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Why an LMS

Page history last edited by abogado 14 years, 8 months ago

Why an LMS?

by Lisa Lane Friday, April 17th, 2009

There is a good discussion going on at Mike Bogle’s Tech Ticker blog about Learning Management Systems, which began with Mike going through a three-day Blackboard training.

As people divide along the issue of whether an LMS should be required in a college setting, this discussion has touched on whether such systems are a good idea. On the surface, it seems that trendy, tech-savvy people come down on the NO side, because they see LMSs as closed silos (a term I believe originated with Brian Lamb), trapping content rather than being sharing and open, while stodgy, fearful people come down in favor of having an LMS, and the worst of these want them required.

Of course, it’s not that simple. As I noted in comments on Mike’s blog, I am against the LMS at the gut level. I do not like the idea of content being trapped, or of instruction not taking advantage of the openness of the web for learning. I totally see the advantages of blogs, wikis, public participation discourse, the democratization of learning itself.

And yet, at this moment, I continue to use a CMS (sorry, I can’t keep up the term “LMS” — these systems are not meant to manage learning, but rather classes). At the moment, I use Moodle.

At MiraCosta (at least for now) we have one CMS (Blackboard) fully supported while the other two (Moodle and ETUDES-NG) rely on external hosts. We are not required to use any of them.

We have people who:

- don’t want to use a CMS

- do want to use a CMS, but are cool with what others do

- want our college to have only one CMS

- want our college to have only Blackboard

- want our college to have only Blackboard and everyone must use it

The ones who don’t want to use a CMS are seen as hopelessly trendy, achieving technological proficiencies reserved for only the few. Those who use one quietly are likely in the majority. Those who want us to have only one CMS present service arguments: it’s easier institutionally to have just one system. It’s easier for, well, management. So far, however, we have not confronted forces demanding that we use it, rather it’s a more subtle availability of services that guides our faculty toward using Blackboard. A number of faculty have assumed they are required to use BB — they have no idea it isn’t mandated.

From my perspective, the choice of CMS, and the choice of whether to use one at all, is a clear issue of academic freedom, particularly as such systems guide faculty into particular pedagogies. Countless times I have seen innovative classroom instruction translate into stodgy text-based crap because faculty faced with the CMS just start plugging in .doc documents. But that’s another story.

I began teaching online before there were such things as Course Management Systems, teaching myself HTML and downloading historical images from wherever I could find them, doing all grading by the “new” electronic mail. I refused to use our first CMS (Blackboard) until such time as it allowed me to change all its buttons so they could point to external URLs, making other websites and open tools usable inside the system.

As they have advanced, these CMSs have developed ever more features designed to “trap” our content into the system. But so long as they retain the ability to point to whatever you want on the web, we can sidestep the bear-traps and use the system as a mere shell, linking to wherever we want and having our students use more open methods of learning. That way, even if a system is mandated, we can completely subvert the process and retain the freedom to teach the way we want.

What’s out there on the web is not only more open, it’s more creative and can motivate students to higher levels of achievement. So why am I still using a closed silo at all? I use a CMS for the following reasons:

1. The gradebook.

Online gradebooks like Engrade may be an effective substitute. Some faculty are under the impression that FERPA requires all grades be kept private. Actually, only the final grade is private (the “grade on record”) according to the Supreme Court.

2. Copyright.

Despite wonderful progress such as the TEACH Act, it still appears to be necessary to “hide” copyrighted material behind a password, so that its Fair Use is limited to those enrolled in the class. The way around that, of course, is to only use my own or Creative Commons materials, or to get copyright clearance. My pedagogy makes such an undertaking unfeasible.

Those two things are all I need a CMS for, and I’m no longer sure about the first one.

Thus I come down on the side of, as usual, subversive methods developed in the interest of pedagogical integrity. I understand Mike’s concern that this may be a bit much for novice instructors, and I’m hoping the answer is to continue leading them to the web, encouraging participation in online communities, helping them realize the exciting things they can do outside the system, and showing them how to change those buttons.

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