The Challenge of Moving to Automated Content Development: A Case Study Adi Kidron, Chief Instructional Designer, Time To KnowThe Challenge – Mass Production of ContentTime To Know (T2K) was founded in 2004 as a philanthropic endeavor in response to the many challenges facingschools worldwide and the lack of meaningful change in education practices. (Later on, a for-profit company wasformed to take T2K to market.) Part of T2Ks mission is to create a meaningful and engaging digital learningenvironment (Weiss, 2010) addressing the main challenges faced by education systems worldwide: disengagedstudents, widening achievement gaps, students unprepared to succeed in our global, knowledge-based economy, anddisappointing returns on technology investments (Cuban, 2001).T2K offers a holistic solution to 1:1 computer classes that includes: (1) interactive content covering the full curriculumin two disciplines (Math & Language Arts for fourth and fifth grades) and exhibiting practices of effective pedagogy(Walters, Dede, Richards, 2009), (2) a Digital Teaching Platform (DTP) enabling real time class management, and (3)authoring tools to support the design and production of digital content.Faced with the need to produce hundreds of lessons per year, T2K had to find a way to design and produce quality,interactive content in a cost-efficient process. The questions in this process were endless: should the product bestructured and unified, or flexible with the ability to be customized for unique instructional needs? Which is a higherpriority – quality or efficiency? Does standardization trump creativity and self-expression? And what should be theprofile of the ideal content developer? What skills must a content developer have, and what is the nature of his workin the mass production process? And so on.This article describes the current methodologies, processes, and supporting tools that evolved in order to face thesechallenges.The Guiding Principles Templates and reusable features – From the beginning it was clear that templates and reusable features would be crucial elements in this content factory. Templates promote efficient processes on one hand and a coherent and consistent end product that supports user orientation on the other. The term templates refers both to software products and to Learning Design methodologies. Some templates are defined in a top-down process (specifying a unique solution to a given need) whereas others are identified in a bottom-up process (making a generalization based on different instances of the same need). Structured development methodology – The content development methodology is based on the following stages: analyzing the curriculum, defining the lesson plans, cracking each topic and its lessons while considering the added value of technology (macro design), detailed planning of lesson activities (micro design), and finally production and quality assurance processes.
Multi-expertise development team – The critical components of the multi-expertise development team (Kali, Markauskaite, Goodyear, Ward, 2011) are: a leading content expert, a content writer, an instructional designer, a creative leader, a GUI designer, a content producer, and a QA checker.The T2K SolutionT2Ks solution is continually evolving. It started with defining methodologies and procedures for executing the differentcontent development stages (described above) and representing them in simple textual documents (e.g. lessoncracking, instructional animation specification, screen files, etc).The first version of the development of the Content Generation Environment (CGE) followed, leading to animprovement in the process as well as new challenges. The CGE generates, localizes, and manages content for the T2KDigital Teaching Platform while implementing T2K’s methodologies. It also includes features that support collaborativeteamwork. It was designed to support the content developer, and as such it is easy to use (requiring no programmingor graphical skills) and based on WYSIWYG Editors (instant preview).CGE includes the following tools:1. Curriculum Editor Tool The content developer uses the CET for the macro design level, where he builds the skeleton of the desired curricular component (e.g. a full curriculum/ a unit/ a lesson/ a learning activity/ a differential learning activity/ a group learning activity/ an activity item). The CET can create the curriculum in flexible modes (either bottom-up or top-down) and in a hierarchical view that displays the sequence of the curricular components in a tree mode. Gradually, metadata can then be added to each of the components to reflect its pedagogical meaning (e.g. subject area, grade, level of difficulty, instructional grouping, objectives, estimated duration, progression mode, instructions for the teacher, etc.).2. Content Generation Tool The content developer uses the CGT to plan, create, and preview interactive digital activities (the micro design level of screen sequences). The activities are based on T2K’s proprietary interaction templates and applets, and the process involves decisions about the chosen template engine (e.g MC question), layout, and specific content that will be presented.
When chosen, the content developer uses the different options presented to him to finalize the pedagogical definitions needed (e.g. instructions, feedback, progression mode, check ability parameters, etc.). T2K’s proprietary interaction templates and appletsLessons LearnedT2K content developers work within structured frameworks for brainstorming and implementing their ideas. Thecontent developer organizes his thinking and writing processes according to different templates. These templatestherefore represent the end product of the writing process (i.e., the lessons). They can also serve as useful points ofdiscussion with colleagues (such as other writers, instructional designers, creative, production, etc.) with whom thecontent developer communicates throughout the development process.A T2K content developer designs learning and develops content while integrating: (1) a pedagogical-technological-creative world view, as expressed by guidelines and standards documents, (2) templates and tools that supportplanning and development of the content, and (3) production constraints – time, technology, and human resources –which influence the ability to carry out the learning design.Given all of these considerations, the writing itself is a complex and challenging task. It is important to note that somecontent developers may find it nonintuitive (as opposed to free writing) and need to adapt their work processaccordingly (think top-down instead of bottom-up).The CGE tools were developed to support some of this complexity, hence making the content developing processsomewhat easier and more efficient. The tools have been gradually implemented in the production process for severalmonths now. Although it is too early to examine the effects on production, it can already be noticed that the process
has become more user-friendly and therefore easier to learn (for new employees), the standardization in the endproduct has increased, and the number of bugs has decreased.When examining the CGE effects on the content developing process, several insights can be found: The CGTs ability to preview the screen while designing the content is a meaningful added value. Creativity and variation in the final products can still be seen, despite the standardized tools. New content developers find it easier to understand the complexity of the process since it is externalized and represented in the tools. Due to the interactive nature of the content development process, content developers need the ability to move freely between the CET (macro design) and the CGT (micro design). The tools should support maximum flexibility (in the way data is presented and accessed) in order to enable Learning Design processes. Otherwise it would be easier to design the content using another means and come back to the tool only afterward.Whats Next?T2K continues to strive to fulfill its vision, while seeking creative solutions for its different challenges. These are someof the current Learning Design issues facing T2K: To continue developing the next generation of CGE tools to support the content development process, with a special focus on integrating planning and design templates and methodologies (T2Ks "Know How"). To separate as much as possible the Learning Design process from production considerations and constraints (e.g. separate the data from its visual representation).ReferencesCuban, L. (2001). Oversold & underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge Mass./ London: Harvard UniversityPress.Kali, Y., Markauskaite, L., Goodyear, P., & Ward, M-H. (2011). Bridging multiple expertise in collaborative design fortechnology-enhanced learning. Proceedings of the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) conference (pp.831-835). ISLS.Walters, J., Dede, C., & Richards, J. (2009). Pedagogical Fit: An analysis of the design of Time To Know.http://www.timetoknow.com/Data/Uploads/Pedagogical_Fit-Analysis_of_the_Design_of_Time_To_Know.pdfWeiss, D. (2010). A pedagogical symphony for technology in the classroom.http://www.timetoknow.com/Data/Uploads/T2K%20Pedagogical%20Symphony%20final.pdf