Wave as LMS? I’ll not Say Never, but …

Today I saw a post on the Chronicle’s blog about Google Wave as the next LMS and its pushed me to revisit that line of thinking. BTW, the money quote from the post was,

“Just from the initial look I think it will have all the features (and then some) for an all-in-one software platform for the classroom and beyond,” wrote Steve Bragaw, a professor of American politics at Sweet Briar College, on his blog last week. Mr. Bragaw admits he hasn’t used Google Wave himself …

Does the Wave have “all the features (and then some) for an all-in-one software platform for the classroom and beyond” as Steve Bragaw says? Well … in a lot of ways it does contain most of what many of us dream of needing — a way to really easily connect with students. What it lacks are the tools that lots of our faculty rely on … Dropboxes, Quizzes, Roster Management, and Teams come to mind instantly. Wave won’t do the classroom management piece. As far as I can tell.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a developer account (although my real invite is still not active) and have spent time writing about my thoughts and reactions to what Google Wave might mean for us. This afternoon after getting another pointer to that Chronicle post I thought I’d go back and revisit my own early thoughts. This quote is what jumped out at me from something I wrote in June:

The big talk across the edublog space is that it could mean the end of the LMS. I’ll just say it, that’s crazy talk. What it probably means is that we might get a better footing in the LMS contract world and that we’ll have new opportunities to innovate. This platform can do quite a bit for us in the teaching and learning space, but as far as I can tell it probably will not be suited for testing on a real scale and it probably cannot replace the basics of the LMS definition — learner management. We need the LMS to do lots of things, but we also need new tools to support pedagogy that works to engage students. I think Wave will begin to even the playing field so that we have easy to use teaching and learning platforms alongside our real need to manage assessment, participation, and the like. Wave represents a new opportunity.

I still stand by that assessment and I am not ready to jump into the Wave as LMS conversation quite yet. I am also not willing to dismiss it quite yet either. As a member of our Institutional committee reviewing CMS/LMS futures I am aware of the challenges ahead for teaching and learning with technology — especially as they relate to centrally managed mega-systems like our course management environment. I know they cannot live up to the hope and hype that emergent technologies can. I know they can’t do real time collaboration like google docs (or Wave for that matter) and I know they don’t offer the open publishing space that our blog platform does. They just can’t and won’t ever be as sexy as the things that matter to us the most in this moment. The One Button Web is taking over in every single web interaction I have except perhaps in the CMS space. We can argue that that is a good or bad thing until the end of the Internet, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter.

Do we like the functionality of the “old systems?” Not really. Are we enamored by the emergence of what is happening outside the walls of EDU? Absolutely. Our job is to find elegant ways to bring the learner management stuff together with the agile stuff so we can suit the needs of most of our constituents. As more of us get our hands on Wave we’ll start to unravel the real potential here. BTW, if I were Google I’d make sure instructional technologists at as many Universities as possible had accounts so the real work could start … we can’t even do a Hot Team here to kick the tires. So with all that I am still hanging out over by the fence waiting to see how well Wave does empower new pedagogies. Because when we add it all up, the emergent tools we work so hard to understand need to usher in new classroom practices. The Wave will be no different — another tool that challenges and then changes pedagogical practice.

Browsing the News

I get nearly all of my news online and have since the web really came alive for me about 15 years ago. I remember a feeling of power being able to not wait for the Weather on the 8’s or for scores to games. The web was the place where traditional news went to die for me. I think lots of people feel that way now.

Recently traditional newspapers in particular have felt the pain associated with not just the arrival of the web, but the masses’ emerging awareness of its amazing capabilities. With that said, I find it mildly amusing and very disturbing that the news industry did a lot to set itself up to have to deal with the reality of a sea of free and endlessly available content. Most of it produced by them.

One of the things I’ve never been able to understand really has nothing to do with the failing financial models. Why is it for all the great things we get from online news that newspapers have insisted on making their websites “look” like physical newspapers? Why must the first iteration of anything mimic the existing model? I’m not sure if they realize it or not but a web browser doesn’t support what a physical paper has to offer. Why not skip that same old and take advantage of the way the modern web can manage complex interfaces?

I haven’t seen much innovation in the news space online until recently.

My favorite online newspaper is the New York Times for lots of reasons. The first is their content — it works for me on so many levels. But at the end of the day one of the things I’ve fallen in love with lately is how much they are working to innovate online. I wrote a few months ago about Times People and I still can’t figure out why more people aren’t pointing to this little innovation as a glimpse into the the future of what we should see as the course management system in coming years. The ability to have a controllable social network that works together to build an active reading list so easily on the fly is quite interesting. Imagine that same interface as the LMS/CMS — allowing a faculty member or student to submit any evidence into the commons of the course. But as cool as it is, the Times People isn’t the only innovation that has me praising the spirit at the Times.

They recently introduced a new interface for browsing the paper in a really compelling way. It is yet another example of smart newspaper people rethinking the web as a platform to interact and engage with the news — something the rest of the industry needs to figure out if they are going to stay viable. The Times calls it the Article Skimmer and it is a really nice way to move around a paper. It actually feels a lot more like spreading a paper out and browsing the titles and picking what to read. I found a blog post from the NYT web team about the new view really interesting and it got me thinking about how different the web is than a giant piece of paper. Now, how it can integrate advertising in a compelling way will dictate its success as an interface over the long haul.

Article Skimmer

Article Skimmer

I think as we watch what happens in such a traditional place we need to be watching where they are going. When combine the above examples with the Time’s open APIs and free content the old school is looking a lot like what the new school should be all about. Shouldn’t we be thinking about how these kinds of interfaces should be built into the future of our learning management systems? Why do our LMS/CMS environments insist on living on the same old metaphors since they emerged? What does the open web teach us about how our environments need to support teaching and learning in a new era? Can we be as bold as the NYT?