Muzzled

For over a month now my team has been heads down to provide some sandbox environments for the University System of Georgia Learning Management System Transition Task Force. The evaluators are looking at a sandbox for each contender. Various technical teams are also determining how the product fits with our experience and our operations. Growing new skills and abilities is probably a good thing as long as it fits the organization.

My inclination is to blog about every discovery whether good, bad, or ugly. Yet this whole processes is overshadowed by fear. Fear of the loser initiating a lawsuit and anything I write being taken out of context to support a case is the main reason I have muzzled myself about it. Probably even private blog posts on a private blog could be requested by a subpoena.

I guess there will be plenty of time to gripe about it all when the decision is made and we surge towards meeting an absurdly short timeline to implement a production environment. That is a whole other blog post I probably should never write.

Apples to Oranges

My web hosting service, Dreamhost, happens to have a one-click-installer for Moodle. So I installed one for my own personal sandbox. In looking at the available roles, it suddenly occurred to me…. Comparing any LMS to another is like comparing an apple to an orange. The industry is like the Tower of Babel. Each product has its own jargon covering much of the same ground in absurdly different ways. How could you have an Internet if all the servers talked to each other so differently? Yet in technology created for higher education every system has a different name for the person who teaches a class or even if the name is the same, the capabilities differ.

Sure, there are some commonalities, even apples and oranges are both fruit, but the developers had different conceptual models in mind. The same word meaning different things really is quite annoying. Another example is a course in Vista is a container for the type of place where learning takes place whereas in Learn a course is where teaching takes place. Teaching in Vista takes place in sections. So… Vista : section :: Learn : course.

These different conceptual models are why the faculty get so irate about change. It is hard enough to have to learn new places to click and how to accomplish what you used to accomplish. For some period of time they have to have two vocabularies and maybe even years later they still cannot call it the correct term. (WebCT CE/SE called where teaching takes place courses and both former and current coworkers 6 years later still call sections “courses”).

One would think standards organizations like the IMS Global Learning Consortium would help solve this. Every product adhering to a standard should end up adopting consistent terminology, conceiving of objects similarly, and conceiving of processes similarly. This make comparing the two easier. Except the standard adoptions appear to be in the integration components or database not the main product.

I really feel bad for the instructional technologist who has to support more than one learning management system.

Also, selecting a new LMS seems like an insanely difficult task when trying to learn a dozen vocabularies enough to ascertain whether it has what you need.