Another dot in the blogosphere?

Insidious pedagogy?

Posted on: April 15, 2010

[image source, used under CC licence]

I have mixed thoughts on this article, Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching by Lisa Lane.

The article is based on the premise that course management systems (CMS) like Blackboard have an inherent pedagogy, which is limited to traditional forms of teaching, and this in turn impacts instructors. I do not agree fully with the premise, but I agree with much of the rest of the article even though it is built on that premise. It is an insidious article!

I think that the premise is technologically deterministic, that is, the outcomes of using a tool are defined by its design. But as I wrote earlier, there are technological, social and pedagogical affordances of modern technologies. Affordances are not guarantees of use. The pedagogical affordances of a CMS are but one aspect that influence its use. How they are used socially can make a difference.

Technology is largely neutral even if it is designed to harm. Let us take an ammunition round for example. It is designed to kill. It can be used in a mindless mall shooting. It can also be used to hunt in order to feed a family.

There are limits to a CMS but it is still neutral. It allows the pedagogy of the instructor to take centre stage. If you only know a delivery-oriented model, you will use a CMS that way. If you have constructivist leanings, you will use a CMS to that end. So while I agree with Lane that a CMS limits users, I think it does not determine how they teach.

I agree with her that novice instructors may know no other way of teaching than to attempt to deliver content. I also agree that CMS tend to support that model of teaching and that learning how to use a CMS might be a barrier to developing your own teaching style. So I agree with her advice to novices to ask themselves what they want to do first, rather than do what a CMS demands of them.

[image source, used under CC licence]

If you do, you might abandon an institute-sanctioned CMS like me. The CMS is Blackboard here in NIE. I stopped using it after one semester in 2006 and have been using blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools in my courses since 2007. Why? I started blogging and using wikis in 2004 and began to see their potential for learning.

BlackBoard did include some of these tools as add-ons (in a desperate bid to stay relevant I might add), but they are closed off to the rest of the world. Worse still, my trainees would not have indefinite access to them. Worst of all, my trainees would be put only in the shoes of students, unable to administer, customize and add to the tool itself. I did not realize it then, but I was trying to get them to use what all of us already have access to: Get your own blog, your own wiki, your own online mindmap, your own VoiceThread, your own Google Docs, etc.

A technology learning curve is expected of any tool. It would help if the curve was shallow and short and if pedagogy took centre stage. Bringing in tools that students or teachers-to-be are already using is logical and necessary. (Think about Facebook as an example.) First, the tools are relatively easy to learn. Second, the learning and tinkering is already done outside of class. Third, you can focus on formal learning processes and content with your students or trainees. Finally, the learners expect to be able to use them at work and at play. This way learning becomes naturally seamless instead of just constrained to a time and place.

It’s about killing a few birds with one stone. A stone that has an expected use, but if used innovatively, might redefine how we teach.

2 Responses to "Insidious pedagogy?"

I want to ask about abandoning an institute-sanctioned CMS – I’ve pretty much been doing that, but at the same time, as part of the IT committee, I feel somewhat guilty that I am part of the reason why Blackboard’s not quite taking off in my school (low rate of utilisation by teachers).

With these conflicting priorities (desire to support IT initiative by the school vs. desire to use other products for greater effectiveness), how do you think a teacher should behave?

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Don’t feel guilty! It’s not taking off partly because it is not relevant. I am sure that your CMS gets used largely for e-learning or SARS-type emergencies. But that’s not teaching or learning if it is relegated to e-doing and contingencies. 😉

I’ll share two more experiences of mine. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I daresay that I was a frontrunner in the open and Web 2.0 tool approach in NIE. Some folks questioned my sanity, others watched. Fortunately, a few key people saw what I was trying to do. The result? While we have Blackboard (yuck!), we also have campus licences for PBworks and EduBlogs (yay!)!

Second story: One of my former trainees became a project collaborator of mine and she started using wikis in her school too. She shared what she did at school and cluster level. Her department chair was so enthused that he suggested that they abandon their CMS and jump on the wiki bandwagon!

So how do I think educators (not just teachers) should behave? They should have their learners’ interests in first and foremost. They will then be responsive to change where it is logical, necessary and prudent. Share what you do with others around you and solicit feedback. 🙂

I’d love to know more about what you and your school are doing too. That way I might be able to provide some support and perhaps a workshop or two!

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