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Educause Review – Don’t Miss It

The July/August 2010 issue of the Educause Review has several really good articles. Here’s some info about two of them.

David Wiley: (@opencontent on Twitter) has an article titled “Openness as a Catalyst for an Educational Reformation.” He believes that all the various aspects of openness in education all come down to the same common denominators. “They are acts of generosity, sharing, and giving.” When you talk about openness, you generally also have to talk about the lack of openness. Consider the examples of educators unwilling to share their content, their course resources, their syllabi, their text materials, etc. “Unfortunately, modern law and college/university policy tend to enable this bad behavior, allowing us to shout “Mine!” ever more loudly, to stomp our feet with ever less self-control, and to hit each other with ever harder and sharper toys.”

He also laments the LMS/CMS affects on the idea of sharing and openness: “If Facebook worked like Blackboard, every fifteen weeks it would delete all your friends, delete all your photographs, and unsubscribe you from all your groups.” That’s good stuff, as is this: “The conceal-restrict-withhold-delete strategy is not a way to build a thriving community of learning.”

FYI: David Wiley will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2011 ITC eLearning conference in St. Pete Beach on February 19-22.

Dave Cormier and George Siemens penned an article titled “Through the Open Door: Open Courses as Research, Learning, and Engagement.” They start with this passage:

“Over the last decade, as educators have increasingly experimented with social technologies and interactive pedagogies, the concept of a “course” has been significantly challenged. In particular, questions have arisen as to the key value of the course in the educational system. Is the value the content — the academic journal articles, lectures, textbooks, and libraries that compose much of the teaching and learning process? Or is it the engagement and interaction that occurs through discussions? Or is it the self-organized activities of learners in the social spaces of a college or university?”

Throughout the article, the authors try to deal with the concepts of “open” and “openness.” As they say, “The word open is in constant negotiation.” They talk about Open Educators, Open Curricula, Open Learners, and even Open Accreditation.

I agree with them about the value of content in the academy. Content is definitely NOT king. “The actions of institutions like MIT suggest that the true benefit of the academy is the interaction, the access to the debate, to the negotiation of knowledge — not to the stale cataloging of content.” Lots of good stuff in this article by George and Dave.

I’ll follow up soon with some info about at least two other articles from the issue.

First Look at Instructure

Instructure logoOn August 4, 2010, I spent 70 minutes with Cory and Devlin from Instructure Canvas getting a personal tour of their fairly new entrant into the LMS space. This is one of the recent additions to the field that is trying to differentiate itself from the Blackboards of the world by being more open, more flexible, less complicated, and more student-centered (and less evil, I suppose).

In the video below (7:42 running time), I narrate a series of screenshots that I captured as I started to create my first course and my user profile in Canvas. For my money, the important part starts at about 3:15 as I look at making a connection between Canvas and several web-based tools (G Docs, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Diigo, and LinkedIn) and right after that where I set some notification preferences that allow me to customize how I receive class information updates (email addresses that I control and text messaging if I choose), and how often I receive these updates. (Try using the full-screen mode in the lower right corner of Vimeo screen.)

I will continue to play in the sandbox for a while longer as I start to build out more of a course and will report out again as I make progress on that front. Here are just a few more tidbits to tide you over:

  • Their philosophy is to wait and only build and implement a new feature when there is an identified need for it – rather than the build it and they will come approach.
  • Both students and faculty have the same view and user interface.
  • They have a simple, yet powerful rich text editor that is used whenever there is a tool that allows for editing. Same editor, all the time – even for students.
  • They have embedded a Creative Commons search tool for Flickr photos as one option when adding an image to a course.
  • RSS feeds (I know, what a concept!!) allow most course info to be pushed out of Canvas and to the students.
  • There are many ways of communicating with students. No longer is the only option to “email the class.”

I’ll add many more features in the next post. Don’t get me wrong, though. I haven’t totally fallen in love with Instructure Canvas just yet. I have lots of questions about it and I’ll work on clarifying what those questions are and getting them answered in the near future. So far I’m mainly ignorant about the back end functions and possible scaling issues with the service. More coming, stay tuned.

Also check out Michael Feldstein’s post at e-Literate.