Learning management systems (LMS) have developed over the last few years as a way for structuring courses and presenting lecture notes, presenting an array of resources and providing the opportunity for asynchornous discussion. There is also the ability to set online tests and quizzes. The learning management system is tied to the institution and users need a username and password and have to given access rights in order to access the course material. Over the last three or four years we have used Blackboard as our LMS at Otago Polytechnic and have grown the type of resources and made increasing use of this for online course delivery. One or two of our courses are now totally online and delivered through Blackboard. Blackboard in a commercial product and Otago Polytechnic have a contract to use this software. At Christchurch Polytechnic (CPIT) a different LMS is used, it is used in a similar way and students also need to be granted access to the course ‘shell’, which allows the students to access all the course material. CPIT use Moodle as their LMS. Moodle is free to use software but is very similar to Blackboard. Other online educational resources are linking to moodle, creating interest blends of names such as Sloodle, which is second life linked to moodle. The appeal, I think, in the LMS systems, is that they allow one log in, which then contains all, or most of, the information the student needs, to meet the course requirements. I believe that the idea of these LMS is that they present material to students in a consistent way with a similar look and feel to all the resources and with similar navigation tools which allow the student to easily link to material and find their way around.
I have become used to Blackboard.When everything is working well I have found it to be a good way of keeping in touch with students and delivering course material. However as I have become more familiar with the world wide web I start to see more and more the limitations in an LMS such as backboard. When I access an online resource which is linked through Blackboard it appears within the blackboard view. I find it difficult to find the actual URL of the resource and therefore it is hard for me to find this again on my own initiative. As a student Blackboard adds another level of complexity to my online experience, and when there are technical problems with Blackboard, which do happen, it adds to my frustration.
The other problem with LMS are that all the work that is done in the LMS stays is the LMS. If I have had access to certain resources as a student, I will not longer have access to these resources when I complete the course of study. It also does not encourage or develop skills in accessing content in the world wide web and it is a very closed environment. Students are only exposed to those who are registered on the same course of study in which they themselves are engaged. There is increasing acceptance that we are life long learners. It is impossible to learn all there is to know on any topic within a particular course of study. As we explore and learn there will always be new understandings and new innovations. So students need to develop skills in finding and assessing information themselves. To do this they need to move outside blackboard. When courses are presented on the world wide web they are then visible to all who may have an interest in the topic. Resources which can be used to guide student learning on the world wide web are course weblogs and wikis. Students can also be guided to online resources which may be of interest to them through social bookmarks such as Del-icio-us. If students post to their own blogs their fellow students, and anyone else, can share in their learning experience. Students can support and challenge each other as their understanding grows. This is a link to a concept map developed for Unitec students demonstrating online learning resources using google, moodle and much much more. This map is worth exploring and is interactive, moving the cursor over an item and clicking on it links into more information on how this is being used in this Unitec trial
I attended a workshop on E-Portfolios at Otago Polytechnic the other day. I had been quite excited about this as portfolios being used for professional development for midwives and I see a place for them within undergraduate midwifery study also. The E-Portfolio format has grown out of Mahara which is free open source software, but the Eprotfolio software will be linked into the institution, or other users of Eportfolio. This is a huge limit on its potential and usefulness I believe. When the course of study is complete, or for staff if they change jobs, they will not be able to take the portfolio with them, of give future employers access to the portfolio unless they too are Eportfolio users. For myself, if I am putting the effort into creating this document I want to know I will always have access to it and I think students will feel the same.
In conclusion, I believe that learning management systems have a place but are only a small part of the learning resources that our students should be using in the future. I find the concept map from Unitec very interesting and I plan to explore this further.
Image: Networking. from !!sahrrizvi!!’s photos on flickr.com