In and out of the box

I like to think of myself as an outside of the box kind of thinker, whether I really am one or not. Rightly or wrongly, I¬†do think of an LMS as a box. Indeed, the first LMS I ever heard of was “Course in a Box.” So I initially thought I would like teaching online courses or modules better without an LMS.

The first time I taught online (way back in 2004), I actually taught two courses: one in the box (with WebCT) and one out of the box, just out there on the Web, so I had a direct comparison of two different approaches. (I thought I’d blogged about this experiences previously, but now I can’t find the post! If I’m being redundant, many apologies everyone!). While they both had some good features and they both had some challenges, when push comes to shove, the one I liked the most was in fact the one outside of the box. I liked my DIY approach (incidentally I developed the course with the full support of our Faculty Resource Center and around 6 staff members who took care of different things like art, music, video, programming, etc.– very DIY on my part) ūüėČ

Because I don’t want to be put or kept in a box, Lisa Lane’s article Insideous Pedagogies really resonates with me. I think absolutely the tool drives many decisions. I absolutely think that the default settings drive some pedagogical decisions. I may not be getting this right, but it seems a form of functional fixedness that limits not only what we really can do but also what we think we can do.

So on a soapbox I’ve been, raging against the machine, in this case the LMS. And then one day, a student asked me if I could post the syllabus for an onsite course in our then LMS, eLearning. I said no thanks, that I didn’t use an LMS, but that I’d happily email it to everyone. In a different course, a student asked me if I could post my ppt (which I don’t use often, but when I do, there’s a good reason for it!) in our LMS. I said no thanks, because I wasn’t using an LMS, but that I’d happily email it to everyone. In a different term, some students asked me¬†whether instead of emailing my readings, which I did in large part because I was using open source readings and wanted them to simply be able to click the links rather than retyping them, I could post them to our LMS (BB by this point). Another student request was whether instead of linking student blogs to my blog, I could post all of the URLs in BB. Over and over and over time have come the requests for me to use my LMS. I started to wonder: what gives???

Did I jump in the box and start using an LMS? You betcha! But not before talking to the students to figure out what on earth was the deal. In addition to trying to stay out of the box, I also was trying to use technologies that they use in their real lives. Email, blogs, and so forth. Trying not to impose one for which they would have little other use. I could not figure out why on earth they seemed so into the LMS.

What I didn’t realize was that they use the LMS, and they use it¬†_often_. In many classes, over many semesters, over years. They simply know it. They are familiar with it. They like it. They go back to it after the semester ends (I tend to leave things open). They want some commonality across their educational experiences, their educational tech. In short, an LMS is in fact tech that students use in their real lives, their real educational lives.¬†It finally dawned on me that using one could¬†be helpful to them.

I have found what is the most useful for the students I teach is to put resources on the LMS. Having a syllabus there, having readings there, having links there, it all provides a central repository of information. So an LMS can serve an important function. (Discussions, reflections, games, etc. so far seem to work better outside of the LMS; perhaps I will learn otherwise at some point).

So for now, as I’ve apparently always been, I’m both in and out of the box. I’m ok with that.

Schrödinger's cat in a box
Photo by Michael Rosa

9 thoughts on “In and out of the box

  1. Hi Michael – great comments regarding your out-of-the-box-ness! I liked the way you presented balance in using an LMS for some things, but not for everything. In fact, that really supports what we’re learning which is to make as many choices as possible that are based on our personal pedagogy.

    As for the BOX….when I was working in a public agency where we had a lot of boxes, I used to tell staff to think ‘outside the box inside the box’. In other words, get creative about using every resource available that’s inside the box. So much of what we have available to us today we barely tap into. That’s certainly true of an LMS or any tech tool out there. We tend to use less than 10% of it’s capability (maybe because it’s easier/faster/more convenient) and we miss the other 90% of what can be done with that tool. So with an LMS, we can only base our analysis if we have indeed used it to its fullest capacity. But then….I’m a novice at this…so it is yet to be seen if I’m even close to being right.
    Thanks for a great blog post — great because it caused me to think…and that’s what I want to do with students. Have a good week!

    • Thanks Ralene,
      I’m really intrigued by the idea of thinking out of the box while in the box. I guess it all depends on how we define our boxes!

  2. I suppose it depends on the institution how familiar students are with an online learning management system. My students rarely used BB. If I asked them if their other professors used it, many said no. We have since changed systems, and I suspect more professors will learn how to use the LMS, and actually use it for their classes. I would assume high schools are moving to the online environment, and we will have freshmen accustomed to such things.

    • Good point, Lisa! I’m sure it depends on the students and how much they know and use the system! I’ve just been suprised at the increase in numbers of students at UA who do know and use the LMS..a big increase imho just in the past few years!

  3. It was great reading your thought process. In the beginning, I was thinking that maybe you liked your DIY approach because you felt ownership of it. I wonder if adopting the LMS (in full or in part) also has to do with sort of starting to feel a sense of ownership of it (or at least ownership of the idea of using it and the process of posting on it/adapting it). What do you think? Do you see ownership as a part of this? I enjoy reading your posts because you show how you arrive at conclusions and process information – it is helpful to see how your ideas grow. Thank you for this great food for thought.

    • Hmmm, Laura, I hadn’t thought of ownership (or perhaps control). Could be! But I think I was just more creative in the one I designed myself, that is with others. I just got an idea to run it as a fully online game, and got into it with designers. We storyboarded everything, and they did art, music, there were clues and puzzels, and so forth. Was really a fun process. Actually I’m wondering if I actually gave up ownership since I worked with so many others. Perhaps it was collaboration. Great question, though! Is making me think for sure.

  4. Your post perfectly describes how I have been feeling lately about the LMS–as a launchpad, gathering site, collection point–rather than a box.

    • Hi Jim,
      Thanks for the comment! Since writing this, I’ve actually started to wonder what’s so wrong with a box anyway. My kid sure seems to love a good cardboard box. And he is imaginitive in his use of boxes. He has friends who are happy to play in what he’s built and to add in their own ideas. Something to consider!

  5. Pingback: Reflecting upon my blogging adventure through Pedagogy First | Claire Major's Blog

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