tried. After talking to HR training for two days, where they kept telling me what page I was supposed to find and sending me a sequence of screen shots for me to follow – and doing a view source on the page that I could not get past, I realized that there was some Internet Explorer specific code to call the SCORM runtime that was not running when I was clicking on the button in Firefox. I went and got a Windows box, navigated to the page, and viola! I was at 100%. And then once I hit 100% complete, I could never go back into the SCO because it was marked as a completed task in the learning system I had. Ah the joys of expensive useless government-mandated HR training to avoid lawsuits.

I am sure there are some sweet SCOs – but I bet those SCOs pretty much are just ZIP files with a lot of Flash, HTML, and Javascript – basically cool web pages that effectively use almost no SCORM at all.

I am also a teacher and have a Phd. in Computer Science and actually I have built a compliant SCORM run-time in ASP.NET and Javascript in a previous job in 2001. So I know my way around SCORM, SCOs and the run-time API. Once I wanted to tweak a SCO in a way that would alter that left-side navigation and add a bit here and there for my own purposes. The SCO was so brittle that I ultimately wrote a program that went through every HTML file in the unzipped SCO and made specific patches to the common navigation on *every* page so I could do what I want. If you hand a SCO to a teacher without a degree in Computer Science – it is uneditable.

So this is why I get a bit steamed (as a teacher and as a student) when the proposal is to pre-buy 2 Billion dollars of this stuff.

Frankly, the thing that would take a bit of the wind out of my sails on this little rant of mine would be if some real-live teacher (not an instructional designer or standards wonk) came forward on this blog and made a comment like this: “I love SCOs! I got some Art History SCOs from a a teacher in Ireland and had the easiest time editing those SCOs and was easily able to extend and alter the SCOs in Blackboard to add my favorite paintings and then save new SCOs and send them to my colleagues across the state! They then used my altered SCOs to teach their Art History class in Moodle. Another friend put my materials into Jenzabar since they run that at their campus. They both found some typos in my SCOs and sent my some SCOs back to me with all my typos fixed! Which I used this last semester. It was so easy!”.

My rant is not abut SCORM as a standard versus IMS CC – SCORM is well-established and very mature and IMS CC is emerging and finding its real place in the marketplace. (sorry Rob) If it is a mistake to insist that all the content be in SCORM, it would be an *even bigger* mistake to insist that all the content be exclusively in the less mature IMS CC.

The mistake is to pick only one format, and not allow alternate formats, and in particular pick a format that has never demonstrated it handles the edit/remix use case. The right way (as Michael Feldstein says in his blog) is to allow some diversity in approach and let the entire market work this out. Some experiments will work and others will fail – but we will have explored alternatives in a way to truly advance OER. I expect that both IMS CC and SCORM will have their significant roles to play. And I would be perfectly happy even if 90% of the OERs were SCORM because I trust the market to be wise and make the right choice if the recipients of the money are allowed to make a choice.

2 Comments

  1. Tim Martin says:

    (Chuck and I are posting our continuing discussion on our respective blogs for our respective readers… so most of this is the same as you’d see over on our blog, wherein I also argue with other people!)

    Chuck…

    As you reference on your blog, you and I are mutually consenting adults, with no hard feelings…

    To be clear, had you and/or Rob (to whom I’ll respond in a minute) said simply, “This proposal should make allowances for other standards, specifically IMS CC, because it offers additional capability and choice is good,” I wouldn’t have even had a reason to blog. That’s a well reasoned statement.

    The frustrations you express with SCORM, though, are a bit misplaced. The standard itself makes no effort to prevent the use of editable assets. SCORM packages can be built entirely using open technologies OR they can include the necessary source files to allow for future editing. There is absolutely nothing in the standard that would prevent the content author or tool from offering up the ability to edit. Now, you can properly complain that few authors and fewer tools elect to do this, but that’s not an issue you have with the standard. If authors of IMSCC based content elect to use closed technologies (which I suspect some ultimately will), those assets, too, would be un-editable.

    You express further frustration with a piece of content that had an unclear path to completion. Truthfully, there are more pieces of SCORM content where this is the case than I wish there were. It happens. Again, though, this is a frustration with a piece of content, a bad one. There are piles of SCORM content that don’t have this problem, and the standard itself can’t be blamed for poor usage thereof.

    [Here’s the part where I acknowledge my limited knowledge of IMSCC.] Does CC have a runtime protocol of any sort? I’m well aware that it does include both a QTI based testing piece and something akin to the asset or course structure. But does it venture into the difficult world of progress reporting today? I know (from a talk Dr. Chuck gave) that basic LTI includes the launch part of the equation as well, but I don’t believe it yet encompasses the return of progress data to the launching application. This reporting of progress, frankly, is a difficult beast. It leads to exactly the kind of challenges that Chuck refers to in the evil piece of SCORM content. What do you have to do to finish your content? How do you express that to the user? Is the reporting of progress even meaningful in this context?

    I come away from Chuck’s response with a couple of new thoughts:

    We “SCORM people” need to pay more attention to the edit-ability of the packages we create. While SCORM’s interoperability is pretty strong, it’s reuse is being killed by black box packages.
    We both (SCORM and IMSCC folks) need to understand more about each other’s standards, if we’re going to argue about their merits, because we have to speak accurately about their respective affordances.
    The commonality of purpose between the standards is strong.
    Any standard that allows its users to express completion to a system ought to also provide guidelines so that those users know what they need to do. What a terribly frustrating state it must be to not know how to finish what you started.

    Thanks, Chuck, for your candor in expressing the current state of adoption for the two standards. It lends clear credibility to your “rant”, in that it shows your willingness to depart from the party line.

  2. (My response to Tim – copied in both blogs)

    Tim, this rant has been great fun and is winding down nicely with some reflection and summary. SCORM is highly successful in highly scalable *training* situations – particularly where there is some legal or governmental forcing function and a solution is better than no solution and where is enough money to force fit the solution.

    SCORM is 10 years old now. As a teacher and as a student over the past decade, and watching my own children and their learning experiences and my daughter’s own experiences as she becomes a teacher, none of us in any of our roles as student or teacher have *EVER* seen, touched, or used a SCO during that 10 years.

    I have seen a SCO in my HR training and my wife works at Kohls and I think they use SCOs for their cash register training every day. The reviews on these learning experiences range from lukewarm to hostile.

    After a decade of SCORM, it is a bit of hand-waving to claim the shortcomings in the SCORM tools and SCOs those tools produce are not due to the nature of the spec. The SCORM spec as architected around a training use case and not a teaching use case. It does a great job in in the use-case for which it was designed.

    Since the motivating use case for IMS CC is teaching and allowing teachers to edit the IMS CC content and then re-save it, it is likely that IMS CC will be more suitable when teaching is involved.

    I don’t expect the government to back down on their “must be a CC-licensed SCO” statement. It is just too easy.

    It would be fun to talk about this with a whiteboard to delve into more of the technical reasons that each of these specs are strong for their respective use cases but blogs don’t have whiteboards.

    Lets meet back here in a few years when there is 2 billion dollars of free SCOs out there and see the extent the investment has had a real impact on teaching and learning. :)

    This kind of reminds me of the government’s significant investment in road construction to help “boost the economy”. I do like the better roads, but the finance impact really never trickled down past the people who own dump-trucks and road graders. I would bet that every road grader owner in the country now lives in a mansion :)