This morning I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion/Webinar titled “Facilitating Social Interactions: Measuring Engagement and Promoting Academic Success within the LMS”. The other panel members were Stephen Downes and Lou Pugliese and I must admit I felt like a midget amongst giants. The webinar was hosted by Moodlerooms in the United States which meant a 2:30AM start for me followed by a lot of coffee. Prior to the Webinar the organizers sent a list of questions out to the presenters to assist us in our preparations. Following are some of these questions and my rough notes about them.
What is the single most dramatic advancement each of you is seeing in the LMS (learning management system) today?
My belief is that it is the move away from proprietary LMS to open source LMS although this trend is somewhat ‘faddish’ in nature. I like the idea that systems such as the LMS can evolve over time based on the needs of its community of users.
What is the one change you would most like to see?
I would like to see better integration and interoperability with other systems. One example may that rather than Moodle develop its own blog engine, I’d rather see it interconnect with existing blog engines such as WordPress.com and blogger.com. I cannot recall where I heard but the term ‘loosely coupled’ systems is one approach. David has also suggested that the LMS be given the ability to embody some of the knowledge teachers, and perhaps students, need to improve learning and teaching. An example of this is the Desire2Learn instructional design wizard. Stephen Downes has suggested we evolve away from the LMS and his reasoning makes a lot of sense to me but the trouble is that the LMS is almost ubiquitous in higher education and this is going to take time.
What is the best practice each of you can offer for cultivating a positive learning environment online?
The term ‘best practice’ implies that there is a single or ultimate solution to a given problem and this belies the underlying complexity in learning and teaching. That said the single ‘thing’ that keeps appearing in relation to student satisfaction and engagement is instructor presence. We are noticing some interesting correlations between the amount of instructor participation on the LMS and the corresponding participation counts by the students. This is also apparent in the LMS based discussion forums where the quantity (and quality I’m guessing) of posts and replies made by the instructor correlates with increased student activity on the forums. I do not suppose that this is any great surprise but it is nice to see empirical data on what we all suspect.
What about through the use of social media?
I think that it is less about the technology and more about the effective facilitation of social interactions between the participants and their teacher. For example the seven principles by Chickering and Gamson are pretty much recognized as a reasonable approach to under graduate education and describe the process or principles rather than the technology. Although having said that I believe social media is a ‘good thing’ as it can be owned by the student for their lifelong learning and enables a connectivist approach.
How effectively are such tools being used today?
I’m not sure that this is the right question. I think that it is less about the tool more about the purpose for using the tool. But to answer the question more directly is that I don’t think that these tools are being utilized very at all due to the institution centric and ring-fenced learning environment that is the LMS. The LMS, often, does not provide the necessary openness to allow interoperability with social media tools, not to mention, the access limitations based on enrolments.
More to come as time permits.