Old Wine in New Moodles

Online Learning, Upscale (and Scaled Up)

I was recently pointed to an article at insidehighered.com entitled “Online Learning, Upscale (and Scaled Up)” by Doug Lederman, because it contained information about use of Moodle as an “integrating Web 2.0 platform”. I was interested because I need to understand if and how a central LMS alternative to Blackboard might interact with cloud-based Web 2.0 technologies for instruction.

However, I was disappointed.  The article focuses on a business plan that links a technology and outreach provider (2Tor) with a prestigious institution (USC) to “scale up” high-value education, supposedly without sacrificing quality. Technology’ contributions to success were described in terms that were either very vague or very weak; the one reference to Web 2.0 seemed to conflate it with chat and discussion, and there wasn’t any sign of an integrating platform.

I was unable to see anything innovative or “Web 2.0” about the sample page — it looks like just about any other LMS.  If the Study Plan is actually assembled and controlled by the individual student, that would be a step forward, but if it’s just an assignment aggregator, that’s not really innovative.  And putting a chat box and a discussion “recent postings” box on the portal page is not equivalent to putting interaction “front-and-center” or making interaction “an organizing principle in a way”, which are Katzman’s descriptions of the technology’s purpose.

There are a couple of uses of video that are trotted out by Katzman and Dean Gallagher as innovative:

USC can have a live video feed (or a recorded excerpt) from a classroom in one of its partner schools, “and all of us can watch the same classroom at the same time, with the faculty member deconstructing and diagnosing what’s happening,” the dean says. “We can be texting or blogging about what’s going on while it’s unfolding.”

This resembles Web 2.0 in its comment-on-media structure, but the picture that’s drawn of synchronous back-channels flies in the face of the conflicting time demands that characterize many distance students.   Anyway, it’s not clear that a fly-on-the-wall camera is an effective substitute for on-site observing by student teachers.  Differences in affect may well translate to differences in effect.

2Tor will arm all of the students in the fledgling program with “the Flip,” a cell-phone sized video recorder that will allow students to capture their fieldwork experiences and their own lessons for future discussion (and critiques) by classmates and professors.

This sounds more “Web 2.0”, with students sharing and exchanging experiences.  I don’t know what it might mean to do this in what students persist in perceiving as a high-stakes environment.  The implementation will be crucial, but there’s no way of knowing how the faculty will use these tools, or how their practice will be assessed.

Overall, the article failed to show how 2Tor’s technology innovates in a way that would make a key difference in the quality of their online education offering. I am reminded of Murray Goldberg’s wonderful words about collaboration and student-centered education, while his WebCT product focused on easing its adoption by present-and-test instructors.

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