Friday, July 11, 2008

Should we use publisher content in online courses?

I think it is fine if instructors use publisher content. The problem comes in when inexperienced online teachers confuse content for teaching. We try to show through our course development process at Tacoma Community College that the instructor is there to facilitate interaction and not just deliver content. There has to be a process in place where instructors understand what an online course is and how to review content for interactivity as they create the course.

Also on the downside are the fees that publishers charge the students for this content. I personally do not like access fees on top of what they are already paying — but if we don’t mind supporting courses with $200 textbooks, why should be be concerned with the fees? Again, I think we should be using open sources texts and course materials. In the best cases, some of the commercial material really supports the teaching and is appeals to a wide variety of learning styles; more often than not, they are test banks and hastily thrown together multimedia or flash objects. In a consumer culture, we tend to think we have bought an end product and say “how do I adapt my course and teaching style to these materials?” In an open source culture, we get the product and say “great, how do we get started in adapting this to our needs?”

Often, publisher materials are no bargain — the instructors (the better ones) still have to wade through the .pdf libraries and test banks to cull and adapt the best materials and to check and see if the material meets the course objectives. I have seen course cartridges loaded into courses only to watch instructors, over the course of a year or two, significantly edit and adapt the material: in other words, the material did not match the goals of the course or the teaching style of the instructor until that instructor put in the work anyway. In the meantime, the course is no bargain for the students either.

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