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Posts Tagged ‘lms’

Content Ownership and Sharing in an LMS

Posted in Teaching, Technology on July 16th, 2010 by darcusb – Comments Off

Michael Feldstein has a post on the new Repository API in Moodle, and explains that it enables easy import and export of content to/from course sites. But, he suggests, this may well be a solution to a more fundamental design failing; as he puts it:

A fundamental flaw in LMS design is that the course, rather than the student, owns course documents. While it’s great that Moodle makes it easy to export course contributions to places where students can hold onto them after the course gets archived, this mechanism relies on students making specific efforts to save their work. I would prefer to see a system in which the canonical copies of student-created course documents (or faculty-created course documents, for that matter) live in the users’ private file storage space and the course instance is granted permission to access them.

I think is exactly right, but I see two issues. First, who owns group created/edited documents? I doubt this is an unresolvable issue, but it does add a layer of complexity to the discussion.

Second, I’d want to consider a broader notion of sharing. Consider an example:

I teach a large-enrollment introductory course that is part of the University’s “Top 25″ initiative, which seeks to reorient these sorts of more typically lecture courses around principles of inquiry-based learning. We have a team of people who teach this course who worked at figuring out new course modules that we could share among instructors. But the sharing happens (or not, as it were) through a wiki, and the kind of content we have up is not available in a fully ready-made form such that each of us can simply take it and go in our individual courses. Sharing just takes too much work as it is.

I’d like my LMS to make it really easy to share teaching resources among faculty; ideally not only within just a particular LMS instance at a single university, but across universities. Why can’t I, for example, create a course module and make it public? Why shouldn’t I be able to easily borrow work from colleagues at other institutions? And by easily, I don’t mean having to force them to export some damned package, email it to me, and then make me import it. I mean single-click sharing. What if, for example, I could search for particular concepts in my area of geography, and get a list of modules from both my colleagues here, but also other colleagues elsewhere, and simply click to use it in and/or adapt it to my course?

So that’s a use case: I really want to contribute to and borrow from my colleagues’ work in ways that go far beyond what’s now possible. What does it take to make that possible? Am not exactly sure, but think it’s likely to require rich metadata and structured content authoring. Sakai 3 will, for example, have a template system that allows for wizard-like creation of new content. I could imagine using those templates to layer RDFa metadata into the content itself, and then somehow collecting that metadata and exposing it through some sort of API (SPARQL?).

Bye Bye Blackboard, Hello Sakai

Posted in Teaching, Technology on June 2nd, 2010 by darcusb – 4 Comments

Last week, I was part of a meeting that decided on a recommendation for Miami University’s LMS transition over the next year or so. We ultimately chose among four options:

  1. Blackboard 9 (stay with Blackboard, but move to next version)
  2. Desire2Learn
  3. Moodle
  4. Sakai
Interestingly, there was very little support, if any, for continuing with Blackboard. There’s just been too much frustration with both the software and the company. It’s hard to justify spending so much money on such a mediocre solution, particularly given current budget issues.

Our ultimate choice was Sakai. I can’t say exactly what it was that ultimately organized the consensus around the choice, but my own argument in the meeting was roughly as follows:

  1. all of the current LMSs are more alike than not
  2. the open source options (both Moodle and Sakai) give the institution greater control over our own destiny going forward, with more options for support, for influencing the direction of the software, and for deciding when we want to transition to new versions
  3. Sakai in particular has a really smart forward-looking roadmap in v3 which is shaped by the right, pedagogically-oriented, vision

For me personally the plans for Sakai 3 were a primary differentiator. The tight coupling of a new architecture placed at the service of a shiny new interface that is easy-to-use and flexible, and which is designed based on user-testing from the beginning, is, I think, the right direction. The widget and template-based approach has the potential to make it easier and quicker for new users to get going. The devil will be in the details of exactly how well they implement these ideas, but I am looking forward to seeing how Sakai 3 evolves.

Now the real work will start for the IT staff here. They’ll have to figure out the best way to transition course content from Blackboard, to train faculty and students in how to best make use of Sakai, and set up some kind of governance structure to manage our relationship with this new technology. I’m hoping this can include some mechanism to get IT services staff and interested faculty involved in the Sakai community, and contributing in different ways to its future evolution.

Sakai 3: Mix-and-Match Tools

Posted in Teaching, Technology on May 15th, 2010 by darcusb – Comments Off

Earlier, I covered some interesting new characteristics of Sakai 3, but want here to add another. Existing LMSes are hamstrung by a number of assumptions and limitations. To sum them up, today’s LMS tends to be both course-centric and tool-centric. If, for example, students that share two or three related courses want to setup a group, they can’t do it; the LMS assumes students are part of courses (or in some cases, non-course sites). Similarly, the LMS experience is constrained by a focus on discrete tools. If you want students to reflect on some ideas, and then host a discussion on them, you need them to go to two separate places: some webpage-like thing that describes the ideas, and then a separate forum where the discussion may happen. If the student wants to refer back-and-forth between the two areas, they need to do awkward things like open two windows or tabs, or do the browser back-and-forward button thing. This is a totally artificial limitation that has real consequences.

Thankfully, Sakai 3 does away with these limitations. Groups, for example, may exist independently of course and sites, and so will allow more flexible sorts of online sociability and collaboration among students, researchers, and so forth. On the tools front, Sakai 3 breaks down the walls that have previously divided them. If you want to host a discussion on some content, you can simply create your page, add the content, and then at the bottom of the page add a “discussion” widget. Upon doing so, a discussion thread will be available at the bottom of the page for students to view and contribute to.

The current UI has widgets for a variety of common features: polls (complete with a nice instant-view graph of the results), comments, quizzes, etc. But it also has some clever new ones, such as a Google Maps widget that allows you to embed a live Google Map (though as I geographer, I have to say that I’d really like to see more here, like the ability to ask for a country, and have it understand what I mean; this might be more a limitation of Google Maps though).

Here’s an example of what this looks like with the polling widget. First, we decide to add a poll to our page. We go to the “insert more” drop-down on the right side of our editor …

the insert more drop-down

Once we select “poll” we get a dialog to set it up.

widget configuration

Note that this dialog pops up in place; no need to go to some separate page to manage this. Once we have it all ready and click “insert widget”, and save the page, we then see this, which is also what students will see …

poll widget student widget

When a student comes across this, again, they don’t have to go to some separate place to take the poll; they simply click their choice in place. Even more cool, once they’re done, the live widget presents the results of the survey in a graph view.

poll widget results

In turn, this graph will continuously update as other students take the poll!

A couple of months ago, Lance Speelmon at Indiana University presented a demo of this at a Sakai conference in Japan. You can see that starting at about the 23 minute mark or so of this video:

So let’s pause for a second and ponder the implications of this: I will be able to create a page for some topic in a class. I can add some text to present the issues for the topic and link to some background readings. I can then embed any other widget I want right there in the page! Bigger picture, this widget architecture is designed to be easy to work with for developers. So if I have some idea for a great new widget, any on-campus developer with basic web development skills could hypothetically help me create that widget.

When I started pondering what I want in a next-generation LMS, this is exactly the sort of thing I was imagining!

Google Wave and Learning

Posted in Teaching, Technology on June 2nd, 2009 by darcusb – Comments Off

Michael Feldstein has two smart posts on the implications of Google Wave for learning:

Quick summary: like me, he thinks Wave is a potential game-changer that has major implications for learning. But he basically answers “no” to the question presented in his second post. His argument comes down to the core point that Wave is unstructured, and this is not always in sympathy with the goals of learning. The argument is twofold:
  1. Permissions: as he puts it, there are times when you want to control permissions, when you don’t want everything to be editable to everyone, when you want to steer a conversation or process in a particular direction. In those cases, the Wave Server as currently being demonstrated will not provide the necessary structure. It is possible that Google will implement fine-grained permissions structures in future versions, but I doubt it.
  2. Sequential structure: there are times when waves are exactly the opposite direction of where you want to go. I believe that half of good teaching is sequencing experiences such that students are more likely to learn in deep and meaningful ways…. Wave is not designed for that at all. To the contrary, it is designed to get out of the way of free-form communication.
I think Michael is spot on: how much of an LMS Wave could replace hinges on how much permissions control Google opts to add, and how well it can be integrated into other, more structured environments. I also suspect he’s right that Google is unlikely to add this sort of structure, but instead make it easy to integrate Wave into other, more structured, environments (such as an LMS).

But if we accept the conclusion that Wave is likely to be more a supplement than a replacement to a more structured LMS, this leads to I think an important question: how might the two worlds—structured and un/semi-structured—be best integrated? It doesn’t seem to me to necessarily follow, for example, that taking a big existing LMS and bolting Wave on is likely the best answer.