getting past the lms

A good example of what PLEs and MOOCs seek to overcome / bypass / sidestep/ kick sand in the face of: LMS policy. This is a good example from U Toronto. They publish their LMS policy in the guise of a FAQ. An example:

What are the advantages of using the Institutional LMS as a foundation or primary environment for online learning?

Consistency, Security, Accountability and Sustainability 
The Office of the Vice-President and Provost has emphasized the value of consistency of online learning infrastructure in order to ensure that the experience of both faculty and student is of high quality, to make certain that learning systems are robust, secure and sustainable and also to facilitate most effective use of available human and physical resources to support online learning.  Just as the university takes fiscal responsibility seriously, it must also take responsibility for the integrity of IT systems and security of data as an underpinning to online learning activities and our commitment to our students.

Student Experience
The student learning experience within technology-enhanced environments is a key consideration and coherence and reliability of online systems is paramount. Students may be disadvantaged if they are required to learn how to use and navigate multiple systems. The university provides a robust, fully supported centralized Learning Management System (LMS) and anticipates that divisions and departments will take advantage of that system to provide a consistent portal entry point and common interface for students.

The emphasis in both the question and response is not on learning but on managing, and managing of courses and teachers by the Provost rather than managing the students by the teacher. Who asks this question? Management. A teacher would ask, What advantages for teaching and  learning does your LMS make possible that other ways of working do not? A more pointed teacher would ask, What alternatives to Blackboard does this institution support?

And that question is addressed under FAQ #4: If a faculty member wishes to use Web 2.0 and/or Cloud-based Technologies to enhance a course, what steps can be taken to reduce risk and ensure the security of student data?

In FAQ #4, the institution’s interest clearly dominates, and the attitude is clearly off-putting. The answer is not focused on learning or teaching, but on risk, and cast not in a shared language but one of legalities:

Full reliance on a third party service that is not supported by the institution or division, nor through an contract relationship will involve a high level of risk and is not recommended as a primary learning environment, in particular for fully online courses. However, if faculty members wish to take advantage of the benefits of Web 2.0 or Cloud-based technologies as an adjunct activity to enhance a course they should comply with the following directives to reduce the risk in use of third party systems:

The question assumes the LMS will still be the primary technology, the other options – which may be more pedagogically sound and even easier to use and manage are not even supplemental but “adjunct”, a word heavily loaded in the academic world. The answers, of course, is pure commonsense, but cast in legalese, as is the paragraph above, warn faculty off, while side-stepping some valuable information: That having students post their work in open environments is not considered a FERPA violation – a mention made in the Educause source linked to on the page:

Content created by students when using such tools to fulfill course requirements (e.g., creating blogs on WordPress, posting videos to YouTube) should not be considered “student education records” under FERPA. However, copies of such records that are maintained by instructors in their own filesdo constitute FERPA-protected “student education records.”

Even while the FAQ links to this information, it’s left out of the administration’s response. That makes it a curious omission.

Two more observations on language that is shaped to keep teachers in line. A line from question #1 above:

Students may be disadvantaged if they are required to learn how to use and navigate multiple systems.

This is a common management-level gesture at altruism. I’ve never seen evidence of this, but given how it’s phrased (may, or may not; and “be disadvantaged” – a phrasing the invokes an unnamed handicap and places students in a ghetto), it’s not a matter of evidence. A response: It might take an hour to adjust, but learning multiple systems are to students’ advantage, not their disadvantage.

And a line from question #4 concerning opt out:

Should students choose not to participate in such an external environment a viable alternative assignment or activity must be available to them.

This is based on the claim that “Students cannot be compelled to create accounts on non-university systems or with non-university services” so they are to be given an opt out. Not sure why the administration wants to push an opt out rather than suggest that students who don’t want to engage in web 2.0 stuff take another section of the course. Surely the administration is want to offer students a choice. Surely. But the underlying comment for the faculty member is “You can’t force them to do this, so be prepared for more work!”

What would be helpful in this FAQ is the voice of an administration willing to support faculty and students in their learning rather than coerce faculty – and students who apparently can be compelled to create accounts on university systems – into the LMS. Administration has a good rhetorical opportunity here, but they miss it.

It looks like I’m singling out U Toronto, but this bogus FAQ fell in my lap this morning when I was cruising Diigo. Plenty of institutions are using the same arguments to keep teachers in the LMS. (Fewer are likely using a FAQ as a guise, but appropriating the FAQ for policy is becoming common. It’s being used locally to shape and control the arguments concerning banning tobacco on a state campus.)

But back to MOOCs in general and eduMOOC specifically, perhaps the limiting dimension of teaching and learning enforced by an enforced LMS is one of the problems that MOOCs might address – if they become more accepted by the institutions. The embedded LMS is certainly one of the barriers they are going to have to overcome.