The “Student Ease of Use” Argument

I heard today from a gentleman disagreeing with my article Toolbox or Trap? Course Management Systems and Pedagogy in EDUCAUSE Quarterly. His main point was that the choice of CMS should be about the student, not the professor. As a student in postgrad studies, he was frustrated by the multitude of different systems:

As a student, I didn’t care how the organization was done (pedagogically) , but I wanted uniformity among the professors… I didn’t want to learn how each professor want to organize their course uniquely. I want to be able to quickly (and intuitively) navigate each course and have appropriate documentation found in the same location for all courses.

I have heard this argument before at my college. It tends to come up any time it is suggested that we should only have one CMS. After pointing out that many students are enrolled at multiple colleges with multiples systems (nowadays called “swirling”), my response is the same as I made to my correspondent.

I think students are important, too, and I appreciate the argument about student ease of use. But then I look at the web and see a multitude of sites, with many different methods for participating in them.

Then I see the business world and, despite the “computer competency” focus on Microsoft Office, I know that the ability to transfer knowledge from one system to another is what makes for a valuable employee.

It’s not that I don’t sympathize with the confusion. I recall college classroom experiences of my own, where I found it most annoying that this prof wanted this sort of thinking and assignments, and another had completely different expectations. But improving my ability to respond in a nimble way to a variety of conditions has served me well.

And from what I’ve been reading in David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, our ability to organize for ourselves the mass information and communication at our disposal through the web is what will make us better at acheiving understanding.

So I’m beyond thinking that students should have to deal with different systems because instructors should choose the CMS that fits their pedagogy. I think we’re doing students a disservice not to stretch their ability to learn new systems and transfer that knowledge.

4 comments to The “Student Ease of Use” Argument

  • Anne

    Very good post! I agree. Here is my POV (for what it is worth) every teacher in every classroom (f2f, blended, or online) are different – different styles, looks, ideas, presentation styles – even looks. If every teacher was the same, would our students learn, or would they become bored? Each year as our children approach a new grade level, not only will they learn new material, but they will learn new processes, collaborative opportunities, and more about them self and others.
    The same in true in the online world. I really like your statement, “I think we’re doing students a disservice not to stretch their ability to learn new systems and transfer that knowledge.” If we don’t do this, are we promoting laziness?

  • When our students graduate, they will have a variety of bosses and work environments! That’s part of the hidden curriculum…learning how to figure out what your boss or teacher wants, what the expectations are, how to be successful. We don’t do them any favors by spoon feeding them and then throwing them out in the “real world.”

  • Lisa,
    I am with you on this one. The staff at my school (all 4 of us!) are designing two online courses each on Moodle. There was much discussion about the look and feel of the classes. The heading and color scheme of each class is the same across the board, but we agreed that it was up to the individual teacher to decide which blocks to use and where to place them. There was some concern that this might be distracting to students who are enrolled in more than one online class. I think it will help them stretch their minds a little if each course is laid out just a little bit differently. I think we are not giving students (high school or college) enough credit if we assume they cannot manage classes on multiple CMS’s. One of the great unintended outcomes of “swirling” is learning how to manage different things.

  • john turbeville

    I think it is students first and in the long run exposing them to multiple CMS’s is really good for students at the community college level. Face it learning a new CMS is pretty easy for most all of todays computer literate students. To think that a student will only need to learn one CMS for their entire career as a student is not very a very good expectation! When they switch to a 4 year, and maybe go on to graduate school, if we expose them at this level to other systems it will be much better in the long run for them in their academic career.