Rethinking a Wiki vs LMS for Course Design

CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.
CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.

Last year, when I first taught EDU 807, “Learning Tools in Education Technology,” one of my goals was to employ a wiki as a learning management system (LMS) so the doctoral students involved in the course could participate in a more open, collaborative form of social scholarship. I have long been an advocate of using wikis as an organizational space for my face-to-face classes and in professional development workshops, and it made sense to me that students involved in a doctoral program about educational technology tools would be able to adapt the wiki for their own uses as individuals and in small groups, and to collaborate in innovative ways.

One of the other elements of this course was that I asked students – both individually and in small groups – to regularly move across a variety of educational technology tools. For instance, we used at least a dozen different technologies including the wiki, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Vialogues, and (the now defunct) Zaption. There was also an attempt to integrate Twitter as a back channel conversation throughout the semester.

The ideal, however, met the reality of teaching an online course to busy professionals, and the struggle to move between spaces began to cause confusion and frustration. For all of us, the management of so many different tools was a challenge: Where are we discussing the readings this week? What is due next? Where is the link for that article?

My end-of-semester course evaluations reflected the types of concerns that students felt as they moved across so many tools in such quick succession. While they generally enjoyed and appreciated the course, it was clear that using the wiki in the way that I envisioned was one step too many, even for students in a doctoral program exploring ed tech. Sadly, our attempts to make use of the wiki on a regular basis quickly fell to the wayside. Also, as an instructor, I struggled to keep a balance with students turning in their work, providing feedback, updating the online gradebook in our normal LMS, Blackboard, and – on top of that – managing revisions and late assignments.

In short, my best efforts at using the wiki as an open, collaborative space for students to generate their own shared understandings of the course material and to create social scholarship became an unnecessary burden. In rethinking the course for this spring, then, I struggled to figure out how I would push back against the practices and discourses of the standard course management system while, at the same time, updating my course for this spring so as to avoid massive confusion on behalf of my students.

Hence, I am returning to our university’s LMS as the “hub” of our course activities. I struggle with this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I’m trying to teach doctoral students how to employ a variety of educational technology tools – building on collaborative, open source ethos – and yet I must return to an LMS that has a decidedly centered to the tool. I also struggle because I want students to know that social scholarship (openness, collaboration, messiness) does not always work on distinct the context of “taking” a course (modules, assignments, grades).

However, I will keep the idea of being “open” moving forward by asking students to blog on a regular basis, as well as to post additional course assignments as artifacts on their own digital portfolios. Also, we will use Twitter as a way to comment upon one another’s work, as well as to share ideas from other scholars.

I am not particularly pleased about having to give up on using a wiki, and yet at the same time I think by centralizing and streamlining many of the more mundane class activities in the LMS, I will be better able to help my students focus on broader goals of social scholarship and critically evaluating educational technologies. So, wish me luck as I reboot EDU 807 this semester!

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(A)Syncronicty and Online Learning

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

While the semester officially starts tomorrow, I had scheduled an online session with my EDU 807 students tonight via Zoom as a kick-off to the semester. As it happens, this first week of class also coincides with a trip to Austin for a meeting of the National Writing Project for the “New Pathways to Leadership” retreat. So, when I originally sent out a call to the doctoral students in the course to plan for the best time for meeting, I knew that it would be a challenge to get a mutually agreeable time in early this week, preferably Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, so I had picked tonight when I new.

Travel plans and Mother Nature didn’t cooperate,

One of the values I know that many teachers hold dear is the actual moment of educating — bringing forth new ideas, forging connections, asking questions — and that is, no doubt, difficult to do in an online environment. At best, we aim to do so with the occasional synchronous online event (like the webcast I had planned for tonight), sometimes simply through chat. More often than not, however, it seems that online learning comes in the form of “content” to be “delivered” by a teacher and, subsequently, “mastered” by a student. Either way, the online experience seems less than optimal, though I admit that I am fairly new to fully online teaching.

So, in my efforts to maintain consistency with the goals and aspirations of our doctoral program — and because those goals and aspirations such as a personalized experience, thoughtful relationships with peers and the instructor, and (to the extent possible) flexible models for participation — I wanted to host bi-weekly, whole-class conversations to review the main ideas of the module, have groups report out on their projects, and otherwise build and maintain a community. Even with this goal in mind, I know that I must be aware of the context that my students find themselves in as working adults, spread across time zones, so watching a recorded version of the session is always an option.

I know that this balance has been difficult for anyone teaching an online course — whether 20 students, 200, or in the case of some MOOCs, 2000 or more— yet it seems integral to the learning process. Even last fall when I taught an online writing course that was designed by someone else, when I saw no live interaction between teacher and student in the form of conferences scheduled in the semester, I made time. Even a 15-20 minute conversation with my writers made a big difference in their work, probably more than had I just written 15-20 minutes worth of comments on their papers and sent them back via email.

At any rate, syncronicity escaped me today. Screencasts, such as the one I was able to hack together while stranded in an airport on a weather delay, don’t seem to be a good substitution. And, even if it was a viable option, I simply can’t image that I would have recorded this screencast as “content” that could be made available in the course. I tried to personalize it with a bit of humor, poking a bit of fun at myself and the situation as a way to build rapport with my students.

Interestingly, I was planning to share the oft-cited French postcard above during my talk with them. Noting that it offered a vision of 21st century education from the turn of of the twentieth, it is worth seeing what the artists and futurists got right (and, of course, what they got wrong). While I was not just jamming whole books worth of information into my students’ heads today — and we will use collaborative conversations tools like NowComment and Acclaim later this week — it does echo some of the major concerns that those who resist technology can call on: isolation, memorization, and lack of authentic learning tasks.

My hope and expectation is to be more interactive as the semester wears on and, for that, I appreciate the flexibility that online learning offers.

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Introducing EDU 807: Learning Tools in Education Technology

As the fall semester comes to a close, it is already time for me to turn my attention to the winter/spring. In 2016, I will have my first opportunity to teach a doctoral course, CMU’s EDU 807: Learning Tools in Education Technology.

My goal/hope is to reenergize my blogging activity and to share some timely and consistent updates from EDU 807. As a way to begin this conversation, here is my video introduction to the course.

One idea that I am still mulling over is if and how I might “open” up EDU 807 to bring in additional voices of teachers and teacher educators who would want to experience the course in a MOOC-like manner. That is, participants would be able to listen in and participate in our class discussion, both in a synchronous manner through video conferencing as well as around discussions of our shared reading.

So, for all of you reading along this far… if you have any interest in this potential MOOC-like experience, please let me know by sharing a comment below or sending me a tweet or email. If there is enough interest, I may just pursue it.

More on EDU 807 to come soon, most likely around the idea of how we will use tools like Kami,, and NowComment for our initial reading discussions.

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