Daily Archives: February 25, 2009

Down with the cookie-cutter LMS: the Edupunk ideology and why integrated systems might go away

Edupunk as a term has been circulating since May last year. D’Arcy Norman has posted the YouTube video from below with a couple of folk talking about Edupunk, including Jim Groom the guy who originated the idea

One point agreement amongst the participant is that Edupunk arose because a lot of people were frustrated with the constraints of course management systems. First the video.

I agree 100% that the commercial CMSes are horrible, constraining and need to be done away with. My interest in this that my current organisation has decided to go with Moodle. An open source CMS that has an aura of “from the people” and thus being better than the commercial systems. In fact, the underlying feeling of a lot of people is that the open source CMSes are a paradigm change away from the commercial systems.

I’ve never agreed with that. I’ve always felt that they are exactly the same model and will have exactly the same problems. There will be some minor advantages around the edges as the code is open and the community is much larger, but in the end there is a “management” that has final say. Especially when these systems are implemented within universities. I’m already hearing rumours about our version of Moodle being “run as vanilla”.

When I grabbed the video from YouTube, the comment on the YouTube page indicates that I’m not alone

Decolonize and resist the corporatization of education, the florescent lighted LMS of Blackboard, WebCT, Moodle.

Scarcity and abundance

The CMS/LMS model is based on the assumption of scarcity that takes a number of forms:

  1. Scarcity of online services.
    The university had to provide discussion forums, content distribution mechanisms etc in an integrated system because staff and students couldn’t find these services online in late 90s and early 00s.
  2. Scarcity of knowledge and ability.
    Very few staff or students are familiar or comfortable with online technology and using it to support learning and teaching. This was especially so within learning and teaching support units. Instructional technologists, at some stage in the past, weren’t renowned for their technical ability and adaptability.
  3. Scarcity of reliable technology.
    University IT departments have to deal with a large amount of technology, and previously, had to deal with it at a very low level. This required having large numbers of folk who could deal with low level technical issues.
  4. Scarcity of support services.
    The need to have lots of people keeping the technology going, the scarcity of knowledge and ability of staff and students and limited budgets meant that support services were minimised. Especially direct support for learning and teaching and e-learning. The historical absence of technology in learning and teaching has meant that universities have not had specific people tasked with helping support staff and students in using technology for learning and teaching. It’s been an on-going battle between the information technology and the learning support folk. The end result, there has been little or no combined support for e-learning.
  5. Scarcity of understanding about how to do e-learning.
    To this day, very few people in management roles at university have little or no understanding of the complexities associated with learning and teaching, let alone e-learning which adds technology (another topic they know very little about) to the mix. This scarcity of understanding leads to the adoption of fads and fashions as logical decision making (see some related posts: the silliness of best practice, open source LMS – the latest fad, and alternatives for e-learning).

It is my belief that many of these assumptions of scarcity have or will be very soon overthrown. For example,

  1. Scarcity of online services.
    Completely and utterly overthrown. Any number of projects, mostly Edupunk projects, have shown you can effectively and efficiently support an e-learning course using existing online services. I’ve been involved in two such projects: BAM and Web 2.0 course sites.
  2. Scarcity of knowledge and ability.
    Increasingly students and staff arriving at Universities use a broad array of technologies. While they may not be experts with this technology nor familiar with using it for learning, we are in a much better place than 10 years ago. Plus the sheer penetration of this stuff into real life is reducing (not removing) the burden on universities to train staff and students. This trend, may not be sufficient to make a difference today, but I don’t see this trend turning around. Eventually we will get to the stage where the a majority of our staff and students are comfortable with technology.

    This trend is what has enable the Edupunk movement. People who are comfortable with technology realising just how constraining and crap the CMS/LMS experience is.

  3. Scarcity of reliable technology.
    Another certain trend is that technology keeps climbing the abstraction layers. i.e. it’s becoming more powerful, you can do more advanced things with less effort. This applies as certainly to the support or organisational infrastructure as it does to end-users. The increasing abundance of external services (e.g. software as a service, cloud computing etc.) is further continuing the trend that organisations no longer need as many low level technical folk as they used to. Those resources can be freed up.

The last two scarcities are the most problematic. Given the long history of faddish management decision making in universities, especially around learning and teaching, I don’t see this one changing anytime soon. Especially when, in many institutions, there is no effective marriage between learning and teaching and technology that effectively harnesses the potential synergies possible when deep understanding between these two fields is effectively mixed to produce something new.

Which is perhaps what is starting to happen in Edupunk. Individuals are starting to work around the barriers and limitations of the organisations they work for.

It’s time for universities to catch up.