PBL – Portfolio Based Learning? And the Eternal Funding Question

We’re ready to unveil ePortfolios at the institution I work at and I’ve had a hand in developing the training materials. I love the tool, and I hope that the faculty love the tool as well. I do hope that the students love it as well, however I have some reservations.

The first reservation is that the tool looks old. While there are workarounds, and ways to make it look better – the templates provided look like junk. Especially now that Desire2Learn’s LMS looks beautiful, sleek and modern. At the organization level, we’ve done our best to address the clunkiness of the ePortfolio templates – replacing ones that are better suited to a K-12 environment with a more adult, er, professional look. I’m sure that the templating system will change in forthcoming revisions to the tool – it’s something I know I’ve complained about, a couple of times, directly to D2L – they now have shown they can create an elegant, modular product, so I expect those changes that have been made to the LE be moved into other tools throughout the suite.

The looks aren’t the only thing. Faculty are going to have to get a handle on changing how they teach – which is problematic from an institution viewpoint. People change slowly, but the institution demands change – probably because the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities are breathing down their neck too. Of course, it doesn’t help when austerity measures in the province of Ontario are hitting all the public sector workers – we are offered 0% wage increases over the next two years. I can stomach that – I have a comfortable job that affords me a world of luxury that I didn’t have previously. I recognize that. I also recognize when MTCU and the Ministry of Finance are at odds over funding of development in the education sector. It’s funny how on one hand they want people to do more (with more students) and the best practices point to more student-centered approaches, when there clearly is no way that those approaches are able to be met. Portfolios are a great example – here’s an alternative way to run a class, but no one’s thinking about the nitty-gritty part of it – how to manage all the information that portfolios generate. That costs money.

Combine new rules at the Federal level (Bill C-11 comes to mind, with new restrictions on fair use in education) – and ultimately it’s the support people who end up doing the grunt work on supporting the initiatives (and might end up Federal watch, er, lapdogs as well).

Speculation on Version 10 of Desire2Learn’s Learning Environment

As one of the three administrators at my institution of the LMS, we got an invitation to the unveiling of version 10 of Desire2Learn’s LE. We were also asked what we thought the new system would be like, what the big change will be. I started mulling over what it could be, thinking about all the permutations. I had spoken with someone I knew who had seen the new version and when I said no, their only response was “it’s different”. So while I may be right in the speculation, it’s not because I have insider information. Here’s some things that I think might be a part of the new Learning Environment:

1. Further integrated with Social Media. During the 9.4.1 upgrade D2L added some minor touches, being able to add Likes and Tweets to items in the LE, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the User Profiles replaced with Facebook or Google profiles.

2. No more Homepages with widgets. While I like the widgets approach to homepages, I think it’s probably run it’s course. What would replace it? Perhaps a dashboard type interface, like the one in ePortfolio, where when one logs in, they are presented with an activity page, which lists all their courses, and the activity within them.

3. No more Content. I’ve grown to hate how faculty use Content as a repository for PowerPoint and PDFs. I wish that there was more inventive use of the Content tool, and if it’s going to be a big change, getting rid of Content would be a big change. Is it the sort of change everyone would want? No. I think it would freak a lot of people out, but D2L is well aware of disruptive change, and maybe it’s something that as a company, they would be daring enough to go to. The things that were in Content would now be tied to Competencies, or Outcomes, or some other activity. In essence, it forces faculty to rethink the use of this learning object. Alternatively, the Content tool could be re-worked so it allows students to create content as well (based on Instructor level permissions). I’ve seen this in other collaborative software like FirstClass – where instructors can grant students permission to do different tasks.

4. Badges. D2L could easily craft some badges to award a user for passing a course (eg. PSYCH 1A00 badge complete!), completing all the assignments, based on their Intelligent Agents tool. While I personally think badges are silly, almost as silly as the paper diplomas are printed on, there seems to be a shift towards using badges as a motivator for completing a course. I can certainly see that being useful, and it would be a big difference over the competition for D2L.

5. Blogs tool be deleted to be replaced by simplified WordPress installs. OK, this is my personal wish, but how great would it be to have a one-button opt-in wordpress install (a simplified one – perhaps with no add-ins or only a selection of themes) for students. It would be even better then, if courses could have a blog tool where collaborative writing could occur.

By the way, Happy April Fool’s Day, even though this is not an April Fool’s post.