Pedagogical scenarios with portals (draft chapter)

I wrote a draft for a book chapter intitled "Conception and
implementation of rich pedagogical scenarios through collaborative portals sites". I'd very much appreciate some comments either here or a tecfaseed :)

Cheers !


after a brief look at the table of contents and opening paragraphs, i'll definitely look forward to reading it more closely tonight or tomorrow and posting feedback :)

Great text! I would love to hear more about the outline for the rest of the book as I'll definitely look forward to reading it. As someone who also uses portal software, I know that we need this type of in-depth analysis and justification if we hope to promote their use. I've posted a few thoughts below instead of on TECFA Seed in case anyone here has something to add:

  1. Coming from composition studies myself, much of the citation and discussion of education and distance learning theory is new to me. And it was very instructive and insightful given that much of what compositionists have been theorizing on community and collaborative learning is in line with what I see here. I particularly thought that manager, facilitator and orchestrator are good descriptions of the teacher's roles, as well as the model of talking about scripts. And while I agree that overscripting can be a problem, I think there is something to be said for creating a student-centered space (more on student-centered later) by careful scripting to reduce the need for both facilitator and manager intervention. The script should be flexible enough to allow students to explore, to give them freedom to expand beyond the boundaries introduced by the scenarios that the teacher may have imagined. The teacher's role as facilitator should really attempt to be one of community member more so than instructor. As teachers, we are both player and dungeon master at the same time, the constructor of the game, but as a participant, should work to play by the same roles as much as possible. I realize that this is a hard role to assume, but the more we push in that direction, the more we construct a student-centered environment.
  2. It may be a difference in terminology--different definitions for different disciplines(student-centered vs learner-centered)--but I think that these environments can become more students-centered or less student-centered depending upon how we choose to construct the script. As from above, thinking in terms of community learning, where the teacher works to assume a role as "community member" and efforts to demphasize the role as instructor, can be an impetus for non-directed student learning. As a matter of fact, I've even been trying to move away from using the term "student" on my class site in favor of "member" to reduce this distinction. I want students to feel more empowered and hopefully see me more as participant than overlord.
  3. I'm not sure I'm in favor of the C3MS distinction. It could be my relative newness to discussions about CMS's, but since most online discussions I have seen would call PostNuke a CMS, I'm not sure how it is helpful to attempt to extend it as something more than CMS. And if there is indeed a need, then what then is a regular CMS? But then again, I can see the problem with defining a CMS (it's as difficult as defining weblog); I had a lot of problem with it when writing the current About Drupal page. Content management does seem a label which limits the description of what PostNuke and Drupal can do, given their community interaction features. But only because we lack a better alternative to describe these types of online communication environments. Perhaps we just need a whole new term which emphasizes the social software characteristics?
  4. I must have missed the point somehow because it was not clear to me why, on page 17, C3MS is not recommended for elearning platforms, when the rest of the section would seem to be making the case that it could be?
  5. The text cites shoveling content as the main focus of proprietary LMS's. I think one issue that might could be a addressed at that point,in one form or another, is that LMS development focus is also largely aimed to expand administrative capabilities. That Blackboard and WebCT "sell" to many teachers and campus administrators simply becuase they have student tracking, grading modules, automatic student registration, easy downloading and uploading of previous course templates. All the features that are designed for control and ease for the teacher. This, along with the focus on content only, minimizes development and focus on community and collaborative features of these products. It also indicates a trend that I believe is unlikely to change in the near future.

Thanx a lot for your comments ! It is always very nice to hear opinions
from people with an other background :). I will collect some more
reactions and then rewrite things in a week or two. The book will
contain a collection with a very wide range. Authors are participants
from 2 seminars sponsored by Sony Research Labs. The last one to which
I have been invited had the title "flow, creativity and
learning". Will remember to post a TOC here next year when the book
will comes out :)

Below I will give a reply to each of your comments.

  1. I like the "dungeon master" metaphor. We quite share ideas on
    student-centeredness (if that word exists in English). I'd just
    like to point out that I was also putting emphasis on
    "teacher-centered" because the teacher plays a very important role
    in the "game". I maybe should change it to "teacher-importance"
    though. The reason why I insist on this has to do with e-learning
    hype that sort of claims that education would be much better off
    students could simply read materials and click on buttons at their
    own pace and choice. This is not true as documented experience
    from the '80s shows. Some of you might remember the similar TV
    hype that went something like "put a TV in your classroom and have
    educational programs broadcasted to homes and education will
    dramatically improve since it's all done by experts". Materials
    don't count that much, what counts as we both know is to get
    students interested, productive and involved.
  2. "Member" yes is a good description of the model I have. In
    the same way maybe that the head of a research team and junior
    researchers are also members of a team. And it is very tricky to
    find the right balance between student autonomy, scaffolding and
    guidance. The right balance is of course dependent on what you
    teach and to whom you teach it. By the way I should I add some
    more standard references to my text. I was too much writing for
    our own community... and I am more of an architect than a true
    scholar ;)
  3. Difficult discussion. I don't know really what should be
    called a "true" CMS. In my opinion it's either a system to
    maintain large documentation web sites (e.g. like the popular
    french SPIP tool) or document
    work-flow systems as in industry. PostNuke (as installed by
    default) has a "news engine" and that is a simple CMS for article
    publishing into topics and that are chronologically ordered. Then
    there are lots of little additional tools that rather are the
    hallmark of a knowledge management system (catching informal
    knowledge exchange in forums, FAQs, etc.). Now, the main reason
    why we work with PostNuke is that it is a module container
    for web applications, and the reason why you move away from it is
    exactly that you don't need this (I think). The equivalent in
    industry are enterprise portals for which we now got the href="">portlets
    standard now. The idea is that one can program any sort of
    application and just plug it in. E.g. for PostNuke you got
    e-commerce systems or also educational applications like the ones
    we are developing in our unit (project management, workshop tool,
    CSCL applications etc. that require quite a lot of
    programming). That clearly is not a typical "Content Management
    Systems" issue. Finally in PostNuke we got little "fun tools"
    (like quotations, little polls, a shoutbox etc.) and lots of
    awareness boxes (what is new, hot, popular, ...). That makes it a
    community tool, maybe almost a virtual environment like MOOs were
    (see for instance Lingua MOO
    in your area
    ). Virtual environments should generate a sense of
    presence which is crucial for motivating students at home. And
    then people like us come in and repurpose the PostNuke for
    education. So I don't know what we should call it. I fully
    agree that we should have a new word, this is why we invented the
    somewhat clumsy C3MS (Community, Content and Collaboration
    Management Systems) term. It was sort of joke: It looks a bit like
    "CMS" and makes reference to W3C.
  4. Another "wording" problem, i.e. a point which I should make
    clearer. Basically it's a political issue. "E-learning" in
    Switzerland, France, Germany and some other countries is really
    pushed by some industry and what they have in mind is a
    Computer-Based Training (CBT) architecture which is grounded in
    theories like "programmed instruction" or "mastery
    learning". Basically, students select some learning module
    according to their level, look at pages, make tests, look them
    again and maybe do some little exercises. So e-learning =
    "interactive learning contents" + some exercising. While it makes
    sense to use such sort of "training" in certain situations in the
    same way as it makes sense to recommend a good text book it has
    not much to do with the sort of "power pedagogics" we advocate.
    Now we got a simple rhetoric choice. Most of my colleagues tell me
    that we should argue in favor of different and rich "e-learning" I
    am more radical and my discourse rather goes: "e-learning = bad
    for you". Disadvantage for me is that people react like
    you. Advantages are that the very predictable e-learning crashes
    that will happen here do not have an effect on me ("told you I was
    against ..."). More importantly it allows us go out and claim
    money for doing something else by pointing out that CBT (renamed
    "e-learning") does not help to improve face-to-face learning, is
    not appropriate for learning in small blended situations or even
    "power distance" learning that could be offered by regular
    universities at graduate level. I also make the following
    statement: "In a rich country we should not try to digitalize
    "transmissive" pedagogical practise, but rather go after american
    elite graduate schools :) ". Finally, teachers totally hate to be
    replaced by a machine. My argument about C3MS as teacher-enabling
    tech brings us a lot of goodwill from them. I would not use the
    same anti-elearning discourse in Scandinavian countries or Canada
    where new technologies are generally associated with pedagogical
  5. This is quite true, although all the creative teachers I know
    who use products like Blackboard and WebCT sort of repurpose
    them. But it's not so easy, you couldn't do what we do with
    PostNuke or what you do with Drupal as you point out. In addition,
    these environments are locked, i.e. students interested by some
    course can not see what happened. I am very much in favor of "open
    classrooms" where any outsider can at least see what is going
    on. Therefore, I rather think that basic student management,
    document management, grading tools should be provided by an
    enterprise portal, e.g. href="">uPortal. What
    MIT does goes also in the same direction. They clearly separate
    course-materials from education. LMSs do not integrate well with
    the rest of the Campus Net which in many places already exists and
    which provides information about courses, research, people,
    etc.. LMSs also have this very expensive "per seat"
    calculus. Finally we had WebCT for years (just to teach it, not to
    use it for ourselves): It has an absolutely awful interface I
    think (worse than PostNuke which isn't great either btw), our
    students who had to produce course modules with it absolutely
    hated it compared to some free-ware solutions. So there are many
    reasons against the systematic use of LMSs :)

Glad to help. I learned a lot from reading the chapter and then reflecting on it. Here's a little more:

  1. I think we agree, and I suspect that your term "learner-centered" has a different meaning and past than student-centered. Within composition studies, I would say that the idea of student-centered learning mostly is in response to Paulo Freire's concerns about passive learning (aka banking model of education), collaborative learning from social-constructionists views of knowledge making, and what we know about writing as a process. So student-centeredness is always about student agency, but as teachers, we must facilitate that agency, not merely let it run freely in a state of chaos :) Incidentally, you may find some interesting thoughts on student-centered learning and collaboration within the composition and rhetoric field. A seminal theoretical piece which sparked further scholarship is Kenneth Bruffee's "Collaborative Learning and the 'Conversation of Manking'" College English 46.7 (Nov 1984): 635-52.
  2. ". . . and I am more of an architect than a true scholar." Me, too, although I tend to think more of myself as a practitioner and innovator ;) But along this line of thinking, one of the interesting points about the portal model which I see you using and proposing, and what I'm doing as well, is that it is definitely not possible for the teacher to completely control what's happening in this type of online learning environment. I also suspect that working towards developing community among instructor/learners is the only way to make the portal model work effectively. For instance, I team taught an online class last spring (2 sections, one PostNuke site), and the attrition rate after add/drop to the end of the semester was about 10%, which is as good as what I see in my f2f classes. Normally I've heard that the attrition rate should be higher for distance ed. I suspect that the emphasis on community in planning the course, course site construction and platform choice, and facilitation by the teachers are ultimately responsible for the low drop out rate. There's a good study here somewhere :)
  3. I agree with what you've said. And I don't know the solution. Perhaps the views of the Xaraya developers are on track: seeing extended even more to become a development platform for plugin modules, rather than thinking of it as just a CMS's with communication features. So, yes. C3MS works. Just wish there was a better solution.
  4. I tend to get my definitions of elearning from George Siemens (thanks, George!) and what I see from hearing other people talking about elearning via blogs.
  5. "I am very much in favor of "open classrooms" where any outsider can at least see what is going on. " Interesting you mentioned this. One of my students from the online class last spring (above) emailed me today. He found, via Google, this paper from another school referencing him and our class. He was delighted to see that others were looking at his writing. I've had similar experiences during the semester when I found links in referrer logs to student posts and shared them with the class. The idea that their writing is of interest to someone else changes the way that they view the class.