Re-visioning the online learning environment, part 1

What would happen if we took everything we thought we knew about the virtual learning environment and threw it out the window? What would it look like if we treated the learning environment as if it belonged to the learner? What could learning look like if it weren’t treated as an administrative function? These were the questions I asked my colleague Casey Bisson as we travelled to and from a NERCOMP Social Software SIG.

This first post will set the stage for this re-visioning.

At Plymouth State University, we use SCT’s Luminis product as our campus portal. We are very proud of our true single sign-on methodologies as pretty much everything a student needs is tied to their portal account: email, calendar, groups, news, their e-coursework (via WebCT), library resources, the Student Information System (SIS), even their 200+ MB of network storage is web accessible. It is one of the most robust environments I have used when it comes to student services.

Yet there exists a disconnect. The portal does not speak the language of our students. It is based on technologies at least 5 years old and is not as interactive or responsive as the web tools available today. In Web 2.0 terms, it is more like Web 1.5 – more pull than push, more consumptive than contributive. In short, it is perceived to be an administrative tool rather than a learning resource. A necessary evil for doing the business of higher education.

And then there is our Learning Management System – WebCT (now Blackboard). Everything about the LMS screams academic administration tool. It provides all the requisite tools: syllabus tool, communications tools, assessment tools and learning content tools. But even with Blackboard’s burgeoning attempts at learner-centricity in the journaling, web link and media library contributions, peer review and blog tools available in their latest Application Pack, it is still a tool for teaching rather than learning. If you’ll pardon the melodrama, it lacks soul.

In part 2, we’ll throw out our current set-up and start from scratch.

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