Well, it’s been a long time that we have all been discussing the evils of the Learning Management System. From my own articles back in 2008 and 2009, to Michael Feldstein’s November post with all its responses, those of us who believe we are progressive, non-conformist, future-thinking, out-of-the-box people have been gleefully dissing the LMS. The LMS is a tool that encourages conformity, poor pedagogy, closed silos, commercial exploitation, robo-grading, and the death of the open web. It discourages openness, shared resources, perpetual web portfolios, and the joy of a cloud-based utopia.
I have happily been anti-LMS for many years. And all this time I have been using Moodle.
Some are surprised. I had a colleague come up to me, apologetically, last term. He had an LMS question, but prefaced it with, “I know you don’t use an LMS, but…”
I have been participating in Connected Courses, where naturally we all agree that the LMS hampers connections. Connected Courses is a wonderful idea, with wonderful people. The hub of it is housed on WordPress, a customized installation managed beautifully by the god of WordPress, Alan Levine, and designed by a team fed by a grant. It is not a model that many others could follow without institutional support and/or a maestro like Alan hanging out in the garage. I’ve used WordPress in a similar construct (but by no means as lovely a site) for the Program for Online Teaching Class over several years. I gave up on it in May 2013 – it was just too hard. The plugin that makes it possible, FeedWordpress, is supported by one man on his own time, and requires lots of tweaking.
I don’t have staff, assistants, or a grant. I teach at a community college. I teach 40 students per section, 5-7 sections per semester, usually with five different preps (a prep is a particular course – Western Civ I, US History II). I often teach as many as five of these classes online, with at least three different preps. Many of my colleagues teach at multiple campuses, and teach over 300 students in multiple sections all over the county. In all these years, the suggestions of how to be open and wonderful and non-LMS with this many students (considering the requirements put upon us to track and grade their work) have been very few. Connectivism? After much experience, study and thought, I have determined that the management of large numbers of students’ individual achievement cannot be solved with connectivist models. (The popularity of MOOCs is testament to this. Commercial and university xMOOCs are often robo-graded and/or managed by large numbers of “staff” and graduate students.)
Given the 265 students I will need to teach this spring, the LMS provides the space I need, given the dearth of good alternatives.
What the LMS is good at, of course, is management:
- automatically graded quizzes provide instant feedback to the student
- grade book feature provides for privacy and quick checks on progress
- customizations enable me to organize the grade book in a way that makes it possible for me to see at a glance where a student is doing well and where s/he is struggling
- easy embedding makes it possible for me to make external sites, presentations, and tools part of the class
- students are automatically added and dropped via connection with the college’s student enrollment system
- security features create a space mostly closed to surveillance
It’s very poor for:
- open learning
- student-created content that lives beyond the semester
- making students feel like individuals
- providing multiple learning paths
BUT I mostly solve what’s bad through my own design and pedagogy:
- having all written work done in forums where students can see everyone else’s work
- encouraging students to draft all their work on their own hard drives
- keeping track of students’ preferred names from their posts and using them publicly in the space
No, I can’t solve it all. Neither can WordPress, Ning, Facebook, Google, Schoology, Drupal, Canvas, or the open web. There’s been nothing radically different out there in years. Startups of great tools have mostly shut down. Progress in online learning technology has slowed to a crawl.
So am I a traitor to the cause? An apologist for the LMS? A closet user who then shows up at 12-step meetings? No, I’m just practical. Do I think that users like me can make the LMS better? Nope, I’m just back to 2012. Only now I don’t feel so guilty.