That was a question that emerged in one of our team meetings about a year ago. The idea is simple. How can we make it really easy for virtually anyone to build courses (do it yourself principle)? We had been reading on the web that millions of people are now blogging. So what if millions of people could build their own courses? That is an intriguing thought.
We began playing around with Wordpress and soon realized that it was relatively straightforward to structure a course using the ‘Page Management’ function. The other real benefit of this approach was that the “subject matter expert” could write the pages from anywhere with an Internet connection. This is really important when you are network-university like the UNU. So we got to work and decided to customize the Wordpress template (something that almost every blogger wants to do). We asked Jonathan Snook to develop our first template. We also selected the “plug-ins” that we needed to handle flash video (WP-FLV), searching (Search Pages) and a WSIWYG editor (Xinha4WP).
For the course on SEA, Riki Therivel very kindly allowed us to use her course content. Once all the course content was in place in the blog, we enabled the comment function to allow visitors to engage in discussion around the content, check for inaccuracies and add new information. Many visitors commented on how they would like to download the course materials. So we asked Oleg Butuzov to figure out how and now it is possible to download both static and dynamic versions of the course modules. After you have downloaded the materials, you are free to customize and localize as you see fit. Using a Creative Commons license facilitates this step.
We think that this is a unique and cost effective approach to developing courses. The exciting part about using Wordpress is that it is free, open source and has a large developer community. The important message from all of this is that building and sharing courses with limited resources is infinitely doable. It is quite easy to imagine a purpose built software package that makes the above steps even easier – just click a few buttons and you are done. You would then be free to focus on making sure that the content is rich and engaging.
Sometime soon we will provide a short tutorial on how to create the static and dynamic versions of the course modules, since that is the element that requires the greatest technical skill.