Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When is a MOOC not a MOOC?

 (What MOOC means to me)

I have to admit I would not be drawn to a blog post entitled so vacuously as, "what MOOC means to me"  (so I thought up something catchy and made the real purpose of this post its subtitle). However, it's early days for working out what MOOC means for anyone.  People have different ideas about what MOOC means, period.  Obviously, the most relevant meaning is the one that reaches any one of us personally.  MOOC means a lot to me, I'm going to try to pin down that meaning here, and maybe this will help you get your own grip on what MOOC might mean to you.

John Hibbs and I presented on the topic November 14, 2012, at the Global Education Conference (http://www.globaleducationconference.com/, which Steve Hargadon has pointed out, is a conference on global education, not an international conference particularly).  John has prepared a few documents on his own blog:
Here are our session artifacts:

MOOCs for ESOL and language learning

There are two thrusts to the presentation.  One is that an excellent audience for MOOCs might be in ESOL and language learning in general.  To my knowledge, this is indeed an avenue not particularly explored or developed as MOOC, though my own online credentials stem from what might be viewed as one of many precursors to MOOCs.  Dave Cormier takes credit in the "The True History of the MOOC" for invention of the term MOOC in the spring of 2008 (mp3 available, http://www.downes.ca/presentation/300).  He does point out that there have been many MOOC-like configurations for learning since the 19th century, but that the term MOOC to describe them began with his inspiration, which Leigh Blackall says (in A True(er) History of Moocs http://www.leighblackall.com/2012/10/a-trueer-history-of-moocs.html), that MOOC's emergence as a meme for universities and businesses, has become 'irritating'.  I have argued that we had MOOCs before 2008 as well, one example being http://study.com, which offered language lessons to all comers, and which spawned Writing for Webheads, which started leaving artifacts online in 1998 <http://prosites-vstevens.homestead.com/files/efi/webheads.htm>.  So regarding what MOOC means to me, one interest I have in it is as a platform for what we were doing in 1998, when we were experimenting with platforms for teaching people ESOL and other languages for free online.

It was around this time that I became aware of John Hibbs's work in the pre-MOOC era.  John had created a web page from which he launched a virtual ship each year to make a journey around the world hour by hour in 24 time zones <http://www.bfranklin.edu/gld8/gld8.htm>.  He had organized people in different parts of the world to manage the program for that region and in 1999 I was tapped by the Middle East organizer Neil Hynd to make a presentation of some kind.  I remember that the first one I did, I was patched into the stream through a POTS phone line, but in subsequent years John was using Real Player for streaming the audio, Though our team again presented in 2001 from Abu Dhabi using a POTS phone patch, we listened via Real Player. At the time this was impressive stuff, right on the cutting edge. John was one of the first pioneers of free (that was unusual!) online seminars of educators who could meet in real time through his web pages. John's effort stimulated me to do something similar in organizing three WiAOC's (Webheads in Action Online Convergence), each one a 3-day round the clock free all-volunteer online conference that I coordinated in 2005, 2007, and 2009 <http://wiaoc.org>.

Webheads in Action (WiA, http://webheads.info) came about in response to the fact that an emerging community of educators had started overwhelming the ESOL student voices in the original  Writing for Webheads community.  How this happened has been documented elsewhere (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/tacon2012L2g), but again as far as MOOCs are concerned, Webheads began focusing on teachers as opposed to students when it started giving EVO (Electronic Village Online, http://evosessions.pbworks.com) sessions in 2002, and the WiA community grew from there, to over a 1000 members today in just the Yahoo Group alone.  Again, this is not meant to be a description of WiA or EVO, but simply to suggest that if WiA and EVO are considered to be courses, and if 1000 members is massive, then they are definitely open and online, and had we started them 6 years after we did we might have called them MOOCs.  At the time we called them variously groups, communities, and networks (Stevens, 2009).


Meanwhile I have been teaching a Multiliteracies course for EVO and the last couple of years I've been utilizing MOOC elements in the course at http://goodbyegutenberg.pbworks.com.  It's essential for such a course to have a framework. When I started the course in 2004 I patterned that framework on Stuart Selber's aspects of functional, critical, and rhetorical multiliteracies.  After attending WorldCALL in 2008 and meeting Mark Pegrum there, I divided the course into the lenses through which he viewed the topic in From Blogs to Bombs.  But as I learned more about MOOCs and experienced them more and more firsthand, in 2011 I started dividing the topics of the available five weeks into those suggested in Dave Cormier's viral videos explaining the 5 steps to Success in a MOOC: orient, declare, network, cluster, and focus (this link will point you to all the videos in the series: http://youtu.be/r8avYQ5ZqM0).  Now, in 2013, I have renamed the course Multiliteracies-MOOC (or multiMOOC for short) and Ana Cristina Pratas and I are going to run it even more overtly as a MOOC, as described in the proposal and rationale here: http://TinyURL.com/EVO2013MultiMOOC).  

In this course, the syllabus is just a suggestion (orient). Participants decide, each individually, what they want to accomplish in the course (declare). They network with one another to collaborate on shared goals, they produce what I call Me-Portfolios to reflect on how well they have accomplished their goals, and this next time around I hope to introduce some form of badging to help participants focus their goals and vis a vis their accomplishments in the course. In our last Learning2gether event, on Sunday November 11, Jonathan Finkelstein offered to help us envisage and realize that through the LearningTimes BadgeStack facility, http://learning2gether.posterous.com/jonathan-finkelstein-walks-us-through-learnin.

So what is a MOOC course then?

First of all I should point out there there are different kinds of MOOCs, and mine is just one of those kinds.  Lisa Lane has isolated at least three strains in the wild, as shown in this graphic from her blog post here: http://lisahistory.net/wordpress/2012/08/three-kinds-of-moocs/.

In this scheme, multiMOOC would straddle network and task-based. Many people these days would make that distinction in reference to cMOOCs and xMOOCs. The kind of MOOC that I am emulating is a cMOOC, a connectivist one, where the course facilitator lays out a cohesive structure for what is to be learned but, in Siemens's words, does not walk the path for the participants, expecting them to follow <http://youtu.be/VMfipxhT_Co>.  The facilitator instead encourages the participants to find their own pathways through the material.  What George actually says is transcribed in part here:

"I’m not aware of any research actually that says linear structure produces better outcomes than more chaotic meandering structure. Our intent, based on our theories of learning is to argue that the experience of learning, making sense of that chaos, is actually the heart of the learning experience, but if an instructor makes sense of that chaos for you and gives you all the readings and sets the full path in place for you then to a degree you are eviscerating the learner’s experience because now you’ve made sense of them and all you’ve told them is walk the path that I’ve formed. When it comes to complexity I’m a great fan of letting learner’s hack their way through that path and getting the value of that learning experience and that sense-making process.”

If the facilitator for whatever reason (too many participants, thinks it's better if s/he stands aside) gives the responsibility for sense-making to participants in a MOOC, then they might negotiate how to make sense of their syllabus with one another.  This is where the massive part of MOOC kicks in.  If the critical mass of participants is correct, then nuclear fission will occur in some people's brains, and they will be driven to blog and tag and comment on each other's posts, and leave reflections up as artifacts on the web. If the MOOC is run by Stephen Downes then it aggregates these posts through a script called gRSShopper <http://grsshopper.downes.ca/description.htm> and publishes them each day in a daily 'newsletter' generated from that aggregated content.  If the MOOC is run by me then we have to replace the word 'massive' in its acronym with something more appropriate to the scale of the venture, say, 'minuscule' for example.

In any event, this addresses the first issue of our presentation, the appropriateness of MOOCs to teaching ESOL and other languages.  Also the kind of MOOC best suited to a communicative and socially-driven endeavor such as language-learning is cMOOC, based on the concept as initiated by Siemens and Downes, with Cormier's contribution of the just-so acronym. As for why anyone would want to run such a course, the Internet is full of sites already where language teachers are competing with one another to share their knowledge with students in the most clever way possible, for free. Stephen Downes was once asked why he would flog himself across the back with a course open to thousands (of course, they didn't know at the time it would attract so many :-) when he could have left it at just the two dozen enrolled in the course at the college, and he replied simply, because he would learn from it.  This is the prime motivator for setting up a cMOOC.


I thought* George Siemens (2012) had coined the term xMOOC when he added a tentative ? to his remarks about "the well-financed MOOCs by Coursera and edX (xMOOCS?)."  While taking pains to explain that feedback on xMOOCs suggested they were effective in achieving  their purposes, he went on to explain: 
Our MOOC model emphasizes creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning. The Coursera model emphasizes a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing. Put another way, cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.

(* However Stephen Downes takes credit for that distinction at 61 minutes into this recording: http://youtu.be/DGaUfWkJdi4)
This brings us to the second brunt of John's post, the second thrust of our presentation, and this is that MOOCs, and by this John means xMOOCs, as conceived by Coursera and Mechanical MOOC, might damage hard-earned university branding.  John and I have both enrolled in such courses.  I have experienced the very humanistic gentle reminders and suggestions issued by Mechanical MOOC, http://www.i-programmer.info/news/150-training-a-education/4684-mechanical-mooc-offers-introductory-python-.html, almost as if there was a human there, while John can (and will in the presentation) document very different experiences of frustration with Coursera. John's contention is that in their rush to sign on with mechanical courseware generators, universities might be weakening the quality of their offerings until the purveyors of such courses can improve their quality to the standard of instruction expected from those institutions.  Though written to a different topic, Siemens's quotable "there's no there there" springs to mind from the anecdotal evidence that John reports (Siemens's quotable article: http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2011/07/30/losing-interest-in-social-media-there-is-no-there-there/).

John's is not a voice in the wilderness. Mike James in an article in I Programmer says that "the methods used by the hugely successful courses are little changed from the dark ages" http://www.i-programmer.info/professional-programmer/i-programmer/4494-massive-open-online-courses-fail-students-with-dark-age-methods.html.  James refers to Sebastian Thun's co-professor in the Stanford AI course, Peter Norvig, who had made reference to the dark ages in his TED Talk on the AI MOOC, http://www.i-programmer.info/news/150-training-a-education/4398-peter-norvig-on-the-100000-student-classroom.html.

But this article is about what MOOC means to me (to me it means "cMOOC").  However, the extrapolation of the MOOC concept to xMOOC is I think part of what is irritating both John Hibbs and Leigh Blackall.  When Sebastian Thun took the MOOC concept to the point where he demonstrated that he could not only teach Artificial Intelligence in a MOOC, and scale that to thousands of comers, AND assess and evaluate those participants through algorithms developed by Amazon, the proof of concept he had shown was xMOOC.  Thun proved the concept so well that he decided his tenured position at Stanford was beneath him and left there to work for Google and ended up with his own xMOOC, Udacity, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/nov/11/online-free-learning-end-of-university).  Thun is fully convinced that he made the right move, and he might be recognized as a visionary for it, and like Stephen Downes he will surely learn from the experience, but the motivation for this effort is more toward the flip side of education from that of cMOOC.  Whereas one obvious limitation of cMOOC is that participants need to be highly motivated self-starters who are driven to learn about a particular topic, xMOOC is addressed more at the masses, the hoards of students for whom expensive Ivy League education (or increasingly, even community college education) is less and less an option.  Candace Thille, director of the OLI at Carnegie Mellon University, worries that this development might lead to a "bifurcation" in educational opportunities in the not-that-distant future, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/05/10/candace-thille-talks-moocs-and-machine-learning.

Given the downward spiral in the world's economies and shortage of resources, abundance is a word more and more applied to knowledge resources than to natural and manufactured ones, which are approaching scarcity.  Where the ascendancy of knowledge abundance intersects with the increasing lack of natural and economic resources, xMOOCs may well be the most viable path of quality education for learners of the future. John's point has to do with the present state of the quality of THAT instruction, and how that might impact branding of universities associated with the current xMOOC players.

When is a MOOC not a MOOC?

So as not to get off on a semantic battle, technically, a MOOC is a MOOC if it has lots of participants, if it's open to anyone, which means for free (otherwise it wouldn't be open), if it's online, and if it's a course. All of the sites mentioned in this post are MOOCs in that broad definition.

So my conclusion applies to the spirit of MOOC, what I in my heart of hearts feel is MOOC in its pure form.

If I were to conceive of a diagram giving the whole spectrum of MOOC from the 19th century (as Cormier mentions) up through the 20th (with http://study.com and Writing for Webheads) and into the turn of the century (where for example EVO started teaching open courses massively online) - then I would put those early efforts off to the left and place cMOOC as conceived in 2008 squarely in the center, with the current evolution of xMOOCs veering off to the right and into the future.

I would say that open online courses we used to organize and try to scale massively predated a window of opportunity for social networking and aggregation of content that the cMOOCs slotted nicely into.  And I would say that these early efforts depart from what I think of as truly MOOC about as equally as do the later renditions, which though technically massive, open, online, and courses lack a lot of the flavor of the middle-cMOOCs by virtue of not having well developed the connectivist aspects of the 2008 model.

MOOCs in the future: A return to center?

Stephen Downes thinks that MOOCs must evolve in a return to their roots.  He illustrates this for us in a sketch in the Bb Collaborate / Elluminate version of the True History of MOOC (shown in this screen shot from

The sketch began with MOOCs in the middle and with the entities at the end of each line setting up free open online courses but monetizing some aspect in the form of accreditation, help facilities, etc.  The circle around MOOC indicates that MOOCs utilize OER (open education resources) and the "open web of content" as illustrated in the diagram Stephen inserted and then relegated to the top left corner. Then Steve Hargadon asked in the discussion if these entities (the new xMOOCs) were paying tribute to their roots in cMOOC.  Stephen said off the top of his head, "no" but did note that in something he had come across lately, it was found that the biggest predictor of success at Harvard (apart from getting into Harvard) was participation in study groups.  As others commented, Stephen proceeded to wipe the MOOC from the center of his diagram and put in xMOOC with study groups forming around any given xMOOC.

Stephen then explained, for xMOOC to be truly viable, it will inevitably have to move in the direction of cMOOC.  In his words, “The connectivism model will become the primary model … [xMOOCs] have to grow to become cMOOCS ... They will do that over time." You heard it first there, read it first here :-)

Referenced websites

Blackall, Leigh. (2012). A true(er) history of MOOCs. Open and Networked Learning. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://www.leighblackall.com/2012/10/a-trueer-history-of-moocs.html.

Downes, Stephen. (2012). A true history of the MOOC. Stephen's Web. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://www.downes.ca/presentation/300.

Hargadon, Steve. (2012). Tonight - A true history of the MOOC. Education, technology, social media, and you! Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://www.stevehargadon.com/2012/09/tonight-true-history-of-mooc.html.

Hibbs, John. (2012). MOOCs Global Education Conference Presentation. Ben Franklin. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://oregonhibbs.com/2012/10/29/moocs-global-ed-conference-presentation/

Hibbs, John. (2012). MOOCs For Credit – Coursera & Antioch. Ben Franklin. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://oregonhibbs.com/2012/10/30/moocs-for-credit-coursera-antioch/.

Hibbs, John. (2012). Crown Jewels, 21st Century Diploma Mills, MOOCs on the Moon. Ben Franklin. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://oregonhibbs.com/2012/11/13/crown-jewels-21st-century-diploma-mills/

Hibbs, John. (2012). Global conference Hibbs prepared remarks. Ben Franklin. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://oregonhibbs.com/2012/11/14/global-conference-hibbs-prepared-remarks/#more-682.

James, Mike. (2012). MOOCs Fail Students With Dark Age Methods. I Programmer. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://www.i-programmer.info/professional-programmer/i-programmer/4494-massive-open-online-courses-fail-students-with-dark-age-methods.html.

James, Mike. (2012). Peter Norvig On The 100,000-Student Classroom. I Programmer. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://www.i-programmer.info/news/150-training-a-education/4398-peter-norvig-on-the-100000-student-classroom.html.

Kolowich, Steve. (2012). MOOCs and Machines. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/05/10/candace-thille-talks-moocs-and-machine-learning.

Lane, Lisa. (2012). Lisa's (Online) Teaching Blog. Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://lisahistory.net/wordpress/2012/08/three-kinds-of-moocs/.

Pegrum, Mark. (2009). From Blogs to Bombs: The Future of Digital Technologies in Education. UWA Publishing, Crawley, Western Australia.

Selber, Stuart. (2004). Multiliteracies for a digital age. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Siemens, George. (2012). MOOCs are really a platform. Elearnspace. http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/07/25/moocs-are-really-a-platform/

Stevens, Vance. (2009). Modeling Social Media in Groups, Communities, and Networks. TESL-EJ, Volume 13, Number 3: http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/past-issues/volume13/ej51/ej51int/.

Stevens, Vance. (forthcoming). Learning2gether: Wiki-based worldwide teacher professional development Paper presented at the annual TESOL Arabia conference in Dubai, March 9, 2012. Submitted for publication in the proceeds. Version available online: http://tinyurl.com/tacon2012L2g.

Tracey, Ryan. (2012). The future of MOOCs. E-learning Provocateur. http://ryan2point0.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/the-future-of-moocs/

Friday, September 21, 2012

Why School Indeed?

Will Richardson has just written an interesting book called Why School?  He publicized it on his social networks, it was only $3 for an eBook copy, so I got one on my Kindle Fire and read it on the plane from Dubai to Istanbul, where I was going to present a paper at the aPlanet conference at Yeditepe University on Saturday, http://aplanetconference.wordpress.com/.

Will's TEDx Melbourne video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ekcWQxgk3k

I was coming to Istanbul to give a talk on http://learning2gether.pbworks.com which I have been organizing each week since 2010.  The time it takes me to archive and podcast the outcomes of those weekly events, at http://learning3gether.posterous.com, is one reason I've been blogging here so rarely lately.  But now, having had the opportunity on the plane to read Will's book while coming to speak on my project, I've come up with some pieces I can loosely join in a blog post, and again in my presentation.

Incidentally, I've been following Will since his early days with http://weblogg-ed.com/. He made one of the first Elluminate webinar recordings I ever watched (I watched it in 2003) wherein he explained with screenshots on the whiteboard how teachers could get their students to blog and then follow what they were doing in Bloglines, amazing stuff back then.  This technique still works in Google Reader.  When I have my students blog I can follow their blogs and see when they have updated content when the blog title turns bold.
In his book Richardson explains how schools are designed on models of information scarcity, when now that we live in a world of abundance, people can, and do, learn what they want to know, when they need to know it. This renders many aspects of the top-down model of teaching irrelevant, and there are two approaches to the problem.  Since school is a $500 billion-a-year business in K-12 in the USA alone there is a money-politics faction that seeks to cash in on the solution by delivering the old model better. Richardson argues that the answer is not better, but differently, yet educators whose experience with school is rooted in an era of scarcity are poorly equipped to grasp the concept of different in a world of abundance. Going on Herbert Gerjoy’s definition of illiterate as being not those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot ‘learn, unlearn, and relearn’ Richardson articulates 6 steps to help teachers relearn their trade. These are

  1. Share everything (or at least something)
  2. Discover, don’t deliver, the curriculum
  3. Talk to strangers (filter and interact with others in your personal learning network)
  4. Be a master learner
  5. Do real work, for real audiences
  6. Transfer the power (over who drives curriculum)
To help teachers become master learners, that is teachers adept at unlearning and relearning how an abundance of tools can be applied to transformative outcomes for students, a number of educators worldwide have been meeting regularly online each Sunday afternoon (in the UAE) in some form or another for the past decade, but since 2010 as http://Learning2gether.pbworks.com. Since EdTech SIG started its Ning Learning2gether events have always been listed at http://taedtech.ning.com/events. Learning2gether is a wiki, which means that anyone who wishes to contribute a presentation, or lead a discussion, can join and write that event in.  Through this way of learning together, we seek to model for one another how to best prepare students to relearn how to compete for jobs that haven't been invented yet. By discovering for ourselves how learning occurs using online tools and connections with one another in real projects with meaningful outcomes, we learn how we can empower our students to learn likewise once we have gained familiarity with the available tools and processes.

Seth Godin provides his own take on "What is school for?"  Good morning boys and girls, listen up!

Richardson, W. (2012). Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere. Ted Conferences and Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 51 pages (estimated).

Will's blog post on his book: http://willrichardson.com/post/31465872495/why-school

And finally, Sugata Mitra on re-envisaging learning ...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

DIYLMS: Do-it-yourself learning management systems

It's been a while since I've posted here, but meanwhile I've been laying tracks in other spaces around the Web. I still consider this to be my central blog where I try to record my most introspective thoughts on social media assisted learning but I've been posting my most recent writings in other blogs and wikis.

I've just returned from a stint of edutourism in Morocco and Turkey, interspersed with two presentations at TESOL Arabia in Dubai, and I'm leaving shortly for Philadelphia where I'm due to give yet another presentation, followed by another in Sharjah April 3, and then a final one scheduled for Taichung in May, before I finish my teaching and take a break for the summer.

The talk in Taichung is a co-presentation with Aiden Yeh on "Thinking SMALL: Facilitating online teacher professional development" and is along the lines of a book chapter I had promised to produce last summer, before losing my previous job and finding myself up against a wall, which I've now managed to climb and scramble over.  In the process of finding a way over that wall, the book chapter fell by the wayside.

As a part of that protracted scramble I took on a part-time teaching job with New York Institute of Technology in Abu Dhabi teaching research writing to expat and local UAE students at NYIT. I was given a syllabus to cover but was left to my own devices as to how I would realize it, so I created a wiki with links to online versions of all the course materials at http://fcwr101.pbworks.com/ and got students to submit their work primarily in Google Docs.  When I finally got a full-time job with the Higher Colleges of Technology Abu Dhabi Men's College, CERT, I carried over what I had learned working with student writers at NYIT to my new posting teaching academic composition via yet another wiki, this time tailor-made for cadets at the UAE Naval College. Here I employed similar techniques as at NYIT, taking submissions in Google Docs and organizing the course with links to syllabus materials, screencast tutorials, and other course resources at another wiki made for that purpose,  http://academiccomposition.pbworks.com/.

I felt more comfortable with constructing courses in this way than I did using Moodle (as I'd been doing in my previous teaching position at The Petroleum Institute,  http://www.pimoodle.org/course/category.php?id=9, guest access allowed). My realization that a wiki-based environment could do much and more of what I had accomplished with Moodle led me to coin a concept I dubbed DIYLMS, do-it-yourself learning management systems.  When I was invited to go to Marrakech as guest of the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group (LT-SIG) and MATE (Moroccan Associate of Teachers of English) to give the keynote speech at a conference there, I suggested DIYLMS as a topic.  This was fine with them, my talk was very well received, and I archived the event with recordings and other image artifacts at one of my Posterous blog spaces, since moved to http://advanceducation.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/learner-centered-do-it-yourself.html

Here are the slides from that keynote:
I had already written a rationale for the DIYLMS concept as a link from the course at NYIT http://fcwr101.pbworks.com/DIYLMS but I expanded this into its own wiki when I was asked to help with a pre-conference development course in Dubai the day before the official start of the 2012 TESOL Arabia Conference at the HCT Dubai Women's College. The professional development course was entitled "Online Teaching and Learning in TESOL", and I followed fellow-presenters Nicky Hockly and Justin Shewell to give my workshop on DIYLMS.  True to form, I created a wiki as a portal for the workshop and gave a hands-on follow up to the rationale I'd laid down in Marrakech.  The wiki portal is here: http://diylms.pbworks.com/ and the slides are below:
DIYLMS = Do it yourself Learning Management Systems, Part 2 the Workshop
View more PowerPoint from Vance Stevens

This event took place just before a deadline I was supposed to meet as editor of the On the Internet column in the TESL-EJ journal, so I drafted an article explaining the components of DIYLMS and posted it to its own blog which I'd created in case any participants wanted to subscribe and experience firsthand the particular affordances of Posterous as a tool in DIYLMS:
http://diylms.posterous.com/ (Posterous shut down at the end of April 2013; the post has since moved to http://advanceducation.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/learner-centered-do-it-yourself.html).  All of this was meant to model for participants at the TESOL Arabia workshop how a DIYLMS might be constructed and convey something of its look and feel to those who participated in the workshop. The TESL-EJ version has since been published as:

Stevens, Vance. (2012). Learner-centered Do-it-yourself Learning Management Systems. TESL-EJ, Volume 15, Number 4, pp. 1-14: http://tesl-ej.org/pdf/ej60/int.pdf. Also at http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume15/ej60/ej60int/

Meanwhile I was invited to travel to Turkey as guest of Erzincan University to give seminars to their students and teachers March 13 and 14, 2012.   Details were ironed out at the last minute, and I was not given adequate notice to prepare handouts for the students, so again I used the tried and true techniques of working from a wiki which I created for the occasion: http://erzincancalling.pbworks.com/.  Again my intent was to teach through demonstrating and modeling how learning can accrue from appropriately configured use of social media-enabled Web 2.0 tools.

The workshop was a challenge because it was given to four dozen participants sitting at as many computers arranged in rows set perpendicular to the front of the room, so those in the back of the room were for all intents and purposes distance learners.  I reached into my hat and pulled out one rabbit after another in an attempt to attract the students to spaces we could all cohabitate online.  At some point, one of the brighter students asked the correct question; essentially, how does this all hang together and what does it have to do with learning English?

In answer to that I got the students to crowd-source sites they were using for learning English in TitanPad, one of the more robust Etherpad clones, and had just pasted their contributions into a Google Doc when the workshop abruptly ended with the students simultaneously exhibiting signs of not wanting to miss lunch, but not before they had almost all registered in the Google Doc I had just created for them as the next step in their interactive learning process.

I was at that point only midstream in where I was trying to take them but I realized I had a powerful tool in that they were all registered in this one Google Doc, so I registered their teachers there as well, and began imagining that this could potentially be just the start of an extended blended learning journey, if the students wanted to carry on where we'd left off through use of the tools I had just put in place for them.

Meanwhile one of my Facebook friends had been asking if anyone could contribute an article needed right away for a journal in Serbia, so I agreed to write up my observations as further explanation to the students and teachers in Erzincan of what we had started together, and I invited my Serbian colleagues to publish it if they wished.  That writeup has been moved here: http://advanceducation.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/turning-3-hour-face-to-face-seminar.html

I'm due to trot all this out once again April 3rd at the 6th eLearning in Action conference at the Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology:, which I hope to simulcast in Blackboard / Collaborate (Elluminate).  If you can stand more, stay tuned :-)

I hope to add here links to that recording, as well as links to my TESL-EJ article and to the one for the Serbian journal, both of which I think should be published soon.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Turning a 3-hour face-to-face seminar into an opportunity for extended online blended learning

Originally published in the Posterous blog ErzincanCALLing, March 15, 2012; Posterous shuts down April 30, 2013

an article by Vance Stevens
Higher Colleges of Technology, ADMC, CERT, UAE Naval College

This article reports on a 3-hour seminar which I was invited to give on March 13, 2012, at Erzincan University.  The purpose of the seminar was to raise the consciousness of Aviation College students in Erzincan, Turkey about techniques for learning English and how to use online resources for self-study.

I began the seminar by explaining why I had called the seminar Erzincan CALLing.  I explained that the title was a play on CALL, computer-assisted language learning, but that I was lately referring to this as SMALL, for social-media assisted language learning. Now that computers are coming to be normalized, the C in the acronym is no longer revelatory. However, I think that connecting people through social media is, and is how computers should be used for language learning. I advised the students that one good way to use computers to learn English is to put yourself in touch with others in a PLN, or personal learning network (sometimes called a PLE, personal learning environment).  I showed the students one of the excellent PLE/PLN diagrams that can be found here: http://edtechpost.wikispaces.com/PLE+Diagrams

I showed an example of how my own PLN had worked that very morning, to alert me to a course that Mark Pegrum had just stated on advanced e-learning.  At my request, he provided the URL: http://e-language.wikispaces.com/e-tools

The plan for the workshop was quite ambitious. The full plan can be seen at http://erzincancalling.pbworks.com/. The plan was only partially achieved, but what was accomplished was enough to set the group on a path for extended blended learning, should they choose to follow that path.

The workshop took place in a computer lab with around 50 computers, almost all of them taken by the 45 students and half a dozen teachers who attended the workshop.  This is what it looked like:

In such an environment it's difficult to get to know one another and to engage participation from even a small percentage of those present.  So I explained that we would be applying a tag to everything we produced during the three hours. The tag would be erzincancalling
We began with Wallwisher at http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/erzincancalling. Wallwisher is one way to get feedback from a large group, without participants having to create an account somewhere and log in.

I asked the students to post on at Wallwisher their names and whether they were primarily creators or consumers of content online.  I sorted the notes in my version of the wall so we could see the creators and consumers. As the position of all the notes gets scrambled any time the wall is refreshed, I captured my re-orderiing by making a screenshot of our Wallwisher using the Jing tool, available for free from http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html (another similar tool is available from http://www.screenr.com/). 

These tools again enable us to communicate with large groups by making a screenshot or even a video of something happening on your computer (for example, I might say, "Here is how you do something ... I'll show you and if you need to see it again, I'm recording it, and you can replay it at this URL").  The recording is uploaded to Jing and then has a URL. The URL can be distributed to everyone in the group so they can all see what the teacher (or student) wants to show the group.

The above screen capture was uploaded to Jing, but its URL would be hard to communicate to the group.  The URL for this one was  “screencast.com slash t slash nR23u7qae”. It's hard for a teacher to SAY that, and if I write it down and display it, it's hard for students to copy it down exactly, with upper and lowercase characters intact.  So here are three ways I can communicate URLs to the group. 
  1. Since I am keeping a wiki, and for anyone who is on that page, I can write the URL in the wiki and invite the students to refresh the wiki, find the URL, and click on it.
  2. I can use  http://tinyurl.com to turn a complicated URL into something that is easier for me to say aloud so that students can enter it into their browsers 
  3.  I can TAG the URL in Delicious and then students can find it by visiting the link where all our tagged items in Delicious will always appear. Since our tag is erzincancalling, we can find all URLs with that tag here: http://www.delicious.com/tag/erzincancalling.
If the teacher wants to show an item just tagged, it’s best to use the teacher’s Delicious account, http://www.delicious.com/vancestevens/erzincancalling, as shown in this Jing screen-capture:

In order to make use of our tag I tried to keep the participants active during the seminar. I asked them for example, to take photos with their cell phones, upload them to Flickr, and tag them erzincancalling. The idea was to retrieve these photos from Flickr by searching on our tag, and then display them again on that tag in http://taggalaxy.de. This didn’t work well in the time allowed, but some of the photos are available in my photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vancestevens/.

I also tried to get the group tweeting on our hash tag. During the workshop, no one actually did this apart from me and two teachers from Hong Kong and Uzbekistan who tweeted using#erzincancalling. This screenshot shows the result:

If there is a lot of tagging activity during a workshop, then we can usually aggregate these tagged items in various spaces as explained here: http://erzincancalling.pbworks.com/aggregation. As it turned out, we were only able to attract our tweets to our Spezify page http://spezify.com/#/erzincancalling.

At this point in the workshop, one student asked me a good question, what did all this have to do with learning English? So I decided to elicit from the students web sites that they knew of that would help them with that. Again, in groups of so many students, it is difficult to elicit responses quickly and effectively from each person, so this time I used an Etherpad clone, a URL where all students could go and write at the same time their answer to our poll question (What is your favorite website for learning English?) at the same time. 

At the break someone inadvertently (or for fun :-) deleted all the contents of the TitanPad, but one of the great things about this program is that you can get everything back by using the time slider.   While the students were on break I restored what the students had contributed and copied the good contents into a Google Doc, and when the students returned they spent the next 15 minutes adding themselves to the Google Doc on my computer. And then it suddenly became lunchtime and the students all left after thanking me very much for the presentation :-)

And that is where most presentations like this end. When all the students leave, all is soon forgotten.

But NOT with this one ...

The most powerful takeaway from this presentation is that the presentation does not need to end.  Now the learning can begin!

The students asked me to show them something that would help them learn English.  I did.  We created a Google Doc.  We shared it.  We gave it a TinyURL http://tinyurl.com/erzincancalling.  It's still there.  All the students can read it and write on it. All their English teachers were added as contributing editors as well. 

This report was put in blog at http://erzincancalling.posterous.com.  The students have been asked via the Google Doc and via their teachers to subscribe to that blog. If they do that I can promote them to authors. It's possible that they might comment on this post, or make posts of their own.  If they do that, then email is sent to all subscribers of the blog.  When subscribers reply to the email, their comments appear automatically on the blog and email is again sent to all subscribers that comments were made, and they can reply by email if they wish.  Students can also post to the blog by email, and any attachment they include will be embedded in the blog.

This is one of the things I wanted to show them in the workshop, but even though time ran out, there is no reason in a connected world that time has to run out on learning :-)


Vance posted this as a follow-up comment

Hi everyone, I don't know if there will be any follow up from the seeds of learning we have planted here, but if there is, I am ready at any time to help you follow up on the continuation of your learning journey.
There are many ways to do this. For example, I meet with other teachers and any interested students to discuss education each week. We meet usually between the hours of 1200 to 1500 GMT each Sunday, and if you wish to join us, see where we'll be next at http://learning2gether.pbworks.com
Meanwhile, the article I posted here has been published in the online journal TESL-EJ. You can find the article here: http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume15/ej60/ej60int/
All the best and thanks for an enjoyable visit to Erzincan.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Learner-centered do-it-yourself Learning Management Systems

This post was originally made on the Posterous blog DIYLMS March 6, 2012; Posterous scheduled shut down on April 30, 2012

Vance Stevens (English Teacher Coordinator, HCT/CERT Naval College) has prepared this paper

The following is the version submitted to TESL-EJ on March 13, 2012 (before editorial tweaking)

This paper addresses situations where teachers are expected to develop viable courses quickly as well as make use of available technological resources, often on minimal budgets.  Flexible creativity is achieved with DIYLMS (do it yourself LMS) using a mashup of Web 2.0 tools such as a wiki portal for course information and links, Google Docs for student writing and feedback, Google Hangout for live sessions, Skype group chat for synchronous and asynchronous communication, and blogging as a means for students to showcase their work and enter into conversations about it.
1.       LMS and CMS
Learning management systems (LMS) are often used by teachers to help manage student learning.  I have been using them for a long time myself, one of my first being Nicenet <http://nicenet.net/>. One of the better known is Blackboard (Bb), an expensive but effective means of allowing teachers to set up courses, populate them with content and features such as forums and links to resources both inside and outside Blackboard, and then allow the input of student work and record marks according to a specified assessment strategy. More recently I have been managing classes using Moodle, a free and open source LMS which includes many of the same features as Blackboard.

Learning management systems are distinct from content management systems (CMS). A CMS is a place for storing content in the form of web artifacts where they can be made accessible to learners.  Wikis and blogs can be used as CMS; for example Wordpress, PBWorks, and Posterous.  Drupal and Joomla are both examples of open source CMS with powerful and attractive features for content storage and management. However CMS differs from LMS in that there is no means of tracking student performance, such as grade reports.

The distinction can be a fine one.  For example, Nicenet does not provide a gradebook tool.  However, Nicenet has many features that distinguish LMS from CMS. Goldsmith (2010) lists these as tools for teachers to “create an online course space, enroll a group of students, post documents and course reading, create discussion conferences, add links to other resources and publish a class schedule. In other words, the basics for an online class.”  The distinction is not consistent among even respected colleages.  Lane (2009) writes about disadvantages of CMS, though she includes Moodle and other LMS products in her examples.

2.       Why DIYLMS?

Even when teachers have free access to one of the more common LMS tools, such as Moodle, or Blackboard by virtue of the license for its use being paid for by their institution, they sometimes find these complicated and constraining. By that I mean that the complexity of Bb often results in teachers learning just enough of a subset of the program to be able to house their courses on Bb, but they might not learn enough of the advanced features to break free from a template that makes Bb courses appear redundantly similar.

Many teachers and their institutions paying the bills question whether what so often results from Bb is worth the expense considering there are free and open source alternatives.  One of the most commonly used free alternatives is Moodle.  For teachers using basic features of Bb, Moodle can accomplish much the same thing.  It can store content and allow students to upload assignments, and it will manage learning as well by weighting marks according to an assessment strategy. In addition to its similarities, since Moodle Is open source, it is free to set up, and it allows developers to download content into zip files for easy restoration on other Moodle servers. As Moodles are often run on a collective basis, it is easier for users to have administration rights and be able to manage available features and resolve problems with student logons, whereas with Bb this kind of thing is often managed through an IT department, whose staff may approach systems management differently from those who have opted to work within the mindset a free and open Moodle system.

But worse are the pedagogical implications of reliance on one-stop LMS. To varying degrees both Bb and Moodle tend to put course developers into a strait jacket when they call into play the same features over and over. This is not to say that neither program allows imaginative development, but it’s difficult for lay teachers to break away from templates that look alike and do exactly what they purport to do, manage learning.  The problem is that too often, it’s the LMS that manages the learning and not the teacher cum course designer. Lane (2009) calls this “insidious pedagogy”.

Fortunately, now that we’re well into the read-write century (Lessig, 2008), there are Web 2.0 antidotes to this. The most used features of LMS programs, storage of content, interaction in forums, and handling submission of student work and providing appropriate feedback, can be accomplished in a variety of freely available Web 2.0 programs that can in some ways do each of these jobs better, and with more flexibility for learners than what Siemens (2004) calls “‘locked-down, do-it-our-way’ platforms”.

Some people might not warm to the idea of doing in several programs what learning management systems typically do in one.  However, there are advantages to using Web 2.0 tools; for example, ease of use and control over tailoring the learning environment that teachers have as administrators of their own class wikis and blogs. Cobbling together a course out of freely available building blocks also increases variety and fosters creativity. Moodle and Bb both constrain where (and whether) users can upload and display things.  Moodle courses tends to appear as one long page arranged in topical or chronological order.

A wiki can be more easily divided into less cluttered and more easily navigable separate pages. It can have a sidebar with links to other course elements including separate pages for past or future content. Access to past content, and the communities of learners who populated it, is often denied users of lock-down LMS, but is on Siemens’s wish-list for what is needed in a learning environment. Siemens (2004) succinctly articulates how the pre-packaged LMS straight jacket is at odds with rapidly changing demands on learners: “It appears that our real-life manner of learning is at odds with the design and implementations of most LMS'. Strongly structured tools, with limited extensibility, face short life cycles in rapidly changing environments. Modularized approaches give the instructor or learner (not the administrator or organization) the control to follow the meandering paths of rich learning. Selecting specialized tools to achieve specific tasks - and being able to add them to the learning environment quickly - are critical to rich learning ecologies.” This approach is also taken by Dowling (2011).

Nowadays, attitudes toward sharing and creating content on the internet are changing rapidly. There are movements toward open source and away from proprietary software, people are eager to share, and there are improved mechanisms for doing so, like creative commons. There is greater awareness among teachers and their new generation of students of how social media can contribute to collaboration and language learning in ways supportive of those wishing to use such media to learn. Using wikis and blogs for learning management exposes teachers and students alike to this new age mindset online and expands their awareness of how these tools can be extrapolated into a variety of uses which can accommodate their learning goals; see Stevens (2012) for elaboration on the paradigm shifts driving acceptance of Web 2.0 mashups to augment or replace prepackaged LMS.

I call the use of such mashups as alternatives to LMS systems like Moodle and Bb “do-it-yourself learning management systems.” I coined this phrase to describe a movement whereby Web 2.0 tools are used to accomplish learning management in a way that is more open and more flexible, and potentially more powerful, than systems developed by just one company, or in the case of Moodle, by myriads of developers working nevertheless on the same set of code. Both products are exemplary, but I feel that use of a variety of tools teaches 21st century skill sets and gives teachers more control and flexibility over how they design and create learning environments for their students. DIYLMS also allows sharing of work publicly with other teachers and students from around the world, something that is neither so convenient nor encouraged, nor even at all possible with Moodle and Bb.

3.       What does DIYLMS look like?

Since 2004, I have been teaching an online course once and sometimes twice a year on Multiliteracies for both the TESOL Principles and Practices of Online Learning program, and for the Electronic Village Online (EVO) which conducts free teacher professional development sessions online each year <http://evosessions.pbworks.com>. Since 2009 I have been maintaining the Multiliteracies course in a wiki <http://goodbyegutenberg.pbworks.com>.  This was conceived initially as a content management portal, but it has come to incorporate many social network sites, including a Posterous blog at http://multiliteracies.posterous.com which acts as a kind of forum for the course, where participants can upload (email, actually) and dialog over postings there, activities which border on learner management.  Although it is essentially CMS, by maintaining and constantly fine tuning this wiki, I have learned and implemented many techniques for online course design and delivery.

This knowledge was put to good use this past academic year when I found myself teaching research writing to non-native speakers at New York Institute of Technology on the Higher Colleges of Technology Abu Dhabi Men’s College campus <http://fcwr.pbworks.com>, and then started teaching an Academic Composition course for HCT/CERT at the UAE Naval College <http://academiccomposition.pbworks.com>.  Both contexts have required me to develop or adapt viable courses quickly, effectively gauge learner response and interest, and adjust materials on-the-fly to better meet learner needs. As Siemens suggested back in 2004, flexibility, creativity, and organization beneficial to both instructor and student are achieved using DIYLMS, which looks and feels much different from “‘locked-down, do-it-our-way” LMS platforms.

Components in my conception of DIYLMS include

·         A wiki portal for course information and organization, with links pertinent to course content and management, and other relevant resources, such as screencasts and tutorials
·         Google Docs for student submission of assignments, and teacher feedback on student writing
·         Blogging, to showcase student work
·         Etherpad clones for group collaboration tasks
·         Jing and Screenr to create and annotated screen-capture and screencast tutorials
·         A back-channel tool such as Twitter, Skype group chat, or Edmodo
·         In teacher training, I also use these synchronous learning tools

o   Skype group chat as a synchronous AND asynchronous forum

o   Google Hangout for live webcam and voice-enabled interaction
o   WiZiQ

3.1 DIYLMS portals

I have found that it’s a lot easier to start a course in a blog or wiki than it is to develop one in a Moodle or with Bb.  In the latter LMS systems, you have to tediously add components by means of pull-down menus, and copy/paste is rarely an option. With a wiki you can just start writing out your materials as you would an e-book or a handout, and by adding contributing editors you can collaborate with colleagues and peers on your work.  The first time I create such a course, I generally start with a front page and as I develop the course I move material off the main page and store it in separate pages with links to it from a sidebar.  Obviously, as with any LMS, no matter how you develop it, the next times you teach the course the structure is now in place, the content is accessible, and components are navigable for students..

Navigation is much easier in a wiki or blog than with Moodle or Bb.  Blogs (e.g. Blogger) allow tabs that link to pages in your project, while the sidebar in a wiki forms a table of contents for a course. A Pbworks wiki page itself can also have a table of contents automatically created according to H1, H2, H3 headings etc.in such a way that users see an outline of that page with hyperlinks to each heading. Thus navigation in a wiki can be much more fluid than in Moodle or Bb, where users are sometimes forced to scroll through a wall of text to find what they are looking for.

Wikis and blogs are more intuitive than Moodle or Bb to embed pictures and multimedia into; they are easier to decorate, and to arrange elements on a page. Wikis and blogs these days allow easy embed of a variety of media content (images, YouTube and other videos, slides from Slideshare.net, Jing and Screenr screencasts, etc.)  The affordances of working in wikis include being able to upload media such as PDF documents and sound files to the wiki in such a way that any such media stored in that wiki space will then have a unique URL and can be linked to or embedded from elsewhere online. This is less conveniently accomplished or is even impossible in Moodle or Bb, depending on how “open” the Moodle or Bb course is configured to be.

3.2 Student submissions in DIYLMS

For an LMS to be able to “manage” student learning, it must have a means for students to submit their work and receive feedback on it.  Without such a system, a portal of learning resources would be a CMS, or content management system.  There are many such portals created for teaching purposes; e.g. MIT http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm, P2PU http://p2pu.org/en/, the recent spate of MOOCs, etc. Curt Bonk lists examples of such repositories in his book The World is Open (2009) but he points out that although students can access any MIT course they want “there is no teacher there.” With an LMS there is; there is a teacher present who reviews and provides feedback on student work.  This might be to some extent automated, but feedback on student work is what distinguishes LMS from CMS.

Student work in any medium can be collected via Drop Box, for example.  Drop Box allows upload of large files, and each file submitted can be assigned a URL, so work can be submitted in any kind of media file with its own URL. Alternatively, media such as video can be uploaded to YouTube, slides can be uploaded to Slideshare.net, images to Flickr, etc.

In my writing classes I use two genres of online collaborative sites for working with students in class in real time or asynchronously. One of these genres is the so-called Etherpad clones, and the other is Google Docs, into which Etherpad technology is now being incorporated.

3.3 Etherpad clones

Etherpad was an open source product which allowed users to start an online writing space which can be worked on either synchronously or asynchronously by other users anywhere online.  In using Etherpad clones with students, there are a number of compelling features. Anyone can start a pad, distribute its URL, and anyone with the URL can write on the pad. Everyone has access to the pad’s timeline.  Anyone can slide the timer backwards or forwards and see any keystroke version of the document.  Any such version has a unique URL, so this particular version can be shared with others.  Or in case of corruption or other need, the pad can be reverted to any previous state (it can also be saved by any user at any time and any of these saved versions can be recalled and shared). Etherpad clones can be used effectively with students who are with you in the classroom, each student contributing from his/her own computer to the document projected at the front of the room. They can also be used effectively asynchronously in an online or blended learning environment.

One example of how I use such spaces is to go over homework assigned students. Suppose students are asked to complete a worksheet with ten open-ended questions.  Traditional ways of checking such work in class include going over the answers with the class as a group, or dividing students into small groups or pairs to have them check each other’s work.  Either way, some students will not be engaged for significant periods of time, and the teacher can’t effectively monitor the students. So I put such worksheets up in Etherpad and when class convenes I assign various groups of students to fill in different parts of it.  Students can watch the answers appear on the screen all at once as the various groups write, I can monitor all the groups at once and make corrections or suggestions to the document as it’s being worked on, and all students can see each other’s work and help improve any part of it. During such exercises, the work gets done in a fraction of the time it takes either of the traditional ways, and most if not all the students are visibly, even enthusiastically, engaged in the process

Another way I can use Etherpad is to have students work collectively on various components of a good essay.  For example we can work as a class on effectively revising topic sentences, introductions, conclusions, thesis statements, etc.

Etherpad was so good that the company was bought by Google, and its developers became Google employees.  Since the acquisition of Etherpad, Google Docs have improved in speed with simultaneous multiple users.  Although Etherpad is no longer available at its original website, its open source code has been downloaded and installed at a number of host servers as clones of the original service.  These can be found in a Google search on Etherpad clones, so it is still possible to use the software with students (see Lowenson, 2010 and postings to this Quora forum: http://www.quora.com/What-are-the-currently-available-free-EtherPad-clones).

Besides reliability of the host server (the likelihood of your document being preserved online “forever”) another important consideration is the number of users that can simultaneously work on a document.  Sync.in for example stops accepting contributors when only 8 have accessed the document, making it not so useful for large classes.  TitanPad on the other hand works with possibly as many as 30 simultaneous users < http://titanpad.com/>.

3.4 Google Docs

Google Docs are a second way I accept student submissions, and with Google Docs, in a writing class, I can work closely with the students both in and between classes. To use Google Docs I have to insist that all students get a Google ID.  This poses a problem for people who feel  that cobbling together an online learning environment from freely available Web 2.0 tools suffers from the need to remember and manage multiple passwords whereas with Moodle or Bb there is only one, but with Google providing so many tools for education it is getting to where a Google ID is becoming a passport to a lot of the best free educational tools available at any one-stop online, so this objection is suppressed as users become aware of this. A more serious frustration occurs if all students in one class attack the Google site at once, and Google falsely detects a spam attack and temporarily blocks further account creation from the offending IP address.

But once students get their Google IDs and can submit drafts and revisions in Google Docs, then many affordances appear as teaching opportunities arise. For example, teacher feedback can be given in-class interactively in real-time via an in-class projector, with individual students following along on their laptops. Asynchronously, effective feedback can be given in such a way that it can be immediately seen whenever and wherever students sit down to revise their work.

From a teacher’s perspective, it is necessary to understand how Google’s “collections” work but once the filing system is understood then it is a trivial matter to file students’ work where you need it in order to manage it.  I file student work by class and within a class, by assignment. If we’re working on a particular assignment, any work a student has touched will be highlighted in bold in my list of submissions for that class.  By the same token, once I have provided feedback on any student’s work, its filename becomes bold in their view. With this system I can work more closely with students than if I collected stacks of paper from them, or even if I relied on email attachments.  In one instance recently I was reviewing a student’s work in my office and I noticed that the student, whom I knew to be in a lecture hall elsewhere on campus, was following my cursor (we could see each other’s) and responding to my feedback in real time. This kind of feedback corroborates my impression that the system is working.

3.5 Showcasing student work in DIYLMS

Although the same could be achieved with a link from Bb or Moodle, it seems more logical in a do-it-yourself LMS that student work should be showcased in its own dedicated website.  One way to do this is to create a blog in Blogger and invite your students to join it and contribute to it.  Alternatively students can keep their own blogs, and these can be linked from the wiki portal, and updates to them tracked through Google Reader so the teacher can see in that one place when any blog has been updated (no need to open all the students’ blogs to see which have in fact been updated).

The way I prefer at the moment is to create a blog dedicated to classwork in Posterous.  I have my students subscribe to the blog and then I promote them to contributing writers and encourage them to blog there. There are several advantages to using Posterous as a class blog site.  It’s possible to make it accessible only to people who provide a code, in case you want to make it private only to your students (and the code is stored in a cookie so it needs to be entered only once on a given browser on a given computer). The friendliest feature is that you can create posts by email, as well as online through your browser. This is often preferred by students, as email is already a part of their workflow.  If you attach a picture or media file in the email where you submit your post, it becomes a part of the blog.  Posterous specializes in providing plugins for most media, so if the attachment is a picture, it displays in the post, and if it’s other media, it appears in an appropriate player.

3.6 Forum conversations in DYLMS

Forums or some means of participants having conversations on class topics is a common feature of LMS. One way to emulate a forum in DIYLMS is to use yet another affordance of Posterous. When a post is made, all subscribers receive an email. If they reply to the email, their replies appear as comments in the blog.  All subscribers in turn receive an email with this comment.  If they reply, more comments again appear in the blog.  Because of the email notification, and option to respond right there in email, the result feels more conversational than with comments to other blogs and wikis, yet the appearance of these responses in the Posterous blog is just as attractively presented.  

A threaded discussion forum is probably the best way to prompt and prolong an in-depth discussion, but unlike comments to blogs, posts to such forums tend to get buried and forgotten. Still forum and listserv discussions have their viable moments, and there are some very good forum options in the available Web 2.0 services.  Yahoo Groups has run reliably for the past decade, and allows you to set up a portal with links to messages, a files storage space where members can upload files, polls, and a calendar.  If messages are made public then they can be read as an RSS feed, which means they can be viewed in a feed reader like Google Reader, or aggregated in any number of web portals (e.g. Blogger, Pageflakes, Netvibes).  More recently Google has fielded its own groups site which integrates with its many other offerings for educators. Besides handling forum list traffic, Google groups also combines its service with compelling features for a group Web portal.

3.7 Backchannels

Another highly effective forum alternative is Skype group chat.  This is a feature of Skype where anyone can invite his or her contacts to form a group which can then engage in chat over time. The group members can see the ongoing chat in their contacts list (or they can key in the name of the group and fetch it) but they don’t all need to be on Skype at the same time, though as it’s Skype, often some members are, either by plan or coincidence.  The chat works by someone asking a question or offering an insight.  As other group members happen online they might answer or comment, and a thread is built up. I know of several groups who have kept such discussions going for years.  An annual April 22 Earth Day webcast is organized year after year in a perpetual Skype group chat where the back-channeling takes place as the event approaches < http://earthbridges.net/>.  Also, participants in the Worldbridges / EdTech Talk Webcast Academy used to interact with each other primarily in Skype chat as well as in their actual webcasts, collaborating on such projects as their crowdsourced eBook of Webcasting <http://webcastacademy.net/>.

Because Skype runs in the background apart from sites participants might be purposely going to, it creates a back-channel where members of a group can easily communicate with one another with likelihood of quick response at any time. Another such channel option is Twitter.  Twitter allows you to both follow people and put them in lists, in which case to see all the tweets of everyone in a particular list, you simply visit the list URL.  Assuming you create a Twitter list for your class of students, this is a good way to monitor a back-channel of student users without having to follow them.

The big advantage of both Skype and Twitter is that so many people use them in everyday life. As with Facebook, you are most likely to see messages from contacts in online spaces you follow in the course of computing every day, as a normal part of your work and social flow.  I find this to be the main disadvantage of Edmodo and Yammer, which sport a Facebook/Twitter-like interface in an environment supposedly conducive to relationships between teachers and students. However, since I don’t use Edmodo in my normal workflow, I might miss some of these messages until I think to check it.  This is changing with the advent of Edmodo communities, which might give educators a reason to check Edmodo more often, http://www.edmodo.com/communities/?language=en.

3.8 Online spaces for live interaction and subsequent replay

Skype also makes a space where live chat can occur augmented with both voice and video.  These chats can be recorded using third party software, either software specifically designed to record Skype calls, or screencast software that can capture video (in case web cams are used) and sound from both sides of the Skype conversation, which might require use of a USB mic so that sound can be harvested remotely from the sound card and locally via the USB.  There are also tools which cost money, for example Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate) and Adobe Connect, which can capture voice, web cam, and facilitate use of collaborative web browsing, screensharing, polls, emoticons, and interactive graphics and text via a shared whiteboard, among other features, and produce recordings of the session stored on cloud servers.  

These tools are fairly robust but there are a few free alternatives as well.  WiZiQ allows people to meet in spaces with many of these same features, and get a recording of the session.  Also Google Plus (Google +) allows users to enter a shared space where voice and web cams are activated, but recording must be done by someone who captures the interaction using third party software (see Elliot, 2011, for some examples of such software).

4.       Conclusion

This article has sought to establish that whereas LMS or learning management system  packages can assist teachers in laying out and managing and tracking courses of learning for their students where students can know at one Web address what that course of learning is and what their next step should be, they expose the learning environment to “insidious pedagogy” and can constrain pathways for creativity in course design.  DIYLMS, or creating LMS mashups from freely available Web 2.0 tools, can achieve similar learning objective plus model for learners ways that they might approach problem solving in their own learning and project management situations.

The DIY approach offers optimal flexibility for both learners and facilitators and since its components are adapted according to need, applies critical thinking skills appropriate to knowledge workers in a world where new problems must be addressed with novel solutions at an ever-accelerating pace.  Indeed, since new creativity tools appear on the Web 2.0 more often than changes are made to either proprietary or open source LMS packages, mashups of such tools might provide even more innovative solutions to hosting learning portals and managing submission and feedback on students’ work, as well as providing forum and live meeting solutions that keep pace with developments in educational technology in a Web 2.0 connected world.


Bonk, C. (2009). The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Website: http://worldisopen.com/

Dowling, S. (2011). Web-based learning: Moving from learning islands to learning environments. TESL-EJ 15, 2: 1- 27: Retrieved on March 6, 2012 from http://www.tesl-ej.org/pdf/ej58/int.pdf

Elliot, A. (2011). 5 Free Tools for Recording Google+ Hangouts. Mashable. Retrieved on March 13, 2012 from http://mashable.com/2011/08/05/google-plus-record-hangouts/

Goldsmith, J. (2010). NICENET: Free course hosting, LMS Web site. DE Tools of the Trade. Retrieved on March 6, 2012 from http://www.detools.ca/?p=3309

Lane, L. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching. First Monday 14, Number 10. Retrieved on March 6, 2012 from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2530/2303

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved on March 6, 2012 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/47089238/Remix

Lowensohn, J. (2010). EtherPad dies this week: Here are six great clones. CNET News. Retrieved on March 6, 2012 from http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20004686-248.html

Siemens, G. (2004). Learning Management Systems: The wrong place to start learning. eLearnspace. Retrieved on March 6, 2012 from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/lms.htm

Stevens, V. (2012). Learner-centered do-it-yourself LMS. Slideshare.net. Retrieved on March 13, 2012 from http://www.slideshare.net/vances/learning2gether


Wow, this is from one of MY inspirations!