Most of you will know one of my long term projects has been to help share online learning resources across BC and beyond. One of the main stumbling blocks to effective sharing has been the diverse (divisive?) environments in which the material are produced/housed/assembled (at last count there are at least 5 major flavours of LMS in our 26 institutions, as well as sundry other ones and non-LMS approaches as well).
I’ve always held that a top-down “standards” approach isn’t the answer; not only is my project not big enough to compell that kind of change, I am thoroughly sceptical of any of the current standards-based approaches to actually work across all of these LMS. Plus for any “solution” to be adopted, it needs to reflect local realities and priorities at institutions, and be seen to solve local problems before it (or at least, as it) solves the ones of sharing outside the institution.
Add to this the fact that I am loathe to highlight only solutions that would simply further entrench LMS-based solutions or that don’t take into account the learning we’ve all been doing about the role of openness, or the new approaches which social software and other loosely-coupled technologies can offer, and we faced a quandry. How to frame a meeting that brought up the issues, highlighted the common pain points, and ALSO presented both LMS-oriented and other approaches to learning content/learning environments?
Thanks to a suggestion from Michelle Lamberson, we decided that framing the day around the conceit of “Learning Content Strategies” was the perfect way to bring all of this together (seems obvious now, but we struggled for a while for the right frame.)
After a very brief intro from me, we kicked off the day with an hour long discussion of common problems and challenges around learning content. I facilitated this, getting the discussion going with a set of questions that people answered using iClickers. (As an aside, while I recognize lots of potential problems with clickers, I was frankly blown away by how well the iClicker technology itself worked. Truly simple to use and functioned flawlessly.) It felt to me like a good start to highlighting some of the common problems people are facing and laid the groundwork for the rest of the day.
The next step was to showcase work of a few institutions around the province who, in my experience, have developed different approaches to developing content indepedant of their LMS environments. Katy Chan from UVic, Enid McCauley from Thompson Rivers and Rob Peregoodoff from Vancouver Island University all graciously shared with us some insight into their content development processes and the factors that shaped their choices. The important thing that came out of this for me is that none of these approaches is the “right” one, just the “right” one for their context – they ranged from standalone HTML development, to industrial XML production, to Macromedia Contribute, and each had its strengths but also possibly its complications. It’s a tradeoff, you see, like any choice. But they certainly gave their peers in the audience lots to think about.
After lunch I trotted out my dog and pony show, highlighting some of our offerings from BCcampus as well as launching the new Free leaning site. I still live in hope that some of these offerings will resonate with our system partners (a boy can dream) and already there seems to be some renewed interest, which is heartening.
The afternoon was given over to a completely different set of approaches to the problem. Like I said, while the vast majority of our institutions use LMS as their primary online learning platform, that is not the future, or at least, not the future I hope for, so we wanted to expose people to some approaches already happening in the province that are outside the LMS, ones that used loosely-coupled approaches or “openness” as an enabler.
First up was Brian Lamb and Novak Rogic from UBC, and I’m pretty sure their demos of moving content to and fro using WordPress, Mediawiki, their fabulous “JSON includes” and “Mediawiki embeds” techniques left some jaws dropped on the floor. A hard act to follow indeed, but Grant Potter from UNBC did a great job, showing off their own work with blogs and wikis for shared and distributed content development.
Finally, since all the presentations to date had been from a somewhat “institutional” perspective, I thought it important to get an instructor up there to show what a single person can do with the current technologies, and who better to do so than Richard Smith from SFU. Worried though he claimed to be about following @brlamb and co. on stage, he needn’t have – his session was a blast, showing off many web 2.0 tools that he uses with his students. I think some of the biggest value from that session was challenging the notions of the handhel instructor, of the assumption that media must have high production values to be useful, and that this tech is just for “distance” learners. Richard basically made the case that he is able to offer more than 100% seats in his class by always having remote and archived materials for the students. I’m pretty sure this turned more than a few heads.
In the end, my nicely laid plans for orderly rountable discussions were thrown out the window, and I tried as best I could to facilitate a whole room discussion on the fly. I think it went pretty well; we tore through many of the real challenges people face, from single sign-on to copyright, offering some new ways to think about these and identifying what I hope are some things we can keep working on together as a province.
In all honesty, this meeting went as well, even better, than I had hoped. My goal was not to propose a single solution (as I do not believe there is just one solution) but to bring the problems to light, to get people to acknowledge they exist, and to give them a chance to see some different ways to deal with them, and talk amongst themselves. My experience with this group and with the ed tech professionals in BC in general is, give them a chance to talk and share and don’t be surprised at the number of collaborations and shared solutions that emerge. I have great hope that this is just the start of the conversation and of renewed efforts.