The current article under discussion here is Lisa M. Lane's Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems affect teaching. I would suggest that for anyone working in the online environment, in resent years, wouldn't find anything striking about her observations and could point to a range of similar articles. where this particular article is helpful is in its related examples to particular LMSs eg "BlackBoard" and "Moodle", particularly as they relate to "opt out' and "opt in" technologies and the influence this has on a novice online teacher.
Alan Wylie 02:46, 16 November 2009 (UTC)
Thank you Alan for suggesting a very thought provoking article (nice also to see another historian engaged in the area). I find it interesting that, in the case of CMS’s, there is the potential for technology to actually hold innovation back. Lane notes that the products have become extremely rich and can be customised, but I wonder how many practitioners are active in these areas? Tied in with this are the administrative restrictions on the use of CMSs. I know the example of a colleague who tried to incorporate light and enjoyable self-review quizzes into their CMS only to be told that the quizzes had to be formalised and made part of the course assessment, thus upping the ante of the exercise. Such administrative restrictions may further restrict enthusiasm about 'tinkering' with products – that, and the relative absence of support available when things inevitably don’t go as planned. I think further exploration could also be made on the potential barriers CMS’s place in the way of life-long learning ideals. I like Lane’s suggested solutions to CMS dominance and think she has made some very practical recommendations for moving forward.
Lane raises one of the major criticisms of the CMS. I think there are three:
- First is the criticism that they influence pedagogy by presenting default formats that channel learning activities into an instructivist, teacher-centred approach (Lane, 2009; Coopman, 2009; Coates et. al, 2005; Ansorge & Bendus, 2004).
- Second is the criticism that most instructors use the CMS for document delivery, ignoring the communication and collaboration tools. (Malikowski, 2008; Harrington et. al., 2004; Morgan, 2003)
- Third is the criticism that CMSs represent a barren, closed environment when contrasted with the wealth of social networking, blogging, collaboration, file sharing, and other online tools that students are using for informal learning (Sclater, 2008; Kennedy 2009; Siemens, 2004).
But as Lane rightly points out these flaws are not wholly a factor of the CMS but rather the way they are used. For the most part the CMS was decided on for administrative reasons and imposed on teaching staff, training is pretty much limited to 'how' and not 'why', and support is thin on the ground. And as Nathan's example show many of us are restricted by administrative policies.
I'm not sure whether I'd describe CMSs as barren environments -- it is the very fact that they appear rich that makes them deceptive. And any time one says, "well, this CMS can't do that", Blackboard will be doing it somehow (albeit in a closed manner) within a year or two.
Since the design of these behemoths seems to lead to "plug and play" behavior in novice instructors, another solution might simply to not introduce them to the CMS until they've done something else first. I notice a lot less "wow" comments and gullible behavior among faculty who are comfortable in Facebook or Ning, or have used other technologies in class.
If we start with the individual instructor's pedagogy (far preferable than starting with a team design approach), the question becomes, "what will help you do that?" The answer will only be a CMS when the instructor strays from the question, and starts talking about gradebooks and record keeping.
Taking the opportunity to put my toes into the DEHub water on a topic that's close to my heart - the problems and evils associated with the CMS/LMS plague (my bias should now be clear).
Folk might be interested in the brief blog post Lisa Lane made after the article was published, not to mention the comments.
I outlined some of my initial responses to the article in a blog post last year.
There are a number of solutions, I suggested three
- Encourage and enable academics to improve their use of the Internet, especially social media, in research and their private life.
- Modify the institutional context to encourage, enable and reward an active focus on improving learning and teaching.
- Adopt a best of breed or small pieces loosely joined alternative to the LMS.
Solutions #1 and #2 offer the potential to address the second criticism of the LMS (most use is for content delivery). The proposition is that if more staff are comfortable and familiar with technology, especially those used for collaboration and communication, then they are more likely to think about using it in their teaching and learning. However, that's only likely if the institutional context actually encourages them to engage in novelty around learning and teaching. I would argue that the vast majority of academics see rewards coming from places other than learning and teaching.
There's also the problem that most of the social media and other Internet tools people are likely to use in their research and personal life are likely to be significantly better than the clunky and limited alternatives provided by LMSes.
This is connected to solution #3 and is also a criticism of the LMS based on its product model. Essentially, an LMS is an integrated system. The sweet spot of integrated systems is in areas of low variability, low diversity and low change. I have argued that e-learning falls well outside this sweet spot. More detail available in this post on product models and this one on procurement strategies which formed part of the foundation for a presentation I gave last year.
David, I agree with solution #1, until academics are comfortable using a range of online tools were are not going to see them widely used in learning activities.
Solution #2 is happening, perhaps not fast enough, but there is certainly more money allocated to teaching projects and teaching awards than a decade ago.
My #3 would be to get students using the tools to achieve particular learning goals - show them the range available and give them projects that are facilitated by particular tools. A group annotated bibliography using Delicious, Collaborate on a review of a film using Notemesh, Use Mindomo to plan your group project ad assign tasks ... etc. None of these are inconsistent with using a CMS to manage the course. The problem with many uses of Web 2.0 apps at the moment is the "Creepy Treehouse Effect"
With respect to your #3. This has some connection with a project I've been involved with and which also connects with my #3.
The project seeks to enable students to use their own blogs (e.g. on wordpress.com) as reflective journals. Which I think is a good match between task/goal (reflection etc) and tool (blog).
The loosely coupled aspect enters the picture through the tool we've developed called BAM/BIM.
BIM/BAM essentially provides the administration/management interface teaching staff need to manage and mark student use of the blogs and connect with institutional results processing systems.
Hi Nathan, David and Marj, I concur with your comments re 1, 2 and 3. In relation to 2, I see a disturbing problem within Faculties' and Schools' inability to develop a coherent development plan for the online teaching within their discipline areas. A common practice is to employ an educational developer/curriculum specialist (ED) but have no idea about deploying the skills of the ED outside getting them to work with individual academic. When you then start to discuss the pedagogical approach, and in particular, approach this from the discourse and practices of the discipline you run into the problem of the staff member not wanting to implement what the rest of the disciple colleagues already do. The idea of working with a team of academics to come up with a coherent approach to pedagogical issues for the disciple isn't on the agenda. This then has negative implication for the 'opt in' approach. Cheers, Alan.
I'm glad to hear that someone else is concerned about what passes for educational/curriculum design and development within faculties.
This is my main area of interest. Though I'm currently framing it more broadly as "how do you improve learning and teaching within universities" and to a large extent this connects with what I mean by solution #2 above.
I see major flaws in most of the current approaches, including assigning an educational developer to discipline school. There seems to be a more fundamental set of problems with this approach which most people within universities don't want to engage with. Instead you get them arguing about whether or not the educational developer should be employed by the faculty or by some central L&T unit. For me, a completely unimportant question.
As it happens, just yesterday I've tried to formulate one alternative on my blog.