Sharing and organizing URLs

also posted at: http://blogs.sfu.ca/services/webct/

One of the useful tools in WebCT is the weblinks tool – I use it to add links to library resources, or permanent links to articles in our databases. This gives students direct access to assigned articles and hopefully encourages more familiarity with the library resources.

However, you can’t export and import links, which is an unfortunate lapse. My workaround is to use the online bookmark repository Delicious. We already keep some links in our LIDC account, and it is a simple step to showcase specific links on a webpage.

Contact an instructional designer or user experience designer at the LIDC for assistance in setting this up.

The day we chose a blog over an LMS

I met with an instructor last week who thought that maybe he’d like to use the university learning management system. I asked for the syllabus, and we spent some time talking about how much time he wanted to spend online, and how he wanted to share information with students.

Turns out that he wanted to share new lecture outlines and other resources each week, but not spend time maintaining two-way communications online. He had a very specific focus, and was very clear about the limits he placed on his online world, and on the new skills he wanted to learn.

So I recommended a blog – he can post items using his email, students can go to a central location each week to get the outlines (or grab an RSS feed), and he can limit the ability to comment on the posted items. I think this is a good balance of his teaching objectives and his personal priorities. The strengths of an LMS are in the range of tools – you can choose to implement grading, discussion, content delivery and assessment in one place. This comes with a range of decision, implications and maintenance issues, however. A blog can do lots of things, and you can plug in plenty of other widgets. But what it’s really, really good at is delivering content in a consistent manner. It’s reverse chronological nature keeps it current, and the tagging makes it browsable. The comments can focus discussion (a bit, anyway) if needed, but overall, the nature of a blog keeps things moving (assuming there are new posts).

I’m happy with the conversation we had and the decisions he made. He made it easier by his conviction in what he did and didn’t want (or would do), and his willingness to look at different ideas. A good day.

The technology doesn’t work!

I deliver workshops at my university, mostly on online software platforms that can be used for educational goodness. It’s natural that I get many questions (though email, at the workshop) about mysterious error messages, blocked doors or inexplicable misunderstanding of the software’s vocabulary. I have a golden rule of the three R’s:

  • Read: Sometimes when we’re frustrated, we miss clues or instructions on the screen. No, really, it’s true!
  • Resources: There are probably some great self-help resources (or even Google) that will help you find the answer quickly.
  • Relax: and this is the most important one. I would hazard a guess that 90% of meltdowns while using online platforms are due to user error (an inability to follow instructions, for example) or the computer/browser just needs a  break. So in these cases, I sometimes make a cup of tea. It gives me time to cool down (if necessary), and approach the problem with new eyes when I return to the computer.

Tea – it solves so much.

What should an LMS do, anyway?

This blog posting made me think about the online support I sometimes provide. I spend a lot of time advising people how to click through a series of steps to put their content online in the SFU Learning Management System (LMS). It’s frustrating for me for a few reasons: It’s repetitive and I question if what faculty are doing is actually meeting their instructional objectives.

Unfortunately, the support provided is on request, and if you don’t know the questions I’m dying to answer, then no one is getting what they want.

According to the Blog posting above, that I should be more of a salesperson. So here goes:

My mantra: using an LMS should do at least one of these two things (and preferably both): It should increase student learning, and it should (in the long term), save the instructor time. I really do want this to be a win-win situation! Clearly this is not an exhaustive list, but a start.
Continue reading “What should an LMS do, anyway?”

Make it so

I was talking with someone today about my first very own computer (that I took to university with me). It was an Apple Powerbook 100 with an external 3.5 disk drive, a trackball (that the cool kids replaced with a large marble). And it was great! I had a portable computer that I used for several years. Today I’m sitting in my living room, with wireless, full colour, downloading television shows in the backgroud. It’s rather obvious to say that we’ve come a long way.

And so when people make pronoucements on what can and can’t work, I remember when I couldn’t quite grasp the idea of the internet. I couldn’t understand what people could possibly want to access online – newspapers and books were my point of reference, and reading books online still hasn’t really caught on.

So no, I’m not really sure how you might use synchronous communications, learning management systems podcasting, blogs or wikis.

I know that we have to start with what the teaching or learning objectives are. Once there, ask questions, make adjustments, and personalize any medium that is chosen. Will students learn by creating and asking questions, testing things out, expressing new ideas or challenging other ideas? Once you start there….

WebCT, Blackboard and Open Source solutions

I’m watching (and occasionally participating in) a discussion in the SCOPE community. The current discussion began on the WebCT/Blackboard merger, and quickly moved into the age-old (haha) question of: proprietary software versus open-source.

I find this dichotomy to be awkward: I don’t think that one versus the other (or any of the many other choices) is necessarily the “best” choice. Blanket pronouncements ignore the variety of different users. Some people only want a content repository to support their face to face teaching. Some want to focus on grade delivery, or discussions, or… The other major division is between those who want it to be simple and unchanging, and those that want to be able to tweak, add and change their LMS.

So one conclusion is to use a multitude of tools to deliver education, and that probably works to a point.

The question then becomes: what do we owe the students? Should they be able to expect a consistent platform in which their education is delivered? (and I’m not making a distinction between online, face to face or blended learning). Or should students accept that the world is an ever changing place, with multitudes of platforms and ways of doing things?

Would we be having this discussion if we could offer instructional design support to all instructors, regardless of the platform?