The LMS in my Classroom

never stop learningIn the past, I have expressed some concerns about using Learning Management Systems (LMS) in education here and here. This subject keeps on poking me once in a while, because a lot of schools are using these things, but somehow I still have the feeling that without these things life could be a lot easier. I’ll try to make this my final and definitive post on the subject, but please forgive me in advance if I scribble some more in the future…

The problem, in my opinion, is that these systems are designed to create some sort of deserted island where “education” happens. You log-in to the system and, depending on your status, you gain access to different parts of the educational online world of your institute. You can send messages, keep a calendar, provide course materials and links to other sources. You can even let the system provide a digital place where students can leave their assignments, hell, the system can even correct a lot of the work for you! Wiki’s, portfolio’s, it’s all there. So why would a teacher be unhappy with this tool? Well, let me start with the positives. It is indeed very convenient to have a central place for all your “school stuff”. After all, the moment you log-off, it’s like closing the door behind you in your classroom. You can leave school behind and do something else. All your work is safely stored behind the firewall of the LMS and you can rest assured that your work will be waiting for you in the morning.

However… I do think that this separate world doesn’t leave room for much creativity and serendipitous learning. Once the course is done, you leave that part of the system and it’s gone forever. No reverting to a course syllabus, links, etc. you’re out! In the connectivist view of OER’s (Open Educational Resources) and working in spaces that complement the students online experience, an LMS is just to formal and confining. In our institute we use the LMS to communicate between teachers, sometimes with students, but mostly it’s a big online file cabinet for storing all school related forms and papers. I’ve tried to take advantage of the system and implement different techniques to encourage student participation like using forums, offering web links, create portfolio’s, etc. but to no end. Every time I get stuck at the point where I’d like to export data out of the system and implement it elsewhere. Using different online (web 2.0) tools doesn’t make it easier because the LMS will not share. Even now, in the tablet age, where you want to move your things around the way you‘d like, it just isn’t possible…

So instead of trying to mold the system into something I’d like it to be, I’m convinced that I’m better off without it. There are more than enough tools out there that will give me equal, if not more, autonomy and yet provide the functionality that I need to function properly, but it is precisely this that could be a barrier for most teachers. Taking this leap of faith into the unknown and try to make it work. Relying on your own digital literacy to create your own PLN (Personal Learning Network) that consists of a lot more than just “tools for school”, is the challenge, but it’s one that will enrich you both as a teacher and a person!

What would I do? Currently I’m experimenting with a lot of (well-known) tools out there (Google Drive, Pinterest, Tumblr, WordPress, MindMeister, etc.) in order to show students what tools exist and to encourage them to create their own PLN. And some of them do pick up on that. I’ve created more that a few Pinterest and Tumblr fanatics. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get students to using these tools for school as well? For next year I’m working on an idea to start blogging earlier in the school year and make it the home base for all their assignments and reflections, maybe together with a wiki, for course materials, a few information gatherers (Pinterest, Diigo, Delicious) and social media (Twitter, Facebook). We’ll see what happens, but every time I use these tools, I feel like things are more fluent, they happen, you can construct things instead of moving in a straight line through a course. Just a liberating feeling!

On the road…

This journey was simply epic! 6 weeks we were on the road:

  • 5 flights
  • 6 ferries
  • 7560 kilometers driven by car
  • visited 15 national parks
  • experienced 3 major cities and a few local towns

Talking about information overload, this can count! We’re still processing the multitude of impressions. In time, and with the help of our photos and Facebook group, we will be able to extract a sensible story out of it to cherish as a memory for times to come.

As promised, I’ll try to make an evaluation of the tools used to communicate and engage with friends and family during the trip. Last time I wrote a bit about digital literacy. To me this is a very important part of education. We live in a digital world and preparing students for it, is just common sense!?

I mentioned some time ago, I would rely on my 2 (3 – if you count the iPod) main mobile devices for communication:

  • iPhone 4
  • iPad 2
  • (2nd generation iPod solely for “road trip music”)

Apps

In preparation of our journey, I filled the iPhone with a number of apps to help us on our way. I made sure I left plenty of storage to take pictures (first time ever I regretted not buying the 32GB iPhone 4, but my 16GB companion fulfilled his task more than adequately):

  • Facebook: obviously for communication with the home front
  • Twitter: to keep a link with my educational resources and other points of interest
  • Around Me: an app to search for anything useful in your vicinity
  • Wi-Fi-finder: to locate WiFi, even off-line
  • a couple of apps containing useful information about the National Parks we would visit (by Chimani)
  • a couple of Camera apps (FotometerPro, Hipstamatic, ProCamera, Camera+)
  • a QR-reader (Scan)
  • a weather app (Celcius)
  • a multifunctional app with compass, flashlight, speedometer, altimeter and course, just in case… (CFSAC)

The iPad was stocked with apps of a different kind. Making use of the larger screen, I used this to browse, work on my blog and photos, entertainment,… things I could do when arriving at our hotel. The iPhone was regarded as a more on-the-go device:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Skype: for more private communications
  • Blogsy: terrific blogging tool
  • iPhoto: perfect photo-editor
  • a Banking app: to keep an eye on our expenses
  • a few games for entertainment

In this new world of apps, it was a joy and a relief to use a single device to perform all these tasks. During my iPadproject in the classroom (januari 2012), I experienced the same feeling. It is so wonderful to be able to do all these things so fluently with a single, ultra-mobile device. On vacation, with enough bags and stuff to carry around, a small and useful device is excellent! A computer, even a laptop would be able to do more, but would also acquire an extra/bigger/heavier bag. Not nearly as mobile or power socket undependable as the iPad!

WiFi

As I mentioned before, I was amazed by the number of WiFi hotspots in our hotels, the national parks, etc. No shortage here! Imagine field trips were students could just log in and start creating/sharing information without the need of an expensive data plan. Off course this isn’t a perfect world, so yes, there were times we missed WiFi too, but generally speaking, we could do everything we wanted/needed, just fine. The Wi-Fi finder app, came in handy too! I was able to locate nearby hotspots to connect , even when I myself was offline, using the app’s library.

The Power of Mobile

Being able to cary a device with you, to record our journey in different ways (audio, video, photo, etc.) made telling our friends and family about it a lot easier. It was so much less of a fuss to capture a moment. no extra tools or devices needed, just take out the iPhone and click! Also sharing these moments instantly enabled other to respond while we were still around.

Responding to different groups of students while they are still reporting about a building/landscape/museum/… while they are still there enables the possibility to help them dig deeper into the subject or give a hint in the right direction. Instant responds and instant feedback without the need of being with the students all the time! I can see some possibilities for education here as well!

The Bottom Line…

…is that the iPad certainly makes sense in an educational environment. I already experienced this new tool in the classroom, tried it out with real students. This trip widened my view on the device itself. Really using it and depending on it in a broader context convinced me even more that tablets are a tool to be reckoned with. They offer possibilities that otherwise never could have been possible. It’s as if they are a springboard to a whole new level in education. Apps will become an important part of a students life. Looking for and using great apps in the classroom is key. Making students digital literate, so they can find new tools on their own to create, share, participate with others – anywhere – will become essential. Sure WiFi is still a necessity, but this is becoming less of a problem as more hotspots will appear around us and data plans will get cheaper.

I wonder how long it will take the tablet to really take over schools and open up the student’s learning experience!?

The Future of Education

Whow! This was exciting! My very first keynote, ever! About “The Future of Education” no less…

I was deeply honored to be one of the speakers at a symposium in honor of the 50th anniversary of our school. They asked me to speak about my views on the future of education. I started out working on a text summarizing what has happened so far in education and what trends are eminent that could shape education into a new and revolutionary way of teaching. Trying to make a statement about the so-called changes in education so far, being not so “revolutionary” and what should happen to prepare students for 21st century society. I’ve included both my text and keynote (in Dutch) if you’re interested. Thought I’d share and  also would love to hear your views on the subject.

Take care.

http://www.slideshare.net/LarsWas/slideshelf

LMS vs PLN

I came across this blogpost by D’Arcy Norman today. Actually I was referred there by Wilfred Rubens (Dutch). Both talk about the use of a learning management system (LMS) and why it still serves a purpose opposed to the “new” personal learning networks (PLN). I must say that I favor the PLN over an LMS, however the points both men make, are solid. An LMS does create a “safe” environment where students and teachers can find common ground. “It holds everything together” as D’Arcy says, his sketch shows it:

He also says: “Much of the fun and innovative work happens outside of the LMS – blogs, wikis, collaborative assignment managers, etc… But, even non-LMS platforms start to take on the characteristics of the conventional LMS – tracking students’ activity, providing access to resources, connecting assignments to grades, etc…” How do you combine fun and tracking students at the same time? I think that’s the goal in tools for education. Finding ways to make learning fun and engaging, but also to enable ways for teachers to analyze and assess the students work. A self-made network is the place where I think learning is at its best, but I understand that this isn’t an easy job for everyone. Making students digital literate is becoming more and more important, so they can find and use the tools that will do the job for them.

I would also love to see all these tools in a more interchangeable context. We, both learners and teachers, should be able to combine the tools of our choosing. I’d like to see more sharing options, so you can capture content and display it in your own network, only not by creating this new account for yet another online service, but really integrating content from one provider into another. Even in an LMS one should be able to post different types of content, a more open way of sharing perhaps. A digital place to share any content.

Thoughts on Pinterest

 

A couple of weeks ago I signed up for Pinterest. This new and fast growing social medium was something that caught my eye. Sharing images you like with others may not seem all that interesting, however, Pinterest could work as a graphic version of Diigo or Delicious! Creating multiple “boards” to post “pins” on, enables you to archive and share certain websites you like. Collecting recipes, book covers of the books you’ve read, the music albums you listen to, the movies you’ve watched,…

The possibilities for education are equally real, I think. Students and teachers could make good use of this web 2.0 tool. Here are some tips I collected online:

  • Offer quality sources for an assignment by sharing a board you created.
  • Create boards, so students can share resources for a project.
  • Students can curate their own artwork.
  • Set up a board for a class discussion.
  • Create a board where students can post their work (movie, image, etc.)

Only yesterday Pinterest updated their terms of agreement. A lot of the hassle surrounding these terms was the section about Pinterest gaining the right to sell your pins, even if they were copyright protected and if so, YOU as a user could be sued, not Pinterest! Work in progress they call it, fortunately this step is one in the right direction…

Check it out, if you haven’t already, and look for ways to use it in your classroom.

#CCK11 Openness

Ahh! Freedom again, after a week of power and control… I found this subject to be very inspiring. It’s something that’s been on my mind for quite some time now. In my school we use a lot of books (off course) but also a lot of software for which one has to pay (Windows and Office as the obvious guilty parties). I’ve wondered a lot about how schools could be cost free, but until today I couldn’t see how to achieve that. When talking about computers you could easily change your system to Ubuntu, together with OpenOffice, Firefox, VLC Media Player, etc. Using the open source tools available combined with web 2.0. But does it work? I guess that it could, I lack the experience, but the thing that always seems to come up is the education software made by publishers to accompany a book. These things are mostly Windows dependent software, so incompatible with Ubuntu, Mac, etc. You can’t use that content in the way you really want it. It almost seems that power and control are back for another week! Publishers seem reluctant to offer their content independently from some sort of program. As a teacher I’m being robbed of the choice of using the means that I prefer. And subsequently forcing my students into some sort of design they have to follow. George Siemens’ article about open source in education describes the open source content as an alternative (not competitive) to the proprietary. However the latter is responsible for a very institutionalized way of teaching, forcing us in a certain method. Our CCK11 is very different in that aspect!

The open educational resources can have an impact on the dilemma! We could offer valuable content for free. Free of costs, but also free to use in a format of our choosing. This combined with Creative Commons could make a difference. In Belgium we have a place to go to find free course content. It’s a website called KlasCement (Class & cement – what holds bricks together!?). It’s a place where teachers can share course materials that they have made with other teachers. Free of charge, just download and use it in your own class! Wonderful initiative to help find content without being dependent on publishers. Maybe this kind of initiative should be more available. We should be able to find more free content to use as we choose in our classrooms. Writing stuff ourselves and sharing it with others should be the way to go.

I get the feeling this subject is about what we already discussed in the beginning of CCK11. We should pursue the open objectives suggested by connectivism. Openness is important to be able to incorporate the content in your own world. Use it freely and in the tools you choose as a student. Luckily there are a number of tools to use out there, that could be integrated in the classroom. Try, as a teacher, to persuade your students to use these. Help them to look for information and process it with these things. It’s hard sometimes. I tried it a couple of weeks ago, trying to explain that Facebook is more then just telling the world what color socks you’re wearing! Setting up a group where they could share information and showing them how to create and share documents using Hotmail’s Skydrive or Google Doc’s was enlightening for some, but others didn’t like this new collaborative approach. Maybe they are already stuck in the “old” way of teaching, I don’t know. It changed my “mission statement” though! I want to try to use these things more in class. Show them the value of connecting with others and learning accordingly. To be continued!