So if we take the Social Learning Environment Manifesto seriously and re-imagine the LMS as a personal teaching environment (PTE), what other parts of education could we re-think along with that? There are two ideas that I want to look at – one is how to re-think the entire structure of colleges if we were to use PTEs instead of LMSs, and the other is what if the PTE was actually a browser instead of a website. I’ll get to re-thinking college structure in the next post (because I am still chewing on that one), but first I want to ponder using a browser instead of a website.
In the past, I have thought about using the browser as an LMS, but it seems like the whole Opera Unite concept never really took off. But I was looking at the new Rockmelt browser and the thought kind of hit me – this could be the new online classroom – open, outside of the walled garden, and flexible. Chris Duke and others have blogged about this, so it probably didn’t hit me as much as morphed out of other people”s ideas. Most of these ideas come from more of the angle of connecting to Blackboard or some other existing tool and porting that to the browser. I am thinking of creating the browser from the ground up to be the online classroom.
You’ll probably need to be familiar with Rockmelt to follow the rest of this, so make sure and at least go watch their intro video. But I’ll start with describing a feature in Rockmelt and then how I think that could be used in a new learning browser.
Rockmelt connects to your Facebook account at start up
Obviously, Rockmelt only works because it connects to a website (Facebook). So, a browser-based social learning environment would need a website to track settings and user feeds and all of that. But what if, instead of Facebook, your browser connected to PTE of each instructor for each course you are in? You would obviously need to be able to switch from course to course, but a simple drop-down could do that. You would need a centralized place to store your courses, which may be based at a school, or could even be each student’s personal learning environment. In any case, the sign-on would need to expand a bit to include a web address for this centralized list, as well as your username and password. And there would probably need to be a standardized programming language or API to make all this work seamlessly.
Rockmelt has a “ribbon” along the left side that show your Facebook friends that are online
This could be replaced with your classmate’s online status. This could be set to only show students in the current course you are viewing or all students in all courses you are in. The instructor would be in there also, possibly connected to not just a profile but an online virtual office, complete with office hours.
Rockmelt has another ribbon along the right side that has buttons for you to bring up streams of Facebook and Twitter activity.
In place of this would be streams for each assignment or discussion or whatever in your course. Instead of just puling from one site, it would pull in all work relevant to said discussion or activity from all sites into one interface, much like we had envisioned for the class page for the social learning environment. This would make organizing and responding to the massive stream of data for any course much easier. You could also easily drop in a stream to follow your professor as they tag things for you to read.
Rockmelt has a button that easily shares links to your networks
You click on this button and it adds the link to Facebook, Twitter, etc – along with your comments. This would be very useful to help students share websites they come across as they are browsing. All you need to add is a feature that pulls every tag from each course that a student is enrolled in and then lets them quickly add them to what they share on whatever site they choose. This way learning could seamlessly integrate with life when you are browsing.
Rockmelt is based on Google Chrome, which allows for plug-ins
This means all kinds of things could be added to your browser to help you with your course. In fact, many Chrome users already do this – but it is still all separated from your online courses. A browser classroom would solve all of this.
But it could also allow for even more powerful tools. I was thinking of all of the collaborative desktop sharing tools that exist out there and what would happen to them when desktops give way to cloud computing (if that ever happens.? What about a plug-in that allows a user to share a tab with anyone they want to – so people can follow their browsing? Then create a plug-in that runs Skype or whatever through your browser and you have the cloud-based version of desktop sharing – browser tab sharing. Of course, this might already exist – I confess I don’t have time to follow this area as much as I would like.
There are probably many more ideas that could go here, but the idea would be to minimize the LMS to be in the background so students can concentrate on the place where they are learning: the web.
Matt is currently an Instructional Designer II at Orbis Education and a Part-Time Instructor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Previously he worked as a Learning Innovation Researcher with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His work focuses on learning theory, Heutagogy, and learner agency. 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.