With the rapid development of mobile communication technology and the increasingly maturity of mobile education, informal learning is drawing attention in international educational technology circles, and resource-based autonomous learning is becoming more and more important.
There can be no doubt that resources are becoming more and more granular under the u-learning environment, making it possible for learners to spend less time completing a knowledge point. Therefore, content miniaturisation and spontaneous aggregation based on semantics will become major trends in the design and construction of future u-learning resources. Although the future of micro-courses is still unknown, I believe that micro-courses have every reason to be the top choice in creating video resources. As far as the target learning group of the Open University of China (OUC) is concerned, factors such as on-the-job learning and the tendency towards younger learners are becoming more and more salient.
New forms of learning do not automatically bring good learning results. Effective learning is based on learning resources, especially in the Internet age when information is constantly being updated. The prerequisite for the best possible use of resources is to first build good resources. This article explores the art of micro-course construction based on the OUC’s unique characteristics from the perspective of course leaders.
“Plan” before “action”: formulating a project construction plan
Course leaders are required to put together a project construction plan describing why they chose micro-courses; their goals; the effect they wish to pursue; and the methodology. They must also detail the knowledge points, the candidates for the instructors, the budget, and the project flow.
What are micro-courses and what are their characteristics? There is currently no unified standard for micro-courses. Director Shan Congkai of the OUC Digital Learning Resources Centre is experienced in the production of micro-courses and has summarized three of their characteristics based on his years of research. The first is visualization. Any of the required resources, such as text, speech, video, audio, and flash animation can be used as materials for explanation, content, exercises, and assessment to ensure the self-sufficiency of the learning cells. The second is independence. Each teaching issue is explained in 5-15 minutes, with clear teaching objectives, strategies and evaluation. Each micro-course is independent and includes an introduction, main explanation, summary, and exercises. To maintain the interest of learners in an informal learning environment, the design of the content must allow for a low cognitive load. Each module should be small enough so that the learners don’t have to spend too much time learning. The learning cells should be at once independent and interconnected. They are used to formulate a learner-centric individualized knowledge network map. The third is ubiquity. Learners can obtain resources anywhere, at any time through a range of channels.
A major part of the project construction plan is to separate the knowledge points and select instructors. In view of the two points mentioned above, there are a few shortcuts available to us. We can search for quality resources from courses selected as outstanding national courses. These are all free to use, and also generally represent a research and teaching standard for the course. In planning the construction of the micro-course Theories and Policies about Nationalities, I viewed outstanding national courses created by South-Central University for Nationalities, Guangxi University for Nationalities, and Qinghai Nationalities University, and Minzu University of China. The outstanding courses are primarily completed by teaching teams, and thus offer a rough picture of key content and the teaching style of important experts at these universities. Teaching materials from key universities in these disciplines can also be used to find out the exact knowledge structure and create the focal points of our own teaching materials. By "standing on the shoulders of the giants", we can establish a clearer position among the numerous available course resources.
“Plan” goes before “action. When these problems are made clear, it will be easier to get the ball rolling later.
“Profound theories” explained in “simple language”: the experts’ choice
The heart of quality course construction lies in the effective mining of expert resources. I believe that the selection of partners and experts should concentrate on leading universities and experts.
Unfortunately, we often believe that since the students have a low level of learning, if we use senior experts to teach advanced technology and theories, the students will get confused; this is a waste of resources. Statistics show that it generally takes a good teacher more than seven years to become an expert in a particular discipline. In fact, regardless of experience, only when someone has truly taken a theory to heart and become an expert in it can they explain it in simple language. This is the basis of any successful micro- course.
The most difficult aspect is helping the instructors and experts get used to recording micro-courses. Although experienced instructors often have previous recording experience, this is very different from our recording style, and they have to change their typical longwinded style to one with a lot more urgency, where every word counts.
Comparatively speaking, it is easier for young experts to get used to this new recording style. Moreover, most of them are active on the frontline of teaching. They can be rapidly mobilized and offer a lively and natural persona in front of the camera. To them, polishing the script is more important. However, since they are still in the process of accumulating knowledge, they often come across points that they feel they must dispute. Furthermore, they are not always able to understand and summarise knowledge points according to their own thought model or linguistic features.
Therefore, we must be very careful when selecting experts and take multiple factors into consideration. The most difficult thing is whether common progress can be made in harmony, which is a test of the course leaders’ communication and collaboration abilities.
Clarity and understanding: writing scripts
Excellent experts and instructors are the first step in guaranteeing a quality script, which need to be dealt with patience. They are not used to polishing their scripts word by word and making every word count, since they usually have thousands of words and citations from various authorities at their disposal. In the process of writing and revising the scripts, more than one expert has complained that writing scripts for micro-courses is more difficult than teaching large classes or writing essays. To course leaders, it’s time for them to be both patient and careful and bold to give advice.
Thorough consideration, as well as patient and careful work, are required for the course leaders. Firstly, course leaders should communicate with the experts in advance in order to familiarize them with the target learning groups and understand the construction objectives. The purpose of this is to reach a consensus on the contents of and plan for course construction. Secondly, ready-made outstanding micro-course resources are recommended to the experts for their initial consideration so that they can familiarize themselves with our construction model. Thirdly, Attention Points for Script Writing should explain the problem in question in about 2,000 words. The requirements of the micro-course should also be explained, including unique topic, accurate introduction, appropriate content, and summary. Only when they are clear on the requirements can they write scripts that conforming to said requirements. The course leaders also need to read and re-read each of the scripts submitted, and write Further Revision of Script Writing. Typical problems include speaking in too much depth, being too wordy, and weak presentation.
This might seem like aggressive advice, but it is in no way offensive to the experts and instructors. Course leaders should pay respect to the experts and their academic views. After all, we are here to help the experts make the best of their advantages. Nevertheless, we do have a better understanding of our own students. Although course leaders can’t get involved in the direct revision of content, they can raise questions in order to prompt the experts. Different perspectives create different focal points. For example, the experts are more concerned whether their content is scientific and precise, whereas we may be concerned whether the scripts are logical and appealing. Furthermore, the producers may be more concerned about whether the contents of the scripts are visual enough, or whether the teaching contents are complete. Although it may be difficult to work with the experts on further revising the resources, but there is no doubt that the experts also hope to see good results. Only through such three dimensional perspectives, can we approach our construction objectives and produce outstanding courses.
“Unity” can “cut through metal”: communication with producers
Communication is a prerequisite for course leaders. For example, we must prepare the necessary processes in advance and provide the experts' scripts to the production company. Through this, we can achieve a seamless connection between the technology and the experts' subjects. Excellent scripts call for excellent producers to present them, so that they can complement each other.
As far as technology is concerned, producers are incomparably more influential. Likewise, experts have indisputable initiative with regards to the contents to be taught. What we need to do is connect the technology with the content. We, as course leaders, are perfectly place to communicate this goal, and to realize the production ideal of “cutting through metal with unity”. On one hand, we have to correctly pass on the advice of the producers to the experts. On the other hand, we also have to explain the purposes of the lecturing experts to the producers. We must make a concerted effort to create a perfect match.
Similarly, the course leaders can provide the technical team with inspiration thanks to our professional background and familiarity with the university’s course construction methods. The background design of A Sample Course for Theories and Policies about Nationalities can be taken as an example. From the orientation of the course, the technical team thought it was about public political theory, so they made more political considerations in the design of the first edition, which was slightly at odds with the religious and cultural content. To this end, I deliberately collected a number of relevant religious film posters for inspiration. With the help of the technical team, the final edition was recognized by all parties.
Good products need to be carefully shaped and completed with the collaboration of all sectors. The pains and efforts made during the course of micro-course creation are far greater than those summarized in this essay. We hope to create good quality course resources that will contribute to creating a quality brand. This is the inspiration and motivation behind our art.
By Xuan Hongqin, OUC