Higher Education

pedagogy and the cms

Reading "Social Constructivists and eLearning" at eLiterate and I’m interested in this question, "How does the choice of an instructional method impact the design, development, or choice and use of a learning system?" Yes, good question. Guest blogger Jim Farmer observes

As the eLearning systems—Blackboard, ANGEL, Desire2Learn, Sakai,
Moodle, ATutor and Olat to name a few—increase functionality there are
fewer functional differences among the systems. Georgetown University’s
Peter Farkas recently commented: “Now the choice of an enterprise
learning system depends upon reliability, scalability, and ease of
use.” And responsive technical support when it is needed—a requirement
for any enterprise system.

It may certainly be the case that there are fewer functional differences. However I believe it is certainly still the case that these systems narrowly define the possibilities of online education and they do so for reasons that reflect commercial, marketplace, and institutional considerations. Whether its a corporation or a conglomerate of universities developing systems or a college making use of a CMS, everyone involved in this business is a large institution. Their operational costs as institutions necessarily limit their ability to innovate and their willingness to experiment. They have to consider the cost of failure in a way other groups do not (as Clay Shirky argues). To take up Farkas’ comment, reliability, scalablity, and ease of use of a system are all important factors in terms of institutional costs, as is technical support, but none of these things have any direct relationship to effective pedagogy. All they do is demonstrate the inability of these institutions to act effectively in emerging media networks.

Farmer also discusses how much discussion of effective use of instructional technology happens at the disciplinary level. This is certainly true at CCCC and even moreso at Computers and Writing. No doubt there are disciplinary-specific issues to address. But at the same time, there are significant campus-wide issues here. We have much in common. In FTF classes we all share the same classrooms for the most part and the same campus. Many of our activities are functionally the same. We lecture; we discuss; we write things on the board; we read; we give homework; we give tests or essay assignments. The same is true online. The web is vast, but we all deal with the same web, with the same emerging social media, and so on.

In my view, what it comes to is how you answer this question: what do you get when you strip pedagogy to the bone? Clearly pedagogy has something to do with learning, but you don’t need a teacher or teaching in order to learn. There are a thousand ways to learn. Pedagogy facilitates learning or you might say that pedagogy organizes/manages learning. I think that if you tend toward the latter then you’ll find the CMS model works pretty well. And you don’t have to be in the "banking" model of education to ascribe to learning management. There are plenty of faculty seating students in circles, offering "student-centered" pedagogy, and managing student learning: though I have to ask how a course can be student-centered when the goals are pre-determined? Maybe classes shouldn’t be student-centered. But I digress.

My courses just aren’t like that at all. Sometimes I worry they should be. But my courses are more like a meadow than a garden. It is more the social constructivist model, right? It’s the creation of an environment designed to facilitate learning experiences. The students have to take an active role in building knowledge, making connections, and defining projects. I’m not pretending I’m the only one who teaches like that, but I’d be interested to know if anyone feels they can do that successfully using Blackboard… Maybe if you’re using the CMS as an auxillary space to an FTF class, but I can’t see how you could doing it in an online course.

And yes, it’s my view that these teaching methods are what we need for the future and that as such what is being offered to us institutionally as a CMS is wholly unacceptable. But that’s for another time.