Friday, June 30, 2017

I hate being the curmudgeon in the room, but...

I was preparing for the summer term, looking up info on our LMS's support site, and a demo on how to use Pinterest and Flickr for curation was being pushed on the top menu with a flashing link. I clicked on it and my initial reaction was "What the hell? I spend hours copying and pasting questions, importing questions into Question Banks, trying to determine which questions are in which bookmarked question bank that I can't edit, all while trying to make sure my students know what they are supposed to. And they spend time on this?" Needless to say I was pretty indignant, this felt like creating climate control features for the people in the front of the car, while the rear passengers don't have seat belts. The LMS was paying attention to bells and whistles (as all edtech does) and not getting to the simple stuff (as all edtech does).

I went off a little half cocked, not realizing that this demo was being put on by an individual through the LMS's site. So yes, I have a little egg on my face and troubled another faculty member who, if they're anything like me, don't need additional stressors on their life. I apologized and cleared things up, hopefully, to resolve any perceived antagonism. The point remains; basic functionality of curating questions in the LMS is clunky, non-intuitive, and time consumptive. Moodle has had this functionality for at least a decade. This new LMS has to build everything from the ground up with the funds they have allocated for development. They choose to focus on making vocal groups happy with bells and whistles, but neglect core functionality of a LMS.

There was a suggestion of using an outside tool, and I can use our online homework system for everything Canvas does (and have), but because other faculty use Canvas, and to ensure there is consistency of the student experience, I need to use Canvas. Would I like my students to be adaptable 21st century students, who can use different online tools? Absolutely. Are some of my community college students food insecure, and can only access the internet from campus or a library? Yes. I have to choose my battles as I live in a system larger than myself.

The person putting on the demo then suggested I use an outside installation of Moodle as a 'LEARNING' tool... What? I need a consistent place to have students answer questions, reflect on their answers, and record their attempt for a grade. I need to have them as part of a grade or students won't do them. Yeah, I'd love it for students to do what I ask of them in the interest of learning, but the maxim of "Students will only do something if it impacts their grade." is one I am burdened with and won't be able to change anytime soon. Sure, maybe I'm feeding into the learning-as-point-scoring approach to grades, but again I live in a system larger than myself. If you want to be the magical unicorn who can move mountains and lead your students to the promised land, great. I can't right now.

This person later wrote a blog post and I'd like to respond to a few points.

  • My complaints are more than just "not getting what I want", it is the claim the the LMS is being irresponsible with its time and money by focusing on bells and whistles that I am sure will help some vocal faculty, but not focusing on basic core functionality that almost all LMSs have. My STEM folks usually aren't vocal about their needs, and won't spend the time in the LMS's social media experience to vote on ideas. While questions and question banks may not be high on the voting ranks, we can't do our job without them. 
  • Get out of my face with this Teachers Throwing Out Grades (#TTOG) stuff. One day, sure let's talk about it, but right now, I can't curate questions in my LMS. You want to talk about a foundational assumption of higher education (awarding grades based on understanding and performance), without providing a strong argument for it and just assuming everyone is on board? Stop. I am not joining your cult. (Yet.)
  • Domain of One's Own is so broad and generic, I don't even get what you are talking about. You haven't defined it, you just assume everyone is on board, and after some research, sounds like a great tool for upper-level undergraduate/graduate level courses, not the courses I teach. Your tools are not my tools. 

I know I am coming off as an imperious curmudgeon, this is not the way I want to be with the larger edtech community, other faculty, and students. I would rather be a positive, uplifting, supportive, and challenging voice that helps to build consensus, foster debate, develop relationships, and find ways of working together. I really do. But when people in edtech pull a 'paradigm shift' while many of us are in institutions that have strong compliance cultures, students that have a multitude of needs, and lack necessary tools in our LMS, it feels like the privileged are asking the unprivileged to meet expectations we have no ability to reach.