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COSE: A Tool for the Creation Of Study Environments

Mick Roach, Centre for Academic Practice, University of Warwick 

COSE - Creation of Study Environments - was originally developed as a web-based learning development tool under funding from JISC Technology Applications Programme (JTAP) and based at Staffordshire University by Mark Stiles & Mick Roach.  The system enables tutors to provide support for students' study, in the form of text and other materials, together with the opportunity for group and tutorial discussion and activities.  It is not as a stand-alone instructional system.  In designing COSE, a method has been developed that enables tutors to break down courses into their constituent educational components.  In this way, COSE offers a structured approach to achieving a research-orientated approach to learning through course design and learning assessment. 

The educational model on which it is based is COSE's most important component, and is similar to that which informs the TELRI Project - a three year HEFCE-funded project in collaboration with Oxford University.  The model is designed to develop a coherent set of subject skills and lead to an ability for independent study.  The system design concentrates on learning components, environments and outcomes, rather than only the mental processes involved in learning.  The term "environment" refers to the entire mental and physical environment in which the student is learning. 

The COSE environment is designed upon the principle of learning domains. An individual's learning has been broken down into procedures, information and cognition, which are related to the Learning Activity (memorising, operation and motivation), the Learning Object (information, procedures and cognition) and the Learning Outcome (knowledge, skill and creativity).    These correspond respectively to course activities, resource support, and assessment and provide interaction between functional, application and contextual learning domains as a prerequisite to active and effective learning.  The educational model is described more fully on the COSE web site

The COSE interface matches this pedagogy and resulting course design approach.  It facilitates the authoring (by tutors or students), delivery and navigation of learning opportunity and support material using a minimum level of IT skills.  Content can be either "work in progress" or "published", allowing a form of quality control over the material from collaborative sources.  COSE content is made up of learning opportunity pagesets that describe the Task, Activity or Project; theory pagesets that supply subject information; hint pagesets that provide procedural guidance and advice; internal resources (references to other learning opportunity pagesets) and external resources (references to other web pages, books, journals, lecture materials).  The COSE interface can be seen in more detail on the COSE web site

The basis of COSE is to enable tutors to present structured learning opportunities to students or groups of students. As each learning opportunity is associated with a specific learning outcome and thus directly related to the assessment criteria, the purpose of the activities and relevance to the course is made explicit. Similarly, as the learning opportunities are structured they lead to the ability for students to independently manage complex and ‘real world’ projects. This generic ability is referred to as ‘scholarship’. 

COSE is not designed to be the only method of course delivery (but may be used a such) but provides a focus for learning whereby the students may organise their own learning and be directed by tutors to a range of existing resources including library references, lectures and practicals. 

COSE embodies this holistic approach to course design and in addition facilitates the student/group/tutor communication which is at the centre of student centred learning. 

The model is not a prescriptive methodology for the re-designing of courses, but provides a framework around which any educational approach maybe built. The value of the model is in its extension of the usual focus of learning, i.e. the subject to be studied, to provide a focus for the process of learning and its relationship to the learning outcomes and assessments. In establishing these relationships, the learning resources and assessments may be designed and their function made explicit to the learner. 

The importance of this shift of emphasis is becoming increasingly apparent in such reviews as Quality Assessment and initiatives such as lifelong learning including possible distance education markets where explicit course objectives and methods are advocated. 

Dr Mick Roach
Centre for Academic Practice
University of Warwick

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