Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A College Proffie Uses Free Will to Strike Down The Evil CMS Police.

Terry WAS unhappy...
Last week I got a notice that our department was having a meeting. I made the note and yesterday I strolled into a large new computer classroom to see just 4 of my colleagues. (There are 17 of us total.)

In the first minutes I discovered that the meeting was NOT a departmental meeting; it was a meeting for departmental faculty who were NOT using the standard course management software.

I listened for 4 minutes and then raised my hand. "I have my own class portal for the students," I said. 

I went up to the front computer, entered the web address for one of my classes (they're all linked from my official college homepage), and up it came.

Syllabus and handouts in a sidebar. Discussion questions for all 15 weeks. Login info for students, instructions for responding to all the posted readings, even links to some supplemental texts and links to the official texts. (I made it on Blogger, by the way.)

"Why aren't you using the department's software," the chair said.

"Free will," I said.

I got let out early and went and went to have two cinnamon buns at the student-less cafeteria.

12 comments:

  1. Good for you! There are a number of tech tools we "have" to use as well, and they are so cumbersome and outdated that I've started doing some of my own stuff online with WordPress, which I prefer to Blogger.

    I list on my syllabus that we're using the standard Moodle stuff, but I tell my students on the first day to cross that shit out.

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  2. Right on, Terry. I use the university's mandated LMS (Desire2Kill), but I host all the text materials (assignment descriptions, course schedule, policy statement, and the like) on my own personal website and use D2K for quizzes, gradebooks, and similar shizzle. Why put my stuff into a proprietary system that'd make me expend effort extracting it if (read: when) I jump ship and move elsewhere?

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    1. Me too. The best part of doing it this way is that adminicritters think you're using the LMS for everything so no hassles about non-compliance with university policies.

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  4. I'm in the opposite position. It seems to be cool in my department to hate the official LMS (which is, admittedly, the eminently hateable Blackholeboard), and I keep getting encouraged (in one case officially, in an observation letter -- until I asked to have that part taken out, which, to be fair, the observer did with no protest) to explore other options. It's not that I don't think that there are systems with better features out there, but I know none of them are perfect, and the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned, is that I want to use the system that the university supports, so that if it stops working partly or completely at some point (as it did, in fact, one December, just as everything was due), then the university has to deal with the ramifications for grades, deadlines, etc. I'd also prefer not to serve as tech support for my students, and using the official LMS allows me to pass on all but the most basic issues to the university-paid tech support folks. Finally, I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of requiring students to share personal information with a "free" service that presumably has data-gathering and/or ad-pushing as part of its business model (of course, the university student email system probably has some of these features -- at the very least, it's meant to "hook" students on the features of a certain monopoly's communication/calendaring system -- but I didn't make that decision. Also, I realize that this objection does not apply to Wordpress and similar sites that professors host at their own expense. I'm thinking more of some start-up "free" LMSs with which colleagues have experimented.)

    Mind you, I understand why people want to experiment, and I don't think a university should require use of a particular LMS (beyond, perhaps, posting some very basic information and a link to course resources hosted elsewhere, so students at least have a central gateway to online course materials). I also understand the desire to retain control of one's own materials (I create and store nearly all of mine offline, and cut and paste or upload to the LMS, which I know results in messy code, but limits the LMS to what I consider its proper role: delivery device and discussion venue).

    Mostly, although I'm quite tech-literate (at the very least, not tech-phobic), I just don't want to spend any more time or energy than absolutely necessary on the tech side of things. I suspect others may use something other than the official LMS for the same reason (especially given LMS-makers' and schools' propensity for less-than-useful updates and changes in chosen software). Vive la difference, I suppose (and definitely vive free will, and the free exercise thereof).

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    1. "It's not that I don't think that there are systems with better features out there, but I know none of them are perfect, and the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned, is that I want to use the system that the university supports, so that if it stops working partly or completely at some point (as it did, in fact, one December, just as everything was due), then the university has to deal with the ramifications for grades, deadlines, etc."

      "I just don't want to spend any more time or energy than absolutely necessary on the tech side of things."

      EXACTLY THIS.

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  5. I like Terry's response, but instead of "Free will," I say, "I do all my own web programming, and my software is better." THAT shuts 'em right up.

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    1. A bunch of us did that, in fact, and our dean supported us, so we were given server space with the understanding that IT would provide us with no tech support other than setting up our accounts.

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