There has been a bit of excitement about the possibilities for pushing the uses of RSS towards a mythical eduglu as of late. Brian posted about it here and got some great feedback, soon after D’Arcy Norman and Bill Fitzgerald ramped up their work with Drupal. Then there was David’ Wileys re-publishing of his course on WordPress.com, and Brian (again) frames the implications beautifully, and then Stephen Downes uses this example to point towards Tony Hirst’s Disaggregation of MIT OCW. In short, an amazing distributed thread to follow.
So while I was looking at Tony Hirst’s work with MIT’s Open CourseWare, he must have been leaving a comment pointing to a series of feeds on the Open Learn OER site. Additionally, he suggested that there isn’t any reason why these feeds couldn’t be pulled into a blog rather neatly. And you know what, he couldn’t have been more right!
I gave it a shot on a WordPress Multi-User installation I keep around for just these sorts of things. I pulled the Open University courses feeds into individual blogs using Wp-o-Matic, a tried and true spamblogging plugin. And I am pretty excited by the results. (As an aside, I find great pleasure in re-purposing the wicked tools of spammers to make re-publishing open educational resources that much easier.)
The first course from the OpenLearn site I republished was titled Goya. I chose this one for two reasons: a) I wanted to learn more about Goya, and b) it had a number of images and videos associated with it and I wanted to see how they would work. As a result, I now know more about Goya & the images and videos pulled into the site beautifully, very impressive XML! The first time I pulled this course the Introduction and background posts balked, this didn’t happen the second time I tested it however.
Compare the re-published blog site above (click on the image to see it) with the original course in the OpenLearn OER here.
Moreover, each of the course sections was in the proper logical order, meaning that the topmost post on the blog was the introduction, next the background, etc. This fortunate happenstance made reproducing the course outline on the sidebar of the blog simple. I just included the recent posts widget and re-titled it Unit Outline. After that, I had an entire course republished in my WPMu account within minutes.
As for the other two courses I tested (Hume and Word and image), they work perfectly save for a few stray a tags on the Word and image site. Compare the original Hume course on the OpenLearn site with the re-published blog site here. Do the same for the original Word and image course and the republished one here.
This was a pretty amazing experiment for me because it illustrates just how much I learn from reading blogs on a daily basis. Ideas happen in a series of relations, and I so thoroughly enjoy taking other people’s genius and testing it out. When I saw the Goya class get pulled in successfully in just over a minute, I started to realize just how powerful these open resources can be once they are freed from their repositories. What is stopping K-12s and universities from setting up WPMu installations (or Drupal, or what have you) and pulling these amazing resources in? Or even pushing them out themselves? Another question that needs to be asked is how many of the other open resources out there have the stellar RSS feeds these OpenLearn OERs do?
I can’t answer these questions, but I will venture a hunch about the first two I asked: once teachers and students begin to realize the unparalled ease and immense utility they get from having instant access to re-purposed open educational resources, it may very well have a deep impact on current habits of publishing all their hard-earned work within a blackbox.
As an afterthought, I tried this same experiment in WordPress.com, but unfortunately that service only allows you to import specific RSS feeds from other services like Moveable Type, Blogger, etc. So, in the end, a spammer shall lead the way 🙂