Last month I had the opportunity to speak at the Pearson CiTE 2012 conference about my use of OpenClass – Pearson’s new LMS/Learning Platform – in the course I taught at the University of Kentucky this semester.
I love using OpenClass, and it’s really opened up what I can do interms of project-based learning and active learning activities in the classroom. Here are a few of the highlights from my presentation:
A lot of what drove my interest in using OpenClass emerged from the data Experience Design Works uncovered in an engagement in 2010 with the University of Kentucky where, in the course of a deep dive into both the Faculty and Student experiences for using Blackboard for teaching and learning, we found that things like clean, intuitive UI and the ability for a teaching and learning platform to enable (rather than hinder) student collaboration are of critical importance. After seeing OpenClass demoed at Educause 2011 in Philadelphia, I felt that OpenClass possessed great potential to address all of the major Faculty and Student pain points we identified in our study. But I wanted to “dogfood” OpenClass before I could recommend it to faculty and clients.
Also, the Experience Design Works team has a strong belief that we are already in the beginning stages of a fundamental, structural change in Higher Education. Not just a change in the tools we use to teach or how we design our courses and the classrooms in which face to face classes are held, but a change in how we teach, how we design learning experiences and how we support those experiences. In many ways, Higher Education is going through the same sorts of transformative disruptions that the music and print journalism industries have experienced.
To build the Social University, however, we need a toolset and environment that supports collaborative inquiry and writing. The architecture and deployment of the traditional LMS, in many ways, can serve as a frictional environment that delays the emergence of what Experience Design Works refers to as the Transformative University. Next generation Learning Platforms, such as Lore, Helix, GoodSemester and, of course, OpenClass are in many ways better positioned to enable Higher Education institutions to evolve into the Transformative University.
In my own teaching and learning efforts, I’ve always had to build a toolkit out of whatever tools I could find that would enable the type of active learning and constructivist/connectivist pedagogies I believe in so strongly. Recently, Google Apps have provided a strong and integrated ed tech toolkit that really allows teachers interested in more active, project-based/problem-based, team-oriented learning to do the types of activities they’ve always wanted to be able to do, without the technology that can enable such activities getting in the way. OpenClass, with its clean, simple (but highly customizable) UI and strong Google Apps/Gmail integration was a great way to make using those tools even easier.
This Spring, I used OpenClass and Google Apps to teach a project-based learning course in Kentucky Government and Politics. I teach this course as a futures thinking course and the students spend the semester building up to the production of a multimedia scenarios project examining the implications of today’s trends and policy decisions for the Kentucky of 2032. The Collaborations feature of OpenClass made it insanely easy to share documents with students that they could then work on during class (there’s nothing that warms my cold, cold heart more than 25 students sitting in project team circles with their laptops and iPads out working on deliverables) and that they could also share with me when it came time to submit individual and group assignments. The Collaboration feature was such a hit with the students that they began to wonder why it didn’t work with Google Sites, Blogger and other tools!
Let me also say that being a part of the Pearson OpenClass Design Partner program has been a real blast. The support they provided while testing a rough beta product has been amazing. It was also great to be a part of a community of other people passionate about building learning platforms for a transformative learning experience for students. Whenever anything went wrong, the OpenClass team was right there to help!
While I really enjoyed using OpenClass, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that there are a few things I’d love to see in future versions of the platform:
- Extend Collaboration to work with other services like WordPress, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
- Integrate Google+ features like Circles, Profiles and Hangouts.
- Allow granular controls over what gets shared with the outside world and what stays in the classroom environment.
That said, however, I was extremely happy with my OpenClass experiment this semester (as were my students) and I look forward to using it in future courses and following the future of this next-generation learning platform from Pearson!
Have you used OpenClass or are thinking about using OpenClass? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below, by email or on Twitter!
A post last month on the Higher Education Management blog makes this observation regarding LMS adoption:
It’s often forgotten, though, that the university is the actual client, not faculty. The university signs the cheque.
The significance of this simple distinction is that university interests don’t necessarily mirror those of the faculty (shocking, I know). In fact, they’re interests differ in a number ways from the academic. And it is these interests of the university that will keep the LMS as we know it as a regular feature on campus for the foreseeable future. [Keith's emphasis]
We agree that, for now at least, the economic buyer of the LMS and its services is the university or college administration, not the faculty or students – though next genration systems like CourseKit (now Lore), OpenClass and others are trying to change that model. Indeed, an LMS of some variety is likely to be a fixture on most university campuses for the near future. Experience Design Works believes that university or college administrators making a decision on something as classroom-critical as the LMS without taking into account a deep understanding of faculty and student needs and behaviors are asking for trouble down the line. It is critical for institutions making a choice of learning management system or a major ed tech adoption to engage with faculty and students and choose the technology – and plan for implementation and support – accordingly.
Given the ongoing growth and development in standards and compatibility here is also a diminishing need for institutions to lock themselves into an LMS to gain many of the benefits that Keith attributes to the use of the LMS by the institution. For example, look at what BYU has managed to do with their Learning Suite project. By designing around an API architecture that allows for a modular approach to teaching and learning technologies, BYU is building the best of both worlds: a learning platform that empowers faculty and students to use the technologies that best fit their course needs while wiring this distributed architecture up to the university’s data systems to serve the compliance and institutional research needs of the university.
Increasingly, thanks to standards and interoperability through APIs and web services, we will be able to think past the traditional conception of the LMS and look toward what Phil Hill (@PhilonEdTech) calls the “Learning Platform.” Services like GoodSemester, Helix, and Pearson’s OpenClass project are all looking past the traditional LMS (even while preserving some of its form) to appeal to the real needs of faculty and students. The key will be for these emerging platforms to forego the walled garden approach and integrate themselves as easily as possible into an institution’s data ecosystem and architecture, and for institutions to make certain they are adopting student information systems, CRM, ERP and social media tools that can “play nicely” with any future learning platform elements, regardless of vendor . In this way, the needs of all campus stakeholders can be met: administrators get the data they need, students and faculty get an optimal learning & teaching experience, and the campus community is strengthened rather than divided over a technology issue.
Remember: always start with the student and faculty experience in mind and you can’t go wrong, even if it takes building a platform to help you reach your goals!
By now, we’re all aware that American higher education is at a moment of profound transition. The key question facing colleges, universities and edupreneurs is: to where is higher ed transitioning? What’s the end state(s) of all our efforts to reinvent higher education?
The partners at Experience Design Works care deeply about higher education. Having worked both inside and outside of academia, we’ve had the chance to look at the challenge from a variety of angles. In an effort to guide our work with clients as we help them transition to the next era of higher education, we’ve put together a model that we call the Transformative Institution Model.
It’s not enough just to change for the sake of change. Moreover, in increasingly tight budgetary times, it is paramount to make data-driven decisions about how we change student enrollment decisions, build student engagement using social media, structure advising programs to enhance student outcomes and how we think about technology adoption decisions, both in and out of the classroom. Experience Design Works believes two things about strategic decision-making in higher education:
- Decisions must be based at their root level in a deep understanding and care for the student and faculty experience. This understanding must go beyond traditional self-reported satisfaction surveys; rather, a more rigorous model involving an integration of qualitative, quantitative and ethnographic methods must be used.
- Higher education institutions – and the education technology companies that partner with them – must approach solutions from a systems-thinking and design-thinking perspective. All solutions must thoroughly integrate with each other to produce a holistic experience for all stakeholders that advances student outcomes.
We’ve put together our thoughts on how to transforms institutions and companies using these two guiding principles into the Transformative University Model. Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring this model on our blog by examining each of its levels – Traditional, Modern, Transitional, Social and Responsive – in turn, and how experience design can help higher education decision-makers and entrepreneurs make effective decisions at each of these levels of development that can transform their institution, programs, services and products. We would love to have your feedback on the model and our exploration of it in the comments section or by contacting us on Twitter at @ricetopher, @andydrefahl or @keithstefanczyk.