Guidelines for supporting re-use of existing digital learning materials and methods in higher education, from ALT-J

The five high-level guidelines for supporting the re-use of existing digital learning materials and methods; numbers indicate the number of the 30 case studies and literature studies on which each item is based.

1 Develop an appropriate vision on the incipient re-use of the materials and methods within the programme, department or institution

From the beginning an appropriate vision of re-use should be developed by the teacher(s), department or institution involved. Our study showed that the following elements of this vision, which had been identified in the literature, occur frequently in the case studies:

  1. The materials should have a demonstrable added value for teaching (Rogers 2003), which is visible to the teachers and managers involved. Examples include materials that can be taken into account in students’ assessment and materials on which use feedback can be provided by either teacher or students.
  2. Re-use of materials should be considered a gradual process of small changes. Teachers are more inclined to apply small innovations than to change the whole curriculum (Rogers 2003).
  3. Re-use of materials should be viewed as a way of improving education, not as a way of reducing costs. In fact, costs may go up (Pennings et al. 2005). Our case studies show that institutions should consider costs for updating the materials (Littlejohn, Jung, and Broumley 2003). Also, materials or methods that might be provided for free during the course of a project might require a license after the project has finished.

2 Provide easy access to the materials and methods

If it is too difficult for teachers to get access to the digital learning materials and methods, they will not use them.  As a first solution to this problem, the importance of good quality metadata has been emphasised, so that users find relevant, and neither too few nor too many learning materials (Koper 2003; Sonntag 2007). A second solution is the use of ‘tailored wrappers’, information on the local context of use, which is added to existing learning materials (Quinton 2007).

3 Provide materials and methods that are a good fit to teachers’ own needs and way of teaching

If materials and methods are a good fit to teachers’ own needs and ways of teaching, then it will be easy for teachers to use them (Rogers 2003). On the other hand, learning materials cannot easily be used if, for example, the cultural gap with the teacher’s own practice is too wide (Littlejohn 2003b), or each piece is too large, containing too much material that is not useful (Downes 2002).

4 Provide materials of good quality, and enable teachers and students to judge the quality of materials

Learning materials should be of good quality. At the level of the repository, too much variation between learning materials is considered a problem (Downes 2002). Teachers and students should be enabled to judge their quality (Littlejohn 2003a); peer review is seen as a very useful method (Metros, Bennett, and Diaz 2001).

5 Enable necessary adaptations of the materials and methods to the context

Teachers should be able to use the materials and methods in their teaching. An important element of this is that they should be able to adapt the materials and methods to their own teaching context. Several factors might hinder use. As a necessary condition, learning materials should ‘run’ in the institution’s virtual learning environment. Also, copyright problems concerning the re-use of the materials should be solved (Campbell 2003). Teachers must be provided with the necessary tools and support. Lack of user-friendly tools with which teachers can re-use learning objects is considered a problem (McNaught 2003). Also, time is an important constraining factor (Littlejohn, Jung, and Broumley 2003), and enough time should be provided for teachers to evaluate and test materials.

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