The folks at Connexions have released the software that powers that site as open source code, so presumably you can now run your own instance if you wanted. Connexions is neat in that it shows a working example of learning content as XML being re-aggregated and re-skinned. For me the challenge with its particular implementation is in how the content is created – the Word-to-CXML convertor has got to be a great improvement over asking faculty to hand-code XML (where but at a Science and Engineering school could you even begin to get away with this), but it still strikes me as a barrier to the approach. That said, 115 courses/2000+ modules is nothing to sneer at, so clearly some users are willing to use the current set of tools on offer through Connexions. It should be noted too that the paradigm for reusable content has always been more reusers than original authors, and in this regard, reusing content in other contexts once created in Connexions seems reasonably straightforward.
Tools like eXe offer some glimmer of what an easier to use tool to author learning content that was also XML might look like, but I’m not sure I’m convinced yet. Some will no doubt rejoin about the virtues of RSS in this regard; again, I remain interested but unconvinced. Not of the virtues of XML or of the traction of RSS for syndication of content, but unconvinced that it represents the solution of how to easily author learning content in a format that is then easily findable, re-aggregatable or re-presentable (which I take to be the problem at hand, but maybe I’ve misunderstood). Structured blogging? Again, maybe.
I know that in my own project, our first attempt to get an approach working that made use of an XML database as a backend failed. Our second attempt, which went into pilot last week, uses The Learning Edge. It doesn’t deal with XML-native content at all, mostly because no one has any for us to deal with. It focuses on dealing with what people do have – all sorts of HTML, Word docs, powerpoints, PDFs, Flash movies. It tries to assist with re-use (the ‘re-aggregating and re-presenting’ above) by integrating a WYSIWYG authoring environment directly with the repository that allows people to drag and drop existing content into new collections. We will see how it works. I am definitely not holding it up as the way to do this either; in general I remain unconvinced (and exhausted) by the entire enterprise, and mostly just want to go off and play my bass. – SWL