Where’s the door? LMS or web/social media?

Maybe it’s not really about a choice between an LMS and web/social media.

First, I found it interesting that Kelly Trainor (Yavapai College, Arizona) said in his faculty showcase that he uses a great WordPress blog for his class, but still uses Blackboard for the gradebook.


Then, I discovered this cool resource of online teaching videos from the University of New South Wales, and watched this one:


And what occurred to me was that the issue is this:

And the question is: Where’s the door?

cc WordRidden at Flickr

If you want to take advantage of the affordances of both venues, where do you want students to enter your class? From the web or a social media site (Flickr, YouTube, Ning, Facebook, a WordPress blog) or through a Learning Management System (Blackboard, Ning)?

The front door is important. Ask any real estate agent.

With the door in the LMS, you can link out to open web sites or social media (or use course menu buttons to make things appear to be inside the LMS).

With the door on the web or at a social media site, you can provide a link to the LMS for whatever needs to be done there.

The choice here sets up different kind of hierarchies, implies differences in pedagogy, and creates different kinds of opportunities for learning.

Starting in an LMS implies:

  • closer connection with the college and its structures
  • greater concern for issues like security, privacy, homogeneity of systems
  • a similarity in importance put on tasks (if using a course menu)

Depending on how it’s used, it could also imply:

  • emphasis on presentation and content over interactivity and community
  • a teacher-centric model

Starting on the open web or in a social media site implies:

  • a greater connection with the outside world
  • greater emphasis on communication and creation
  • a supposition of diversity in tasks and approaches

Depending on how it’s used, it could also imply:

  • an emphasis on community over content
  • a more constructivist (or even connectivist) pedagogy
  • a more learner-centric model

I think it’s important to know what we’re saying to our students, not only with the “inside” of the course design, but with how you enter the space in the first place.

11 thoughts to “Where’s the door? LMS or web/social media?”

  1. Hi Lisa,

    *If* the medium is the message, I’d say both the door and the rest of the house convey a strong message. I’d add to the LMS door an illusion of order, structure and homogeneity that students probably won’t find outside a formal education institution (I keep wondering how often LMSs appear outside the education world). Also, I’d say it’s worth exploring where is it that students have greater control over their own information (not only privacy, but access after the course/program is over)

    I like the distinction you made in your diagram, and I can’t help to think that Blackboard might turn into an over-sized and very expensive gradebook… 🙂

    1. Some would say it already is!

      Yes, you’re right that the structure is unlikely to be found in more “real life” learning experiences, an excellent argument for variety in parsing information and communications when learning.

    1. Thanks, David! Your article dovetails with this perfectly, and although I had read the article when it first came out, I hadn’t noticed the graphic. Now I wonder if it lodged in my brain somewhere! The idea of a combination is beautifully articulated in your work starting on page 14. So I guess I’m taking off from the point of George Siemen’s quotation about the LMS being the “center point”.

      More specific than combining the advantages of the two (LMS for record-keeping, open/social web for communication and creation) is the idea that your entry point does matter, that it implies the “center point” of the class. I noticed this in Siemen’s own Connectivism classes, where it wasn’t always easy to find the door, even though both LMS (Moodle) and open/social web (separate blogs, aggregated feeds, etc) were used.

      I have found in talking to other faculty that the complexities of trying to create LMS-style security in open learning networks tends to be a barrier, which is why so many are simply combining the two in practice. This encourages me enormously, especially since they are doing it even as Blackboard adds “blogs” and “wikis” to its closed interface. My concern now is that when they do that (which they seem to be doing without reading anything any of us have written), that they consider that the “starting gate” has its own significance and implications.

  2. I don’t think it’s about the door. I think it’s about the key. The key should be a learner’s personal digital footprint. The learning and the identity they have in their own lives outside of school is crucial to student success. That assumes that we’re trying to educate students to be life-long learners. Life-long learners need to be able to carry their own content with them, no matter what school, grade level or position in life. They need a digital footprint. How can they do that if all of their content is stored on somebody else’s hard drive?

    With this digital footprint, based on OpenID of course, students can access both the door of their personal and very social lives on the Internet. If we build the content and learning paths we expect of students in the cloud – LMS, SIS, Curriculum Management with the expectation that everyone has a digital footprint, AND that they will use that OpenID to access the door of our school’s digital presence, we’ll accomplish a lot.

    We’ll start building life-long learners. We’ll eliminate the billions schools waste on the corporate IT structure of server farms and desktop management. We’ll engage students in ways we never thought possible, and do it easier than ever before. And we’ll give them the tools they need in the 21st century in a very authentic way.

    Innovation in schools is being held hostage by the IT departments who don’t want to give up control.

    Not sure what I mean? If you’re in a school system now, how many different usernames and passwords do you have? Is your “stuff” stored on the schools network server, and if so how difficult is it to get to when you want it? Have you ever been frustrated by the computers in your classroom not working? What about entering your information more than once in a gradebook, on a report card, another for state reporting, etc.

    It’s not the door, it’s the key that matters. It don’t care if your Digitial Footprint is Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter or what ever else pops up next year. Help teachers and students pick one OpenID provider, make sure it includes social access and storage for content and let them use it to connect to your school’s LMS. (And if your IT department doesn’t agree – show them the Door)

    Intrigued? Need some differentiation? Click here for a visual: http://goo.gl/EjsPO

    1. I agree in theory, and wish that OpenID had taken off in the way it was supposed to, which would help the password problem.

      I’m sure you know the typical objections already: FERPA (used wrongly, in my opinion), the problems inherent in the cloud itself, assessment of widely scattered materials, and accountability to educational/governmental oversight that always demands the college’s records. Most faculty don’t get all of this web stuff and require massive amounts of support for everything they do.

      Then, of course, there’s commercial competition, and the fact that all these services, even if linked by OpenID, aren’t and won’t be free. You can send the IT people home, but only up to a point. Schools will have to decide what to subscribe to, and decide in what circumstances it’s fair to have students have to pay for the services they want to use. The cloud itself isn’t so cloudy now – it has these rooms, whether or not you can use OpenID to access them, and the rooms are controlled by the companies, and the companies may be gone tomorrow, along with all your stuff.

      I also am disappointed that the IT structures grew up around local management, but that’s what they had at the time: desktop software. As colleges and universities strive to deal with the cloud, they are trying to provide e-portfolio storage and such to assist students. Local storage needs passwords, and around we go again.

      I guess I don’t share your utopian vision.

  3. I really liked what you had to say in this post. This is an issue that I have been dealing with for some time now at the universities I have worked for. I started off making my “front door” a tool like SeedWiki (no longer around), Blogger or Google Sites. I only used the LMS for grades and submitting assignments. However, I got a lot of feedback from students that they felt confused and never knew exactly where to look for certain things (though it was perfectly clear to me :-)). This was definitely due to the fact that I was a) new at using social tools and other web apps for my teaching (circa 2004) and b) my students were not familiar with being taught this way. I have found that the whole digital native vs. immigrant doesn’t necessarily transfer to formal learning environments. The university where I am now working draws a hard line on where students should “enter” the learning environment, and that is through the LMS. This particular school is adamant about branding and giving students a consistent experience throughout all of their coursework. I still use third-party tools quite extensively, but they are all linked directly from Moodle, so I’m not sure the students even know they are using tools outside of Moodle. I wrote about this earlier this year on my blog: http://www.curbyalexander.net/blog/2011/02/learning-management-systems-hub-or-silo/. Anyway, I agree with your perspective on this, and in my case some departmental expectations are shaping my teaching decisions, in addition to my teaching philosophy. I don’t have tenure, so I have to pick my battles. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Curby,

      The “consistent experience for students” argument makes me crazy. If all the online classes offered in the mandated LMS are that similar (to where students would be disturbed of something changed), then they are all much too alike, and we might as well have our jobs done by computers. I have recently seen such cookie-cutter courses claiming they weren’t cookie cutter because the content inside the course menu buttons could be customized. There is little understanding that the structure of the course itself is part of the pedagogy. I wonder if such administrators also go into face-to-face classrooms and say, “no, you must lecture from that corner, because that’s where the students expect to see the professor”.

      I know instructors who use Bb in such a way it doesn’t even look like Bb (my colleague Pilar Hernandez made a great tutorial to help instructors do it).

  4. If a face-to-face component exists to this class, then the virtual door is relatively unimportant. Students understand that a course is either teacher-directed or teacher-facilitated irrespective of what website system is used as first point of entry. I would add that Moodle can be made student-centered by using the social format or giving students editing permissions to the site.

    1. Richard, I would have totally agreed with you until last semester, when a student complained for much of the term about my use of WordPress for posting information and having them post their homework theses. He felt it could just as easily have been done in Blackboard, though that would have completely prevented the group art collections they were creating. And another student in the same class found the WordPress site made him feel that the class was more student-centered, and he even requested a “Like” button for posts to make it more interactive. I can’t imagine a student asking for that if I’d been in Blackboard.

      My point is, that although it would make sense for the physical classroom to automatically determine the nature of the course, I think the technological interface has more of an influence than I used to believe.

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