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)