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Chat Room - A photo by iBoy Daniel

That course we ran last year is coming up again. I’ve tweaked it quite a bit – free at last from the learning management system it was locked up inside, running in a wiki schedule, backed up by blogs and an email forum.

This course has been developed by staff in the Educational Development Centre of Otago Polytechnic and is designed to help both formal and informal learners access and interpret models, research and professional dialog in the facilitation of online communities. After completing this course people should be confident in facilitating online and/or be able to critique and offer advice to other people in the facilitation of online communities.

The next facilitated course starts 28 July 2008.

Participation in this course is open. You will need to have regular access the Internet and be comfortable with independently completing tasks. To join simply introduce yourself to the discussion page and include an email address that can be use to add you to an email forum for the course.

In formal learning terms this is a level 7 course registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Formal learning participants engage in this course for a period of 10 weeks with an indicative time commitment of at least 6 hours per week. Formal learners will receive concentrated learning support throughout this period, and assessment services and formal recognition at the completion of the course. Some people may prefer to engage in this course informally and to set their own pace through the work using the schedule as a guide. Informal engagement is welcome and arrangements can be made for formal assessment and recognition at any time with the course facilitator.

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Sean Fitzgerald alert through Twitter:

Blackboard wins in patent fight against Desire2Learn.

I loath the use of Learning Management Systems generally, but I triple loath an over priced, crappy, monopolising, proprietary LMS like Blackboard.

Boycott Blackboard

If your institution uses Blackboard, do your teaching and students a favor and learn how to teach and learn without it!

Die LMS die is even more true now that Blackboard owns the concept of LMS.

Sarah Stewart has picked up on a conference taking place here in Dunedin that I know very little about. Part of me is offended that I know so little about a conference being organised in my home town without any of the organisers talking to me directly about it. But universities are a bit like that really, and maybe Dunedin is chock full of people living and breathing “computer mediated social networking” that they don’t need to seek out other locals… personally, I have not found many at all.. perhaps they just research it.. whatever the reason, as Sarah points out, we can’t not submit ourselves to their authority something for inclusion in the program if we are to regard ourselves in this field at all.

On looking at the topics for the conference it would seem that our experiences with running the Facilitating Online Learning Communities course would be a good candidate to talk about. I’m a little put off by the tone of the conference though, and a bit at a loss as to how we might go about packaging what we know about that experience up into a presentation of some sort of “research” for this conference. I do know that there are quite a few things about our experiences that the conference attendees would find interesting, starting with the things Sarah points out such as personalised learning through blogs and wikis, and open access to the course and how that resulted in a better learning environment and fee paying enrollments.

I would like to extend the proposal to talk about open content, the difficulty of negotiating the participatory expectations of such a course with the traditional educational models of ‘stand and deliver’, and the discussion around facilitator or teacher. I’d also like to point out to model courses that follow this vein, such as Dave Wiley’s Introduction to Open Education and the work in progress on Wikiversity, Composing free and open educational resources.And then of course we could talk about the bigger picture at Otago Polytechnic.

So, my initial thoughts are that we could talk about:

  1. The set up and maintenance of the Facilitating Online Learning Communties course
  2. Experiences of the participants and examples of how their new learning is being used in their work
  3. Outstanding issues and considerations arising from the course
  4. Further work we will do in developing education generally at Otago Polytechnic using socially networked media and communications.
  5. Frank and honest discussion on the probable and existing issues with this vision and Otago Polytechnic

I think it would be good to beam the likes of Sue Waters and some of the 10 minute lecturers in on the day as well, to get their impressions and reasons for participating on the air… as I think they played a very significant part in the course that we have not really captured yet.

I first saw Andrew Odlyzko’s article Content is not king in Vol 6 Num 2 of the journal First Monday in 2003 or something. First Monday has consistently delivered many a mind altering experience for me, and even 6 years later it is worth revisiting this Feb 2001 article. In it Andrew makes an almost prophetic argument for the time.

In the following sections I develop the argument that connectivity is more important than content. The evidence is based on current and historical spending figures. I also show that the current preoccupation with content by decision makers is not new, as similar attitudes have been common in the past. I then make projections for the future role of content and connectivity, and discuss implications for the architecture of the Internet, including wireless technologies.

At the time of Andrew’s article, Learning Management systems were being used by educational management to bash the early adopters of the Internet into line and force them out of their DIY Internet projects and into template driven, organisation wide Learning Management Systems. I was called in to create high cost “Learning Objects” that the students would use instead of text books and analogue distance learning materials. The teacher took a back seat, always waiting expectantly for the content, always quietly skeptical that anything online would change what they do. To claim that content was not king at that time was something of a challenge to the likes of me who’s income was being made through eLearning content production, and to the managers who were blindly redirecting massive amounts of money into new content production. We hardly took notice of this argument, strangely nor did the displaced teachers…

Around the same time Dave Wiley produced the Reusability Paradox which was another spanner in the works articulating a persistant frustration being felt by content producers and elearning developers. The content wasn’t being used!!

It took me another 2 years to see the writing on the wall, and when Web2 / socially networked media / user generated content came along in 2003/4 I began to see my escape route.

Today, I recognise a connection in Andrew’s argument that content is not king, and Illich’s Deschooling Society – Chapter 6, Learning Webs. In Learning Webs, Illich also argues for investments in connectivity before content. I also recognise through the Illich connection that this argument has been going on for quite some time, and is not likely to get resolved anytime soon. Even with such stark and plainly obvious proof like email, SMS, blogging, online learning communities, and content-less courses that it is connection that is of more value to people.

So today, the struggle to appreciate these arguments goes on. At Otago Polytechnic we are investing in Flexible Learning. A considerable amount of that investment goes to Internet based content production unfortunately. We bicker and fight about this nearly every day. I myself spend a significant amount of time developing content, even though I am experienced and aware of the reasons why not to. To balance this plain as day risk we are also trying to get our teachers (and students for that matter) connected as well, but it is harder to quantify or see the results of this than it is with numbers and screens of content.

What does “getting our teachers connected” mean? It means helping them to appreciate Internet connectivity beyond content access; it means encouraging them to blog; network online and find others in their field, make contact, communicate, form learning communities, connect. It means extending the already familiar and tangible notion of face to face contact to an online and hence always connected context. It is very hard work, and very difficult to develop, especially when we can have very little say in the infrastructure that supports such an effort here in New Zealand.

A quick look at NZ Internet stats

My sense tells me that these stats reflect a reality in Otago that we fail to fully comprehend in education. And when we’re talking broadband, we should probably expect low speeds, low data caps, poor reliability, and shared computers to be further impacting all through that 33% broadband. How can we facilitate connectivity in the way I’ve described with infrastructure and take up that produce these stats?

Connectivity is our biggest challenge. Both infrastructural and behaviorally. Content is hard to justify when at least 67% of New Zealanders have very limited means to access it.

I plan to find out more about the KAREN project, and how it is promising very fast internet connections between universities and other nodes throughout NZ. At the moment the KAREN project seems to be focused on its application in research and formal education, celebrating stories of video conferencing between research groups, and distance education into schools. I want to find out if anyone has proposed distributing some of that connectivity out to communities. Something along the lines of South Australia’s Air Stream project, would possibly help improve both access and uptake of broadband connectivity, and help introduce an appreciation of wireless in the region. I’m not sure how big the KAREN is, but if a portion of its use could be made available for free community wireless across the region, I think that will go a long way to improving connectivity.

Update:

Someone please make a comic strip out of Mike Caulfields piss take on IT management.

I would if I had a little more time, but I’ve had my go, and D’Arcy’s had his. This is the best script yet and deserves better treatment. Perhaps a SecondLife Machinima or snapshot comic strip?