So, I’ve been going on about how we need to save the Learning Management System. I gave a list of things that need to happen with current LMS programs for this to happen. But – we’re not there yet. What can one do with the current LMS programs to integrate global communication, ongoing class communication, and active learning?
To be honest with you, if the LMS can’t add this kind of stuff in someday, then it should die. For now, all you can do is link to other sites from inside of your LMS.
Since we are not there yet (Blackboard, Moodle, and a few other companies have shown signs of promise in this area), here are some ideas of what schools and universities can do in the mean time. I will start with the most radical one first.
Install and use an LMS that has already integrated social networking tools. I only know of one that exists so far, but there may be others out there. As reported here last year, DrupalEd mixes parts of Moodle, Drupal, Elgg, OpenID, and MediaWiki together. It is still new, and some people tend to be squeamish when going with solutions this new, but it is open-source and available for use.
Install tools school-wide on your servers. Want to use blogs or wikis in learning? Then get together others that also want to and petition your IT department to install them on your school server. This has proven successful at UT Arlington. Blogs, wikis, and other tools have been opened up to faculty, students, groups, or anyone else employed with the university to use. The log in for these are also tied to the University’s NetID system, so everyone uses one password for everything… including the existing WebCT LMS.
Decide as a school or university to officially use a specific website for a specific tool. This is sometimes easier said than done. Maybe you can’t install a certain tool on your school servers, or it makes more sense to use another site (like in social networking). Then why not make it easier on everyone and decide on an official one to use – maybe even setting up an official presence on that site?
Decide as a program to use a set of websites. Setting up your own blog or choosing an official social networking site really sets up extra areas for students and teachers to bring people in to your school’s online presence. But you also want to get students out on the web, interacting with others outside of your school (like on discussion boards or blogs). If students have to go to one site for one class, and then another site for another class – they will end up with too many sites to track and will eventually dump some. Why not work together with other instructors in, say, a specific program to choose two or three good sites for your program. Sites that students will use in all classes. Give teachers the freedom to have class-specific sites, but also create a school presence on forums, wikis, blogs, and other sites related to your subject that can keep students connected after the class is over.
Create one instance of a tool per class for all students to use each semester. Sometimes, you might just have to go at this active learning thing alone. Consider having students contribute to a group project – say a blog or wiki – instead of creating individual projects. For example, create a class blog and put students in groups. Each group posts with a tag that identifies the group they are in. When a new semester starts, keep the same blog going, with the same tags, but with new students in the groups. Old students can come back to the same blog, and people from around the world can visit the blog to contribute to the conversation. If you have every student create their own blog every semester, you and the students will have a hard time keeping track of each other’s blogs, and outside people will be less likely to join the conversation.
No matter what you do with any tool, try to keep four goals in mind: keep it manageable (especially over the long haul or for future adopters), create a place where the world will want to come join with you and contribute, get students out on the web contributing to the global conversation, and create methods to continue the class’s global conversation after the class is over.
Have any other ideas? Share them in the comments.