Smart Groups

We started in a conversation about an interesting grant seeking to help students from low-income families through OpenCourseWare and providing them better information. An Open Source LMS != open coureseware. OSLMS is running students through online classes. OCW is providing the content so anyone can download and use it. The better information section sounded to me suspiciously like SHERPA, which uses preferences students have previously made to guide them to resources and classes. George pointed out in the past people predicted the death of universities in just a few more years over people being able to learn the information for any course just by downloading it. Unfortunately, only some people can just take texts and videos then naturally know how to build upon them. The more powerful method to reach students seems to be making the content relevant to solving real-life problems, especially one where the learner benefits over or with another.

Next, I diverted the conversation off on a tangent about how a book recommended managers build teams by evaluating the attitudes, habits, and personalities and then place the members so they cover each others weaknesses. This article about social cooperation skills trumping intelligence has been mulling about in my head for a couple weeks.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that collaborative groups who conversed easily with equal participation were more efficient at completing sets of given tasks — and produced better results — than groups dominated by individuals.

It occurred to me what universities should try towards solving retention is to devise methods of helping students build teams. Take something like eHarmony which is based on helping people find others with similar values, but instead have it look at traits useful for learning and solving problems and cooperation. Then make it easy for students to meet each other in classes and work together. The student who is good at locating lots of information from research but weak in logic is paired with one who is weak in research but strong in logic. Learning together, maybe they would end up better students, more engaged, and more productive.

Another Ironic Keynote

Earlier today, Blackboard announced the keynote will be given by Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U as the DevCon keynote. It continues the tradition of ironic keynote speakers in even years:

  • 2008 Michael Wesch who spoke on how the traditional one-to-many classroom model isn’t good for helping students learn. The two LMS products Blackboard makes continue the one-to-many model online. He advocated using free online Web 2.0 tools to aggregate the information students collectively relevant research and provide to the many-to-many class discussion.
  • 2006 David Weinberger who spoke on how digitalization changes how we organize information. He was previously a contributor to The Cluetrain Manifesto, whose point was corporations need to have honest conversations with customers because we do talk to each other and discover deception.

How does DIY U continue the irony in 2010? Well, the idea is to get rid of the education model where students solely look to experts (aka professor) to provide information. Students use the abundance of information available online for free such as OpenCourseWare and use the experts to give practical application experience. An LMS is designed to place the expert (the instructor role) as the provider of the information, the exact opposite of what Anya advocates.

Ideally, Blackboard arranges these to pressure themselves to adapt to the changing landscape.

If so, then based on the 2006 keynote, Blackboard should have a culture of engineers and developers willing to frankly talk to me about the products. They should be hanging out on the email lists where I seek peer solutions offering their own given their insider access. They should be on Twitter. There are a few who do this, but they are by far rare.

I’ve already argued how the LMS is Web 1.5 not 2.0.

Maybe in 2012.