Attending a liberal arts college as a writing major requires very little technology. We bring to class a pencil and a notebook and that’s the extent of it. Once in a while, the professor may scribble something onto the chalkboard. (And yes, these are actual CHALK boards.) So my involvement in technology is very limited on the educational front.
However, a few of my classes, specifically the LAS core classes (liberal arts and sciences core classes–my school’s version of “gen eds”) are beginning to dabble in the use of learning management systems (LMS). As Noah explains in his post, “LMS (like my status) for LMS (learning management systems)” a learning management system is a site, such as Moodle or Blackboard, where a professor can post resources and homework assignments and students can post work and engage in online discussions.
Columbia College’s LMS of choice is Moodle, though we also have to use a site called OASIS to deal with class registration, so some professors choose to post handouts on OASIS instead of Moodle. (If that sentence was confusing to read, think about how students feel having to sort that out in a real life situation.) In my four semesters of college, I have already witnessed a variety of different ways professors utilize Moodle and I’ve come to realize that some work better than others. The biggest mistakes I’ve seen professors make are actually the two extremes of overuse and sporadic use.
I’m currently in a science class that heavily depends on Moodle. The professor often posts hand-outs straight to Moodle instead of wasting paper printing them out and every week, we’re required to post on the forums with a response to the reading assignments. So far, so good. I’ve actually found a lot of benefit in this, as it really forces me to read the material and to think about what I read.
However, we are also required to comment on someone else’s reading response every week. Personally, it feels like busy work. Every week, I go through the responses and find a little nugget of opinion I can comment and agree on, elaborating on why I agree. (And by “elaborate,” I mean I rephrase what they said in my own words.) I think the idea is to generate discussion and to feel more camaraderie in the classroom. Or something like that.
Here’s the problem I have not only with that assignment, but with the concept of learning management systems in general: I did not sign up for an online course. If I wanted to take online classes, I would not be paying over $20,000 on tuition and spending over $12,000 living on campus. If I wanted to take this class online, I would not have made the choice to get up at 8:00 every Tuesday morning and sit in a classroom for three hours. When more discussion happens online than in the classroom, what’s the point of going to class to every day?
At this point, I learn more on my own than I do in the classroom. We have so many outside readings that I feel like I’m teaching myself the material. This is fine; a critical aspect of college is learning how to be more independent in your studies. However, if most of the discussion is done in online forums, then we have little to talk about in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong—this particular professor does make good use of class time with various videos, Power Point presentations, and in-class activities. However, I think when using an LMS to this degree, you do run the risk of making class time feel irrelevant to students, which could result in an inattentive class.
Then there are professors who use Moodle only once in a while. These are the worst. I had a professor who would randomly remind us to “check Moodle” because she would sometimes post readings or videos on there that we were expected to journal about. I don’t think I ever did any of these assignments on time. Since she used it so irregularly, I never remembered to check and wouldn’t know about the assignments until the next week in class when she would ask us what we thought about the readings or videos. Personally, I think that using Moodle simply to post resources for students to access is the best use of the site. However, if the students never know when these resources will be posted, lack of participation is likely to increase.
Despite my focusing on the negatives, I do truly believe that learning management systems are a great resource for college professors. It’s good for the environment, as cuts down on the amount of paper we use in schools; it can be a good way for the shy or quiet kid to voice their thoughts and opinions; and it’s simply a breath of fresh air from old teaching techniques. I just think it’s extremely important for professors to step back and look at how they make use of it. These websites should act as a supplement to the classroom learning experience—not a replacement.