October 25, 2006

Navigating OpenLearn Open Educational Content

So now it's officially live - OpenLearn launched today (read the press release) with several hundred hours of OU distance education teaching materials opened to the world under a Creative Commons Licence (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales).

The material comes from current (or recently finished) OU courses across all subject areas - Arts and History, Business and Management, Education, Health and Lifestyle, IT and Computing, Mathematics and Statistics, Modern Languages, Science and Nature, Society, Study Skills, Technology.

(Just in passing, there is more OU related open content - this time released under the geo-restricted Creative Archive licence - on the Open2.net Creative Archive site.)

As well as making the content available, OpenLearn also provides community support through 'course' related forums, as well as several general forums, an approach that hasn;t really been adopted by the other OpenCourseware sites..

OpenLearn is built using Moodle, the open source learning environment that the OU has also adopted for use with our paying, course enrolled students, so the look and feel will be familiar to many.

There's lots to say about OpenLearn, not only relating to the thinking behind why the OU has taken up the open content challenge and how we might make it sustainable once the funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation runs out(!), but also a tonne of stuff (?!) about the technology platform used to deliver the content.

Needless to say, I'll probably make a post or two ranting and raving about why the environment doesn't support this, or griping about the way that's implemented, but I'm really chuffed to see the site live and seeded with content (there's loads more to come, by the way...).

So, leaving all the good things that I could say unsaid (because hopefully that stuff will all be being posted elsewhere ;-), here's my first hack, an exploration of an alternative to the lousy in-course navigation:


The hack is to generate an OPML file of links from the course index page (such as ) and feed these into an Optimal OPML browser to provide a tree based naviagtional widget. You can try one out here;

Here's what it looks like:


To simplify matters, the following bookmarklet will redirect you to my OPML navigator wrapper for a course - if it exists - from a course index page on openlearn.open.ac.uk (e.g. you can try it out on the index page for Living with the internet: keeping it safe ): Redirect OpenLearn bookmarklet.

At the moment, I've only generated the OPML file for the following OpenLearn block index pages (id codes) **this part of the page is subject to change....**: Living with the internet: keeping it safe (1284), Computers: bits & bytes (1227)

[Update: it seems that the URLs for course index pages - and maybe the course pages - are not persistent. Or at least, they are subject to wild and dramatic change just at the moment... So the only guaranteed way of getting to a course page is to go to the OpenLearn front page, then find a link to the course you want either via a topic area or through searching. I've heard in another context how various people-who-decide-things in the OU believe that URLs should change to prevent people linking in... Gooooooooooooooooooooood move, folks. Not. I'll try and keep a live demo working here]

The OPML generating bookmarklet is far from optimal (it's built on top of an earlier pagelinks2opml bookmarklet - I really should have crafted a tidy one from scratch, because I suspect this version breaks in IE, though it runs in Firefox). In particular, the script is dodgy when it comes to getting the section grouping right if the sections or subsections aren't all numbered. I also need to escape out ampersands and other characters that upset the optimal XML parser...

If you want to give it a go, you need to apply it to a course index page - the OPML will be appended to the bottom of the page: OPMLify OpenLearn


If the section numbering is omitted, the script will not correctly create section folders, so you may have to repair the OPML by hand if: a) that's the case; and b) you want the section based navigation.

If you do generate an OPMl file for a course, tell me which and send me a link to it, and I'll add it to the pile. (Hmm, really should set up a wiki for this perhaps? or a delicious tag? how about usr:openlearnOPML? or perhaps these should all be colected in an OpenLearn forum....? hmmm...).

Posted by ajh59 at October 25, 2006 09:38 PM