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.