Teens don’t twitter? What does this mean for Stellar?

A lost post, likely from 2010-2012, publishing now as a historical artifact.

Well, there’s my catchy title. This post has relatively little to do with that, but rather it leads to some things the folks at OEIT should be considering.

OEIT is responsible for developing and transitioning promising educational and learning technologies from research to production. As such, we should make sure that we’re at worst implementing technologies of today, and at best technologies of tomorrow. That’s where the rub comes, academic technology groups and educators are typically behind the times when it comes to technology used and needed by our students. We tend to resurface the last cow path that we covered over, rather than look for the current path.

Why now? OEIT started participating in a series of discussions that will lead to a change in MIT’s learning management system, Stellar. It could be replaced by a commercial vendor (think Blackboard) or might use an open or community source system (think Sakai) or might be re-built on a open source content management system (think Drupal) or might be maintained and extended (think modify existing code).

To me, and a number of others here, that leads to the questions: Do we need an LMS? What is the LMS really doing? And how much “learning” is actually going on in the system?

Now, add in the recent Sakai conference held in Boston (Cambridge really) last week. Jeff Merriman and I organized a discussion there that we hoped would explore the sentiment, “We don’t need no stinkin’ LMS.”

Beyond the Boundaries: What if there was no LMS/CLE?

Is there still value in an enterprise CLE/LMS in the age of Web 2.0? We live in an age of social media like Facebook, widget environments like iGoogle, blogs as content management like WordPress and applications in the cloud. What does this mean for enterprise systems? Are there radical departures from our CLE/LMS that we really should be considering?

Ok, coming back to the title, “Teens don’t twitter?”

Recently a story hit TechCrunch about an internal report done by a 15-year old intern at Morgan Stanley in the UK. First, let’s acknowledge that this is one report, done at an investment bank, by a 15-year old intern. So there are lots of potential problems with the report itself, let alone the “news” coverage I’ve read.

What’s interesting, however, are the sentiments expressed in the report, even if they’re only partially true.

But why not Twitter? Well, because Twitter is a different type of social network than Facebook. Facebook is about connecting people, and sharing information with each other. The way my friends and I see it, Facebook is a closed network. It’s a network of people and friends that you trust to be connected to, and to share information like your email address, AIM screen name, and phone number. You know who’s getting your status messages, because you either approved or added each person to your network.

The real question is what are teens doing online. If no to Twitter, but yes to Facebook, why? These are our future students! What can we learn from what they’re doing? How does what they do impact their learning styles and preferences? And what do we need to do to support their academic activities. (Ok, so none of this is really rocket science, many countless people have talked about this before.)

What concerns me is that as educational/learning technologists, at OEIT we may not really be paying attention to the current online activities nor the trends on the Web-at-large and how they relate to our students? I believe the pace of change and the changes that have occurred in the last few years have pushed us into a territory we’re even less prepared for than the Web of the late 1990s.

Turning back to the LMS, I’m still left with a series of questions:

  • Do we need the next iteration of what we’re calling an learning management system (or collaborative learning environment)?
  • Do we need a monolithic system? Or even a modular system but one that is almost wholly controlled by colleges and universities (think Sakai 3.0)?

During our discussions at Sakai, Mark Norton might’ve said it best, “it’s all about control.” Whether they acknowledge it or not, universities have implemented LMS’s for control–control over distribution of materials, control over enrollment, and so on. Some of these functions I think are necessary, and should be controlled by the university. There are lots that I don’t think need to be–especially in an age of OpenCourseWare, social media and Web 2.0. What should we be doing centrally? Especially in light of how are students are currently interacting with one another and the Web/social media.

Lastly, of relevance, are the issues that we began to explore at COSL. We had local experience with, and noticed a trend more widely, in the development of “education-specific” learning technologies. Namely, by making the tools, services, whatever “education-specific” the developers were effectively giving the project the kiss of death. So, instead we started asking the question, of all the Web 2.0, social media, and so on tools and services that exist in the world-at-large, which ones can have a positive impact on learning. And then, how can we loosely join them. Basically taking the David Weinberger “small pieces, loosely joined” approach. There’s a lot more to explore here I think.

But enough for now. This is all stuff for us at OEIT to think about.