When I first came to the department I currently work in, the college was in the middle of a Learning Management System (LMS) transition. We were making the big move from Web CT to Angel. At the time I had very little experience with any type of LMS. I had played around with Moodle a few years prior when I taught middle school and then tinkered around with Web CT as an hourly instructor at the college but really had no idea what the potential could be for online learning within the context of an LMS. It wasn’t until I started designing online courses that I really got a taste for it. Back then (we are talking roughly 5 years ago) we would develop courses to virtually mimic what you would experience in the classroom. Because most post secondary classrooms sadly still rely on lectures to deliver information, our courses took on the same characteristic. Each course provided pretty much all the information that a student would need to complete the outcomes. The result was very text heavy courses with occasional opportunities for interaction within the discussion board. We would hire writers and subject matter experts (SME) and they would submit content. A formatter would format the information in a word document, add graphics, tables and videos where appropriate. Our media specialists would transfer the word documents to HTML (I know, this seems redundant), create learning objects to enhance the material and create some interactivity and the Instructional designers would design the course using the well known ADDIE model while closely following eCampus Alberta standards. These courses followed all the rules.  Aesthetically, the courses were beautiful!

However, we started to question the true quality and significance of the learning experience for the students (Fink, 2003). We also started to question our processes. If we were encouraging face-to-face instructors to step outside the box and create more learner centered/active learning opportunities in the classroom, why weren’t we doing the same thing online? How was delivering a text heavy course (even if it did have occasional discussion boards and learning objects spread throughout) different from an instructor lecturing the duration of every class using nothing but PowerPoint and an occasional question period. Couldn’t we do better?

As we started to explore all the different ways that could promote more student engagement in the online learning environment, we also started to become more frustrated with the limitations of Angel. Sure there was a discussion board (which we used), there was a chat room but it was clunky, as was the wiki. This coupled with the poor mobile functionality in an increasingly mobile dependent society was very discouraging for students, instructors and our development team. Furthermore, everything within the LMS stayed there offering very little opportunity to utilize any of the thousands of great web and social networking applications that our students (and instructors for that matter) were already using in their daily lives to learn and interact with each other. It was starting to feel like life outside the LMS offered way more opportunity for the types of learning interactions we were looking for.

 Then something big happened…

 Find out next week where this story goes…

D. Fink. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from http://trc.virginia.edu/Workshops/2004/Fink_Designing_Courses_2004.pdf