Reflecting on my activity as I hurriedly get on with preparing for the next presentation of the online MA course I run at the OU: 'The ELearning Professional' (due in 3 weeks) it occurs to me that authoring teaching material via a technical system like the one the OU uses amounts to a literacy practice in its own right.
Below is an impression of the screen I'm working with:
All the headings on the left are links to bits of text, other websites, tools like forums, blogs, wikis etc. Each has a row of little icons next to it allowing me to change, delete, hide, move, or group the item. I can set any item to become visible to whomsoever I please, whensoever I please. The dropdown listbox at the top lets me change the view - to see what a student might see, for example, or a tutor, or another editor. There are a number of other admin functions I can call on in the menu on the right, like setting 'standard outcomes', or grade reports. I can incorporate news threads, new forums, calendar settings, alerts and subscriptions.
Somewhere under all this are the texts that the students read in order to do the learning that the course offers (the conceptual/cognitive learning that is - there is a lot of practical and social learning to be done in the collaborative areas as well). I have to admit that in all the structuring, designing, editing and re-editing that goes on through this interface (and I'm not the only one manipulating this course material at any one moment - there are OU editors and learning technologists helping me as well) I sometimes lose sight of what the texts actually say! In deciding whether to move this activity from unit a (where it was last year) to unit b (where I think it would be better this year), and in changing the instructions for the online activity that goes with it, to try and ensure more participation, and in redesigning aspects of the interface to conform to new accessibility standards, and in updating external weblinks that have got broken (and most of them do, from year to year) and in doing a dozen other tasks involved in 'delivering' this course, made two years ago ,to a fresh batch unseen learners, it's quite possible that I will forget what it is we are trying to teach about.
Resolutions I made last year, whilst the course was going on, about arguments that need to be clarified, or information that needs to be updated, or voices that need to be heard, or critiques that need to brought out, somehow get sidelined. The more efficient our design becomes, it seems, the more our content fossilises, as we become more and more focused on the appearance of activity and less and less on its meaning.