Thoughts on our LMS

Before this question came up here in POTCERT I hadn’t thought much about our Moodle LMS. Working with it at the entry and editing level, Moodle seems about as exciting and worthy of thinking about as the pavement in the parking lot or maybe a drab old filing cabinet. It’s just a display case with a few operating levers but otherwise lifeless.

Now to think of it as something with potential qualities reminds me that I’ve never been trained in it and in fact never cared to be trained and this might explain my neutral relationship to something I spend 8 hours a day working with. Titled in the vein of the tragic life of lowly courseware clerk and the chilling indifference of the bloodless Learning Management System might make this a more interesting story but I am at a loss to come up with observations of much value.

Our largest limitation is bandwidth and the reality of students on dial up internet. This is not the fault of Moodle though it would be nice if we could partition off portions of each class so students could work at, say, a chapter level without having to load the whole course each time. Not sure how to do this technically but there must be some way to daisy chain chunks of courses together to lighten each segment to only that needed? The advantage would be a greater use of visuals without having to link out to them which creates a maintenance problem when sites go dark part way through a class. We are fortunate to have great graphic design and video people on staff and would love to build more in-house allowing their creativity to shine even more. And practically, the content we are subbing out is more polished but creates a constant crisis of late delivery and high costs better spent on our staff. We cut quality in other places to pay for bad sub-contractor performance, get nothing but grief for being over schedule and over budget and then work unpaid overtime to get thing up and “live” hours before classes start. Because we have a production studio and talent we only need subs for impossible deadline jobs anyway. Of course that’s 99% of the work load

Having our school contained within a complex electronic mechanism we are forced to think of school as a place without color or lively activity and now that I think of it, this creates a sort of dull-light-on-a-foggy-afternoon practicality that has been noted but we take as normal. Or maybe not normal but a fight we’ve already had over the predictable crashing of the system every time a bit of fun gets going. The LMS has become the whole college’s business as it integrates further into every corner and it seems like everyone else thinks of Moodle as a musty old spreadsheet of decaying data rather than a lively dance floor. Guess the name says it: Learning Management System with emphasis on Management and away from Learning. Single system solutions appeal to administration but I wonder if there are really advantages to being dependent on single platforms for everything?

Word has it a rather famous online university housed about 50 miles from us had customized their Moodle 1.9 to the point that it may take years to upgrade to version 2.0. Think in terms of technology a person tends to think quick responses, flexibility, staying current and a sort of energy swirling around the core learning mandate. When a system “integrates” across departments it risks becoming “owned” or controlled by conflicting interests which in turn makes it a political object to fight over. For instance, integrating registration into Moodle makes the whole system subject to security protocols the make a mess of editing access and teacher/administrator permissions. We’ve had to build a second file sharing location on a separate server to trade files and every time the power spikes it seems we all need new passwords or firewalls spring up blocking exactly what you wanted to work on. This is more like living in an occupied city that working in a college setting. (Except for us boomers who went to physically occupied campuses during the Vietnam War).

I really enjoyed reading the “Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century” article. The chance to have a “platform” dedicated to learning sounds very attractive and worth looking into. Pearson’s OpenClass sounds worth looking into though again I hear the universality and integration words that speak of too many cooks in the LMS. And then there’s concept of “hosting” and being dependent on outside maintenance and support that costs a fortune and can be extremely unreliable.

At some point the ideas of “distributed education” and the “learning society” will probably melt all this into the background but for now the LMS is a piece of complexity we have to deal with. Maybe we need to install screens on parking meters and for a quarter a chapter you can get your lessons on the street named after the course and pick up your diplomas printed on parking tickets or stamped on tokens good for the next year’s curriculum.

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  • Lisa M Lane  On March 19, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    On the bandwidth and access issue. Moodle is a heavy program, and Moodle 2 is worse than 1.9 (see the RAM charts here). For a couple of semesters I created a basic static webpage, on which I featured all the static information for the class, including an interactive syllabus with links to the lectures, all on the open web. When a student clicked on an exam or discussion forum (in other words, those things that were graded) it took them into Moodle. That way, they could access all presentation pages on the open web and have them load quickly. Just an idea.

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