Tag Archives: lms

OLNet Fellowship – Week 2 Reflections

So I’m a little behind on this (since I’m now in Week 3) but still wanted to jot a few notes down, as I had some fantastic discussions last week.

Meeting with JORUM – Using DSpace as a Learning Content Repository

One of the highlights last week was a trip to Manchester to meet with Gareth Waller and Laura Shaw of the JORUM project. Back when we started our own repository work in BC I liaised with folks from JORUM, setting up a few conference calls to share details on how we were tackling our similar problems, but we’d fallen out of touch, and facilitated through meeting Jackie Carter last January at ELI, this was a chance to renew the connections.

One reason I wanted to meet was that JORUM’s model is very similar to our own, so I wanted to see if my ideas on how to track OERs after they’ve been downloaded from a repository resonated with them, and whether they were already employing some other technique to do so. Turns out they were of interest and to date these are (as I had suspected) numbers they were not currently collecting but eager to have, so that was a useful vote of confidence.

But the other major reason I had for my visit was to learn more about the work they had done on JORUM Open to turn DSpace into a platform for sharing learning resources. It had been almost 4 years since I last concluded that while you could try to jimmy a LOR into DSpace, it wasn’t an ideal fit – DSpace “out of the box” really caters to the deposit and archiving of documents but isn’t optimized to deal with the specialized (read “arcane”) formats of learning content.

Which is why I wanted to see how the JORUM folks were doing it; sure enough, Gareth Waller has coded many new features into the product that make it a much better fit to handle “learning” content. While I’m not yet certain it provides a simple exit strategy out of our existing commercial platform, the work Gareth has done represents a big step towards that, and I would highly recommend any other institutions already involved with using DSpace specifically for learning content to contact him.

Planning for Succession – How to enable what comes after the LMS

The rest of the week was spent with my nose to the grindstone trying to code up the hooks to incorporate piwik tracking codes into resources uploaded to SOL*R. As a treat that weekend, I travelled to Cardiff, Wales, my old stomping grounds from my Graduate degree days, to spend 3 nights with Martin Weller and his family.

We spent most of the weekend biking around the city and a good deal of time in Llandaff Fields, near Martin’s home. On Sunday afternoon we did a large circuit of the park while Martin’s daughter was at riding lessons, and it was one of those settings and strolls that beg for epic conversation. And this did not disappoint. Two ideas in particular resonated with me.

The first was the notion of “succession” of technology, to borrow a metaphor from ecology. Martin has written on this a number of times before, both in articles and in his book on VLEs. But we were discussing it in the context of the recent acquisition of Wimba and Elluminate by Blackboard (as well as in light of my recent reading of Lanier’s “You are not a gadget” in which he discusses the idea of “technological lock-in” and “sedimentation”), so put a slightly new spin on it, I think.

Now metaphors can both enable and obscure, but to follow this one for a bit, one can look at the current institutional ed tech landscape as a maturing landscape where variety is diminishing and certain species becoming dominant. But far from reaching an ultimate stable climax, there are disruptors, the latest and possibly largest being the financial crisis. These disturbances open the opportunity for new species to flourish. But… unless we’re suggesting the disturbances are so large as to restart the entire succession process (which some indeed do suggest) we’re likely instead to see adaptations to this specific force, often in the form of seeking cheaper options.

So far, pretty conventional story – mature open source scoop some existing customers when the pricepoint gets too high. Except this is where I am seeing a real opportunity for the next generation approach to creep in (I’m pretty much going to abandon the metaphor here, as I’m no ecologist, that’s for sure.) Some of us have been enthused by the prospect of Loosely Coupled Gradebooks as a technology that can unseat the dominant, monolithic LMS. But to date, there have been only a few convincing examples, and it seems like a bit of a “can’t get there from here” problem (made worse by Blackboard’s predatory acquisition strategy.) Which is where the bridging strategy comes in – we need to take Moodle (and I guess Sakai though I am lot less keen on that prospect) and focus on isolating and improving its gradebook function; as it is, Moodle already represents a very viable alternative (as the increasing defections to it show), but as it is, it doesn’t represent a Next Step, nor will adopting it “as-is” move online learning in formal contexts further. But adopting it in combination with developing its gradebook functionality to ultimately become the hub for a loosely coupled set of tools. Maybe this isn’t that revelatory, but it became clear to me that a path forward for schools looking to leave not just Blackboard, but LMS/VLEs in general, goes through Moodle as it is transformed into something else. At least that seems doable to me, and something I hope to discuss with folks in BC as a strategy.

A new Network Literacy – Sharing Well

Throughout our walk, the second recurring theme was how, for both scholars and students, bloggers and wiki creators, open source software developers and crowdsourcers of many ilk, there is a real talent to sharing in such a way that it catalyzes further action, be it comments, remixes or code contributions.

Howard Rheingold uses the term “Collaboration literacy” as one of the 5 new network literacies he proposes, and I guess, barring any other contender, that it’s not a bad term, but it does strike me that there is a real (and teachable) skill here, one that many of us have experienced; either in the “lazyweb” tweet that is so ill-conceived that it generates no responses at all, or often in envy marvelling at bloggers who manage to generate deep discussion on what seems like the barest of posts, yet one which clearly strikes the right note. “Shareability”? Ugh, right, maybe leave it alone, I mean do we really need another neologism? Still, it does seem worthy of note as a discrete skill that people can increasingly cultivate in our networked, mash-up world.

My Comment to CNIE on the Canadian Copyright Consultation process

You may have heard that the Canadian federal government is currently consulting with Canadians about planned changes to our existing copyright laws. In addition to getting my own submission together and working on something on behalf of BCcampus, I was extremely pleased to hear, via Rick Schwier’s blog, that one of the few groups in Canada with a truly national reach in education, CNIE (formerly CADE), were also planning a submission. Rick’s post encouraged comments and concerns be sent to their leadership, and here is the comment I submitted. There is MUCH more to be concerned about the previously badly crafted Bill C-61 (start with these few issues, to begin with), but the move to resign online educational fair dealing to ‘privately protected spaces’ is one I feel we must specifically resist, as not only does it corrupt the notion of education and fair dealing, but it does so in such a way that may enshrine incredibly impoverished models in our already beleagured institutions for decades to come.

Have you had your say yet?

I was very pleased to hear that CNIE will be submitting a brief to the Federal Copyright consultation. It is great that you are staking out a position for distance/online education and recognition that ‘virtual classrooms’ should be afforeded fair dealing rights too. However, I would urge you not to compund the currently stiffled innovation in online education by arguing that content need to be behind password protected “learning management system” sites or the like in order to qualify for fair dealing rights. While this at first seems like a palatable compromise with the copyright barons, it will only lead to a further entrenching of a fundamentally broken technology, the LMS, whose replication of the physical classroom in the virtual world looses almost ALL of the benefits the network has to offer learners.

Instead, I would urge you to stake out a position that the position and intent of the user/usage is of much more importance in ascertaining fair dealing, and that course and content delivered ‘out in the open’ should also be able to exert their fair dealing rights. I believe this is a truly important distinction to make, not only for distance education but indeed for higher education institutions in general, as their future will increasingly hinge on being able to integrate and interoperate with the larger community of informal learners who make up the entire Internet, and enshrining in law the requirement that any fair dealing be exercised solely behind closed doors will only continue our march into the margins.

LMS Usage Transparency

http://connect.educause.edu/Library/Abstract/AStudentFeedbackToolThatL/48087.

I was pretty conflicted whether to post this at all – you may have noted the frequency of posting on anything LMS-related is WAY down on edtechpost, ever since I got born-again, and the vision of learning here seems, well, problematic at least (which is why I removed the title “A Student Feedback Tool That Links CMS Use with Good Grades” from the original link).

But…this is interesting and does deserve some attention both for its steps towards transparency and some of the ways in which transparency is being used to engender positive faculty peer pressure. I can already hear all sorts of howls from every direction – about faculty rights and independence, about the shallowness of this as a ‘ratings’ scheme, of students gaming the system, of… Yeah, I get it.

But if you find yourself charged with supporting and promoting a campus system (and don’t actually feel like answering for yourself the soul destroying question of why you have to sell something if it is actually as valuable as it’s supposed to be) then maybe this will jog some ideas loose. While I will continue to suggest that simply being fully open is ultimately a better way to address many of these issues, until that ideal situation pertains, sometimes we gotta take our ‘openings’ where we can find them. “There is a crack in everything…” – SWL

BC "Learning Content Strategies" meeting

http://tinyurl.com/5tqmz8 

Most of you will know one of my long term projects has been to help share online learning resources across BC and beyond. One of the main stumbling blocks to effective sharing has been the diverse (divisive?) environments in which the material are produced/housed/assembled (at last count there are at least 5 major flavours of LMS in our 26 institutions, as well as sundry other ones and non-LMS approaches as well).

I’ve always held that a top-down “standards” approach isn’t the answer; not only is my project not big enough to compell that kind of change, I am thoroughly sceptical of any of the current standards-based approaches to actually work across all of these LMS. Plus for any “solution” to be adopted, it needs to reflect local realities and priorities at institutions, and be seen to solve local problems before it (or at least, as it) solves the ones of sharing outside the institution.

Add to this the fact that I am loathe to highlight only solutions that would simply further entrench LMS-based solutions or that don’t take into account the learning we’ve all been doing about the role of openness, or the new approaches which social software and other loosely-coupled technologies can offer, and we faced a quandry. How to frame a meeting that brought up the issues, highlighted the common pain points, and ALSO presented both LMS-oriented and other approaches to learning content/learning environments?

Thanks to a suggestion from Michelle Lamberson, we decided that framing the day around the conceit of “Learning Content Strategies” was the perfect way to bring all of this together (seems obvious now, but we struggled for a while for the right frame.)

After a very brief intro from me, we kicked off the day with an hour long discussion of common problems and challenges around learning content. I facilitated this, getting the discussion going with a set of questions that people answered using iClickers. (As an aside, while I recognize lots of potential problems with clickers, I was frankly blown away by how well the iClicker technology itself worked. Truly simple to use and functioned flawlessly.) It felt to me like a good start to highlighting some of the common problems people are facing and laid the groundwork for the rest of the day.
The next step was to showcase work of a few institutions around the province who, in my experience, have developed different approaches to developing content indepedant of their LMS environments. Katy Chan from UVic, Enid McCauley from Thompson Rivers and Rob Peregoodoff from Vancouver Island University all graciously shared with us some insight into their content development processes and the factors that shaped their choices. The important thing that came out of this for me is that none of these approaches is the “right” one, just the “right” one for their context – they ranged from standalone HTML development, to industrial XML production, to Macromedia Contribute, and each had its strengths but also possibly its complications. It’s a tradeoff, you see, like any choice. But they certainly gave their peers in the audience lots to think about.

After lunch I trotted out my dog and pony show, highlighting some of our offerings from BCcampus as well as launching the new Free leaning site. I still live in hope that some of these offerings will resonate with our system partners (a boy can dream) and already there seems to be some renewed interest, which is heartening.

The afternoon was given over to a completely different set of approaches to the problem. Like I said, while the vast majority of our institutions use LMS as their primary online learning platform, that is not the future, or at least, not the future I hope for, so we wanted to expose people to some approaches already happening in the province that are outside the LMS, ones that used loosely-coupled approaches or “openness” as an enabler.

First up was Brian Lamb and Novak Rogic from UBC, and I’m pretty sure their demos of moving content to and fro using WordPress, Mediawiki, their fabulous “JSON includes” and “Mediawiki embeds” techniques left some jaws dropped on the floor. A hard act to follow indeed, but Grant Potter from UNBC did a great job, showing off their own work with blogs and wikis for shared and distributed content development.

Finally, since all the presentations to date had been from a somewhat “institutional” perspective, I thought it important to get an instructor up there to show what a single person can do with the current technologies, and who better to do so than Richard Smith from SFU. Worried though he claimed to be about following @brlamb and co. on stage, he needn’t have – his session was a blast, showing off many web 2.0 tools that he uses with his students. I think some of the biggest value from that session was challenging the notions of the handhel instructor, of the assumption that media must have high production values to be useful, and that this tech is just for “distance” learners. Richard basically made the case that he is able to offer more than 100% seats in his class by always having remote and archived materials for the students. I’m pretty sure this turned more than a few heads.

In the end, my nicely laid plans for orderly rountable discussions were thrown out the window, and I tried as best I could to facilitate a whole room discussion on the fly. I think it went pretty well;  we tore through many of the real challenges people face, from single sign-on to copyright, offering some new ways to think about these and identifying what I hope are some things we can keep working on together as a province.

In all honesty, this meeting went as well, even better, than I had hoped. My goal was not to propose a single solution (as I do not believe there is just one solution) but to bring the problems to light, to get people to acknowledge they exist, and to give them a chance to see some different ways to deal with them, and talk amongst themselves. My experience with this group and with the ed tech professionals in BC in general is, give them a chance to talk and share and don’t be surprised at the number of collaborations and shared solutions that emerge. I have great hope that this is just the start of the conversation and of renewed efforts. – SWL