Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Building Online Courses with Open Web Tools

Source: http://jessicaw22.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/maze.jpg
Update: This conversation continues online via Google+.

A week or so ago, the deadline for workshop registrations for the Moodle Server Setup Using CentOS Linux came and went...aside from myself, no one else registered or expressed interest. Without that critical server training, I honestly feel like I can't move forward using Moodle. Running Moodle on Windows with the load we have just doesn't get it done.

Note: Off the bat, I'm going to rule out Moodle Partners for large installations. I won't elaborate on why I don't like them, let's just say I've seen them nickle-n-dime for services you could easily do yourself if you hosted your own solution on Rackspace or Siteground.
In some districts, server management is tightly controlled and, for a variety of factors (e.g. staff available to support servers, training available, trouble-shooting help being "less available"), technical support staff may be reluctant to embrace yet another server operating system that is not Microsoft Windows based. 

This reluctance can be incredibly frustrating, as I've seen firsthand in many school districts I've visited, to instructional designers. After all, the technology is there to support instruction. It's an argument I've seen play out numerous times over my years as an educator. Let's get one thing straight, though. If your technicians aren't willing to learn what they need to support instruction, then get another technician and/or do what needs to be done so you can support instruction. That's easy to say/write, but there are a variety of factors that make it less "black-n-white." 

Still, I've seen it work successfully in districts I've visited...it simply takes a leader with positional authority to put their foot down and say, "Do it." Yes, I've witnessed that process with my own eyes and always exclaim, What wouldn't instructional designers give for that kind of support!


That leadership aside, some choose to take advantage of different tools besides Moodle and course management systems. As a Moodle advocate (e.g. MoodleMayhem.org), I honestly think it's a great solution for perpetuating our current understanding of how students and teachers should interact. Some don't agree with that model, but others are forced to be realists and accept that this is the way things work. Their goal isn't to change their school culture, simply to do what they're told--facilitate online learning for K-12 and adult learners.
‎"Now, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a CMS. They reflect the power relationships we reinforce: the instructor is in control and the learner is put in his or her place, managed. It's not just a name. Students are like cruise ship tourists, trapped in the lame excursion itineraries of smarmy cruise directors. Sorry, you didn't want the filtered interview, right? CMSs are like a planned gated community where not much surprising happens." Source: Ten Questions for an IDT Guy: Future of Online Teaching
The quote above comes from this article--which Helen Teague was kind enough to share via the Moodle Mayhem Facebook Group--and immediately socked me between the eyes. You see, if Moodle isn't available, learners and instructional designers have other options.

For learners, it's clear that they should be building their personal/professional learning network (PLN). As I shared in this blog entry....
Learning is no longer just an event, something that happens at a workshop or conference. Instead, learning happens ALL the time. We are always learning.
But because there is SO MUCH content available, how do you pick and choose what professional learning you will engage in? Since we are often individuals learning at different stages on various path--hmm, differentiated learning for adults--it is important that we construct a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
A PLN is a way of building relationships with others who we do not work with but rather, who we learn with. To achieve that, we can use education forums, education blogs, podcasts, and more.
And, there are lots of ways to get that done. But it's a maze of ever-changing tools, isn't it? If I want to build my PLN, I might choose to pick which social networking tool I want to focus on...and whatever I choose (e.g. Plurk), I miss out on the conversation going on via another social network (e.g. Twitter or Facebook). While I can choose to manage content coming at me with an RSS aggregator (e.g. Google Reader), it can quickly become overwhelming. Do I set up a PLN just for what I'm learning at work or in school?

Learners aside (yeah, move over learners), what about teaching online
? Back to the original problem folks face...if you can't use a CMS like Moodle because you don't have the server, technical support, institutional leadership, what do you use to facilitate online learning?
Well, some might say, you simply don't do it. If you're missing these 3 critical supports, why are you bothering to do online learning? You might as well just say, "I'm experimenting with online learning and it just isn't worth it because the organization doesn't value it enough."

But what if you do value it but can't get the technical issues taken care of, whatever the reason? What do you do instead? Then, maybe it's easier to do what folks in this Facebook conversation did:

Wow, consider using a wiki to facilitate an online course. Sure, this isn't new, but have you done it?

Jon Becker's -  https://sites.google.com/site/edpolitics/home
Sherry Crofut shares some other examples of online teaching using wikis:

In reviewing these 3 courses, I really see them as rich examples of using wikis to facilitate online learning. While these approaches will work for adult learners online, when I think of everything one can do with a Moodle course with K-12 students in regards to assessments (e.g. quizzes, grades, etc.), I wonder if open web tool combinations--wikis + GoogleForms/Docs--will get the job done.

Perhaps, it's time to just plunge in, abandoning CMS structure. What do you think?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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