learning esperanto – or not

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One of the arguments for standardizing on a CMS such as D2L for DE teaching is this: “Using the same interface for all courses means the student has to learn the interface only once.”  The argument I always used against the CMS has been, “A good interface will be designed to suit the content and task, and the task of D2L is to manage students, not enable students to read, listen, or produce. Get a blog, or a wiki.”

But here’s a better one, from Stephen Downes, in Emergent Learning: Social Networks and Learning Networks.

I understand why someone would say this: “To increase the sustainability of portal projects there is a need to ‘work towards establishing common frameworks that will enable applications and services, from different sources, to work together.'” After all, it is precisely that failure that accounts for the indifferent success of community portals, the ‘field of dreams’ scenario, where you build it, and they do not come. But such an enterprise is perhaps best compared with constructing an artificial language: sure, it would make communication easier if evereyone used the standard – but who speaks Esperanto? The growth of community – and hence, community frameworks – is much more organic than that, a product of multiple simultaneous negotiations to create a network of compatible systems rather than a centralized planning department to create a structure.

This argument is similar to the critiques of the formulaic 5-Paragraph Theme, taught in too many US high schools and even university courses. The problem with the 5-Paragraph Theme is this: It’s an artificial genre, created for high-school classrooms, which no one reads (teachers don’t read 5-paragraph themes; they grade them); the form and the exercise aren’t designed to communicate anything other than “I did your assignment.” I have never assigned these little monsters, but I have read hundreds of them. Even when the form is not assigned, even when students are warned against using it, Good Students drag it out as a default. One-size-fits-all-rhetorical-situations – except it doesn’t. Students have to unlearn this artificial language before they can make any progress in writing.

But here’s what I find a puzzle: Institutions are using D2L – a paragon of walled garden, ivory tower teaching – to deliver “real world” – that is, situated – education. Courses that are pitched as bridging a (purported) gap between classroom and workplace are placed firmly behind the walls of the garden, using the same accoutrements, practices, and channels: see here, and here.

Seriously? Situated teaching and learning using generic CMS tools? Some of my colleagues teach some of these courses – well-meaning people who would argue that they are giving learners choices, providing opportunities – and I suppose they are, kind of. Learners will have the opportunity to learn Esperanto. Or not learn Esperanto. We can do better than this.

Assignment: Carefully re-read Prof Morgan’s argument above. What is Morgan’s thesis? How does he support it? Why? What kind silly, trivial argument is he passing off as thoughtful consideration? What is he really trying to say? Now, write a 5-Paragraph Theme in which you make clear just how mis-guided Morgan is by considering the benefits of standardized interfaces in education today. Pose. Posture. Beg the Question. 500 words. Typed. Double-Spaced.