Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Getting Critical with the LMS

One of the things I hope we can do over the rest of the time that we are assembled for this KA is to reflect and evaluate the process we have used so far. When I first used Open Learn before it was pretty cutting edge. Since then new web-based social networking tools have developed that are so much simpler to learn and use. These tools also more naturally support the value of a personal commitment to lifelong learning.

For those who are comparatively new to technology mediated learning, I hope that you are not put off by the clunkiness of Open Learn. Although it is using a open access format ( you don't have to pay for a course access key) it is still using a learning management system (LMS) that is designed, more to make management possible rather than making learning possible.

It is convenient for administration to be able to aggregate all student activities but is not very useful for learners. Often with a LMS, such as the Moodle system that is being used here, once you are finished your course all your contribution stays in the LMS and because your subscription for that course has expired, your stuff is inaccessible. I heard somebody refer to that as institutional malpractice.

One of the weblogs that I follow has initiated a series of complementary online activities for the discussion of social networking in education. Here is a link to Graham Attwell's blog, Pontydysgu (Welsh for Bridge to Learning I think, happily the blog is in English). Attwell is proposing an immersive salon cafe approach with a net radio broadcast, an online phone in radio show where you dial in with Skype (the VOIP online phone system) and then a social gathering in Second Life at Emerge Island. http://slurl.com/secondlife/Emerge/178/76/0

A little quote from the promotional blurb... "The educational technology community has embraced social software with a wave of experimental projects and activities. But is it working? The tools are great for encouraging new participatory approaches to learning and for building peer activity and networking. However, is there a dissonance between such approaches to learning and the structures and curricula of our education systems? Does the adoption of social software challenge hierarchies and power? What is the role of teachers and trainers in a era where knowledge is distributed through networks." Sounds like stuff that might interest us here.

Habermas would be tickled pink!! It involves using Skype, Second Life, Blogs etc. All free range social network tools that people are putting together in very creative and imaginative ways. Sounds like stuff that might interest us here. We should try to link up with Attwell and Co. or set up something similar for ourselves.

Again, I hope that the people who are new to web based social environments are not completely discouraged by the experience in Open Learn. There are web-based tools that work a whole lot better. That is one of the primary considerations when choosing technology to support online learning, ease of use. There is a principle that "first use leads to future use". If a persons first experience using technology is negative, there is a tendency to blame yourself, "I just don't get it.... or... I'll never catch on to this stuff..." And also a tendency to be leery of other opportunities for online learning and also a tendency to do a fair bit of negative advertising for the program. If you are finding this painful, take heart, I've been working in DE and using web based tools for a while and I find myself frequently frustrated with the applications. It doesn't have to be this problematic.

DE planners must be very careful to choose applications and pedagogies that are appropriate to the intellectual and technology skill levels of the target group. People love to create and communicate, the learning experience should capitalize on these wonderfully human tendencies.

Unfortunately as Illich and others have observed, education often impedes learning because ed admin puts the needs of the organization first. ( Yeah, I know the vision statements all say "Learner Centered" blah, blah, blah..., that is the espoused theory but the theory-in-use is very different) Now that the cost of organizing web-based communication has dropped to zero, educators are no longer restricted to working within the hierarchically controlled environments of the LMS. Gotta shake off the predilection for authority and control unless you are in Education as a money making proposition. Then you will want as much authority and control as your customers will permit. It is taking more and more marketing to convince people that that is a good or necessary thing.

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