A while back I was invited to talk with the Maricopa Community College faculty at their “Canvas Conversations” daylong conference. It would be similar to Yavapai having a Blackboard Conversations day where faculty would share the good things they do in Blackboard.
Sadly, after two successful years of the “Canvas Conversations,” this year the enrollment was so low they cancelled the event just a couple weeks before the event was to take place. I am sad I do not get to share my ideas with the folks there, but I can and will share a brief text version here. And I am doing a session at the Winter Institute.
I was pretty sad to hear the news as I had already purchased some fancy bells and whistles.
Oh boy! I have my bells and whistles for my upcoming presentation about bells and whistles. pic.twitter.com/x8c4Rf1fFU
— Todd Conaway (@Todd_Conaway) October 28, 2014
I titled the session “Them Bells and Whistles.” In conversations with the Maricopa hosts of the event we decided that a look at some of the tools used in online learning that a few years back were seen as unnecessary or gimmicky are now essential elements in online courses. Further, what are some of the tools today that are seen as “bells and whistles” and may well prove to be essential to successful online experiences for students in the future? Well that is what the presentation was supposed to be about.
I am going to share two ideas that sort of surround the notion of these tools and the implications they have for schooling in the future. I had to be careful not to do too much LMS bashing as the day was devoted to the LMS they use.
The best things in the classroom are not in the classroom
I attended Prescott College and my best memories and places where I feel I learned about stuff did not happen in actual “classrooms.” The most amazing and instructional events I learned from usually happened somewhere other than a classroom on the Prescott College campus. As a student I studied how people learn and the many ways that can be choreographed by a learner or “teacher.” I went to ASU, NAU, and the UofA to spy on ed methods and curriculum design courses and see what they were DOING in their classes. I co-taught a three week class at a college in Kansas on higher education methods of teaching. We were all over the middle school classrooms in the town of Prescott. We went to Mexico multiple times and talked with faculty about how they teach classes and why. Those trips, and many more are the places and events I recall learning from.
In the online world we use “Learning Management Systems.” In effect, these are our classrooms. They exist on a place called the Internet and are surrounded by the internet as we know it. Essentially, they are much like a brick and mortar classroom that is surrounded by a community with people and places to go and the whole “the rest of the world.” How we choose to use the opportunities that the rest of the world presents us with is part of how our pedagogy is made visible. If we only use the textbook and the classroom (Learning Management System) we are choosing to not make use of the many opportunities that exist in the world around us. I do not think that is a good thing.
Evading the problems of the “default” (with thanks to Lisa Lane’s Insidious Pedagogy)
Imagine yourself on that amazing day when someone said, “…and this is your classroom.” You were a new teacher and you have just been given your first teaching assignment! What I know is that if the room contained lots of orderly rows of desks with chairs all facing the whiteboard and a lectern in the front, you will spend most of your teaching time talking to students from the “front” of the classroom. After all, that is why it is called a lecture and a lectern.
In the online world, when you get that first course and you are given a Blackboard shell I can also tell you how most teachers will teach using it. You see, much like a classroom it comes with some “default” stuff. These default tools have a huge impact on what we see as our options. Especially new teachers. And many never move beyond those default options. Just like that classroom with the rows of tables, the online class has certain build in pedagogies that it allows for. Not the least insidious is that of enabling students passively “watch” content. Being aware of how the default is constructed and why will help us move past the passive classrooms full of lectures and PowerPoints into more active learning environments. There is, after all, the whole internet out there to be a part of. By limiting our students to some very manageable activities boxed into a Blackboard course we are robbing them of the world that surrounds them.
Keeping an open mind on opportunities that tools present and understand them before we judge them is just like keeping an eye open for opportunities in the community we live in to bring our course content to life. You know, that ever present “real world” we keep hearing about.