Another dot in the blogosphere?

Stick to this Lane

Posted on: January 25, 2021

I first heard about Lisa Lane when she wrote about the insidious pedagogy of learning management systems (LMS) in 2009.  I captured some thoughts on this in 2010.

We have not met or conversed and we do not share common academic backgrounds. She is a historian while I have a biology background and an edtech doctorate. But we definitely share similar views about how LMS shape teaching behaviours.

Her most recent thoughts on Why your LMS sucks revisits old themes but adds some new emphasis. For example, LMS seem to be designed with computing folders in mind. But scholars who teach with a passion think in terms of habits of mind.

As teachers, we think next in terms of wrapping elements together to encourage understanding. We do not think in terms of all the articles, all the lectures, all the exams, all the discussions.

Instead, we think in terms of weeks, or units, or modules. We section the learning, combining various elements to cover a particular subject. Separating those resources by type makes no sense when one is creating a pattern of learning.

I could not agree more. When I create and curate online resources for my courses, I use Google Sites to organise activities and materials by themes and time.

Another valid complaint of LMS from Lane:

Created student-led or student-designed work is difficult. LMSs require teacher permissions to set up an assignment, quiz, content area, or discussion. Although some discussion forums allow students to begin topics, this feature must also be set by the instructor.

You would think that an LMS as a walled garden would allow free planting and sand boxes. Instead LMS tend to operate to 1) keep strangers out, and 2) tightly control the friendlies within. One has to break out of LMS and use other tools and platforms to facilitate student-centric work and exploration.

So what is a creative and passionate teaching scholar to do? Lane offers this excellent approach:

Creative pedagogy can work within the limitations of the LMS, but it is not easy to implement. Systems are designed to systematize, and the LMS is designed to create cookie-cutter classes based on outmoded structures rather than to promote innovative approaches. Thus for many of us, understanding its design is essential to adapting, subverting, or acquiescing to its suckiness.

So if you must use an LMS — by choice or by pressure — understand its limitations and explore its possibilities. Then work creatively to work within or without in order to do what is best for learners and learning.

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