edtech podcast #6: what if students built the lms?

Several student driven LMS initiatives have popped up lately. One in Stanford. One at the University of Pennsylvania. And, one here at Penn State. In episode #6 Brian & I explore the cause behind this movement. What’s so bad about what’s currently out there that it would push students to build their own learning management system? What’s different? What can we learn? We’ll also discuss the topic of academic rigor. There’s been some recent articles indicating we may not be doing enough to provide students with opportunities to engage with content.

EdTech Podcast #6: What if students built the LMS?

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    • dave
    • April 17th, 2011

    I think it’s somewhat understandable that students don’t have “memorable” experiences, yet. Brian can reference a memorable experience being distanced from it- but would he have had the same answer when he turned in his history paper? Would it have been “memorable” then, before it had even been fully committed to memory? How about if a room full of faculty was asking? I’m not so sure; but I do think it’s admirable that there was one faculty member who was disappointed that we haven’t done anything memorable and was concerned the the students were so disengaged.I’ll be following that blog, for sure.

    I guess I understand, too, why the techies want new software instead of the agony involved with fixing the old. It would represent a new chance, a new start; in a word, progress. Maybe this time, this time we’ll do it right? Well, maybe. But not without a plan. It feels like we handed out violins 10 years ago and now we expect everybody to be able to play them. Most’ve developed some bad habits just trying to make any kind of music. The few with a music background are shaking their heads at everybody else’s inadequacy, and those accused are claiming the violins were cheap instruments to begin with. Meanwhile, the students just want a little music, in any key, any beat. With what they pay, I can understand their frustration and desire to build it themselves. I hope someone is at least a little bit ashamed.

    I hope that what ever software solution gets thrown at this, someone somewhere demonstrates best practices, and approachable techniques for people who don’t give a damn about technology. Good show this week: Useful viewpoints; useful questions.

    So you guys thought you could elude me with a change of venue?

      • Brian Young
      • April 18th, 2011

      Thanks Dave,

      I don’t blame the students for taking matters into their own hands. They saw a need, and filled it. My point was that as faculty and staff at Penn State, we should be more aware of what students want, and how we can provide it to them with things that already exist at the university. In this case, we can create the same functionality inside the LMS. Is this the best approach? I’m not sure, but it seems more appropriate than to do nothing… Part of the responsibility is on the student as well. Apparently, we have held events asking for student input, and not one student showed up…

      When Jeff and I talked about memorable learning experiences last week, I asked myself what could be done to make these experiences better for our students… Working with the community outside of the university has it’s benefits, but there is still much to do inside the university to create a better sense of community, and create positive changes for our students, with and without technology.

      Why are students more involved in projects like OneSchool, than by projects sponsored by ITS, or Penn State in general? Maybe it’s our approach? It would at least give our students a wider perspective of what it takes to roll out even a small project to 100,000 potential users. I think one thing that students don’t get to witness is the magnitude of what small changes can do to an institution of this size. There is a reason why things take a long time to move forward. It’s not an excuse, but it is something that needs to be considered. That, to me, would be very valuable, and something that would not be easily forgotten.

        • btopro
        • April 19th, 2011

        “There is a reason why things take a long time to move forward” — Won’t disagree with you at all there but it’s a main reason why I think you see these grassroots efforts popping up (mine included). We’re more agile because out user base is smaller and therefore tailor a “product” more closely to our needs.

        I’m really glad you both touch on usability because I think this is the direction everything is trending. Windows and Macs have essentially the same feature set so why have competing products? Apple bet the bank on usability and they’re rocking the market right now as a result. Biggest complain people have with android? Programmer / desktop centric, poor usability. Usability is king as far as I’m concerned with new-age systems (LMS and non-LMS).

        Why use WordPress over Drupal/Joomla? All three are built on the same stack (PHP / mysql / apache), to me they are very similar but the communities and the end user experiences are completely different. This is why WordPress is killing right now in the blog-platform game cause it’s by far the most usable platform.

        “none of these interface with the LMS” — I don’t know that this matters as much if we’re not looking to share data back and forth. Webaccess / Single-sign on systems make the access seamless for students. We’re not talking gradebooks here (which is mentioned that the gradebook aren’t being replaced; I think angel is strong in this area). A lot of the features you see people cherry-picking out of LMSs are the lesser security concerns, discussions, web 2.0-based interaction, organizational tools, CMS and design components.

        I think developing in a closed environment it’s not a good thing to go off and ‘take my toys and go home’. In an open environment where one person develops and (essentially) donates efforts / code / ideas to others it’s incredibly beneficial.

        — Scalability —
        This is the main reason I develop locally. You are correct, 100k students will bomb out any system. BUT, it’s a great reason to break these systems appart. This is part of why Angel is cool with offloading content to systems like ELMS because then you don’t have students sitting in their system taking up server resources when they don’t need to be. If there was a system dedicated to chat, when chat gets hit with 100k people and goes down it’s also not as big a deal as angel going down as a whole so it’s a redundancy and system-wide stability issue as well (again, for me).

        Great discussion, love hearing the discussion topics you both are bringing up. Nothing ment as attacks, just some reactions / views of someone developing on the fringe.

  3. When questioning why you would need a new LMS when the old one could perform the same function, I would ask you to consider why we would need an lms at all, when the same functions could be performed by email.

    All these tools are mostly about users reading text from others then writing text for others. But gmail, facebook, twitter, wikipedia, blogger, ANGEL, might really be very similar when you get down to it, but the small differences have major implications.

    I would say there are two related reasons for these student LMSes to exist. The first is control and the second is affordances.

    As for control, these sentences from the piece on ClassOwl are telling: “The site allows students to “follow” their classes and input class assignments and due dates, which then trigger notifications as deadlines near.” … “Once one student adds an assignment in a class, everyone else in the class has it added to their calendars, as well.”
    This is about allowing students to self-organize. Could students do that with Angel groups? I have no idea. I deeply suspect it is not. That is the second point, affordances. If I or a student have no idea how to use the existing LMS to do what I want (in this case create a self-organizing team space), and I need a training session or training manual to explain how to do it, then really the tool is either inappropriate or needs to be redesigned.

    The third reason behind this is money. Students are seeing this as their bid into the web startup world. They are seeing the LMS business as ripe for disruption, and in some ways I agree, but in other ways none of these startups address the head on reasons LMS are perceived to “suck”. Just building a better mousetrap is not enough. Even realizing you need a bear trap and not a mousetrap is not enough.

    Guys, I am really enjoying this podcast and you have a new regular listener. I must confess I am leaving this comment before I have finished listening to this episode, but I couldn’t resist jumping in. Sorry if I am addressing something you already addressed at some point.

  1. April 20th, 2011

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