LMS Metaphors

Blackboard/LMS is like a -

It seems there are whole papers written on metaphors for Blackboard.

I saw Jon’s LMS-as-training-wheels metaphor and Britt’s response- both as a result of Jim’s talk. I’ve been thinking about it a bit and I think it ends up giving the LMS the wrong kind of credit. It implies a temporary guide, a training ground to get you used to using the Internet to teach. I don’t think that’s the goal at all.

Ronald M.D.

It seems to me that the LMS is a fast-food franchise kitchen. It does exactly what it is meant to do. It is built for people with minimal skills to make cheap food quickly at scale. It isn’t meant to be a training ground so people can move up to gourmet cooking. These skills don’t transfer. You aren’t even meant to graduate to being a line cook at Friday’s.

The LMS reaches the minimum quality people will tolerate in exchange for convenience and low cost.1 The LMS focuses on making the very things I find most problematic easy. Blackboard tells you what it thinks is most important for teachers with their own lead copy.

Efficient Teaching Tasks
Blackboard Learn enhances basic teaching tasks like grading and creating assessments. And with an intuitive design, this is one LMS that will save you time in and out of the classroom. – love Bb

It’s pretty clear why Bb exists. Every bit of that language reeks of unpleasant things done efficiently at scale.

Now you can take fast food and do big campaigns about serving up some semi-healthy stuff. You even have people with energy and creativity using fast food ingredients to make gourmet food. But when it comes down to it, the ingredients, the hardware, the thinking behind the layout is focused entirely on a scale delivery of certain kind of “food” and that purpose drives most everything that will ever happen in a fast food kitchen.2

It’s also pretty clear that our society is perfectly ok with fast food. We eat liquid meat paste after all. Putting multiple hundreds of students in a class, the wild popularity of video/quiz MOOCs, certainly indicate we have a very low bar for education. Most people have not had much but fast food education and any move away is likely to create dissatisfaction of various kinds.

Zombie Ordering at McDonald's

Anyone can put content online now. I think YouTube comments prove that conclusively. If not, there’s always Literally Unbelievable or your 2nd grader of choice. So the technical threshold the LMS was supposed to get faculty over isn’t really there but the LMS ceiling remains. There’s no real bump coming into the LMS but be prepared to stoop the entire time you’re in it. It does make scale assessment easy. It does put the focus clearly on grades and an ever tightening feedback loop. It does allow us to scale faculty to greater and greater numbers of students.

The LMS tool shapes what faculty think they can and should do both online and off. It shapes how courses are designed,3 how assessments are designed. It shapes what students and parents expect. It shapes how Universities structure course loads and enrollment. It shapes far too many things in a reciprocal loop of “practical” choices and low bars. That’s a terrible thing to standardize. The LMS is a symptom of larger issues, a cause of larger issues, and a way of understanding these issues. That scares me. The “solution” that contributes to the problem it solves is a hard one to untangle when it’s enmeshed in the understanding of the problem like this. Yet we keep bringing more people into it, becoming more reliant while simultaneously limiting the understandings and aspirations that would enable us to do something different.

1 Choose your own cost metric.

2 I will opt not to explore the horrific things that take place in fast food kitchens.

3 Many sites built outside of Bb in other tools look just . . . like . . . Blackboard courses.

Biology Field Journal Continues

I think this is kind of a neat WordPress theme trick. You can download/fork it here if you want or go over here and try it out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.35.04 PM

I took the mixitup child theme from a little while back and modified it a bit. This new page template uses posts rather than attachments and adds the page text above the images. It is also smarter about removing some of the sorting categories it displays for the posts.


  • create a page
  • name that page the same name as one of your category posts
  • apply the template (Featured image sort by page name/category)
  • now all the posts from that category show up under the body of that post in sortable format

The Changes

I’m trying out the Syntax Highlighter plugin given how much more often I’m posting code lately. I also really commented up the page. I am still struggling to find a decent way to do this kind of exposition about code and the process it took to figure out the code.

 * Template Name: Featured image sort by page name/category

  <div id="primary" class="content">
	<div id="content" role="main">

		<?php get_template_part( 'content', 'page' ); ?>
		<?php if (have_posts()) : while (have_posts()) : the_post(); //this chunk displays the page text ?>
		  <div class="entry-content">
			<?php the_content(); ?>
<?php endwhile; endif; ?>

	  <div class="controls">
		<button class="filter" data-filter="all">All</li>
		<?php  //this sets up the filtering buttons based on categories and removes all categories that are the same as page titles
		    $pages = get_pages(); //what pages exist?
		    	  $idcat = array(); //make them a list
		    	  foreach ( $pages as $page ) { //for each page
		    		$option = $page->post_title; //get the name of the page
		    		$idObj = get_category_by_slug($option); //make that name into the slug (essentially add the dashes)
		    		$idcat[] = $idObj->term_id; //Take that name and change it into the ID of the category so it can be removed from the sorting diplsay below. I also now know the square brackets build an array thanks to Alan Levine (@cogdog). 
		     $args = array('exclude' => implode(",", $idcat)); // takes $idcat list from above to exclude the categories that are the same as the page names from the filter list. Implode changes it from an array into a string which get_categories needs. You can also add agruments here of other types.
		 	$categories = get_categories($args);
		  	foreach ($categories as $category) {
			echo '<button class="filter" data-filter="'. $category->slug .'">'. $category->name .'</button>'; // more category stuff to create the filter buttons- sets the class to the slug and displays the actual category name
	  <?php global $post;
	  			$slug = get_post( $post )->post_name; // this gets the name of the page
	  		 	$idObj = get_category_by_slug($slug);  // this takes the name and makes it a slug
	  		 	$include = $idObj->term_id; //this turns the slug into a category number so it can be used to pull in all the posts with the same category as the page name. A page named 'Bob' will pull in all posts with the category 'Bob'
			<ul id="mixer">
		  <?php //this is where the thumbnails are generated
			$args = array('cat' => $include,'post_type' => 'post', 'posts_per_page' => 40);//I limited display to 40 posts out of performance fears. You could add other arguments here.
			$thumbnails = get_posts($args);
			if ($thumbnails) {
			  foreach ($thumbnails as $thumbnail) { //generates the thumbnails in a loop
				$post_id = $thumbnail; 
				$post_cat = get_the_category($post_id);
				$post_title = get_the_title($post_id);
				$categories = get_the_category($post_id);
				$separator = ' '; //makes a space between categories but you could change it to other stuff
				$output = '';
				if ($categories){ //loops through the categories per post
					foreach ($categories as $category ) {
						$output .= $category->slug.$separator;

				echo '<li class="mix '.$output.'">'; // adds the categories as class elements 
				echo '<a href="'. get_permalink ($thumbnail) .'">';
				echo get_the_post_thumbnail($thumbnail->ID, 'thumbnail'); // get and display thumbnail based on the featured image- use the http://wordpress.org/plugins/auto-post-thumbnail/ to generate them automatically based on the first image in the post
				echo '<p>';
				echo $post_title .'<br />'; // post title which is probably obvious
				echo '</p></a></li>';

Weekly Web Harvest (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.