A hard drive of ones own

I just read Audrey Watters’ impassioned post about an old bogey-man of mine, the Learning Management System. And while I started nodding my head as she went through the usual problems with Blackboard and the whole silo idea of LMSs, a subject on which I have opined many times, I ended up shaking my head and thinking about my hard drive and Slideshare slidecasts.

There are some premises here that I’m not so sure about anymore:

The first is that LMSs can’t contain any student-centered learning. I’ve seen, and built, some very good classes in an LMS. No, they weren’t open. But they were still good. I’ve also seen some really bad courses, in the open and in the LMS. I’ve written about how the LMS leads to bad classes, which it can certainly do. But that trend can, and should, be effectively fought with techniques for building good classes anyway, regardless of platform.

openAnother premise is that open is always better. Closed courses are not just manifestations of bureaucratic and administrative attempts to institute efficiency and focus on outcomes, although they are that too. Closed courses provide a sense of protection for students and professors, just like the closed classroom door does. Even apart from FERPA (which isn’t about what most people think it’s about anyway), there is an argument to be made that academic freedom, student participation, and the use of copyrighted material, is much easier and “freer” in a closed silo.

A third is that open tools are better and, somehow, more reliable. They aren’t. They are as subject to the vagaries of the market as the LMS. And again, my classic example is Slideshare, where I spent many hours synchronizing my lecture audio to my slides, only to have them discontinue the slidecast feature this year, effectively silencing my teaching.

Connected to this is the lament that when the class is over, all the student work disappears. It doesn’t have to, at least not for the individual student. I recommend to everyone, faculty and students alike, that anything they work on, anything they post or build, they should keep a copy of, on their own hard drive. Is it awful that the class disappears, the experience with all the forums and group activity? Sure, but it is ephemeral in the same way as an on-site class. Your work doesn’t have to be.

And if you offer your class in an open system of some kind, what’s to say that system is perpetual and eternal? It could disappear, or become expensive, in a few years. Ask anyone who offered a free class in Ning. And if students lose access to materials, that’s because we’re using materials that can’t be accessed outside the system. Maybe we shouldn’t do that. A simple list on a web page, as I do with my lectures, could be in the open. What can’t be accessed anymore is the navigation and LMS-based pedagogy we’re saying people shouldn’t be using anyway.

printshopSo it’s not that the points Audrey makes aren’t valid – she’s great and I love her work. And I love the Domain of Ones Own idea, and WordPress.org, and open courses (I teach some) and the open web and the push to keep it open. It’s just that anyone who’s relying on today’s technology – any of today’s technology – needs to think again.  Our work, as Audrey points out, is not secure in the hands of corporations, or, frankly, educational institutions. It needs to be stored, or at least archived, in our own hands. That’s the whole idea behind the e-portfolio market – except that our portfolios should also be on our hard drives.

The ability to download the artifacts we create online, to keep a duplicate, to draft things in a separate program – these may be more important than LMS-or-no-LMS, than open-or-closed, than corporate-or-educational.  Use the open web, use whatever works out there, build communities and take your students there and rage against the privacy-invading, data-mining machine. Then print a copy.

9 comments to A hard drive of ones own

  • First of all I am nodding completely with your points, especially since you speak from first hand experience with the full spectrum of tools.

    Slideshare should be called Slineshare for the way they pulled the cork on slide casts. But I would not call them an “open” tool- they offered a free service to publish content openly, but my qualifier on open is that you can get your stuff out and reproduce it in the same form.

    And so we are beyond the excitement phase of web 2 where everything new was shiny potential; now we should always be answering both can we get our stuff out AND how do we maintain our versions (on drives we control) to recreate if necessary.

    • I really like that definition – that it’s only open if you can get it out in the same form. This I say having used a converter today to download my Soundcloud as mp3…

  • Lisa, I passed this post to my colleague Enoch Hale, who is working with his students to have each of them develop their own “backpack” of artifacts that demonstrate their progress and learning – http://wp.vcu.edu/enochhale/2014/09/05/rethinking-student-success-the-logic-of-what-im-attempting-to-do/

  • You had me thinking of college courses I have taken, and left my work behind in the LMS world. Is there a monster that eats student work and grows ever larger? You are right to point out that even with open systems, we have the responsibility for what we create and the responsibility to archive our learning, our creative selves, our art, our writing. Hard drive, indeed.

    • I know – I always tell my students to never compose anything in the LMS in case a connection bleep loses their work, but I should be telling them to not only compose but save their own work.

  • […] a side note (and also brought to my attention via @dogtrax), I also found this post on the importance of backing up your own work and course content (both as a student and a faculty […]

  • Lisa,
    I really appreciated your post. I have been struggling with this issue as both a middle school teacher (where I have used blogs and LMSs) and as a teacher educator (same).
    I think you are right that maybe everything shouldn’t be open so that ideas can be worked out and refined (and discarded, for that matter).
    You have got me thinking. Thanks.

    • Gerald – Yes, I think we’ve all gotten really familiar with the good things about openness (which was a response to people’s fear about doing it) and the bad things about being closed (a response to the tendency to keep things hidden and proprietary). Time to consider some other effects.