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Blackboard, Elluminate, edupunk and PLEs: looking to the future

August 9th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

George Siemens has written a blog post about Blackboard’s take over of Elluminate and Wimbla.I agree with him in saying this is an astute move by Blackboard – however I am not quite sure what he means when he talks about integration allowing mangers to buy the educational process. OK – so Blackboard moves beyond being just a VLE. But the educational process is still dependent on pedagogy, whatever tools are integrated in a single application.

I am also very dubious about his view on the evolution of online learning environments. George says:

Over the last eight years, the market has experience enormous change (web 2.0, virtual worlds, social media, networked learning). But many things have settled in the process. Some universities are beginning to focus on a big-picture view of technology: making learning resources available in multimedia, integrating technology from design to delivery, using mobile technologies, and increased focus on network pedagogy. Blackboard (and LMS’ in general) have been able to present the message that “you need an LMS to do blended and online learning”.

To counter this view, the edupunk/DIY approach to learning has produced an emphasis on personal learning environments and networks. To date, this movement has generated a following from a small passionate group of educators, but has not really made much of an impact on traditional education. I don’t suspect it will until, sadly, it can be commoditized and scaled to fit into existing systemic models of education. Perhaps Downes’ Plearn research project, or OU’s SocialLearn project will prove me wrong (I really hope they do!!). For the purposes of this post, however, the brave new world of online learning will be dominated by LMS like Moodle, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and regional players like Fronter.

I have never seen edupunk being a movement which would move in and takeover the traditional education system. What edupunk does provide is an alternative to traditional pedagogy as well as showing there are other routes than commercialisation of education through technology. I don’t expect any institutional manager to announce a new policy based on edupunk? But what we are seeing is increasing numbers of teachers using social software for tecahing and learning. The impact of that is far harder to measure than the number of VLEs adopted by different educational institutions. It will also probably have a far more profound impact of tecahing and learning and pedagogic approaches to using technology.

The second impact of PLEs, edupunk and social software is in the developing ideas and practice around Open Learning. Knowledge and learning is escaping from the institution. And long term that will be the greatest impact of all.

4 Responses to “Blackboard, Elluminate, edupunk and PLEs: looking to the future”

  1. Ilona Buchem says:

    This is what I observe too: more and more educators are using social software, mostly without any business model behind it. The beauty of this use is that it’s free and creative and not commoditized. I think educators need tools like these. Social media helps educators develop new ideas and ways, within current constraints but opening it all up.

    I just have a question – if I am in favour of PLEs does that automatically make me automatically to an edupunk? Maybe we need some clarification here…

  2. Douglas says:

    Interesting, so if educators use online and free social software, that’s not commodification? Is it because teachers are using it?

    I would argue that making something freely available does not insulate it from being a commodity. In fact, it’s prevalent use and the ease with which anyone with the ability to scale a learning curve can use it makes it a commodity. The only difference is that it’s not being paid for. The commodification of it is based on the social value its users give it.

    In that manner of speaking, doesn’t content also become a commodity? If it didn’t, I don’t think you would see so many people talking about social currency, again, I think, to insulate it from what some feel is the nasty stain of capitalist thinking. What are your thoughts?

  3. Graham Attwell says:

    Hm.. interesting comment. No I think something becomes a commodity when it transforms form having a social value to an economic value. Until now, education has generally been seen in terms of its social value – how learning can benefit both the individual and society. I think we are increasingly seeing commodification in terms of education being viewed only in terms of economic value – either for countries (or the EU) or individuals in terms of their future earning power. But alongside this we see the structures of education – previously seen to play a social role in society – becoming commodified. And elearning has contributed to that in placing the production of social artefacts outside the social milieu or community in which they are used – ie into the hands of companies like Blackboard who are quite clear that their involvement is purely driven by the economic goal of profit. Of course there are contradictions here – the move towards universal and free education in the economically rich countries was driven by the need for a better educated labour force.

  4. M C Morgan says:

    “But the educational process is still dependent on pedagogy, whatever tools are integrated in a single application”

    I sense a couple of ways to see this.

    One is, The tool shapes the pedagogy, sometimes overtly, sometimes insidiously. Bb and the like suggest there is pedagogical value in managing students, testing them by particular means, that the basic unit of learning is the private course, that students don’t need to share the production space with teachers, that text is the primary means of educational exchanges…

    A more deterministic argument is that VLEs like Bb and D2L reproduce online the traditional f2f banking model of education. That model, it is then argued, is familiar to students and teachers and so lowers a cognitive and social barrier. We trust the product produced in a banking environs; so we will trust the product produced online under the same model.

    Another path is this: VLEs allow teachers-for-hire to create courses that can then be managed by others. The content and the pedagogy can locked in place by the VLE, which is managed by the owners. Write once: teach many.

    But your last question is the kicker. I’m just speculating here, but it seems to me that edupunks have cleared enough pedagogical space for us that they can probably hack even Bb to work with a more enlightened pedagogy. The thing that the Corporate VLS does not allow is DYI. Or maybe they do.

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