Is “Managing” Really What We Want?

Yesterday’s presentations were overall quite provocative, and have been wonderfully blogged by Bryan, James, and Laura. There’s been a tension throughout, however, between the forces of standardization and the forces of innovation, and somebody (and I’m sorry I can’t remember who) finally hit the issue dead center by asking whether we’ve gotten in trouble because of our uses of terms like “learning management.” Is learning something we really want to succumb to management? Or is that desire for control over the environment in which learning takes place finally stifling?

Anybody who heard my presentation yesterday (which I’ll post shortly) or who’s seen any of my classes knows perfectly well which side of this issue I come down on. Without the ability to innovate, to test new possibilities, to try something risky that simply may not work, I don’t know that I could teach, or that any real learning could take place in my classes. For me, the values that Bryan identified yesterday as embodied in the amalgamation of stuff described as “web 2.0” are far more exciting and conducive to the open exchange that teaching and learning require, than are the values of organization, systematization, and enclosure that are promoted by current implementations of the LMS.

I’m walking away from this symposium hoping that the LMS will develop in a more open fashion. It’s eminently possible, after all; the Segue project at Middlebury, which Alex Chapin discussed yesterday, presents a wide range of tools for faculty and student use, with a finely granular permissions system that defaults toward openness but allows for protection of the kinds of materials that ought to be protected. I get nervous about the idea of having one overarching system that serves all network purposes, but if we had a system that were sufficiently complex and robust, it would go a long way toward making my uses of the LMS feel less managed, and more experimental.

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