Platforms and Platitudes

I am now a master of moodle, denizen of d2l, and fallen angel.  And those are just the build your own content platforms I work in.  There are additionally content vendor specific domains which rattle my brain no matter how much honey is applied.

So what have I learned from all of these online learning landscapes?

1-It is better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Online learning platforms are governed by user roles each of which are given permission (or denied permission) for each of the various actions that user might take.  The primary goal of which is to allow the user to do only what the school wants them to do and nothing else.  For example a permission might allow a teacher to create new content, but block them from deleting old.  For me this has been a fine line of frustration upon which I have often failed the one foot in front of the other test.

You see one problem with permissions based schooling is that teachers feel (and rightly so) hampered in their creativity.  For someone like me who never met a “no” I didn’t argue, this is a hampering and stifling obstacle.  You see I am a teacher.  I am used to designing my own curriculum.  Sure we purchase books, sure I follow guidelines, but I absolutely put my stamp as the teacher who makes decisions about approach style and content on a DAILY basis.

On the other hand, I do want a certain flow to the classroom from the student side.  I don’t want them bogged down in too many choices and confused about what to do.

So here-in lies the problem.  If we limit permissions, we limit teacher’s teaching ability to a narrow field.  If we leave permissions unlimited, we risk confusion.  My personal belief is that good teachers teach their students the procedures of their classroom, and good online teaching is no exception.  So I believe that we should err on the side of granting permission to the teacher to be the designer of the learning experience.

2-Beauty is only skin deep

What we really want and need, more than anything is functionality.  But at what cost?  There seems to be a design concept out there that the most functional platforms have to be user unfriendly on the teaching side and that the prettiest of platforms need to limit functionality.

I want both!!! I want a happy medium!!!  and to be honest with all of you moodle maniacs out there- Moodle is not it.

Moodle- while you gotta love free requires the teacher/designer/user to really really really get what each dropdown box is doing.  As a result, most teachers I know limit themselves to a small subset of the possible functionality because they can’t master it all.  It is free at the cost of valuable time in development, training, and resources.  Should a teacher really have to become a technophile just to work with online media?  Its absurd to the extreme.  I mean I support tech savvy, but come on!  I’d rather have that teacher focus on the kids.  So for me, moodle comes at too high a cost.

Desire2Learn is a step up from moodle, but it seems to have an identity crisis.  There are a number of products which seem like great idea starts within this platform….but they dead end.

On the other hand, pre-fab vendor platforms are pretty, they’re appealing, and usually they are easy to use.  But again, they limit teachers.  For example, in most cases a vendor will not allow a teacher to store their own content year to year.  It use as is out of the box.

IMHO the best of both worlds that I have experienced is Angel.  Its sleek and user friendly, but also very programmable and open ended.  My only angel problem is that their newest releases seem to have gone backward and become slightly more moodle-like.  However, Angel is being retooled as part of Blackboard so the future of this product maybe very different.

Is bare bones and brass tacks better than nothing? certainly and if its all you can afford-do it.  But set reasonable goals for outcomes.  Start simple and build.

Is fancy worth it? yes, but not at the cost of substantive teaching and learning.  A cleaner sleeker platform product which is user friendly is important.  We are teaching internet savvy kids who know what good looks like.  Think back to text book days.  Were you the teacher with the black-and-white, no-picture, tissue-paper-pages book with 70’s orange covers?  Kids were turned off before they even opened the cover.  Were you the teacher with the fancy high-color gloss textbook, but who taught straight from the book with never and interjection?  Kids were turned off there too.  We need to meet them at the corner of substantive and stunning to have the most effect with our content.

3-Failure is not an option

Time is marching on and online learning is not going away.  It is growing by leaps and bounds.  That said we need to renew the focus on students as we make our platform decisions.  They are why we do this job.  So in the end the only question you really should be asking is “what is best for kids?”

To Lean more about the platforms mentioned please click below:

Blackboard Learn-formerly Angel

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