Thanks to Mary Hess for linking us to a fantastic article from First Monday: Insidious Pedagogy: How course management systems impact learning, by Lisa M. Lane.
Lane writes a superb critique of course management systems (CMSs), such as Blackboard, Moodle, and our very own JICS (i.e. MyLutherNet). Lane's point is not that CMSs are bad, or poorly designed, or even that they should go away. Lane's point is that CMSs are "not pedagogically neutral shells for course content. â€¦Course management systems each contain their own inherent pedagogy, and for most systems these pedagogies are traditional in nature." Lane is not discouraging the use of course management systems; she is encouraging critical engagement of the assumptions that CMSs make.
As faculty work with a particular system, CMS defaults become comfortable and familiar territoryâ€¦ and experience with the CMS over time does not necessarily lead to more creative pedagogyâ€¦. Even after several years of working with the CMS, faculty requests for help focus on what the technology can do, rather than how their pedagogical goals can be achieved.
This engagement is one of the things we in Learning Design & Technology (LDT) have been attempting to do over the lifetime of our office. As online courses at Luther Seminary continue to grow in demand, MyLutherNet (JICS) is being used more and more, even by "traditional, face-to-face" courses.
JICS has certain default settings and assumptions for courses, many of which are based on undergraduate needs (the major client of Jenzabar). Notably, the way that JICS is set up is that it groups content by type. It uses 'portlets' to group items so that you have, separately, a handouts portlet, a links portlet, and a forums portlet, where you upload files, link to other webpages, and participate in group discussions, respectively. These are separated functions, built on the idea that "If I have to do [a], I'll go to the [a] portlet; if I need to accomplish [b], I'll click on the [b] portlet."
This type-based architecture is in contrast to a time-based architecture, where everything from files to videos to interactions would be grouped together by week (or day, or semester) rather than by content-type. The content-type way of ordering things isn't inherently bad, it just sets up a method of pedagogy that may not fit the context of a semester-long course, or may be confusing for students trying to go from page-to-page looking for the (1) assigned reading, the (2) video introduction and then (3) the small-group discussion.
Thankfully, MyLutherNet doesn't have to be limiting to pedagogy.
Over the past couple of semesters, LDT has attempted to use MyLutherNet, and the way that it is constructed, to work in the service of pedagogy, not the other way around. We have re-worked the default settings of JICS to better fit our graduate theological context, we have implemented the use of external HTML pages to act as [limited] weekly, time-based content pages, and we always try to begin our conversations with professors with discussions around intended student learning, rather than simply showing off online tools.
What if MyLutherNet was used by residential, face-to-face courses to post online mini-lectures of the course material? Students could watch the videos before coming to class, and class time could be better used for guided discussion or question & answer.
Or, conversely, what if class time was spent really digging into a rich content-based lecture. Students could spend their time taking in-depth notes, and then asking their questions in MyLutherNet (which would give them more time to form thoughtful, engaged questions).
It's not that one of these techniques is better, it's that MyLutherNet is then put in the service of learning, rather than just an under-utilized tool that just seems to get in the way.
We are all aware that MyLutherNet is far from perfect. But if we work together to engage the pedagogical assumptions that MyLutherNet makes, we can work past its shortcomings, getting to a place where learning is maximized and pastoral formation is able to take place.