Throw-away digital literacies

As a recent graduate, I’m finding a blank space on my phone’s home screen these days. You see, I’ve recently uninstalled D2L’s Binder app. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a helpful app that allows a student to send class materials from their LMS to their phone for later viewing offline (for example, when on the subway where internet connectivity is weak).

As an adult learner, the “rite of passage” of uninstalling this app, leaves me a little unsettled. When I think about it, I spent 2 or 3 years mastering how to navigate a LMS and figuring out the settings and buttons required to support my preferred workflow for reading lesson materials on my phone. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m probably never going to use that app again – or log into my school’s LMS again for that matter.

While I’m grateful that these technologies helped me to get the job done, I can’t help but think of a LMS like an expense reporting system. I need to use it (because they say so). I don’t like using it (because it’s clunky). And when I leave, the experience of having used it is not really a marketable skill (I’ve never seen a job posting wanting experience taking classes on a specific LMS or using a specific expense reporting system). I guess one could argue that maybe the frustration of hunting and pecking around the LMS prepares students for the real-world experience of navigating around poorly-designed corporate intranets, but I digress.

Perhaps schools, instead of investing so much in creating and using complex LMS software, should begin to more-seriously consider technology platforms that have a less-ephemeral connection to the student and a longer-term relevance to their lives. Or maybe using technology with which an incoming student is already familiar (perhaps already has installed on their phone) will help ease their transition into college.

Over the past year, we’ve seen Apple (1, 2), Microsoft, and Google each announce new and continued improvements to extend their technology platforms to support educational uses. Yes, we can argue that this is an effort to acquire more users at younger ages. However – in the case of iTunesU, some learners enter college already having familiarity with iTunes – and will continue to engage with iTunes (and through iTunesU, perhaps even with the university) for long after they graduate. The skills learned using the productivity and collaboration software offered by Microsoft and Google remain relevant long after school ends. And consider the possibility of introducing real-world workflows into the classroom. For example, when was the last time you submitted a proposal to your boss, they gave you a C+, and handed it back? When was the last time you saw a LMS used by an instructor and student to iterate over several versions of an assignment (perhaps using revision historytrack changes, or embedded comments) until it was clear that the student produced his or her best possible work? When was the last time you saw a LMS attempt to recreate this workflow within its walls, and it just ended up being a clunky, clicky, and confusing experience?

-Post by George Kroner (personal thoughts do not represent my employer’s)

A Flexible and Personal Learning Environment

About this time last year, EDUCAUSE published a piece titled the “The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment.” (Disclaimer: I was one of the many who participated in this effort.) Little did I know (that is, until the EDUCAUSE ELI Conference earlier this year) that SURF in The Netherlands was also working on a similar effort called “A Flexible and Personal Learning Environment.” Both publications are well worth your time to read. The SURF project seems to have been connected to a series of related ones that were focused on studying learning technologies and practices. Unfortunately I don’t read Dutch, but a great deal of their work has been translated into English.

I appreciate three items in the SURF document that are particularly well-articulated. The first is coverage of the diverse perspectives of what “integration” means. The visual integration of learning tools and how they are accessed is a focus of this document as are the data/analytics perspective and the systems perspective. Sometimes, in my opinion, the first perspective is overlooked, and the second and third are lumped together.

CC BY 3.0: SURFnet
CC BY 3.0: SURFnet

The second is an enumeration of the components that such a modern learning environment would contain broken down by function and linked to both the processes they support and the data artifacts to which they relate.

CC BY 3.0: SURFnet
CC BY 3.0: SURFnet

The third is an architectural perspective from a case study contributed by Erasmus University Rotterdam that elevates the importance of APIs in constructing such a learning environment. I am a huge fan of APIs and believe that they will play an increasingly central role to make learning technologies work better together in ways that current approaches cannot. (On a random side note, check out this recent coverage about a recent event that focused on “Indie” ed-tech and personal learning APIs. There really are many great ideas out there – too many to cover in any one post or at any one event.)

CC BY 3.0: SURFnet
CC BY 3.0: SURFnet

I encourage you to take a look at the Flexible Learning Environment publication. It offers another helpful perspective as we search for the right ways to design and build (and think about) the right tools to advance teaching and learning.

-George Kroner (personal thoughts do not represent my employer’s)