A Neat and Different Way to Organize Content

A colleague working in Open Educational Resources at UMass’s W.E.B. du Bois Library just brought my attention to an article: Vo, Mai K., and Jonathan C. Sharp. “Design, Development, and Content Creation for an Open Education Physics Website for MRT Education.” Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences 50, no. 2 (June 1, 2019): 212–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmir.2019.03.180. This article describes a new open-education physics website http://openphys.med.ualberta.ca/. I encourage folks to go check it out.

This Open Phys site is meant to be a way for medical professionals to learn more about modern physics, specifically those that underpin the MRI. However, what is really interesting about the site is its structure: the fundamental topics are displayed as tiles.

The topics at OpenPhys are presented as tiles
The main page of Open Physics presents the various topics as tiles. Students can, after exploring the “User Guide” can proceed in any order they wish.

When the student selects a topic, they are directed to a map with the information. This structure is more flexible than a standard book as there is no requirement for a linear progression. I feel that for some topics, such a non-linear presentation is particularly useful; I remember as a student having trouble with statistical mechanics because, to me, it felt very non-linear. My study strategies involved outlines – a very linear organization. This method worked great for electricity and magnetism which, I and every textbook I have ever seen, feels has a very linear progression. However, this method failed me in statistical mechanics. Only when I took the course again in graduate school, and made a map at the end of the semester did the material “click.” As an instructor, I have drawn on that experience and sometimes suggested to students that a map may be helpful. I never know which topics a given student will see as linear, as it depends upon their own perceptions and educational background.

The topics of the electron model of the atom are arranged in a map showing the connections between topics.
The map of content for the “Electronic Structure of the Atom” unit

In addition to content presentation, this site makes use of multi-modal presentation, mixing videos and text, as well as H5P to incorporate formative quizzing.

I really like the idea of this method of presentation and the fact that this source code for this site is on GitHub under Creative Commons Attribution 4. 0 License makes it easy to adapt and incorporate into my own materials. I do wonder, however, about the accessibility of this format. The multiple points of access and variety of paths through the material would seem to be a plus, but the format could also be confusing. Moreover, how effectively could someone navigate this site if they use a screen reader or are reliant on input devices other than a mouse? These would be important questions to explore before incorporating it into my curriculum.