Lawley is not alone in looking to blogs as a potential
escape from the “course as online powerpoint slide” stranglehold of today’s
commercial course management systems. Charles Lowe of Cyberdash.com recently published an
account of his own experience using open source weblogs (PostNuke) to
support his online writing class; in a companion piece
he compares PostNuke to Blackboard, and finds Blackboard
And he is not the only one coming to
this conclusion. Laura Gibbs, in her blog post “Blackboard, Students and Publishing on the Web,” pretty
much captured the differences between a blog-based online learning experience
and one provided by the traditional vendors when she said “Blackboard lets
faculty members share documents with students, but it does nothing to promote
web publishing by students.” —John Kruper —Blogs as Course Management Systems: Is their biggest advantage also their achille’s heel? (The Electric Lyceum)
At Seton Hill, we actually have two different systems — one for administering grades and course registration, and the other for content management. While I find our CMS cumbersome, next year I will probably use it to let students upload copies of their papers. I don’t really have that much of an opinion about our registration/grade reporting tool, since I’ve used it only a couple times — just to log on, enter midterm or final grades, and leave. Yes the interface is clunky and stupid, and yes it’s insulting that the web-based program expands to take over my whole screen, so that I can’t open my spreadsheet gradebook in one window, and copy and paste the grades in another; instead, I have to print out my grades, switch to another window, and type them in from the printed page. Stupid. Annoying. But I so rarely need to use that program that I don’t get worked up about it.
While the MoveableType back end is much better designed, because I use it all the time, even the minor annoyances consume far more of my time than the major annoyances in SHU’s course registration program.
Another thought… while it’s possible to set up a course so that a student must participate in Blackboard forum or post on a blog, the motivation to do is smaller, since the penalties for not doing so (or simply for not doing so today) are infinitesmal compared to the penalty of not getting any courses at all. How frequently do students need to add or drop courses, anyway? Yes, that’s important technology to provide, but the tools to let students do that don’t have to be perfect, because students have to register for classes if they want to be a student — just like I have to report the grades, or I’m not doing my job. The interface can be less than beautiful if it gets the job done.
While I can see that the administrators — who are usually the ones making the decisions regarding the purchase of courseware and registrationware (sorry for the dorky neologism) would think otherwise, I would prefer that my teaching not be leashed to software optimized for the occasional (once-a-semester) administrative needs of registration.
My students can still register for courses using the university’s system if I ask them to blog. But Kruper makes a good point — if my specialty were teaching human anatomy or French verb forms, I wouldn’t have nearly the motivation to learn all this technological stuff. There would be other technological solutions that would appear to meet other, more immediate, needs.