Why Learning Objects?

There are four main reasons for pursuing learning objects as a strategy at Wesleyan:

  1. Integrating learning objects into one’s teaching improves learning.
  2. The creation of learning objects facilitates bridging between teaching and scholarship
  3. Providing this level of support will allow Wesleyan University to retain its competitive position vis-à-vis faculty hiring.
  4. Deploying learning objects leverages Wesleyan’s investment in educational technologies.

Overview

There are two main uses of the Internet in general and the web in particular in teaching and learning. One is as a communications device. Through the use of email, newsgroups, discussion boards, and chat rooms, conversations that were once confined to the classroom now regularly spill over onto the network. These technologies have matured to the point where there are easy to use, and do not require tremendous amounts of preparation time in order to deploy them.

The second main use is as a content delivery mechanism. The web provides an ever-richer array of multimedia texts that can be mined for integration into course websites, course management systems, and PowerPoint presentations. It is in this second area that we see the most promise and yet face the largest challenges. The first challenge is in locating pedagogically sound materials amid the massive amount of loosely indexed materials presently available. The second challenge is in defining sustainable models and tools for allowing the integration of these materials into the existing curriculum. And the third challenge is providing a service that will allow for the creation of new materials for those areas of the curriculum for which there are no appropriate materials readily available.

Having invested in the past five years to build a state-of-the-art network and classroom infrastructure, we propose to create a team of three full-time professionals that will work closely with our faculty over a five-year period to develop learning objects that can be integrated into the curriculum. Rather than focusing on enabling faculty to become self-sufficient in developing and maintaining their own course materials, this team will provide a new type of support for the integration of technology into the curriculum by acknowledging the necessity of specialized professional support staff and services to collaborate in the development of course materials.

Learning objects represent the next generation of curricular support in higher education. They consist of small, re-usable modules (animations, rich media, annotated texts, interactive data sets, maps, simulations) that are used by faculty within their teaching to enrich the curriculum and to leverage the investment that the school has made in networking and classroom technology. Examples of learning objects for Economics might be:

  • Game theory for macroeconomics: a series of games that might include using a basic auction to illustrate a demand curve; spending and saving in a changing environment; the government's reputations and time consistent policy; tax evasion and the IRS.
  • Games for theoretical economics: web-based interactive games that evolve based on user input.
  • Interactive Tutorial for Eviews: students both learn how to use this software outside of class, and work with live data to learn basic econometric principles.

Many other examples from different disciplines can be imagined. For example: animations for introductory biology and chemistry courses; interactive historical and cultural maps; video-based interactive quizzing for language acquisition; multimedia-enriched annotated texts for the humanities.

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