Forum .LRN Q&A: Re: Some thoughts and question

Posted by Bruce Spear on
Hi Nima!

Thanks very much for this thoughtful post!

I've been thinking of you since upgrading to 2.1 and finding your "admin cockpit" in the new version: it is a splendid addition! It not only makes a bunch of admin things easier, but it makes admin work fun!

In my new job working for an outfit committed to Blackboard I do my best to avoid dealing with that beast, and when forced, have been driven to a new form of expressive exasperation involving the lifting of both hands to the forehead, a deep scratching of the frown lines with my fingernails, and the making of a simian-like screeching noise that both horrifies my new colleages and provides me with what is otherwise a graceful exit. Being sympathetic types, my colleagues sooner or later visit me in my office whereupon, often enough, I can show them how we do it far more elegantly in Dotlrn. It has gotten to the point that we are now engaged in a long running joke -- particularly as the costs of various add-ons and additional users in BB are like so many lampreys sucking out the institutional marrow -- such that, when faced with demonstrations of wonderful things Blackboard can do with only, say, about 20-40 clicks and the room turns cold blue and everyone suffers premonitions of carpel tunnel syndrome, the conversation inevitably turns to me and the question: "ok, Bruce, so now tell us how you solve it in Dotlrn."

Well, as I am not a real programmer, I don't pretend to say I have solved anything at all and consider myself a freeloader, but as I am interested in solutions and think with Dotlrn I've found a decent one, I do my best to describe how it works with strong (and uncharacteristic) undertones of understatement and humility.

All of this to say that I think Nima poses the absolutely right question among colleagues and friends: that we are having to suffer certain operations which, for their unnecessary and unexplainable duration, we characterize as "sticky".

Right next to the sluggishness of LORS I'd add the omission of an "unpack" feature, akin to what we have with the unpacking of .jpg's in the photo-album package, but for the unpacking of files and text for people who might want to build combinations like real graphic designers and using programs like Dreamweaver which, in the right hands, make it easy drag and drop and cut and paste and go back and edit and then automatically check to see if the links are dead.

The odd thing is, we've got webdav that does drag and drop, skilled html people can basically cut and paste, and in the bookmark portlet we've got a link checker, but we don't have them in anything as powerful as Dreamweaver because we don't do authoring. But most of our academic users are authors, already format their stuff in Word and many have learned to work with html or have course or department flatfile websites that work fine for them and have no yet gotten into forums, or are using listservs that serve their purposes, and are basically content to go with what they've got -- until we make it easier for them. Plus, for many, copyright is cramping their style, and though we might prefer to talk about other wonderful things, lms systems get a lot of juice for their support for fair use. We are addressing various niches here, and in this case, those building flatfile websites of limited size, with content that changes gradually from one term to another, and who need more than our wiki and less than a full content management system, or who are in transition.

I realized this when stuck feeding people to Blackboard and scheming for ways "not to inhale" and so discovered and started selling my clients on the "unpack" feature whereby you build a course website in Dreamweaver on your harddrive including, say, 15 weeks with 5-10 objects per week, use your favorite style sheet to make it legible and pretty, check the links and keep them up to date automatically, and the zip it and unpack it in Blackboard in about a minute. I've discovered that if you turn off as many features as possible in Blackboard in a certain way you can't, in a particular course, get them back and so you are left with basically the permissions shell, maybe acommunications device or two, can then fill it with what you've already got more or less in one fell swoop: you get the authoring and site maintenance power of Dreamweaver and the permissions and group spaces of a learning management system. So now I am dreaming of finding this feature in one of Sille's beautiful tabs, a start page to an easy-to-upload and replace Dreamweavered site, adding tremendous depth and allowing all those early adopter instructors who have already started to get their hands dirty to build on their investments and are ready to transition to a proper lms sytem with its powerful permissions and communications. Position ourselves right above that wonderful Moodle, make it easy for all those folks who have gotten used to it and building websites and now need more complexity and scale.