At the start of an early day of working on the PhD I am feeling particularly old. Dealing with a teenager at home may also have contributed to it. So, I’m feeling in a particularly curmudgeonly frame of mind, i.e. grumpy old b*stard. Please keep that in mind when reading the following, it will likely come over much more cynical/negative than it is meant.
One of my colleagues, Nona Muldoon has just posted a couple of blog posts on the idea of the 2minuteMoodle. The posts are an introduction and a What is it, how to do it.
The idea is a good idea and it is something I think would be of benefit to students, if staff engaged it in appropriately. However, I did have a couple of concerns – which I outline briefly below.
My main concern is how this suggestion seems to encapsulate what I see as perhaps the biggest problem with the institutional use of enterpise information systems like an LMS – even if it’s an open source LMS/VLE. That’s the main crux of this post.
First, the minor points about the idea.
Everything old is new again
The basic idea is very similar to the idea of weekly summaries that I’ve seen academics use at the host institution for at least 10 years. Traditionally these were sent out by the course coordinator at either the start/end of a week laying out a short “map” of the week gone/to come. Usually sent out to the class mailing list or discussion forum. There is even a great deal of correlation between the regular topics most coordinators used and the questions in the 2minuteMoodle approach.
In fact, I’ve seen situations where a new coordinator will take the weekly summaries prepared by a more experienced coordinator from the previous offering and use them as a foundation. i.e. the new coordinator will edit the old summaries to update them for the specifics of the current offering or the knowledge/beliefs of the new coordinator and post them again.
I think this is a fundamentally good idea, and there should be more of it.
Why the focus on one technology?
One of the major differences is the technology. It used to be done with simple text-based email. The new approach makes use of, basically, a podcast. As mentioned in the posts technology has moved on and made it much simpler for both staff and students to use audio, but I wonder if it’s worth the extra effort.
There will still, in this day an age, be students who can’t afford or don’t have access to online audio (though I imagine a small percentage). I know there will be staff who will have significant difficulties using audio to create the the summaries.
Which makes me wonder why the focus on one particular implementation technology? Why not have the explanation of the idea mention/allow staff use other, potentially simpler media. The introduction does mention podcasts or VoiceThread – why not mention a simple text message.
How enterprise systems wrap institutional practice
Enterprise systems, like institutional LMSes, are usually fairly substantial investments. The cost the organisation a lot and are implemented using fairly traditional teleological approaches. A main feature of that is that everything the organisation does must be aimed, or at least seen to be aimed, at the enterprise system.
This is one of the reasons the immediate response to detecting shadow systems is to seek their elimination. Shadow systems aren’t part of the shadow system and consequently must be eliminated. The same goes for any practice or process that doesn’t fit within the confines of the enterprise system. Given the inherent inflexibility of enterprise systems, this is particularly troubling as it limits innovation and change and reinforces the “design for replacement” practice of most institutional IT systems and the problem of stable systems drag.
But there is also another problem with this need to show alignment with the enterprise system. A whole range of practices, policies, arguments and projects, some of them questionable, seek to encourage acceptance by labeling themselves with the enterprise system. Even when they have little or no connection with the enterprise system. The idea is that the cost and subsequently the importance of the enterprise system provides a certain level of attention and respect that can help other ideas.
Consequently, the institution by small steps over time finds its practice, at least in name, catering for the enterprise system rather than for what is good or valuable for the institution and its participants.
From one perspective, Nona’s 2minuteMoodle idea is an example of that. In a nutshell, I might summarise 2minuteMoodle as:
- Drawing on ideas of scaffolding a series of “questions” is arrived at.
- Each week course coordinators create audio recordings of them using those questions as a framework to provide scaffolding/motivation for the students.
- The audio recordings are distributed by RSS/podcast and included in the LMS.
From that description, why is the idea called “2minuteMoodle”. What role does Moodle play in this idea? Isn’t the core of it the theoretical ideas from the scaffolding literature and perhaps the use of voice. Isn’t the podcast the main way for distributing this? A podcast means that a truly digital native student could access the podcast without going to the LMS.
Isn’t the LMS a transitory presence? In the 10 years of “enterprise” e-learning, CQU has had three institutional LMSes – WebCT, Blackboard and now Moodle – and a home grown one. The LMS comes and go, the basic idea of scaffolding remains, regardless of the LMS.
So, why call this idea 2minuteMoodle?
My response is that this is an example of how enterprise systems warp the practice of organisations. At the worst, it’s an example of how the focus is increasingly moving away from what is good L&T and what we know about it and moving towards how do we feed the institutional enterprise system. At the best, it’s an example of how the limited attention resources at an institution are being consumed by the implementation and migration to an enterprise system so that good ideas have to take on the “badge of importance” provided by the enterprise system in order to garner some attention.