Thursday, 16 May 2013

Finding the Right Blend(ed lesson): Creating or Curating the Content?

I've been up to my eyeballs in using Moodle in my college since September, and working out different ways to blend learning from the screen to the classroom. One issue that I find, and I'm sure others do too, is creating my own content for online use. Sometimes, I just want to sit my learners down and give them something that'll work right out of the tin, but when I go Googlewhacking various ELT/ESL sites, I find so much that I get overwhelmed.

The question is this: should we create our content or curate it from a variety of different sources?

right idea, wrong method?
On the face of it, creating the content should be what we do - we know our learners, we understand their needs, and we should tailor our materials to fit their requirements. Any teacher with sufficient experience can make things for the class, and make them well. The problem, however, is TIME. When do you have enough of this precious commodity to actually sit down at a keyboard, sketch out your ideas and develop interactive content? Also, there is the issue of the amount of time it takes to create and the amount of time it takes to actually use the resource. I once spent about three hours lovingly crafting something, only to get completely deflated when my learners banged through it in five minutes flat. And if you're not confident with your IT skills, it adds another obstacle to making efficient online content. The other thing to consider is that you want to make content that can be used again and again, not just as a one-off. What's the point of spending an hour making something for five minutes of student interaction?

I know I'll find an easy 5-minute exercise in here somewhere..
So what about curating the content? We do this all the time with our classroom materials after all - we get our textbooks and resource books, choose what we feel will be most useful for the learners, and deliver it. Simple. The trouble with online content however, is that a) there is SO MUCH of it and b) a lot of it is poorly-designed, or has weak content, or doesn't actually lead anywhere. There are literally millions of sites that do gap-fills, or have a little video with a little task, or wordsearch puzzles, but I sometimes wonder what the LEARNING point is. You also have to consider how the online content 'fits' into the lesson, or how it can be embedded into your VLE. It's possible to find all the content you need and send it to your learners as a list of links, but from my experience, appealing visual content, delivered in a context-based environment, e.g. in a course page on Moodle, is most effective.

As ever, it's probably best to compromise, at least at the beginning. Creating your own content is time-comsuming, but once it's done, it's done - for good. Here are a few points to consider:

  • start off with the scheme of work for the year/term. what content can best be delivered online, and which should stay in class? how do the two types of learning interact with each other?
  • which content could be most efficiently created by you for online content? Consider things that you do again and again - for example, certain types of input (for me, this might be explaining a grammar point). Why not film yourself, or convert a Slide Show into a movie format. 
  • search through online materials carefully. There's no point in reinventing the wheel, and if you find good content, use it - and most of the time, it's free anyway.
  • Think how to present the materials - where do they go in the online content? How do they lead into what you do in class? How do they support the learner? Can you grade the work done, or track the learner's progress? 
  • A very important point - will the learner actually be able to use the content? You have to remember that some students are not that technically savvy, and putting up online work they can't access is the same as them doing nothing at all. We have to consider, in some circumstances, that alongside teaching them the subject, we may also need to teach them IT skills.
However you want to do it, from making your own bespoke course to curating materials from a wide variety of sources, I'd encourage you to experiment as much as possible until you find the right blend for you.

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