Ubuntu–a person is a person through other persons.
While Moodle will almost certainly play a role in the TWU Digital Learning Commons, I don’t believe that it can get us to where we want to be in offering transformative learning experiences to our distant students. It is necessary (perhaps…for now), but not sufficient.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the TWU student learning outcomes require something more robust and flexible than an LMS. Here is why.
Imagine the 20 or so students in any one of your f2f classes. Maybe a third of them live on campus, and the other 2/3 commute from somewhere in the lower mainland, several may be international students, some are ‘typical’ undergrads in the 18-22 yo age bracket but others are older with careers and families. There is a wide variety of students, backgrounds, and concerns represented among those 20 students.
Further, each of those students is connected to a network of other people like room-mates, families, sports teams, co-workers. There are also several deep and meaningful connections between some of the students in your class, and, presumably, you encourage them to collaborate, to study together, and at the end of the course, each student is connected more deeply to other students. This is a part of the community that makes Trinity special.
In the end, if you were to map the network of your students and their networks, it might look something like this.
Photo Credit: Martin Grandjean [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Some are more deeply connected within the class, while others are more connected outside the class. But the main point is that everyone is connected with a wide variety of other people.
A wee rabbit trail into learning theory…
One effective learning strategy is to relate what you are trying to learn to something meaningful to you, or to apply it to a situation that you have encountered. When students are embedded in a broad and diverse network, like the one above, there are more and richer opportunities to make connections between ideas, experiences, facts, and theories. A rich network is an advantage for students.
Over time, the relationships between both people and ideas in that network grow stronger and more deeply connected. This is what we know as learning.
Now, think about what happens to the sense of community in an LMS. At the beginning of a course, there will typically be low levels of community and engagement, and over the course of a semester, interactions will deepen, connections will be made, relationships forged. but then at the end of a course, a switch is flipped, and students lose access to the course. Immediately, those connections are severed and students need to start over again in the next course. There are no interactions in dorm rooms, or over coffee, or at the basketball game.
This situation is baked into the very nature of every LMS. LMSs are designed in such a way that this problem is inevitable.
But there is a better way…
If we want to encourage connections and community in a digital learning environment, we need to think about designing our online courses in light of how the web works.
Alan Levine (to whom, along with Brian Lamb, I will happily extend my gratitude for sharing their ideas about using custom post types in WordPress to enable anonymous submissions of student and faculty work) recently posted about connected courses as being built just like the web. Well, just like the web when it wasn’t dominated by giant data hoovers like Facebook, Google, and Turnitin. He writes:
it’s also how I think the ideal kind of connected course should work- just like the way the internet works, a distributed network of connections, a place that no entity owns outright, and where individuals create and own their small nodes within.
Clearly, Moodle isn’t built to foster a ‘distributed network of connections’ where ‘individuals create and own their small nodes within’. But we need not fear because we are really in an ideal time to be building a digital learning commons when we have access to profoundly robust and mature web apps that are built with exactly that in mind.
Good thing we have WordPress! Hope to see you there…more to come.