Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Linking to Objectives in the OERPUB editor (a prototype between MIT OEIT folks and OERPUB)

Decorative, colorful concept map
Learning Objectives, Concept Maps
Image: By Sborcherding at en.wikibooks
[Public domain],
from Wikimedia Commons
The exploration: When creating textbooks and interactive learning activities, wouldn't it be cool if authors (and eventually others) could easily link material to learning objectives? This is the second exploration that OERPUB, Lumen Learning, and MIT's Office of Educational Innovation and Technology (OEIT) took on together in Salt Lake City. Linking materials (textbook, activities, videos, quizzes) to learning objectives makes them easier to find, and could also allow navigation by objective rather than by a single linear path through the material.

The Scenario: An author is writing a textbook or course in the OERPUB editor. Perhaps it is a physics course, and the course has a set of objectives that it teaches (or hopes to). The author is writing a section on lattices and the ways that x-rays scatter through crystalline structures. Since the physics department at MIT has defined this as a learning objective, it would be great if the author could easily specify that a reading teaches this objective.

The Components: MIT's OEIT has a service for storing and looking up learning objectives, called MC3. MC3 has an API for returning learning objectives. Before we got together, Cole Shaw took the OERPUB editor and embedded it in a page that connects with the MC3 server. The screenshots below show his prototype. He added a new "widget" to the editor for adding an activity and wired it up to include an objectives drop down. The choices in the drop down are coming from the MIT's objectives server. He copied an existing widget and modified it.

shows the editor with a drop down added to choose which server to get objectives from and which set of objectives to use.
Cole added a top toolbar for choosing where objectives
should be looked up.

Shows a drop down "Bragg's Law Outcom 3B1" is chosen from amoung a set of options.
Here is the drop down in an activity added to the document. The choices
are looked up live. Once one is chosen, it is added to the activity.

And then when we all got together, Cole and Tom Wooward worked together to take Cole's work and make it a widget that works in the github-bookeditor. That is shown below. Tom also showed Cole some of the ways to configure educational widgets within the editor. (That also tells us where we need to improve documentation for developers.)
Shows a "Read"ing activity, with "Bragg's Law" chosen as the objective
This is the same widget, but in the github-bookeditor. The
server to query is hard-coded. This will live on a branch
to show how such a thing can be done.

Really making this kind of thing widely useful for general users of the editor, requires more thought, time, and effort. MIT is hosting their own course objectives, and their software provides the store and lookup service. But these aren't general purpose. The user interface would need to provide ways of configuring which objectives are relevant, etc.

If we did come up with a way to do something like this, I would love to see a way to make choosing an objective a standard option on all content sections and educational widgets. In other words, an author could attach an objective to essentially anything within the HTML and the editor would provide an easy UI for doing that and a simple encoding as metadata to store in the document. I think that would probably be's educationalAlignment.   

Technical notes and links:


  1. This looks very slick. Great proof of concept. I'm wondering how MIT structures the learning objective data? Is there a standard learning objective schema for the data that they use?

    1. I haven't looked into in depth, but here is the MC3 home page. MC3 stands for MIT Core Concept Catalog.

  2. Right from the first sentence I was waiting and hoping for a mention of LRMI. This is the exact use case for the educationalAlignment.

  3. Great post - thank you :) I'm editing an English language series of course books for Turkish students using a competence based system known as the common european framework of reference CEFR. I was wondering if there is an online tool that would help writers of learning materials to generate graphically their content alongside the (communication) objectives and (language) skills. At the moment it takes me many hours of painstaking work to generate a boring looking table - any innovation in this area would be super as it could also help to generate a learning management system. I like the flow diagram in your post and will try to generate one with pen and paper for now :) Thanks for sharing

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