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IMPLICATIONS OF SCORM? ? ? ? AND EMERGING E-LEARNING STANDARDS ON ENGINEERING EDUCATION



The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative of the U.S. Government is unifying e-learning specifications emerging from the international standards organizations into a single specification referred to as the Sharable Object Content Reference Model, or SCORM. Today, this specification is now the de-facto standard for e-learning content developed for the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. These standards are stimulating the rapid development of learning repositories. Once deployed, these have the potential of dramatically changing the use of elearning in engineering education and in the continuing education of practicing engineers. This paper discusses SCORMTM and other e-learning standards and the impact they are having on developing reusable learning content. The implications of these developments on engineering education and the opportunities they afford for the future education of engineers are also discussed. The Need for E-learning Standards Standards Propel E-learning Innovations E-learning, as we think of it today, dates to the early 1990’s during which time software systems for managing e-courses, such as WEST, WebCT and Blackboard, were being developed and marketed. Before that time, the idea of conducting university courses on the Internet was only an afterthought. However, once HTML standards became accepted by the W3C committee, user-friendly web browsers and authoring tools were rapidly brought to market. In a real sense, this started a revolution in education that continues today. Before the adoption of a single HTML standard by the W3C in 1992, companies were reluctant to invest in the development of browsers and authoring tools that would become obsolete once a standard was adopted. A similar situation recently existed for XML, an evolving standard for the communication of information via the Internet. The W3C adopted the first XML standard in 1998. Shortly after that time, Microsoft upgraded their browser to support this standard. Netscape Proceedings of the 2002 ASEE Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, March 20 – 22, 2002. Copyright  2002, American Society for Engineering Education followed shortly with a similar upgrade. Today, the XML standard is again launching a revolution in Internet communications. In the 1990’s, Internet standards for HTML, XML, CSS and multimedia content stimulated innovations in e-learning. In the same way, the next revolution in e-learning is on the horizon. New standards are being developed key international organizations for sharing e-learning content across different platforms and different learning management systems. E-course Reusability & Copyrights In the late 1990’s faculty speculated whether e-courses could reduce education costs. Some speculated that although the costs associated with building high-quality e-courses was high, educational costs might be reduced by conducting large e-courses. One faculty member might be able to teach a larger class. Although cost benefits have been documented in web-assisted traditional classes, the same benefits are yet to be realized in most online courses. Even in those cases where the topic and instructional design of a course permits teaching it with a higher student teacher ratio, the costs associated with building and maintaining course content are still very high. Some universities are responding by increasing the resources for building e-courses. Some, such as the Texas A&M System, have implemented copyright policies for governing ecourses developed by their faculty. These copyrights are seen as inherently valuable. The expectation is that this e-learning content can be reused for many years. Development costs for an ecourse in a core subject, such as engineering calculus, can be amortized over several years. However without e-learning standards, this assumption is unrealistic. Increased expectations of students for higher quality e-learning experiences, the emergence of new technology, and improvements in Internet bandwidth are happening so quickly that most university e-courses need redeveloping every 3-4 years. E-courses require significant rebuilding to take advantage of technological improvements to remain competitive in the race to produce quality e-learning experiences, even if their content is substantially unchanged. Large collections of e-learning content can also be lost when learning management systems are changed. Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, for example, recently switched learning management systems after a researching the advantages and disadvantages of competing systems. Most learning management systems, such as Blackboard and WebCT use proprietary database formats that make it very difficult or impossible to transfer learning content from one system to another or to reuse previously developed content in other courses. Moving a course between systems can be more costly than just redeveloping that course in the new system. Proceedings of the 2002 ASEE Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, March 20 – 22, 2002. Copyright  2002, American Society for Engineering Education Today it is very difficult or impossible to transfer learning content from one LMS to another. There is a clear need for a common data exchange format for learning content. In the current environment, significant investments in developing e-learning content in engineering make little sense if it is developed specifically for delivery on a specific LMS. Collaborative Development of E-courses Similarly, differences between learning management systems make it difficult for authors to collaborate on e-course projects. This can not only increase the total cost of building e-courses, it can also lower the quality of the course. The better courses require a considerable investment in authoring and development time. Often the content expert, author, is not the person with the technical expertise to encapsulate this content into an online course. Without e-learning standards, authors collaborating on developing an e-course need to ensure that they either restrict their content development to standards-based technology, such as hypertext, or ensure that their learning management systems can share learning content. Universities are recognizing the inherent value of high-quality online courses developed by their faculty. The Texas A&M System, for example, is looking at the collaborative development of learning content for courses being taught at nearly every campus. These are the core courses in engineering, mathematics, sciences, English, etc. The syllabus for these courses is very similar from one campus to another, and each campus has content experts that can share on a team to develop high quality learning content for these courses. Until now this content has been developed independently at each campus. Collaboration in developing learning content for these courses not only lowers development costs and shortens development time, it can also result in higher quality courses. However, the collaborative development of courses is very difficult without a standard for sharing that content from one campus to another. The general lack of international standards for packaging e-courses adversely impacts the development of university e-courses in several ways: 1. Since content developed without standard is difficult to reuse in other courses, it contributes to increased development costs. 2. E-course copyrights for e-courses of core content are of little value since they are likely to be obsolete in a few years when learning management systems or Internet technology change. 3. Author collaboration on e-course development is difficult without e-course standards. SCORM SCORM History The federal government spends millions of dollars each year to develop e-learning content, including online courses, courses distributed on CD’s and intranets. In the 1990’s the government recognized that it was difficult to reuse this content. The Department of Defense, for example, found that the various branches of the military had developed e-learning content on similar topics, such as Proceedings of the 2002 ASEE Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, March 20 – 22, 2002. Copyright  2002, American Society for Engineering Education management and acquisition rules. Even though those courses essentially covered the same content, it was nearly impossible to share e-content between military branches because they were developed without a common standard, and they were not designed for reuse in other courses. The government also realized the benefits of an international standard for e-content on the training industry. A common international standard for sharing learning content would stimulate an international learning economy, similar to the economy that is developing around the Internet. If standards allow for reusing learning content developed for one course, then learning content will become a commodity. As a result, in 1997, the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative. Its primary goal is to develop a learning economy by providing access to high-quality education and training material, easily tailored to individual learner needs and available whenever and wherever needed.


IMPLICATIONS OF SCORM? ? ? ? AND EMERGING E-LEARNING STANDARDS ON ENGINEERING EDUCATION


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