The articulation of web 2.0 represented a significant shift in the development of the web which had a substantial impact on the software development industry. Furthermore, the move towards web 2.0 represented considerable changes to social practices using technology. For this post I reflect on how web 2.0 principles have impacted popular enterprise level computer supported collaborative learning spaces to date.
Some reflections on my own education technology history
When I did my undergrad in information systems back in the early 2000’s we used a course management system called WebCT which allowed us to access resources, engage in discussions, maintain a calendar, work with and submit assignments and access grades from the courses we were registered. There was very little student-to-student engagement in this environment aside from discussion forums, if they had been set up. Access to the environment was granted to registered course participants only.
In the early 2000’s many of the web 2.0 tools which may have facilitated collaborative work were not yet available. Wikipedia was just taking off and most at the university were unaware or heavily critical of its potential. Textbooks were highly praised to ensure students had access to the best quality information. Web searches certainly did not produce the vast array of quality content available now. I would make notes based on my readings and have to carry them around on a flash disc or print them out. Sharing documents and doing group work meant countless emails, face to face meetings and tracking changes galore. What often happened would be that group members would do “their piece” in isolation and one person would end up being responsible for putting it all together – a significantly tough job in many cases. When we did write code it was created and compiled in isolation from our peers.
Next generation software
Nowadays there are many sophisticated tools emerging to support collaborative learning, including collaborative authoring, synchronous virtual meeting spaces, messaging, collaborative whiteboards and scheduling and planning tools. Many of these tools are used by students on a regular basis now, and I certainly wish I had them available to me during my undergraduate degree.
As in the example of computer supported collaborative visualization computer supported collaborative learning represents an area of CSCW with its own set of considerations, challenges and requirements (Isenberg, et al, 2011). Furthermore computer supported collaborative learning also comes with a its own set of challenges and considerations which may clash with the main principles of web 2.0.
Educational enterprise software
Most often found at the centre of formal education however are course management systems which offer much the same functionality as back in the early 2000’s. Why does educational enterprise software fail to remain modern? I define educational enterprise software as the more common learning content management system tools which many higher education institutes employ (Blackboard Learn, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Sakai, Canvas). However, this question could probably be asked of other popular enterprise collaboration software (thinking about Sharepoint here 🙂
Let’s review the challenges of educational enterprise software against the design patterns of web 2.0 as outlined by O’Reilly (2005).
They get some things right, for example using the web as a platform as opposed to building desktop applications. However, these systems do not support the long tail of users into the environments as they are often structured based on courses and enrolled participants.
Even when just considering the user base in a course, these systems are generally organized around discrete university semesters. Courses typically end and the associated collaborative environment becomes unavailable to students thereby disrupting the continuity and flow of the learning process (Mott, 2010). So a course is run, some knowledge and insights are generated in a collaborative learning space, but then the environment is vacated as students and faculty move on. I have always been intrigued by the notion of a learning archive where the work of one cohort of students could be visible and built upon by the next cohort of students.
In my opinion many educational enterprise software applications fail to harness collective intelligence. Students in these environments are often limited by what they can do to contribute based on their role in the system. While these applications can be set up by a course facilitator to allow contributions, these are quite often limited by the environment. Network effects from user contributions must be considered as users add value when they can invest in collaborative activities (O’Reilly, 2005).
Educational enterprise software applications rarely take aggregation into account which might allow content created by students on their platform of choice to be aggregated into an educational enterprise software application.
A missed opportunity for harnessing collective intelligence could be in sharing resources created for teaching and learning more openly. While this is happening in theopen educational resources movement facilitated by the internet (Hylén 2006), educational enterprise software applications have not made it easy to tap into this collective intelligence for improving learning resources. Educational enterprise software applications could be providing spaces for the collaborative creation, sharing and discovery of quality online learning resources and activities.
Rich data created as people learn is still unaggregated and largely uncomprehended. While many educational enterprise software applications now provide some sort of analytics package to better understand user behavior in these environments, data is largely provided in reports and is not yet being actively used to improve the user experience or system itself.
There have been calls to work together on seeking to understand data created in educational enterprise software applications (Siemens & Baker, 2012). External challenges here include student privacy and data models which range greatly by application. There are now conferences dedicated to exploring and understanding learning activity data (Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference and International Conference on Educational Data Mining).
Many educational enterprise software applications do now operate as a service with continuous release cycles and regular improvement. However I do not see these applications responding through real time monitoring of user behavior, exploring which new features are used, how they are used, to systematically improve the application (O’Reilly, 2005).
Perhaps part of the issue is that educational enterprise software applications are localized by institutions who customize them as a service to their own academic community. In the educational enterprise software application I manage at my university, I see change happening fairly slowly as the software vendor has to address the needs and concerns of the many institutions using the software around the world. This may be a key reason why educational enterprise software applications feel unmodern. Many institutions push for incremental change, so as to not disrupt their local user base, training materials, etc.
I have not worked with many enterprise software applications which employ lightweight programming models. In my opinion these systems often feel clunky and siloed. Most often they are designed to be secure and role based which limits the possibilities of harnessing collective intelligence and results in them feeling heavy and rule based. Certainly these systems are not designed for hackability as they tightly limit what a user can do once authenticated.
For these reasons educational enterprise software applications often fail to get thecross platform synergy other modern applications achieve. This means that the experience on mobile platforms varies greatly. Furthermore I find that these systems struggle with rich user interfaces.
Educational enterprise software struggles to meet all of the web 2.0 design principles. The value that this software provides is in providing private spaces for participants to interact which integrates and scales well to educational organizations. While one may argue that this is significant alone, there are potential opportunities that may be missed in maintaining the status quo.
I believe that one of the missed opportunities when using educational enterprise software the limit on collaboration imposed by silos. In Yochai Benkler’s TED Talk he mentions how peer-to-peer networks challenge the recording industry; free and open source software takes market share from commercial software providers; Skype potentially threats telecoms; Wikipedia competes with online encyclopedias. However, we see less disruption happening in the knowledge publishing industry where textbooks and commercial journals seemingly prevail. There are changes afoot however, with initiatives such as the BC Open Textbook initiative crowd sourcing textbook creation and offering free and open copyright textbooks to students.
Also there are educators who are exploring avenues for using technology in teaching and learning which use modern tools and invite network effects. WordPress can be used in a number of ways to support teaching and learning. Wikipedia is working with educators through their education program to develop activities which can be used in education. Peggy recently co-authored a paper looking at using GitHub in education (Zagalsky et al, 2015). In this class we are so far using three modern tools to maintain our conversation. Once we get into the group project work I am sure we will extend our toolsets to include more ways to communicate with one another.
There are calls for universities to be a stakeholders in leading innovation in higher education (Hill, 2015). Could universities not be collaborating more, taking advantage of network effects, to create richer experiences for students?
Benkler, Y. (2005). Yochai Benkler: The new open-source economics. TEDGlobal 2005, TED Talks, July, 2005.http://www.ted.com/talks/yochai_benkler_on_the_new_open_source_economics?language=en
Hill, P. (2015) The University As Ed Tech Startup: UMUC, Global Campus, Texas, and SNHU roll their own. eLiterate, September 18, 2015 Online: http://mfeldstein.com/the-university-as-ed-tech-startup-umuc-global-campus-texas-and-snhu-roll-their-own/
Hylén, J. (2006). Open educational resources: Opportunities and challenges. Proceedings of Open Education, 49-63.
Mott, J., & Wiley, D. (2009). Open for learning: The CMS and the open learning network. in education, 15 (2).
Mott, J. (2010). Envisioning the post-LMS era: The open learning network. Educause Quarterly, 33(1), 1-9.
Siemens, G., & d Baker, R. S. (2012). Learning analytics and educational data mining: towards communication and collaboration. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on learning analytics and knowledge (pp. 252-254). ACM.
Zagalsky, A., Feliciano, J., Storey, M. A., Zhao, Y., & Wang, W. (2015). The Emergence of GitHub as a Collaborative Platform for Education. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1906-1917). ACM.