Sunday, April 17, 2016

Citizens of the Learning Community, Unite!

A question from Ira Socol at the Twitters, via George Station:

Ira's focus is on the choices students are able to make in school — or, rather, how little freedom they have to make choices:
Could we find a way to let freedom be part of every child’s life? Could we find a way to allow our kids the chance to take risks? The chance to do things wrong? The chance to screw up? [...] In short, start treating your students as humans — as citizens of a learning community — and stop treating them as detainees who are in your school for training.
George then asks how this applies to LMS participation (following up on a conversation we were having earlier with Phil Hill at Google+), and it is a very good question indeed. What would lead to greater LMS success: a learning community, or training? I say: learning community!

Just look at what happened when we went with D2L ten years ago. There was training aplenty. In addition, the Internet abounds with additional training materials (every school, in fact, seems to churn out tons of these LMS training materials) . . . yet D2L usage is really low, as a survey of faculty shows. And indeed, those numbers are probably skewed high, given that users of D2L were more likely to respond to the survey in the first place. (Why we cannot get usage numbers out of D2L itself has always seemed extremely bizarre, but that's a separate question.)

The problem in my opinion is that we are expecting the LMS and its features — and training in how to use those features — to lead to actual changes in the way faculty both design their courses and teach them. I just don't see how that will happen.

If you want to see changes in course design, then we must have discussions ABOUT course design. That's not something that you do via a "training session." It cannot be top-down and scripted, one-size-fits-all. Instead, it has to come from the bottom up as each instructor finds their own design. But we can help each other as we pose our own design questions; that is what a learning community is for!

So too with teaching: if you want to see changes in people's teaching, then we must have discussions ABOUT teaching, not just "training sessions" focused on LMS features. To transform people's teaching, we need sustained self-reflection along with conversation and sharing, over time. In a learning community.

Will the coming year see a learning community take shape... or just LMS training?

Well, here is the challenge I would like to make: let's start by not assuming that the LMS is even going to be the best choice for every goal. In fact, let's not assume it is the best choice for any goal. Let's ask instead: given my goals, what are the best tools for me to use? 

Goals first. Then the tools. And let's choose our tools based on the collective wisdom we can come up with as a learning community made up of hundreds of experienced teachers here at OU. With all our diverse experience and backgrounds, we have been exploring a LOT of technology options over the years. That's great. The new OU Create project makes many of those options even more feasible than they were before. And that's great. So much greatness:






... and more ...

So, let the learning community come first and drive the training sessions as needed. Don't let the LMS feature set drive the discussion, and don't assume that OU Create is the "other" default. Bring it all to the table!

No defaults: instead, let's discuss from the ground up and see what we can learn.

And how to do it...? There are lots of ideas here in this series from Langwitches: Building a Professional Development Hub for your School.

Note that they are advocating an online hub. If we want everybody to be able to participate (faculty, students, everybody), and if we want to grow that network over time, we need some kind of online hub: online there is room for everybody to participate along with a real opportunity to grow incrementally over time, iterating and reflecting as we go.

So... what would be the hub?

I'd love to see our campus Canvas advocates build that hub USING Canvas. What a great way to show us to what extent Canvas can indeed be used to support a learning community, while also allowing us to discuss and document other options if/when it turns out that the LMS is not the best tool for a particular goal someone has for their own class. This is an idea I proposed during the Canvas pilot a couple of years ago, but there were no takers. I wonder if we can try to build a community this time? Just think how cool it would be if training emerged from that community and was supported by that community.

I'm glad to a very active member, sharing everything I know about student blogging, RSS, and related topics, while learning from others' experiences in their own teaching and learning experiments.

Meanwhile, I'll keep sharing in the only public online network we have right now, which is Twitter. The hashtag connects us: #OU_LMS16 is where you'll find me. But if the Canvas advocates build a space for networking and learning together IN Canvas, you can sign me up. I would be delighted to give it a try!

For more LMS-related posts at this blog, including Storify for the #OU_LMS16 hashtag at Twitter, click here: OU LMS posts.


  1. I probably would have liked this article more if I knew what the abbreviations meant! Don't assume everyone and their dog knows what LMS and D2L are. I taught five years in mainland China. I am looking into starting an online teaching presence through whatever source I settle on, and I don't have a CLUE to what those abbr. mean.

    1. Hi Mike! This is an appeal directed at the folks at my school and, believe me, they all know what LMS and D2L are... they just aren't thrilled about them is the problem! :-)

      My guess is that part of the problem that people will agree to participate only in a closed hub. I'd prefer open myself, but that's a different kettle of fish...


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