Planning my first online History honors course, I immediately assumed I’d be doing something different, more connectivist, more open-ended. I figured it would start, as so many good things do, with a fresh WordPress blog.
But then I thought, the students should each have their own blog. Edublogs and WordPress.com don’t have enough free features, though, and they might get caught in freemium traps. That’s OK – my college now has WordPress. I found out that another instructor had set up blogs for all his students last semester. Except that it was extremely time consuming, involved a separate server, and he used an assistant to do the hands-on setup. I have more students and no assistant – I’ll end up teaching WordPress more than history and dreading sys admin as a massive time suck.
Better go with a single blog under my own control, multi-author.
So I made one. Even made a really cool banner.
Then I started thinking some more, as I began downloading the many plugins: Akismet for spam, Comment Form toolbar so they could embed media in comments, Comment Image for a similar thing, comments-like so they could “like” each other’s comments, Custom Meta for better guidance signing in, Email users so I could email them all, iframe Preserver to help the pages with info, nCode Image Resizer to prevent huge images, Simply Exclude to control visible pages, Top Commentators to add a little competition, User Photo, WP Super Cache to prevent overloading the CPU, etc etc etc.
I started to realize what I was doing – trying to make WordPress more like an LMS. Moodle in particular.
What was gained by doing this? A public space, which they may not want anyway. My own control with my own rented server, which I could also have using my own Moodle. A blog format, with more independence and reflection. Did I want that?
I started to think about my students. Yes, it’s an Honors class, with a lower enrollment cap so we can get to know each other better and a tip hats to more individualized instruction. But only some students are from the Honors program – the class is open to anyone. I lost a student in my standard class this semester and encouraged her to enroll for this one. Even a higher number of Honors students doesn’t mean they’ll know anything about blogs. I’ll still be teaching WordPress.
That’s OK, said I, let’s look at pedagogy! To go all connectivist and bloggy, I’d have to give up some things. Textbook? No big deal getting rid of that. Quizzes? I’d love to ditch them. My forums where I have them post a primary source then write about the collection they’ve built, and it all shows on the same page so they can compare their work and revise? Um…..
No. It came down to a pedagogy meets technology decision. For students to post sources each week and form a collection on a blog, they’d need to use tags (for both era and topics) so the sources would post onto a page for that era or be easy to find later. They’d need to search tags to find evidence. I’d need to set up many pages. The format would be sloppy, and as the class advances into using more evidence for writing, things would get very confusing. Blogs are call-and-response systems, not repositories. Tagging is not natural behavior for ordinary mortals on the web – it must be taught.
Perhaps my goals don’t really dovetail with the blog format. It’s not like ds106, where you pick and choose and create and move on – here the work is dependent on that of others, not just referencing that of others. It’s not like a CCK class, where you participate in the sections you’re interested in. Here there is a set curriculum, and a particular method I want to use, a method that has students discovering, interacting, writing extensively, practicing… it sounds blog-like, but it’s done a different way.
I started to argue with myself. Again, what was I gaining from using WordPress? Did I want the shift to reflection implied by the use of ongoing posts? Did I want to recreate something like the POT Cert Class? Did I want to teach the students, not only about WordPress, but about the big web world, the people who might read and comment, the difference between the open web and an LMS, the possible joys and dangers? Sure, I could do all this, but did I want them focusing on that stuff instead of finding great primary sources, observing their colleagues, and creating their own theses based on a slow, modelled, practiced development of their historical thinking? With so little time that they’d be willing and able to dedicate to the class, did I want to use time teaching these (admittedly valuable) things, when they were not central to my objectives?
So I’ve backed away, to my own Moodle install. I feel like a traitor, but it won’t be the first time. I’ve created something, a method I love, a method I want to write about and publish about, and I happened to create it inside a particular LMS where it works well. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work outside it. I can indeed recreate it inside WP or a Ning or somewhere else (though Blackboard would be a nasty challenge). If I combine this method with the convenience of grading posts, having them spend their outside recess time looking for sources, and teaching them about sources and citations and writing and how to use the big web to do history …it will be better for all of us.
Alan Levine made this for me only a short time ago (translated roughly as “I use an LMS only for management”). I wonder whether this is already not true, or whether it’s management in the sense of managing a pedagogical process, or whether it’s just a matter of choosing the best tool for the job. Maybe I’ve never risen above having too many students in each section, and I want that drop-down grading menu. Maybe I’m maturing away from the knee-jerk reaction against an LMS, a reaction which makes no sense anyway given my own ability to twist the suckers into almost anything I want them to be. Maybe it’s all a massive justification to keep a familiar workflow so I can focus on developing a new class.
I confess – I’m really not sure.
Previous posts along similar lines:
- Diluting the Kool-Aid (May 2012)
- Where’s your class? Musings on course location (May 2012)
- The Guiding Force (December 2011)
- Should “discussion” be separate? (November 2011)
- Middle ground: web 1.5, sets and more (November 2011)
- Class design: is One Blog the middle ground? (October 2011)
- The LMS and the adolescence of web learning (May 2011)
- Where’s the door? LMS or web/social media? (May 2011)