Please Excuse the Mess!

Edward Berner, sometime reader and commenter on this blog, sent a listserve we’re both on a link to a wonderful journal article from the Association of Computing Machinery. I am SO tempted to summarize the article for you… but no, you must read it yourself. Then come back here for discussion. I have had sparks flying off in all directions ever since I read it.

First spark: Institutions which are currently evaluating course management systems are doing so because they are trying to find a the least risky, most ‘safe’ solution for the current mess in the course management space. Their premise that relative safety even exists or can be managed through product selection is false.

Second Spark: The current mess in the course management space was not ’caused’ by Blackboard’s acquisition of WebCT, nor by the pervasiveness of Sakai Community’s advocacy discussions surrounding the open community software development/governance model. I do believe, however, that Blackboard’s patent suit against Desire2Learn was a kind of bellwether of change which finally got our attention.

Third Spark: The central ‘mess’ can be defined as disruptive innovation. Innovators are morphing the basic paradigm of a course management system as a suite of related but independent learning tools in an access controlled space (defined by learning roles and institutional registration) into a platform with flexibly defined access control which can include collaborators and researchers from other institutions and students who’ve graduated and Deans and Administrators who want to aggregate learning outcomes for accrediting bodies. And all the tools which any of those goals might require.

Fourth Spark: The only way I can see for individual institutions to get through the disruptive innovation in a relatively stable, controlled way is to determine for their institution what ‘course management’ needs they have for the short term, the midrange and long term. Then principles of change management can then be applied to that map so that the people involved can have change/tools/solutions chunked out for them in a logical progression. The mess is as much about change management as anything…

Peter Denning, the articles’ author, outlines 4 categories of mess. I think we’ve got a Category III here…

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2 responses to “Please Excuse the Mess!

  1. Here is a really long stretch…. Maybe, just maybe, there is no course management system which will meet the needs of everyone. Maybe the trick is for instructors to make use of tools which will help students learn. Why does it have to be a single system which provides all these tools?

  2. A CMS is quite an investment; it does handle the access control to those tools which will help students learn. So…Capitalizing on that investment, for any given intstitution, may include other things a CMS can do besides manage accredited courses.If not today, then tomorrow … How does the University create their vision of that space and acquire the product suite and support structures/governance to make that happen? For consensus style decision-making, this could be the hardest part…

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