Even the best course management system has limitations. Since they are designed primarily to protect student data and insure reliable, secure access to course content and assessments, course management systems have walls. While the walls are digital, they are no less real. These walls control what information can be accessed, when it can be accessed and by whom. As you’re considering what types of content and interaction to add to your course shell in a CMS, remember that the boundaries will limit you, your students and your class. If you’re thinking of incorporating any of the following aspects into your course, you may want to consider stepping outside of the CMS.
1. You want your students to author content for worldwide access. When students in your class are completing research or writing content that you want them to share with the world, you need to look beyond the walls of the CMS. A colleague of mine has her advanced Spanish students write blogs outside of the CMS so that native Spanish speakers can comment on their work. Locked inside a CMS, the blogs would not have the global reach and the same authentic nature as they do in more accessible locations.
2. You want your students to author content they can use after a course ends. While a CMS provides secure access to course content, what happens when the course ends? What happens when a student graduates? Usually, student access to course content and to the work they’ve contributed ends at the end of the semester or when they leave the institution. If you want students to have more open access to course content or want them to develop materials that they can use later in their careers, break free of the CMS. For instance, a blog or a wiki would make great portfolio tools that students can use to showcase their work beyond the dates they are enrolled in a course or at an institution.
3. You want your students to interact with people not enrolled in a course. Technically, most CMSs will allow you to add guests or guest speakers to a course shell. At some institutions, however, the process of adding an “outsider” can be cumbersome or forbidden. Stepping outside of the CMS opens your students to a host of communication options like Google Hangouts or Skype and does not limit their interaction to the people enrolled in the course or working at your institution.
4. You want to develop a learning community that lives after the class has ended. Opening up an old course shell is like visiting a ghost town. The discussion boards are the lifeless remains of engaging conversations. The modules stand as empty edifices where occupants once played. I’m being a little dramatic but the reality is that most courses within a CMS are only active when students are enrolled in a course. But what if you wanted to foster a learning community that lived beyond the confines of the course? Consider having your students join Twitter and develop a hashtag unique to your group or course. This way, participants can still interact with one another long after the virtual tumbleweeds have descended on your course in the CMS.
5. You want your students to be creative and utilize the landscape of tools available online to demonstrate their learning. Most CMSs have a limited number of interactive tools and assessment options. Opening a CMS discussion board to embeddable content from outside sources can really tap into your students’ creativity. Students could make movies that they post on YouTube, make interactive webpages using Glogster, or play out a debate with GoAnimate. While these tools live outside of the CMS, they can help to embed a creative element to your dull CMS.
Are there other activities that would prompt an instructor to step outside the CMS? Share your ideas in the comment section below.