I Doubt I’m a Doubter . . .

Mike got all up in my grill for criticizing the CMS in education. I am apparently both a dreamer (but I’m not the only one) and a “doubter.” He even accused me of listening to Beach Boys music (I do have a theme song in mind for CMS’s – unless some knows a song dedicated to mediocrity?). I will ignore the fact that I was mainly talking about Blackboard and never mentioned HCPS’s Schoolspace. Although that military mindset is very much like some aspects of HCPS.

Mike, be careful with that kind of talk you’re headed toward a job in the nugget factory and I don’t think that’s what you want.

To put it simply, the use of the CMS in education is very often an admission of defeat. It is replacing agile and targeted with clumsy (often forced or coerced) mass adoption. It’s a cookie cutter response to what are very individual needs.

You want a blog, she wants a discussion board. I (the lord of technology) will give you something that does that (sort of, in the next version- I swear!) and 43 other things you don’t want– only it does none of them very well. Now you should be happy. Right?

I’d much rather work with individuals on tools they can control and tweak to really do what they want. Doing things piece meal and gradually isn’t a bad thing. With the CMS it doesn’t tend to work that way.

Now the CMS really tends to go down hill on the implementation side of things. Too often resources are taken away and this is given in exchange. Things are taken away that people used and liked. If you’re going to do this the replacement better be a big improvement for the users (the admins aren’t important). It also costs in terms of credibility. Every new thing that doesn’t quite work or only sort of works really costs in the end- especially when it’s forced on people.

Then it comes down to the conversations around the applications. CMS’s are “so easy” that teachers just need a brief overview and then they know how to use them. Maybe that’s true mechanically (although I’d argue that most use it simply for document storage). But I’d say the conversations about teaching within these environments is often forgotten. That’s not a shortfall of the CMS but it is encouraged by the way they’re marketed.

Finally, the whole paid CMS concept (BlackBoard money is literally insane) tends to cost a lot of money. That’s not including customization, upgrades, and the servers. It’s money that have more impact on instruction if it was spent on other things- like staffdev on how to actually integrate technology into teaching or just teaching in general.

Comments on this post

  1. Teacher having flashbacks said on April 1, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Argh–this reminds me of when my school district made us (who had been learning slowly but surely, and pretty happily and proudly, to create web pages, etc.) use one of these types of programs (I can’t even remember the name now) and expected us to just forget all the work we’d done, all the content we’d created, and start putting everything–EVERYTHING–on this random new program one day, replacing several other methods that we could actually choose to fit our particular needs and styles the best way. Anyway, I just couldn’t do it, it was too upsetting; I avoided getting in trouble, and used only one feature of the new program. I absolutely loved that one part of it, though–my students loved it, it added this whole new exciting dimension to my teaching….and guess what happened? They shut down the new program and kind of ignored that this whole fiasco ever happened. On to a new thing!

  2. Susan Cowardin said on April 3, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Hi Tom!

    I have read this entry over and over again. If I had a way with words like you do, I would be saying the same thing. Isn’t it nice that you can say it!

  3. KarenR said on April 5, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Here! Here! I abandoned Blackboard long ago as it was much more of a content delivery system rather than an interactive learning tool. And, for goodness sake, if you are going to adopt a CMS, at least use one of the open source, free ones. (I know, they aren’t free because someone has to administer them, but doesn’t someone in your division have to administer BB, too, despite the hefty support fees you’re paying?) I suppose they are better than nothing, but I think they give us a false sense of using technology to support teaching and learning. Wouldn’t it be better to figure out a way to allow access to real wikis and blogs and podcasts and videos so, as you so wisely suggest, the money we save on software and website subscriptions could be redirected to supporting teacher use, whether than means hiring more people like you or rewarding teachers with the time they need to really figure out how technology works in their classrooms.