69,000 Reasons to Pay Attention

In the past I have always railed against the “one system to rule them all” approach to classroom eManagement. I have always found ways to use tools outside the mainstream to achieve my goals — it could be a WordPress blog, Drupal for a large class experience, iTunes U for podcasting, or whatever else seemed interesting at the time. I have a feeling as I go forward I will continue to use these spaces to stretch my understanding of the social software space. With that said I am thinking differently about how we need to leverage our enterprise LMS/CMS environment, ANGEL.

Let me put this into perspective, at Penn State there are currently 69,725 students with at least one course in ANGEL. Let me think about that for a minute … yeah, that’s a lot. To me that says that faculty have adopted the platform. I just spent the last two days in Chicago with peer institutions across the CIC listening to what they are doing in the enterprise LMS space and I can tell you that we are doing just fine at PSU.

My team is looking at ways to innovate and change (for the better) how faculty use technology for teaching and learning … for the past year or so we’ve invested a lot of energy in relationships with other (non-ANGEL) venders trying to introduce new technologies into the teaching and learning landscape — think podcasting and blogging in particular.

The other night, Chris Millet and I were talking about the overhead associated with introducing not only a new approach but a whole new tool to support it … we started to think out loud what it would look like if we spent half that energy working with the ANGEL people on the kinds of things we need from their tools. Would that allow us (long-term) to focus more on the actual adoption of the approach and less time on the adoption of the toolset? I’m not at all saying it is time to bail on innovation — what I am saying is that we have a huge uphill battle in getting faculty to try the things we talk about, why create more issues by pushing multiple platforms at them? What I am now thinking about is how do I spend my time helping the conversation move forward.

I have to wonder what people think about this … does it just absolutely laugh in the face of small pieces or is it the right thing to think about? I honestly can’t see us jumping out of anything we are doing, but it sure would be nice to not have to think about running servers, managing accounts, and holding hands through new tools. Looks to me like there are some serious relationship activities on the horizon for me and those around me. I am up for it … any thoughts on using enterprise tools to support innovation?

7 thoughts on “69,000 Reasons to Pay Attention

  1. Go for it! We use ANGEL at our institution as well (http://www.lccs.edu) although we have only a fraction of the users that PSU has–approx. 1,200. Even so, most of the students and many of the faculty are using ANGEL for some aspect of classroom management.

    The more that is integrated into a single environment, the better. Last semester I taught a hybrid course that incorporated enhanced podcasts. Version 6.3 of ANGEL doesn’t have podcasting integrated, so I had to give the students special instructions on subscribing to the feed. About two weeks into the semester, the feed got mutilated and the students had to unsubscribe from that feed and subscribe to a new one. It would have been so much easier to have been able to manage this all inside ANGEL. Fortunately, we’ll be upgrading to version 7.2 this summer so at least the podcasting issue should become easier.

    If ANGEL could incorporate tools like blogs and wikis, what a treat that would be. With a small IT department, it’s sometimes difficult to launch new tools and technologies. I too have worked outside the system at times and set up things on alternative servers but I don’t like to do this. I don’t know what blogs or wikis or other social media tools would look like inside a LMS but I’m in favor of keeping things simple.

  2. In my experience with faculty in the Faculty Multimedia Center and the World Campus at Penn State, I would agree with you 100% on this one. Faculty want things to be EASY so they can concentrate on their given field. They don’t want to have to look to multiple tool sets to run their classes. We can sometimes slip into an attitude of “techno-snobbery” when we offer technology to people who aren’t really ready for it. By incorporating it into ANGEL, we would be making the tools available for them to use if and when they feel comfortable about using them. They do not want to run servers and I don’t think we want to get into the server farm business either. There just aren’t enough sys admins to tend the flock. ‘One ring to rule them all’ certainly has its merits. Let’s let the new tools guide how we mold and improve our chosen LMS. That said, we still need to assist faculty who are using new tools and services to help us identify the front-runners.

  3. Good question. Makes me think of Google. They serve enterprise numbers in an innovative way because everything interoperates. It’s OK to have an attractive big, central thing “in the middle” as long as it *encourages* littler things to attach to it. And, the big thing has to act likes it’s ok if one of the little things becomes bigger than the big thing – and that usually isn’t the case with big central things, but it should be.

    So if ANGEL can be that kind of big thing in the middle, great. If it can’t be. then the dance around the edges of it is not only harder than it has to be, but it is very necessary for continuing innovation and avoiding perilous lock-in.

  4. The innovation is in how we apply technology in creative ways to deeply and effectively impact education, and as a central unit at PSU, how we pull that off on the scale you mention. The question here is, can we do pretty much the same thing in our LMS as we can do with some other tool, except with 20X the potential for adoption? Maybe not if the big tool in the middle just implements technology X so poorly, or they can’t adapt their monolithic software fast enough for our needs that all things being equal some other platform is needed. But you’re absolutely right about the importance of having a good relationship with the vendor, and hopefully they’re smart enough to look to us for guidance in where they go next with their product, so we can innovate together. I think they do, and I’m hopeful about this.

  5. I work with World Campus’ Instructional Design and Development and I would love to see this sort of “one ring to rule them all” interface. We absolutely need the innovators and the pioneers working on the cutting edge and thinking about the potential usefulness of new technology in education. And occasionally even a seemingly technophobic faculty member will be willing and/or eager to try a new technology with effective persuasion. However, I think the trick and the ideal is to offer an interface that, while it integrates these diverse technologies, sort of fools the technophobes into not really seeing or feeling the complexity of the interface. I admittedly have my own technophobic days where I wish I could access everything I need to access on one simple, powerful interface, and then have time to pursue all the other things I love in life.

  6. hmmmmm, ok. i’ve been thinking about this for a bit.
    i’m always ready to try a few little odds and ends in class AND i keep running into reinforcement of, what i call, barbato’s corollaries (i used to think of them as BC’s … but, then johnny.hart got religion on me).

    when it comes to academic/scholarly content:

    1. students do not ‘like’ content (wikified, gtd’ed, podcasted, or stikkitted (stukkitted?)) and will use e-problems to avoid e-tasks.

    2. students are marginally more likely to try e-stuff if there is e-xtra-credit.

    3. they are an order of magnitude more likely to try e-stuff when there are ‘dEmerits’ for NOT doing it.

    4. all the e-innovation will/can/do NOT instill motivation nor enthusiasm in students for topical matter. its e-ither there. or not.

    ah well.. maybe i’m just cranky cause i’m not in florida.

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