As so many others have pointed out, there’s something so broad and so inclusive about the term “Learning Object,” that it becomes shallow and almost meaningless. The standard or accepted definition is something like “a reusable, interoperable, educational activity, digital or non-digital, with meta-data attached for classification.” That’s my paraphrase of many different definitions, but the basic idea is that you build up a large collection (usually called a repository) of these things–usually a website, or set of instructions for an activity–make that collection public and searchable, and then sit back and wait for teachers to come and check it out. Then they’re so ecstatic about the range of items they find that they use them in their classes, and everybody benefits from the collective wisdom of the whole community.

There are plenty of repositories already–with MERLOT (I’ve had some involvement with them) being probably the biggest. But for the most part, these repositories in particular, and the idea of learning objects in general, seem to miss an important point about education…and that’s the importance of context.

Reusability is good, and interoperability is good, but so much about education is specific and local and contextual. Generic solutions can be foundations, but what seems to be often the case is that they’re best seen as inspirations for local, focused, directed solutions. An explanation or activity or tutorial which is essential, and monumentally productive for a student at Bard or Sarah Lawrence might not have any good use at all for students at West Point (or make your own extremes of your own continua)…even if they’re taking, at least nominally, the same course at the same level and working on the same skills or content.

FireflySo thinking about this led me to the idea of the BMCC Gallery of Learning Objects (BMCC-GLO…hence the firefly. I like the idea that it glows!). My thinking was that we could assemble (gradually, over time) a collection or gallery of locally-built, locally-useful, locally-focused objects. I know that objects is a problematic term–but I’m just bracketing those problems. Objects, activities, tutorials, whatever–I’m thinking that these are small, self-contained, and specific. And that they’re designed by BMCC faculty, for BMCC students in BMCC courses, with the idea that we here at BMCC know best what’s most helpful, and what’s most needed, for these students in these courses. We’ll pay faculty for their time and work in developing these, we’ll give them technical support in accomplishing the instructional design and whatever (minimal) programming or multimedia or coding they need to do. And the concept and the realization will be driven by the local, contextual, experience of our students and our classes.

And I’m going to take this localization to yet another step, too. I want to involve students, not just faculty, in the selection and design of these objects. I haven’t worked out all the details of that yet, but my basic idea is that a faculty member will be paired with a student designer/tester…who will confirm that the object is understandable and productive for students, and that the learning goal it addresses is one where students really do need help, and really can benefit from this particular type of help.

If I can get a few built each year (semester?), bringing in more faculty and more students from different academic areas, I think there’s a chance we could have something (the Gallery, the collection), which could be a truly relevant, useful, local and contextualized resource for our students.