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Connexions: Teaching at Any Level

Connexions: Teaching at Any Level

Catherine (Kitty) Schmidt-Jones has published seven courses and more than 80 modules for Connexions. She uses some of the content in her own teaching of K-12 students, but she said one of the most gratifying parts of her experience with Connexions has been the feedback she has received from others. She has received e-mail from people in the rural United States, Morocco, Uruguay, and Uganda.


“I was ready to do something new and different, but something that would not interfere with the various things I already had going at home,” Schmidt-Jones recalled. She is a musician and music instructor who teaches K-12 students.

Her husband, Douglas L. Jones, was the one that first said, ‘Hey, Connexions is being designed by professors for professors, but that does not mean that other teachers could not use it too.' He had just been telling me very specifically why he was so excited about it, so as soon as he said that, I could see that many of the things he had been talking about also applied to K-12 teaching, so I got very excited about the idea pretty quickly.” Jones is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a Connexions author. He has written about 40 modules himself and has collaborated with teams that wrote about 30 others. Digital Signal Processing Laboratory (ECE 420) is one of the courses authored by Douglas Jones.

Schmidt-Jones said there are several reasons that Connexions is a powerful tool for teaching, particularly at the K-12 level. One is that all the material in the Content Commons is written under an open license that gives each individual teacher the freedom to use or modify the materials to suit his or her own needs. Another reason is the possibility for educators — and even students and parents — to share ideas and lesson plans or to set up cooperative projects, even if the schools are miles apart or in different countries.

“I also believe that the heavily hyperlinked modules and texts in Connexions are ideally suited to answering questions as they arise, which is ideal for children because the child who likes to read straight through a textbook is a rare thing,” Schmidt-Jones said. “A child looking up a favorite jazz composer might find questions arising — about music history, syncopation, musical instruments, or even American history — as he or she reads. How many children are going to flip through the book or the glossary or the index — or pick up a different book — to answer their questions?

“With Connexions links between modules, they have a way to find the answers as soon as they think of the questions,” she said. “And the fact that some of the links can be movies, video demonstrations, or sound clips is also a plus in appealing to younger students.”

“Some people catch mistakes, which I really appreciate, since it's so easy to fix them,” Schmidt-Jones said. “Some people have questions, and that also helps me realize what needs to be added or refined. By far, most of the e-mails are along the lines of ‘Thank you so much for making this available. This is just what I needed' or ‘Can I really use it to do such-and-such?'”

Since its beginnings five years ago, Connexions has been called an e-publishing system, a content management platform, an interactive e-learning project, an online research repository, and an open-source, open-access courseware platform. Connexions adapts the open-source software concept to scholarly academic content, allowing anyone to freely publish course materials in a single place online — the “Content Commons” — where all lessons can be used, modified or combined with others to meet each instructor's specific needs.

“The Connexions platform public rollout in February provided a robust, fully supported platform for promoting knowledge sharing around the world for free, without limiting use based on copyright restrictions or who can contribute or extend the knowledge,” said Geneva Henry, executive director of the Connexions Project. “The new grant from the Hewlett Foundation, announced last August, will allow us to focus on improving usability and increasing the amount of knowledge that is available through Connexions.”

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