Are EduPunks Really the Source of the Problem?

If you don’t know what EduPunks are – well, you probably are one if you are reading this blog. Or, at least one at heart. We’re all probably EduPunks here at EGJ (even though I personally hate the label). We want to bring change to the online education world, and some of us are even advocating leaving Learning Management Systems behind in favor of do-it-yourself classes created in blogs, wikis, and probably a whole slew of Google sites.

In the comments section of my last post on LMS problems, a colleague of mine (Chris) made a comment that got me thinking: why are LMS programs the way they are? The hard reality we EduPunks have to face is that Ed Tech products, just like almost any other tech product, are consumer-driven. They are the way they are – in large part – due to end user demand. Even something as dense as BlackBoard still had someone sitting there saying “our customers want this!” Yes – many got it wrong – but even those that got it wrong sometimes still thought about what customers wanted at some point. And many companies do ask for or at least listen to customer input. Some times customers either just get complacent and satisfied with what they have, or they leave a product or service without saying why (or worse yet, raising a huge stink). If companies think everything is okay with the status quo, they won’t change it. And if you rave like a crazed banshee because of something – they probably won’t listen either.

But it’s those that leave that make companies worry the most. When the powers that be saw the EduPunks leaving the LMS for blogs and wikis and other tools – what do you think they did? “Hey – we need to add those tools to our product!” Instead of seeing these as tools to be connected with, they started seeing them as competitotrs. The sad truth is – EduPunks are probably more responsible for creating the “walled garden” effect than anyone else. The more we leave the LMS behind, the more they are going to try and assimilate what we are leaving for… rather than trying to understand why we are leaving. That’s just the way businesses work. They usually want to add more features to an existing product rather than re-think the whole thing from the ground up.

So the battle to change online education tools is really within the confines of the LMS… not as a rebellious outsider. We need to try to win other professors and EdTech people to our cause from the inside. We need a tool that is native to professors (as Chris suggested), that allows them to teach in a way that their learners need to learn. Once the demand is there… once there is enough buzz being generated to get the attention of educational software companies… then we will probably see the changes we need.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

11 thoughts on “Are EduPunks Really the Source of the Problem?

  1. Chris Conway

    Hi Matt, what do you think the best LMS is, in terms of approximating the direction you think that it all should be going in? Moodle? Or does it just not exist yet?

  2. Matt Crosslin

    Well, as far as the direction I am going, some open-source project like Moodle would be the best choice for a start – but none are there yet. You can pretty much do what I am talking about in any LMS – it just takes a bit of extra work. We’ve had an online Art class that uses Blogger for class projects. Once the students set up a blog, they send the links to the professor, who collects and sends them to me, and then I create a startic html page with the links. It’s not that hard at all, but it can also be automated and simplified to cut out essential two middle-men.

    The flip side to that is that D-I-Y classroom management, using blogs or some other tool, is not any better or worse than what I just described. In leaving the LMS behind, you lose some great communication simplification tools and classroom management behind. It is a trade off no matter what route you go – you just have to pick your headache. I tend to sway towards the ‘stay in the LMS and send students out from there’ side because it is harder to lose students that way.

  3. Chris Conway

    What are the valuable things you think we lose when we leave the LMS behind? I’m curious, since I am leaning toward the DIY model for a class in the spring.

  4. Matt Crosslin

    Well, I think that depends on technology set-ups at individual schools. Definitely, you lose a centralized contact list that is usually provided for you in the system. At UTA of course, we have a separate system for that in place. But for those without that – it’s quite a big deal. E-mails can get lost or missed, so having a centralized container for all important communication helps. The gradebook functionality is also a plus – not that it is without faults, but there really is just no easy way to do an online gradebook. UT loked at some of the third party online gradebook options that some DIY teachers were looking at and determined that it would be a lawsuit minefield to use someone that didn’t have a contract of some sort with the school. Not to mention privacy issues. There is also the tracking feature that works well in most LMS programs – you know who hit what page when. That solves so many issues in so many cases – and you will lose that on, say, a blog. Sure – they can track visitor’s IP addresses – but you still can’t tie that to a specific account. What about the students that swear they went to the blog and left required comments that just disappeared later? You have no way to prove that in the DIY case, but you have that kind of tracking with the LMS. The discussion boards in most LMS programs are more geared for academic discussions – Blackboard’s and Moodle are particularly geared towards tracking unread posts. There are also competition issues. The DIY is generally going to be out there for everyone to see, including competeing colleges. They can steal your ideas and students. Not a big concern for a growing school like UTA, but that matters to some. There is also the support issue – you usually get automatic support (even if it doesn’t work all that well) when using the official university software. Then there are also legal and privacy issues that have to be dealt with is all your class happens on a server not owned or contracted by the school. Someone could potentially challenge the validity of a course and terefore a conferred degree based on said course if it all happens out on the net with no connection to the school.

    Not that I think any of these should be deal breakers – there are immense benefits to being DYI, too. It’s kind of like the election – there is no one perfect candidate out there (sorry Obama worshippers – its true). So you have to weigh the issues and see which one is a better fit for you.

  5. Chris Conway

    Gradebook, yes, that would be a big factor in swaying me away from DIY.

    Re: competition seeing what I do… that can be addressed by password protecting a blog site.

    I see what you mean about bulletin board conversation. Good point.

    I’m curious to know more about 3rd party gradebook software. I know a department that is adopting it. Gulp.

    Another biggie: storage space. The more online media instructors create, the more difficult it becomes to store it. If an LMS was paired with great storage, and integrated in such a way that it made sharing it easier, I think that would go a long way in bringing edupunks back to LMS.

  6. Matt Crosslin

    That’s interesting that you bring up password-protecting blogs – we meet with people occasionally that are trying to find ways to better protect their stuff online because the password protection for blogs, podcasts, etc. end up not working for them. The problem is that most tools just have the old ‘one password for all people problem’ (even of they have the option to allow for individual accounts, digging through all the accounts to make sure they are really students from your class becomes such a pain (another plus for the LMS) that instructors still opt for the one password solution). Once they send out that password, students in class send it out to all their friends. Which is a huge problem when you have a massive international population like we do at UTA. Before you know it, you have thousands of people in Asia taking your course for free. Then you have people copying your course and re-teaching it for free. This is not just a theory – they have told us that it happens. Another problem with blogs is that their tracking software just sometimes isn’t sophisicated enough to detect this.

    Also, to me, password protecting a blog would just create another walled garden, just with a different location.

    I think the best use for blogs is a public idea exchange area – a place where current and former students meet with anyone else in the world that wants to join in and discuss a topic. Of course, the current students get graded on their responses.

    The thing that worries me about third pary gradebooks is that people just take student grades and dump them so flippantly on some server somewhere outside of school controls. Major lawsuits waiting to happen.

  7. Chris Conway

    Here’s a different scenario, just for the sake of discussion, because I don’t disagree with anything you say, really. But I want to provide a counter-scenario to your ‘one’ password fits all scenario (which you rightfully reject, I think) and to your concerns about non-students lurking in the class. I want to provide a constructive scenario for how an open blog could function as a LMS and skirt the proprietary issue.

    Here it is:

    A class run on a weblog has instructions embedded in posts. The blog also contains public media like youtube etc.

    However, readings and media are password protected through filesharing.

    Quizzes, if there are any, are run through webCT or some such thingy we don’t like but we live with because it’s convenient.

    Under such circumstances, with the exception of generous and functional file sharing (our local service at UTA has not worked so well this week), an embedded gradebook, and a bulletin board, the ‘open’ blog really should be able to do a serviceable job. If you went in knowing that this was the stripped down system you were using, I think you could build a decent class around it.

    If the filesharing logon system is identical to a quiz logon system, then things would be pretty clear and consistent.

    Again, not arguing against LMS, because what I am describing is a stripped down LMS in the end.

    Your suggestions on how to improve moodle, or the concept of a LMS or Course Learning Platform, are excellent…I was rereading your earlier post on that. I definitely agree those tools to facilitate student blogging and the submission and grading of student work would be phenomenal. But, we’re not there yet, so we must make do!

  8. Matt Crosslin

    These would all work great. I have really been focusing on the dangers of leaving the LMS behind – but that is just one side of the issue. Those dangers may not apply to everyone, and there are also benefits that in any given situation can outweigh the dangers.

    And to clarify for anyone that might read these comments, open blogging can be great. I think it is a great idea to create an open idea exchange where students and anyone else in the world can dialogue about current issues and concepts. Every class should have this, in my opinion – even if it is not run by the instructor. I think you need to be careful before placing course content on open blogs. But, when you are a constructivist like me – that is not really in issue. You will only have a page or two of content (which easily fits in an LMS), some links to external content, and then students will go out and construct the rest. A threaded discussion board is probably still the best tool for students to use to dialogue about the processes they go through in constructing knowledge, but the closed system that all LMS tools use is still stiffling if you ask me. You would have a hard time getting outside voices and input in a closed system like that.

  9. Matt Crosslin

    In a lot of ways, I am thinking that my hacked up Moodle installation here at EGJ is the beginnings of a good model for the LMS. The front page is a blog that is open to anyone to come and comment on, and technically the ‘comments’ are really a Moodle forum mashed up with the blog function. So there is also a forum that is open to anyone that wants to join in, but we never really used it. There is also an ‘annoucements’ section on the side (the microblog). There is also a class behind all of it, that has all of the tools that we have discussed (quizzes, gradebook, etc). If I had a little more time, I could write the custom code to make Moodle do everything I have discussed (pull in blog RSS feeds, etc).

    What I think is missing is that this blog is really a ‘whole site’ deal. It would be awesome if this was set-up so that there was a directory for each class that would just pull up the front page. For example, go to http://www.edugeekjournal.com/biol1301/ and see the biol1301 front page (that look slike what I described in the last paragraph), etc. Logistically, I have no idea how to make that happen in a user friendly manner. But there has to be a way….

  10. Chris Conway

    Matt, any suggestions for a discussion board option? Is there one in webCT (which I’ll probably use for my quizzes)?

  11. Matt Crosslin

    For an outside third party one, there aren’t many that you can just sign up for like a blog – you have to install it on a server yourself. WebCT has one, but Moodle’s is the best by far.

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