Friday, October 24, 2014

A Friday Thirsty on that Lousy LMS. From the Academic Madame Librarian.

My class didn't make, so I was allowed to convert them to independent study for a 5th of the money. But I needed filthy lucre, so I'm now committed.

This is my first goddamn time teaching a 100% online course. And my first time teaching anything longer than a three part workshop all by myself. And my first time working with this damned LMS as anything other than a student.

It lost my pictures, diligently uploaded and selected to go with the content, for my visual learners.

It somehow moved all of my files, so my quick links no longer work (which a student informed me of - yes, that was a fun series of emails), and it took completely re-doing each and every one of the blasted things before they would work.

Things that seem like they should take 10 seconds take me almost 30 minutes to do, like setting release conditions for tests.

Q: Does this get any easier? How does anyone teach with these things? Is there any benefit for the instructor from the LMS?




10 comments:

  1. I've had my hand forced a couple of times like this and I never found much benefit for me. In fact it seemed to be more work, more correspondence. Less real teaching. I ended up making a ton of video lessons that took forever and that seemed tired and canned right away. Just a way for the eduporations to get more virtual asses in virtual seats.

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  2. I only teach in the online format, Ecollege is easier to use than Blackboard (WebCT and ANGEL make me shudder) and like anything there is a learning curve. I can set up a class with video and lecture uploaded in about 30-45 minutes because I am used to it.

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    1. Academic Madame LibrarianOctober 24, 2014 at 10:40 AM

      Well, I know there is a learning curve, and I'm hopeful that after this semester it will be easier, but seriously...

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  3. I manage to make Blackholeboard (more or less) work for me with online classes, but, any way you cut it, there's a lot of clerical/setup work involved with online teaching, as well as, yes, a lot of correspondence with students about questions that you'd normally answer in front of the class, and at least a few other students would get the same question answered at the same time (unless they were too busy waiting to ask the same question to pay attention to the exchange -- see yesterday's conversations to avoid idealization of what actually happens in the face to face classroom). There are ways around that problem -- e.g. having students ask questions in an online question forum first, answer each other there when possible, and check for already-answered questions before emailing the professor -- but it's still a problem.

    I teach a very hands-on, task-oriented writing class, and I think the online format (with most class activities centered around exchanges on the Discussion Board; I do few or no videos or other "lecture" stands-ins, but do write detailed instructions and use a textbook) works well for that class. But I'd be much more hesitant to teach a literature class online, and I have strong doubts -- seconded by my friends in the field -- about teaching languages online. Really, I think it depends a lot on the class, as well as on the readiness, maturity, etc. of the student (online or hybrid -- especially non-traditionally-scheduled hybrid, such as a few weekends or weeks of face to face learning a semester or year -- is probably an excellent format for some specialized graduate programs; it's probably not a good idea for most students who need to take the sort of basic first- and second-year classes one can and probably should find in face to face format at the local community college). So, yes, it gets easier, but only so much easier; teaching online (like all good teaching, but perhaps a bit more so) is labor-intensive.

    Also -- the conversion-to-"independent study"-at-a-5th-the-salary thing ought to be outlawed. Either they need to run the class or they don't, and, while feedback is a big part of the job, so is setup, and that doesn't change depending on the number of students in the class. The practice strikes me as akin to the just-in-time scheduling for fast food and retail workers that is coming under scrutiny: at some point, the larger organization/employer (for-profit or not) needs to absorb the financial consequences of fluctuations in day-to-day (or term-to-term) demand, rather than transferring the burden to some of the most vulnerable workers in the organization.

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    1. Academic Madame LibrarianOctober 24, 2014 at 1:22 PM

      I can't argue with you: in retrospect, I should have turned down the course. But I got sob stories about how they need JUST ONE MORE CREDIT (and I'm teaching the one credit class...)

      Exactly how much setup an online class needed was not something I realized before I started: this is actually a pre-made course, and while I'm allowed to move stuff around, I mostly have to teach it as it is packaged. I have to admit, I thought having everything done already was going to cut way down on prep, but it has not. I've had to trash a whole section, which was outdated, and significantly rewrite several others so they made sense.

      Let's just say that no matter how many sob stories I get, I'm unlikely to teach this as an independent study ever again.

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    2. Trying to adapt and update a pre-made course can, I suspect, be at least as time-consuming, and considerably more frustrating, than creating your own from scratch (though, as with any class, it may be easier to create your own from scratch after you've followed a textbook or a syllabus modeled on someone else's once or twice, so you have a clearer idea of what you want to do).

      The idea that an online course can be "developed" and then "run," as-is, for multiple semesters in multiple contexts, is, of course, one of the major mistaken assumptions on which proponents of online education as a cheap, easy solution to cost and quality problems in higher ed base their fantasies. It might work to start with some pre-existing materials (much as one starts with a textbook), but any course needs to be updated frequently, and adapted to meet the needs of the particular student population (which itself changes frequently).

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  4. One very useful thing you can do with an LMS is use it to give your class the link to the class website you set up on blogger or wordpress, which will actually work, and not lose the files, and do what you need.

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    1. Hear, hear. I teach in hybrid format frequently, and I only use the LMS for higher-end functions like giving quizzes, collecting assignments, tracking grades, and tracking attendance. All the "real" content is hosted on my personal website, and I use the LMS as a shell for presenting it.

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    2. Although I've never tried it, this strikes me as a good approach. I want my school to be responsible for some functions: keeping grades secure, backing up online student work (so it's the provost's problem as much as mine if things go wrong, as they once did, during the last week of the semester). I also want to be careful that I'm not essentially selling my students' information to an outside company in exchange for a "free" LMS platform (of course, our schools are already busy selling student eyes to various companies in exchange for "free" email, etc., which complicates this part of the equation. Also, our version of Blackboard now has some facebook-ish features that I suspect are headed in the same direction, further muddying the waters.)

      On the other hand, a bit more freedom to present my own materials (which I back up in my own ways) in the way I want could be nice at times. I need to set up an independent professional site soon anyway (and will use reclaim hosting to do so), and I suspect I may end up experimenting with class wordpress sites once I've done that.

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  5. Okay, I've experimented with LMS for over a decade, and I am partial to Moodle (although it has it's drawbacks). The cool thing about using an LMS is that they don't know that you are at your house on the beach or whatever when teaching and grading. You just have to make sure that you are online every day to catch the emails (or have them sent directly to your real email). Yes, setup sucks. But once you have it, you can often export it and then haul it back in for the next semester.

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