For years I have complained that faculty use very few features of their LMS. And I have claimed that they do so because they allow the system to limit their pedagogy, using the LMS defaults and uploading content. Most instructors still use only what I call the Three A’s: announcements, assessments, and assignments. Many also use the discussion forums. Few use messaging, blogs, scholar, or any collaborative or synchronous features.
But my own relationship with the LMS is similarly superficial. I refuse to use deep features because I want to be able to leave the LMS at any time. If I built Lessons in Moodle (which I’ve always wanted to do because branched lessons would be a good technique for some things I do), I could never use them elsewhere. They’d be stuck in the system.
The fact that these systems are increasing in complexity means that we must know more about them to use them effectively. Moodle’s gradebook, for example, takes far more of my time in 2.3 than in 1.9. With the addition of new features (and bugs) it becomes necessary to spend much more time inside the LMS, figuring it out.
This LMS adjustment time is then not available for seeking out new ways to teach, or new technologies. Who can get all excited about the possible educational uses of Springpad or Mightybell or xtranormal when we’re busy trying to figure out how to create a non-numeric scale that translates to points appropriately in the LMS? Who can read about new online pedagogies when it takes hours just to figure out how to get from Messages back to the main course page?
So perhaps the argument now is in favor of not using many features of an LMS. Maybe we should be using the LMS primarily as a shell, not learning too many of the bells and whistles but instead just making it a location or start page for the class.
If we shift that focus, then extensive workshops in Blackboard, Moodle or Desire2Learn are unnecessary. Beginning training is enough. Valuable learning time can then be switched to exploring on the open web, to discovering things we can link to that fit with our pedagogy, instead of figuring how to force our pedagogy to fit the LMS features.
At first I thought – this is a bad idea, because then we get deeply into technologies that may disappear tomorrow. What if I set up a whole course in Diigo and it goes under next year? What if I commit to Pinterest for a class and it disappears?
But then I realized that, as with the nasty transition from Moodle 1.9 to 2.3, the LMS doesn’t stay the same either. It updates to another version on an almost annual basis, forcing relearning and retraining of things that had been working perfectly well. The LMS is a yearly time suck anyway, and the deeper we go, the more it sucks.
So regardless, we have to recreate our classes all the time anyway. Might as well keep a more basic relationship with our LMS, and adapt to the new fun stuff instead.